Olivier Ferrand: “Transforming the European Commission into a genuine political Government”

, by Fabien Cazenave, Translated by Elena Montani

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Olivier Ferrand: “Transforming the European Commission into a genuine political Government”

Olivier Ferrand, President of Terra Nova and specialised in European affairs, published the book “L’Europe contre l’Europe”. His thesis: “Today’s Europe blocks the emergence of tomorrow’s Europe”. That is to say, of a federal Europe.

Interviewer: What is the reason behind an official report of the failure of the political integration of Europe?

Olivier Ferrand: A political Europe was the objective of the founding fathers: the federalist congress of the The Hague, the European Defence Community (EDC). But it was a failure: the “federal revolution” clashed against the souverainisms of the post-war period. The genius of Schuman and Monnet was to accept this reality while not giving up the European integration. It was the EEC: a supranational executive, the Commission, was created but it was a technical executive, the political responsibility in front of the citizens remaining exclusively in the hands of the national governments. This technical Europe was conceived as a first stage, while gradually building on the creation of a real confidence and closer relations in order to reach one day the critical mass that would make it possible to enter the second stage, a political Europe.

This day arrived with the fall of the Berlin wall. The dynamics insufflated by the European reunification, coupled to thirty years of successful Community construction, could make it possible to cross the step of a federal union. Of great significance was the name, that changed from “European Economic Community” to “European Union”, and the emergence of the concept of a “European Constitution”. But the passage to a political Europe failed: after Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (1999), the rejection of the constitutional treaty (2004) and many negotiations, the political Europe sinks.

But the causes of the failure changed compared to what happened at the time of the EDC. It was no longer the coalition of the souverainists: this is nowadays a minority, the European integration made it work and then largely disarmed it. Europe itself is guilty. The founders of Europe are guilty: it is what I call the “Monnet paradox”. Jean Monnet theorised this construction in two stages, from a technical Europe to a political Europe. The “Monnet method” is a stroke of genius from the start. But today it has become counter-productive. A technical Europe was built at the price of a bureaucratisation, a technocratic deregularization, a democratic deficit. The first stage Europe has thus become a powerful driving bolt of the political Europe, which was meant to be built at the second stage.

The European policies are guilty: it is the “Delors paradox”. Political Europe finds its raison d’être in the defence of the European development model - a model which is characterised by the irreducibility of human dignity and which finds its maximum expression, in particular, in the welfare state. However, Europe has been built, essentially, in the economic field. It has produced policies that are with no connection with its model, which is above all social. Worse, with Jacques Delors’s Single European Act in 1984, the European policies rocked in an increasingly radical liberal logic, at the point to constitute a threat for the lastingness of the European model, basically social democrat.

Thus, today’s Europe blocks the emergence of tomorrow’s Europe. Europe sides against Europe.

Interviewer: Can the integration of Europe stagnate and remain at today’s stage?

Olivier Ferrand: Yes, the status quo is even the most probable scenario! Many often try to dramatise by agitating the spectrum of the dismantling of the European Union: “if the bicycle does not advance, it falls”, we often hear. It is false: a steady balance can be achieved around current Europe; Europe integrated according to a “European Switzerland” model. For fifteen years, the institutions have been evolving in the direction of stabilisation around a confederal system, where states (within the Council) take the lead from the federal institution, the European Commission. It is not the end of Europe, but the end of the European integration. At the price of renouncing in having a say on the destiny of the world: Europe would leave the history, for the first time since Antiquity.

Interviewer: How can we proceed towards a federal Europe?

Olivier Ferrand: The federal scenario has not become an impossible scenario. It is true that the window of opportunity, widely opened during the 1990s, was closed again. All energies have been exhausted, the flame is almost switched off. However, we still have a hope. The first European Republic can still emerge. It will be done without modifications of the treaties: no institutional scale reform is possible in a Union with 27 member states. It will come neither from the Commission, nor from the governments: the historical engines of European integration have broken down. The key is in the European Parliament, the last institution where the “European spirit” blows.

The central point in order to be able to make the federal step is to transform the European Commission, currently the European technical executive appointed by the states, into a genuine responsible political government in front of the European citizens. To this end, the Commission must result from the political majority brought out from the polls of the European elections. The European Parliament has started to fight this battle. In 2004, it called into question several appointments of the Commissioners, in particular Mr Buttiglione, but it was in the name of ethics and in the name of his skills. In 2009, it sought to tackle the President of the Commission. Around Daniel Cohn Bendit, progressive members of the European Parliament sought to constitute a political majority to push back Mr Barroso’s designation, chosen by the Heads of State. The political balance in the Parliament, very favourable to the conservatives, did not allow such move.

Interviewer: Which tools exist in the Lisbon Treaty for reaching this goal?

Olivier Ferrand: Under the Nice Treaty, the appointment of the President of the Commission belongs to the Heads of State and Government, followed by a vote of approval by the European Parliament. The Parliament can certainly push back the nominations of the states until the Heads of State propose the Commission of its choice. But it would be a genuine political “coup”. On the contrary, under the Lisbon Treaty the logic is reversed and the competence of the designation passes in the hands of the Parliament, on a proposal of the Heads of State and Government. The proposal of the states is even bound since they have “to take account of the result of the European elections”. In short, with the Lisbon Treaty, the legal advisability is open and it will be then up to the members of the Parliament to assume their responsibility.

In this respect, Herman Van Rompuy’s designation is a divine surprise. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty also strengthened the confederal option by creating a President of the European Council, in direct competition with the President of the Commission. A President of the strong European Council would make the European executive in the hands of the Heads of State totter, forever relegating the Commission to the status of administration and condemning the federal prospect. With Herman Van Rompuy, we are facing the reverse: that leaves a chance to the possibility of having, in 2014, a strong President of the Commission and a politicisation of the Commission.

Interviewer: In your book, you speak about the “Barnier paradox”. How can the European Commission be politicised?

Olivier Ferrand: The European actors, those which accompanied the European integration up to now, and in particular the European Commission, do not want a political Europe. Michel Barnier, then European Commissioner, had expressed it in a brutal way in 2002 at the time of the negotiation for the European constitutional treaty: to be able to continue defending the European general interest, the Commission has to remain non-partisan and sheltered from the passions of the Citizens, above the parties and without accounting to the European citizens: it is the rejection of democracy, a government of experts against democracy. The advocates of Europe theorise the current European institutions as a construction supposedly sui generis, forgetting that this technical Europe was conceived only as a transitory stage towards the political Europe.

Interviewer: We cannot request the Heads of State and Government to deprive themselves of their own powers. Should the solution come from the European political parties?

Olivier Ferrand: It is completely true! For a political Europe to emerge, a new generation of Europeans has to take over. In the generation of the post-war period, to build Europe people had to invest in national diplomacies, to take part in the intergovernmental conferences. The model: Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman. In the following generation, it is in the Commission that we shall invest. The model: Jacques Delors, Pascal Lamy, Jean-Pierre Jouyet. Today, the new place of European integration is the Parliament. The new generation of Europeans has therefore to invest in the political parties and to lead to their Europeanisation.


Image: cover of the book “L’Europe contre l’Europe: Appel à une nouvelle génération européenne” of Olivier Ferrand, source: www.tnova.fr

Olivier Ferrand is a president of the progressive foundation Terra Nova. Specialist in Europe, he was an adviser on European affairs to the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospi, then adviser to the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi. He took part in the development of the constitutional treaty as French sherpa, then to the political campaign of the referendum as national leader of the socialist party for European questions.

Your comments

Your comments


Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on gravatar.com (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom