It’s not the focus of the SW1 bubble today, but David Cameron will be taking a deep breath after Jose Manuel Barroso used his ‘state of the Union’ address (we know…) to call for a debate on rewriting the EU Treaties in 2014. It seems there is now no avoiding the major strategic decisions on Europe that both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have been desperate to avoid lest they tear apart their increasingly fraught marriage.
In one of his most overtly political speeches to date, Barroso was explicit: this crisis is the perfect time to take the next great leap towards a federal Europe. “Where we cannot move forward under the existing treaties, we will present explicit proposals for the necessary Treaty changes ahead of the next European Parliamentary election in 2014, including elements for reinforced democracy and accountability,” he said. “No one will be forced to come along. And no one will be forced to stay out. The speed will not be dictated by the slowest or the most reluctant.”
He hinted that the new treaty discussions would be a wide-ranging affair rather than the more limited crisis-response changes made so far. “This is not just a debate for the Euro area in its present membership. While deeper integration is indispensable for the Euro area and its members, this project should remain open to all Member States.”
The details of the proposals were left open but Barroso did offer his broad vision for the future:
“A deep and genuine economic and monetary union, a political union, with a coherent foreign and defence policy, means ultimately that the present European Union must evolve.”
“Let’s not be afraid of the words: we will need to move towards a federation of nation states. This is what we need. This is our political horizon. This is what must guide our work in the years to come.”
“I call for a federation of nation states. Not a superstate. A democratic federation of nation states that can tackle our common problems, through the sharing of sovereignty in a way that each country and each citizen are better equipped to control their own destiny.”There was much talk of making the EU “more democratic” and he hinted that his preferred vehicle for doing so is the European Parliament, whose role he described as “essential.” He called for the development of pan-European political parties and for the parties to announce their candidates for Commission President as part of the election campaign.
He also called for a “better developed set of instruments” to bring wayward member states into line with the values of the EU, “not just the alternative between the ‘soft power’ of political persuasion and the ‘nuclear option’ of article 7 of the Treaty,” which currently allows the EU to suspend the voting rights of countries deemed to be in “serious and persistent breach” of the values set out in the Treaties.
In short, it looks like the European Commission is shaping up for a full scale constitutional shake up of the EU a year before the General Election in the UK, a year that is already packed full of EU agenda items: the block opt-out of crime and policing law, the Government’s audit on EU powers is due to be published, there are also European elections, where UKIP could do very well, the aftermath of the long-term EU budget talks and the appointment of a new UK EU Commissioner. There are a huge number of strategic decisions for the UK involved in this discussion (which we have looked at, and will continue to look at).
But one thing is clear, if Barroso gets his way, there will be nowhere for Cameron to hide from an EU renegotiation before 2015.