Franco Frattini responds to questions by Europeans

Franco Frattini for Debating Europe

Earlier this month, Debating Europe put up a post asking if it was time to re-open the European treaties. It was a lively debate, and we had a good number of comments and questions sent in by readers. However, one interesting angle that we hadn’t considered before was put forwards back in October by Europa Sustentavel, who asked: 

Do you think that the aborted constitutional treaty could have helped the EU to move in the right direction? 
On the face of it, the answer seems obvious. The idea of a “European Constitution” was rejected by French and Dutch voters in seperate referendums in 2005, and it is difficult to see how the earlier text could have functioned any better than the later Lisbon Treaty (which anyway incorporated a number of reforms from the abandoned constitution). However, if the process of institutional reform and “deepening” of the EU had been concluded in 2005 instead of 2008, is it possible that Europe might now be in a more confident position with regards to the Eurozone crisis? 

Franco Frattini was Foreign Minister of Italy in 2004, and was therefore one of the official signatories to the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (along with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). We spoke to Mr Frattini recently and asked him if the constitution he signed back in 2004 would have made a difference to our current situation. 

Mr Frattini specifically raised the issue of a banking union in his answer as something he believes could be achieved through “evolution and a very good implementation of the treaties”, rather than through treaty amendment. We’ve had several comments sent in on precisely this issue, including one from Antonio arguing: 

A fiscal union and effective banking supervision can no longer [be ignored].

How would Mr Frattini respond to Antonio’s point? A fiscal union, with fiscal policy taken or coordinated at the European level, would be a huge leap forwards for European integration – and a move that many Europeans would certainly reject (see our recent post on EU budget negotiations, for example). 

What do YOU think? Is it time to reconsider a constitution for Europe? Or is now, with the Eurozone crisis still ongoing, precisely the wrong time to be entering into such a debate? Do we need to implement a European fiscal and banking union before the crisis can finally be brought to an end? And, if so, can this be done within the existing EU treaties? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their response. 

Europa Sustentavel asks whether the aborted constitutional treaty could have helped the Eu to move in the right direction. What do you think?

It is undeniable, the constitutional treaty signed in Rome and unfortunately not entered into force because of the no in France and in The Netherlands have been a more ambitious instrument of the Lisbon treaty.

But I wouldn’t see now the urgent need of reopening a Pandora’s box of changing the treaties.
Why? Not because I’m not convinced that we should have stronger institutions. I’m convinced. But now, in a moment of crises, in a moment of uncertainties think about the idea that after reopening this institutional Pandora’s box a number of member statesof Europe would decide to go to a referendum. In this case a referendum would be not on the amendments of the treaty but would be against Europe. And I think we cannot afford now running to a referendum that would have as a target Europe and not the simple amendments to the treaty.

What is necessary now is to exploit in full the potentialities of the current treaty. If it’s possible we can also integrate and to interpret the treaties. If we talk about fiscal compact: it’s within the treaties but is a very ambitious evolution. The idea of having a banking union is not by amending by not changing the treaty but is an evolution and a very good of implementation of the treaties.

If we want to have an European defence policy – which is badly needed – it’s not necessary to change the treaties because in the Lisbon treaty is already said that if a number of member states more than nine decide to go ahead by leaving open the doors for the accession of the others it is possible to create.

What d you think about the Eu enlargement and where should it stop?

We are feeling a sort of European enlargement fatigue. This is a problem. I’ve been from the very beginning very much in favour of promoting enlargement policy. Enlargement, particularly Visa with western Balkans, has been the only way for Western Balkans – that is the peripheral region of our Europe – to escape from the very high risks of nationalism extremism and chaos.

We succeeded. Thanks to the European perspectives western Balkans countries have been making huge programs because they look at the future in Europe. This is why I’m against to suspend this process of enlargement

Think about Turkey. We have been making mistakes, we have to acknowledge by breaking this virtuous circle of negotiations with Turkey. Turkey will become a member state of Europe in a moment where Turkey will be fulfilling all the obligations, but the fact that we give than the message that now negotiations are broken this is in itself a message a disillusion vis a vis the Turkish population which is not in the European interest.

So my answer is I’m in favour of a continuation according to the European principles without short cuts, respecting principles, fixing all the obligations, all the requirements that should be fulfil. The simple fact that because of the crisis we suspend the enlargement is a big mistake.

Peter believes Europe should have a truly open internal market, reduce the red tape for SMEs and slim down the institutions. What do you think?

Well Peter, your point is very important but in the same time it requires a more integrated approach.On one hand you are absolutely right the legislative system in Europe is very burdensome for small and medium enterprises.

Single market was a great achievement during the Maastricht treaties area, but now is no longer sufficient. We have to deepen single market, we have to create – as promised – digital internal European market. If you don’t have a digital single European market you wouldn’t be in the condition to compete on a global stage, where in the world digitalization and digital agenda is becoming and already became a key priority, while in Europe a number of member states are lagging behind.

All these are components. And you mentioned reducing the complexity of institutions: this is right but we shouldn’t talk just about reducing. We should talk more about effective institutions.
Just an example: if the European Parliament has not yet a responsibility and a possibility to initiate the legislative procedure like it happens in a normal “legislative” national system, that means we have to do more towards a political integration.

I return to the point: politically integration of Europe is needed. That means more democratic legitimating (my opinion is we should be in the condition to elect directly the next President of the European commission) ; we should be in the condition to provide European parliament with the possibility and the competence of initiate in legislative procedure.

So I wouldn’t talk about reducing, I would talk about making European institution more effective and this means political union. 

Antonio believes that a fiscal union and effective banking supervision are necessary to return Europe to growth. What do you think?

I agree completely with Antonio. This is probably the most important development we are looking for the near future. You know Antonio that by December European Council will meet exactly to try to reach an agreement on banking union, monetary union, to make a progress in an area which is one of the preconditions to promote growth. Is not the only one, but one of the preconditions. without having a common platform at European level for a more integrated system of supervising national banking systems.

We will be otherwise keeping discrepancies, differences, and this would be damaging growth perspectives. So, we need more Europe, this is the short answer. We need more Europe, more European integration, and we wouldn’t need only technical answers, technical plans. We need a political plan. We have to work towards a political union not just a monetary union, a banking union, a fiscal union. What we need in the future is to talk about united states of Europe. This is the dream that could be translate into reality.

Yoe and Yannis believe that not enough is being done to tackle unemployment. What do you think?

This is a very interesting question because it is true it takes time, jobs cannot be created by law, by adopting a new European directive. It takes time to pave the way for a more attractive environment on economics on social issues to create the opportunities to create new jobs.

To do so it’s absolutely necessary to re-launch an integrated European strategy foe growth. Without growth no companies, no entrepreneurs will recruit new workers.

First of all we have to cut if not abolish completely all the illegal obstacles to entrepreneurs. All the burocratic burdens should be destroyed. And for this we need political leadership.

Secondly, after reducing this burocratic impact, is promoting education. By promoting education you will be you the young generations competing on the global stage. let’s compare you European with a Chinese young gradate, frankly speaking competition will be very tuff.

I remember one founding father of Europe, Mr Alcide De Gasperi, when he said: politicians look at the next elections while statesmen look at the next generation.This is a problem we have been facing and we are facing now: governments, politicians look at the initiatives having only short term perspective. We need a vision and this is the only way to succeed.

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