Schulz, Macron, and the future of the European Union

maandag 18 december 2017, analyse van mw Hoai-Thu Nguyen

Schulz en Macron lanceerden in het afgelopen jaar ambitieuze hervormingsplannen voor de EU. Hun toekomstvisies werden met wisselend enthousiasme ontvangen. Toch zijn beschuldigingen dat de hun pleidooien Europa verdelen en spanningen creëren onterecht.

On 7 December 2017 Martin Schulz, the party leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), called for the creation of a United States of Europe by 2025 in a speech to his party members. In the speech he envisioned a Constitutional Treaty for the EU, which would establish a federal Europe and which would be drawn up by a convent in cooperation with civil society and the European people. In his vision, Member States should subsequently either sign such a Constitutional Treaty or leave the European Union altogether.

With regard to the substantive questions, Schulz argued for a budget for the Eurozone and the establishment of a Euro Finance Minister, who would also have the task of fighting wage dumping and tax evasion in the EU. Moreover he sees a transfer of competences to the European Union level in the areas of at least internal and external security, climate protection, fiscal and monetary policies, the combat against tax havens, migration policy and development cooperation as indispensible for this aim and in order to achieve an efficient EU.

Schulz and Macron: radical ideas

These ideas were met with less enthusiasm in Germany. While (acting) chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on the need for a stronger cooperation in the areas of defense, external policies, and development policies in the EU, she did not want to set an as defined as goal as Schulz. Another leading member of the conservative CDU/CSU party, Alexander Dobrindt, called Schulz a “Europe radical” and accused him of creating tensions in Europe through his radical proposals.

Schulz’ ideas are however, at least in some aspects, not far from the reform ideas proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in his speech at the University of Sorbonne a few weeks earlier on 26 September 2017. Also Macron calls for the establishment of a Minister for the Eurozone, who would be responsible for a common Eurozone budget. As regards to the latter, Macron envisions that European taxes in certain fields should be allocated to form a genuine European resource and argues for the strict parliamentary control at European level over the budget. What the latter form of parliamentary control should look like he does not detail in the speech specifically but he has formerly in other instances – such as his election programme of May 2017 – called for the creation of a new parliamentary organ for the Eurozone.

Whether or not Macron still considers this to be the best option or whether he means the European Parliament when he talks about parliamentary control at European level remains unclear. His idea behind these proposals is that only a strong Eurozone with the current members can be an adequate basis for a common currency for all EU Member States as is envisioned by the Treaties. In addition to the reform of the Eurozone, he also suggests other substantive reforms, which he considers crucial for EU sovereignty and which relate to, inter alia, defense, migration, sustainability and digitalization.

In order to achieve such changes in a democratic manner, Macron suggests the organization of democratic conventions, in the framework of which national and local debates can take place with regard to the proposed overhaul of the Union. He also proposes the creation of transnational lists for the European Parliament elections. This is insofar notable as one of the biggest criticisms concerning the European Parliament has always been that the EP is not elected on a EU-wide basis but rather within the Member States themselves on the basis of national party lists.

The British EP seats

Macron’s idea is to make use of the fact that 73 seats in the European Parliament will become free in 2019 when the United Kingdom is supposed to leave the European Union. As the next parliamentary elections would fall in the same year, he suggests that instead of dividing these 73 seats between the remaining Member States to rather create a transnational list for which all Europeans can vote. He also pleads for a simpler EU with more transparency and less bureaucracy, which should be achieved through a gradual review of EU law.

A similar purpose might also serve his suggestion to reduce the number of Commissioners from 28 (soon 27) to 15, which in his view would better reflect the spirit of the Treaties according to which the European Commission represents the Union’s interest. Relying on the Franco-German axis as the “engine” of such changes within the EU, Macron advocates the move towards a more differentiated Europe, with an “avant-garde” as the heart of EU. While no Member State should be excluded from the process of developing into a more deeply integrated EU, no Member State should be able to block any the other Member States’ wishes in such a direction either.

A stance against Euro skeptic voices

Both the speech by Martin Schulz and the speech by Emmanuel Macron have as their aim a deeper – and faster – integration of the EU. Some of the proposals put forward by Macron and Schulz are debatable – for example whether the creation of yet another EU institution in the form of a Eurozone parliament would actually increase the EU’s democratic credentials is very arguable – and many of them will not become reality within the next seven to eight years as they suggest (Treaty revisions, for example, require the ratification by all Member States after all and the EU is quite pre-occupied with the issue of Brexit at the moment).

But it is not about whether or not such reform proposals are realistic anyways. In times where nationalism, populism and Euro skepticism are on the rise not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world, the clear pledge to the European Union project and the expressed desire to not only move forward with EU integration but to considerably deepen the process in a relatively short amount of time as well is the right sign to the public that the EU might have its flaws but that it is a project worth supporting and that such a support should and must be found at the level of the citizens.

Therefore accusations that such visions would “divide” Europe or “create tensions” are uncalled for. By creating a vision for the future of the EU Macron and Schulz take a clear stance against the nationalistic and Euro skeptic voices that have become loud in the past and present an alternative to citizens who see the benefits of the EU but would also like to see some changes. They leave no doubt to their voters that next to the Farages, Gaulands, Orbáns, and even Trumps in this world there are still leading politicians at national level that believe in the European Union as a transnational project and have a European vision for the future.