Europe’s future: a chance for wise men?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

It is not a foregone conclusion that the ‘committee of wise men’ proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy to reshape the EU’s future will be a success, and it is vital to prevent it from being “instrumentalised in the political arena”, argues a new Spotlight Europe paper.

The creation of a committee of wise men to consider the Union’s future was put forward by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in August. Up to twelve “highly respected personalities” would be mandated to produce “a plan for the development of the EU until the year 2030”, in time for the 2009 European elections. 

The October paper calls for “a true European debate” rather than “the development of specific strategies behind closed doors”, but concedes that “it would be wrong to underestimate” what the committee might achieve. 

Most member states would prefer to ignore the proposal, claim the authors, but Germany, France and the UK have welcomed the idea, as has the Commission, albeit with more caution. However, Parliament has “lashed out at the proposals”, preferring a new convention with parliamentary and civil society involvement. 

The authors believe the extent to which the EU should further integrate is an unanswered question, and highlight the success of the Spinelli, Delors, Sapir and Kok reports produced by such committees in the past in influencing the direction of integration. 

They outline five challenges that must be addressed for the committee to be a success: 

  • Heads of state and government must ensure that Sarkozy cannot ‘instrumentalise’ the committee in order to achieve his political goals. 
  • It should concentrate on providing political orientation rather than institutional reform, especially coming so soon after the Reform Treaty. 
  • It would be wrong to evade the issue of the committee’s democratic legitimacy, and it must not be allowed to negate the principle of participation. 
  • The committee must not be dominated by active politicians. 
  • It must take into account the current reality of EU politics, namely that it is very difficult to reconcile the differing goals and substantial compromise is necessary. 

The committee should cover strategic issues to avoid getting “bogged down in details”: 

  • Identifying future political and strategic challenges for the EU, and establish its future political and economic significance of the EU in the global context. 
  • Considering differentiation strategies to allow for multi-speed integration. 
  • Considering how to politicise EU institutions and make them interest citizens.

They conclude that a committee of wise men would be able to do things that are impossible in the narrower decision-making sphere, but warns that the member states and EU institutions will have to be prepared to take note of its recommendations. 

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