Faced with new social, climatic and geopolitical challenges, Europe has no choice but to reinvent itself if it wants to play a useful role for its citizens and the planet. It is with this in mind that a new organisation created in 2022 met a fortnight ago in Moldova: the European Political Community (EPC). The initiative deserves to be applauded. By bringing together 47 countries, from the United Kingdom to Ukraine and from Norway to Switzerland and Serbia, the EPC is a reminder that the 27-nation European Union (EU) is not set in stone forever. Increasingly advanced discussions and cooperation must extend to the whole continent and beyond, if only to assert and defend a minimum foundation of common political rules and principles, which is no mean feat. However, it is clear that the EPC
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Faced with new social, climatic and geopolitical challenges, Europe has no choice but to reinvent itself if it wants to play a useful role for its citizens and the planet. It is with this in mind that a new organisation created in 2022 met a fortnight ago in Moldova: the European Political Community (EPC). The initiative deserves to be applauded. By bringing together 47 countries, from the United Kingdom to Ukraine and from Norway to Switzerland and Serbia, the EPC is a reminder that the 27-nation European Union (EU) is not set in stone forever. Increasingly advanced discussions and cooperation must extend to the whole continent and beyond, if only to assert and defend a minimum foundation of common political rules and principles, which is no mean feat. However, it is clear that the EPC comprises such a broad spectrum of countries that it will have even more difficulty than the EU in taking decisions and pooling the resources needed to move forward and influence world developments.
This is why it is essential to supplement this multi-circle architecture with a hard core made up of a small number of countries that are genuinely ready to go further in the process of political union. For the sake of clarity, this core group could be called the European Parliamentary Union (EPU). The EPU could be based on the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly (FGPA) set up in 2019 when the bilateral treaty linking the two countries was renewed, but opening it up to all countries wishing to join and giving it real powers – whereas this Assembly currently plays a purely consultative role, which can also be seen as the start of an initial running-in period.
Ideally, the EPU should include at least France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which together account for more than 70% of the population and gross domestic product of the eurozone. If there is no other solution, the EPU could also start with two or three countries. Ultimately, of course, the aim is to convince all 27 EU countries – or even the 47 members of the EPC and beyond – to join this core group. But this could take many years, essential if the EPU is to prove itself and demonstrate to Europe and the world that it is possible in the 21st century to conceive of a new form of social and federal union, transnational and democratic.
What powers and objectives would the EPU have? Generally speaking, the idea is to be based on the principle of the best social, environmental and fiscal deal. In other words, the UPE must enable its members to go further in the field of social and environmental progress and fiscal justice, if a majority is in favour, without preventing its members from moving in this direction with their own resources. The UPE must deepen what has been Europe’s great historic success since the post-war period, namely the consolidation of parliamentary democracy and the construction of the welfare state.
In concrete terms, the EPU would have the power to adopt a budget for investment in the future, with particular emphasis on energy and transport infrastructure, thermal renovation of buildings and a massive investment plan in health, training and research. This budget would be voted on by a European Assembly (EA) made up of parliamentarians from the various member countries of the EPU, in proportion to the populations and political groups present in the various national parliaments.
The European Assembly would also have the power to borrow jointly to finance such a budget. Limits would naturally have to be set to such a power, and these would have to be specified in the intergovernmental treaty establishing the EPU, as well as the conditions for its revision. But it is essential to be able to take decisions more flexibly and reactively than is possible under the unanimity rules of the 27-member EU if we are to be able to deal with the many crises and challenges that lie ahead. In 2020, it took months to convince the 27 to launch a joint loan for the first time. It was only the exceptional urgency caused by the Covid crisis and the prolonged confinement of hundreds of millions of Europeans that broke the deadlock. This is not a calm or effective way of operating, and above all it will not enable us to meet the challenges of the future.
In line with the Manifesto for the Democratisation of Europe launched in 2018, which collected more than 100,000 signatures, the EPU could also adopt common taxes on the profits of multinationals, the highest incomes and wealth and the highest carbon emissions.
More generally, the context of the last few years makes it possible to go even further and replace the defunct « Maastricht consensus » with a new social and democratic vision of the European project, in line with the workers’ mobilisations of the last two centuries. For example, it would be conceivable for member states to entrust the EPU with the task of laying down minimum rules for employee representation in corporate governance or the system for financing the media and election campaigns.
It would be absurd to pretend that such a path is well trodden: almost everything remains to be invented. However, two points need to be emphasised. Firstly, the alternative option of imagining a rapid overhaul of the 27-member European treaties is wishful thinking. Secondly, nothing in the current rules prevents a hard core of European countries from moving forward. All the more reason to get on with it now.