It is difficult to be indifferent about the future of Europe. As always, Europeans may choose whether to pursue the cause of unity or to retreat behind national borders. But if Europe is to be more united, it must be better governed than it is today. 

The Spinelli Group brings together politicians from a wide range of political parties. This Manifesto is our contribution to the debate on the future of Europe. Our aim is to work by stages towards a federal union of Europe based on the values of liberal democracy, solidarity and the rule of law. These values are under attack at home and abroad. So the case for European unity has to be made once again, repeatedly and with conviction. 

The elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 and the appointment of the new Commission are excellent opportunities to sharpen and widen the debate. Candidates for the new Parliament and nominees for the Commission should be urged to address the issues of the EU’s future political direction and democratic legitimacy. With this Manifesto, we lay out a path towards more European unity and better European government.

Time for review

Twenty years after the last constitutional Convention, the next general revision of the treaties cannot be too long delayed. The Treaty of Lisbon has been tested and found wanting in some important respects [1].  EU treaty change is a complicated exercise, and needs to be well prepared intellectually, legally and politically. Efforts to deepen integration will not succeed unless supported by Europe’s citizens and led purposefully by those national leaders, MEPs and MPs who will take part in the next Convention. 

The first step is to take stock of the state of the Union. We must analyse carefully where it stands and where it fails while avoiding the jump to simplistic solutions to what are intrinsically complex problems. Although the EU can take pride in its many achievements, it is obvious that it continues to promise more than it actually delivers. Public affinity with and understanding of the EU’s complicated institutions is weak. The constitutional structure of the Union is only half-built, unstable and ill-equipped to deal with crucial tasks, especially at times of crisis. 

We know that the economic and monetary union designed at Maastricht nearly thirty years ago lacks depth and resilience, and that the euro area is under-insured against the next financial crisis. The EU’s profile and impact on the world stage is uncertain. In terms of security and defence, the Union is ill-prepared. It struggles to agree on a common approach to the challenges of asylum and immigration. Its budgetary wrangles are perennial. The internal market is still work in progress. Enlargement has almost ground to a halt. And Brexit exemplifies the risk of gradual disintegration [2]. 

Preparing reforms

The second step towards reform is to lay down a number of guiding principles and objectives: 

  • Both the methods and aims of reform must be democratic.
  • Measures proposed must be coherent and practicable. 
  • Reform must maintain the main achievements of European integration (the ‘acquis’).
  • The Union must respect the rights of the member states [3].
  • Reform must be resolute and proportionate to the scale of the challenges faced by Europe. 
  • Reform must empower the Union to act usefully wherever the old nation states are failing.
  • New institutions should be avoided if possible (we have enough).

Building Europe’s new polity cannot be accomplished by simply aggregating the national practices and preferences of its member states. Deeper political integration requires adding a new upper tier of government above the level of Europe’s nation states. Over the years, governance of the Union has lived with the difficult dichotomy of being part federal and part confederal, building supranational institutions while continuing to take decisions in an intergovernmental way. That compromise has served its purpose, allowing for a stronger European Council to be balanced by a strengthened European Parliament. The European Court of Justice has always upheld steps in a federal direction where they are justified by the EU treaties. The European Central Bank is now responsible for the federal supervision of the euro area banks. 

Today, however, we should ask ourselves whether that uneasy trade-off between representatives of the states and the citizens has produced a government democratic, efficient and transparent enough to give citizens a sufficient sense of ownership. The heads of state and government, through the European Council, try to offer strategic leadership, but they do not run the Union on a day-to-day basis: nor should they. Accordingly, the Spinelli Group proposes to reinforce the role of the European Commission as the Union’s supranational executive, subject to stronger democratic control and scrutiny.

Our concept is a federated union of states, regions, municipalities and citizens. We do not want a homogenous centralised super-state. While enjoying primacy in areas where competences have been conferred on it by its member states, the Union is far from all-powerful. The federalist principle of subsidiarity usefully guides the EU as to which level of government is best suited to take decisions and implement them [4].  Lower levels of government are not subordinate to the EU institutions in Brussels but coordinate with them within a common legal order. Federal governance of the Union is channelled vertically between multi-levels of government — European, national, regional and local — as well as through horizontal, transnational mechanisms. 

While conformity with EU law upholds the operation of the single market and the common area of freedom, security and justice, uniformity is not desirable for its own sake. In some cases, the desire to keep decisions close to the people may prevail over the drive to maximise efficiency. There have been times when EU law-makers have seemed out of touch. Closeness to the citizen, a sense of proportion, a commitment to pluralism, and democratic accountability should be hardwired into the EU’s constitution. 

Constitutional government

Government exists to define, defend and promote the interests of the governed. A polity without government is vulnerable and practically impossible to lead. Although it may be true that in good times the half-built EU can manage on its present basis, it is obvious that in bad times it cannot. Mere crisis management by European technocrats working for national leaders will fuel the rise of demagogues threatening our values and our future. As a polity, the Union is insufficiently purposeful. If it is to meet the expectations of its citizens and the challenge of our times, it must organise itself better. 

In moving from the Treaty of Lisbon towards an improved constitutional settlement, we are not seeking to pre-empt decisions about the future shape or style of EU policies. On the contrary, we are proposing to create a robust constitutional framework inside which politicians and lawmakers can exercise their contrasting and competing judgements about policy, responding to changing social, natural, economic and political circumstances. 

For the EU to justify its existence to new generations of Europeans, its governance must be equipped with the necessary tools and resources to act competently in the general interest of all the Union’s states, regions, municipalities and citizens. That means that every EU institution, and especially the Commission, must become not only more capable and accountable but also more self-confident, not fighting shy of using all its powers in practice, exercising its legitimate political authority to the full at home and abroad. In addition to its accountability to the European Parliament, the Commission should foster its relations with national parliaments. And it must also be prepared to engage more directly with regional and local authorities, the channel of government that is closest to the citizen, delivers important public services and administers many EU policies. 

The need for stronger governance is evident as the geometry of European integration becomes more variable, and different states seek different relationships with the Union’s institutions. Brexit is only one example of how the practice of differentiated integration is increasing and must be managed skilfully if the centre is to hold. While we fully support the practice of a multi-speed Union, where states can advance at different speeds towards the same goal, we are vehemently opposed to the kind of laissez-faire European Union, once advanced by the British government, where different member states can shoot off in different directions. We reaffirm the historic mission of the “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” [5].

European states which do not share that goal are free to do so — but they cannot then be allowed to freeride on the Union. They may be associated with the EU in a good neighbourly fashion, but they will have fewer rights than member states in return for fewer obligations. This is one of the lessons of Brexit.   

European sovereignty

Europe’s new federal polity will not be a carbon copy of other federations elsewhere in the world (although useful lessons may be learned from them). The reformed European Union will only work if innovative in its forms of government and dynamic in its use of them. 

The Treaty of Lisbon records that the EU has legal personality in terms of international law [6].  The next stage in the process of creating an ever closer union will be to endow the Union with an autonomous layer of federal sovereignty to complement the national sovereignties of its member states. The primary duty of a sovereign Union will be to protect European citizens. Just as individuals residing in the EU enjoy a dual citizenship, so governance of the EU must be endowed with dual sovereignty. The Union needs to be a sovereign power if it is to stand up for European interests and values and do good in the world. Sovereignty means having the capacity to act effectively in terms of economics, diplomacy, military matters and cultural policy. 

Yet the European Union cannot lay claim to sovereignty and do nothing about democracy. A sovereign Europe must be founded not just on treaties between its states but also on the consent of its citizens. The concept of EU citizenship is relatively under-developed, and the EU’s representative institutions are still young. European citizenship must be enhanced, for example by electoral reform of the European Parliament and by extending the franchise for resident EU citizens in national elections. The next democratic steps towards closer integration cannot simply be designed by a technocratic elite palliating the absence of a wider engagement of the political parties, social partners, civil society and citizens themselves. Constitutional reform of a federal type needs to appeal to public opinion. 

Political reform

This is a time to be bold: tinkering at the edges may prove counterproductive. Timidity of purpose may breed dangerous popular disappointment and do further damage to the Union’s standing. Unless the reforms succeed in greatly enhancing the Union’s capacity to act, they will generate frustration and increase distrust of a political class seemingly too feeble to meet the essential challenges of our times. The main purpose of reform is to inject visible, credible and democratic leadership at the EU level. By streamlining the functions of government and by clarifying how the EU is run, this next round of reforms must strive to bring a sense of constitutional settlement that has eluded previous revisions of the treaties. 

We recognise that not all member state governments or parliaments will be ready, within the next decade, to take the qualitative step towards federal union. The impact of the great enlargement of the Union from fifteen states in 1995 to twenty-eight in 2013 is still being felt. The failure of the constitutional treaty in 2005 and the economic and social crisis that followed the financial crash in 2008 have bashed confidence in the European project. Now the EU is about to suffer the impact of the self-imposed departure of the United Kingdom from its membership after a referendum in 2016 which handed victory to the nationalists. The future of the Union not only as a constitutional polity but also as a territorial entity is speculative. And the values of liberal democracy and the principles underpinning the Union are being contested not only by the EU’s Russian and Turkish neighbours but also by rising populist forces within a number of its own member states. 

The Union cannot allow itself to be immobilised by nationalist forces that reject its values and purpose. Inaction would be the worst way to counter the forces of disintegration. The Spinelli Group urges those states that are committed to further integration to develop a federal core that can act as a vanguard and pole of attraction for all. In this context, we recommend more use of the existing treaty provisions on enhanced cooperation and propose ways to facilitate this. 

Constituent process

In 2019, political parties need to persuade their electorates to renew the Union’s mission and to fulfil its potential. The European Union indulges in seemingly endless debates, consultations, reflections and scenarios about its own future, but it shies away from taking decisions. Federalists love to speculate on how to improve the way the Union reforms itself. The Manifesto proposes some radical changes to the future constituent processes of the EU, based on the Convention. But the legal reality is that the next revision of the treaties has to be undertaken according to the existing provisions of Lisbon [7].

As things stand, any member state or EU institution, including the Parliament, may take the initiative and trigger constitutional reform. When the time comes, the European Parliament must in the interest of democracy assert its right to insist that a Convention is summoned to prepare the amended treaty. That Convention will be composed of European and national parliamentarians, the Commission and representatives of the heads of government. This Manifesto is written for them. 

It is now up to politicians at European and national level to campaign for their own partisan programmes. The Spinelli Group hopes that our Manifesto will help citizens and candidates of many political persuasions to make the case for enhancing the federal dimension of the Union’s polity. That is the best basis on which Europeans can unite in pursuit of a destiny henceforward shared [8].
[1] The Treaty of Lisbon was signed in December 2007 and came into force in December 2009. It has two parts: the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
[2] The UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum on 23 June 2016. The secession is due to take place on 29 March 2019. 
[3] States’ rights are defined in particular in Articles 4 and 5 TEU.
[4] The modern concept of subsidiarity was first articulated by the Commission in 1975 in its contribution to the Tindemans Report. Altiero Spinelli, who was a member of that Commission, further promoted subsidiarity in his Draft Treaty of European Union adopted by the European Parliament in 1984. 
[5] Article 1 TEU.
[6] Article 47 TEU. 
[7] Article 48 TEU.
[8] “To lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared”. From the preamble to the Treaty of Paris, 1951.


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