Other Eurorealist sections
" A Vision for Europe" by the Prime Minister of Belgium
   " A Vision for Europe" - a major speech to The European Policy
Centre by the Prime Minister of Belgium [21/9/2000]

The Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, delivered a major speech
on the Belgian Government's vision for the future of the European Union
at a lunch meeting of The European Policy Centre.

The Belgian Government assumes the Presidency of the European Union in
July 2001. In his speech, the Belgian prime minister pleads for closer
European integration and a strengthening of the European Union's
institutions - rather than a drift into the failed approach of inter-
governmentalism - to prepare the Union for the historic challenge of
European unification.

His speech was delivered in Dutch and French. The full transcript in
English follows.



Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank The European Policy Centre for offering me a
platform today. The European Policy Centre is one of the most important
think tanks in Europe. It has a long tradition of speeches and meetings.
I am honoured to become part of that tradition today.

I would also like to thank my good friend Karel Van Miert for his
introduction and his warm words. As you probably know, Karel recently
published a book of memoires and recollections on his years in Europe. I
recommend his book.
It is an important contribution to the present debate on the future of
Europe and contains valuable advice from this successful former

Last summer it was exactly fifty years ago that the then French minister
of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Robert Schuman, made a proposal to bring the
joint coal and steel production of France and Germany under one Common
Authority. It was the first step towards the formation of the European
Coal and Steel Community two years later. With the ECSC the seeds were
sown of the European Union of today. It was the initial impetus to the
development of a community approach, step by step forging the European
integration by joining and sometimes also by abolishing national
sovereignty into a joint approach.

This approach has proved to be quite successful since then. It led us
almost straight from the Paris Convention and the European Coal and
Steel Community in 1952 to the Amsterdam Convention and the formation of
the Economic and Monetary Union in 1997. The Six of 1952 became the
Fifteen of 1995. In these 43 years it had become clear that the
expansion of the Union was not an impediment to its reinforcement.

In the beginning of this new century the European Union is preparing for
a new leap forward, both with regard to its size and its internal
functioning. Negotiations are carried on with no less than twelve new
candidate member states. Once these negotiations prove to be successful,
almost all the states of Europe will for the first time in history be
united into one Union.

With this new step it is of the utmost importance to keep in mind a
global vision of the ultimate goal of the European unification. After 50
years, I believe that the time is ripe for it. Let me make it clear
right from the start that the discussion about the ultimate goal must
not be a pretext to ignore or to shelve any concrete problems with which
we are confronted at this moment or to lower the level of ambition of
the Intergovernmental Conference or to push it to the background.

I know that the main goal of the present Intergovernmental Conference is
to make the European institutions operate in an efficient manner after
enlargement. It is a conference that must ensure at all costs the
operation of the Union, even when there will be 28 member states. But
this point of departure - which is correct - may not conceal a lack of
ambition. We must use the present Intergovernmental Conference as much
as possible to lay the foundations, which will lead to the achievement
of the ultimate goal we have in mind for the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The debate about the ultimate goal of the European unification has faded
into the background in the past few years. And that was probably not a
mere coincidence. After the Maastricht and the Amsterdam Treaties, the
realisation of the internal market, the creation of the economic and
monetary union, it was time for a break. Still it would be wrong to make
this break last too long. We have reached the point in the European
integration where it would be a mistake to keep avoiding the debate on
the ultimate goal of the Union.

In the past months, several European leaders, the German Minister of
Foreign Affairs, the French President, got this debate going again. And
that is a good thing because the European Union as it is now could never
be the ultimate goal, which we have in mind. It does not operate well
enough for that. And what is even more important, the work is far from
finished. The internal market is not completed. Important economic
sectors have not been completely liberalised yet. The economic and
monetary union does not have a socio-economic basis. The common security
and defence policy is scarcely out of the egg. And the European space of
justice and security, which we baptised in Tampere, only exist on paper.
We need to make progress in each of these domains. But that will be
possible only if the ultimate goal which we wish to achieve is
formulated first. For any process comes to a standstill when we lose
sight of the objective. That is how it works. It is the dynamics caused
by the debate about the ultimate goal that is the strength of the
European integration. If these dynamics are no longer there, the
European unification is threatened by stagnation. Actually, the European
Union may be compared to a bicycle. It must move forward, otherwise it

But there is also a second reason why the debate about the future of
Europe must be continued with great intensity. And that reason is that
in the absence of a coherent vision of Europe's future, the terrain
threatens to be occupied by different ideas. Lack of vision creates a
vacuum in which member states fall back on themselves and in which they
content themselves with the existent community achievements. At best
they will reject any further integration. In the worst case they will
start to plead for the restoration of their former sovereignty. I may be
exaggerating things. I may be too pessimistic. But it is my deep-rooted
conviction that any further delay in the debate about the future of
Europe will make us fall behind, particularly in a world that is
characterised by a trend to globalise.

If we fail to pick up the debate about the ultimate goal of Europe, I am
afraid that we will be confronted with an increasing resistance to the
further enlargement of the Union. For we must remain realistic. Leaders
of states and governments advocate an expansion of the Union. But in
many circles there is an undeniable reserve with regard to enlargement.
It goes without saying that I do not share that reserve. All countries,
which are now applicants, belong to Europe. We have lived in a divided
continent long enough. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Sofia and Bucharest are
European cities just like Berlin, Rome, Paris, Madrid or London. They
are the capitals of countries and people with a European identity.
Enlargement is all about the restoration of European unity, the
harmonisation of the geographical and the political identity, just as
was the case with German unity and German identity in 1989. The
expansion has exactly the same scope and exactly the same significance
as the German reunification after the fall of the Berlin wall. Europe
has been divided in two parts by the knife of communism for forty years.
Now communism has disappeared. And the unity of Europe must be restored
as soon as possible.

Besides, there are quite a number of rational motives to bring about
this greater Europe. If the European unity is rejected, there is a
serious risk of a further fragmentation of Central and Eastern Europe,
of instability at our external borders, of increasing migration
pressure, conflicts and war.

Therefore it must be clear that, next to picking up the debate about the
ultimate goals of Europe, we need to bring negotiations on the entry of
the applicant countries into the Union to a favourable conclusion as
soon as possible. Two things are essential in that respect. First of
all, the application of each member state must be assessed separately.
It would be wrong to allow applicant countries to enter into the Union
merely on the basis of political considerations if these countries do
not meet the technical requirements. And it would be just as wrong to
keep applicant countries waiting - merely on the basis of political
considerations - if they do meet these requirements. The full, strict
and correct application of the acquis communautaire must be the point of
departure for the negotiations about the applicant countries' entry into
the Union. Of course, transitional measures may have to be taken to
ensure that the new member states can survive the shock of their entry.
But in any case, the acquis communautaire must remain the standard, the

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What is the ultimate goal of the European Union we have in mind? Before
answering that question, let me state in no uncertain terms that the
ultimate goal is not just an institutional matter. Mind you, the
discussion about the institutions is extremely important. I will come
back to this later. But it is wrong to reduce the debate about the
ultimate goal to a discussion merely about institutions.

The debate about the ultimate goal must first of all be a debate on the
development of a joint vision of the Europe in which we want to live,
about the role we would like to see Europe play in the world, about the
domains in which we want to pursue a common European policy together.

The first question - although it may seem a bit banal - is the
following: in what kind of Europe do we want to live? I think that we
all would like to live in a Europe that is built on European values of
democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and the cultural and
political diversity which is our richness. In short, a Europe that
attaches great importance to the values, which result from the French
revolution. A Europe that knows how to ensure these values without
giving up its diversity and its future. A future which lies in the
conversion of our economies, in the creation of a new economy that is
based on knowledge, information and communication and that respects the
strong feeling of solidarity - a feeling that is cherished in our

It must not only be a democratic, pluralistic and solidary Europe; it
must be a politically strong Europe that plays a prominent role world-
wide, that has a say and is given a say, and that universally propagates
its ideas and values. That is not an imperialistic attitude but - I have
just used the word - a universalistic attitude. We must believe that the
values which we cherish, more in particular democracy, human rights,
rule of law, interhuman solidarity, are values that may be applied all
over the world. In other words, we want a Europe that is able to assume
control and to lead the way, both morally and economically, together
with the other democratic superpowers in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This may sound a bit bombastic, a bit exaggerated, but let me concretise
things for you. What we want is a Europe that takes action on its own
initiative in the Balkans, that ends the ethnic fire in former
Yugoslavia, and not a Europe that sits by until its American ally takes
an initiative, just because we do not have the necessary political power
nor the military capacity to do it ourselves.
We want a Europe that assumes its responsibility outside its own
borders, for example in Africa, the continent that suffers terribly
under poverty, illness and war. Only a strong, united Europe can develop
a long-lasting partnership with Africa, a stability pact that can help
the African people out of the economic morass and that can put them once
and for all on the way towards development. For that is our
responsibility and not the responsibility of the rest of the world. Not
only is it the continent that is nearest to Europe, just across the
Mediterranean Sea. It is also the continent for which we have a
historical responsibility. Because it is the 15 member states who
colonised and subjugated this continent for more than fifty years.

Finally, we want a Europe which - together with other superpowers -
resolutely chooses for a balanced system of world trade without
protectionism, without protection of its own market, so that economic
growth and prosperity will be possible in the underdeveloped regions too
and so that the stream of migrants from the past decade can be ended.

If we want to live in a diverse, democratic, multiform and solidary
Europe, a Europe with new economic power, a Europe that may play a
prominent role in the world, we need to develop fundamental lines of
policy in at least four domains. Today these lines of policy hardly
exist or do not exist at all. I think that these lines of policy are the
following :
- A truly common foreign policy, in other words a policy speaking with
one voice at all international fora, in the United Nations, in the
Security Council.
- An autonomous European defence policy. Helsinki was a first step in
that direction, but we need to go much further than the rapid reaction
force which was established there.
- An integrated justice and migration policy. This surely is one of the
domains where European citizens expect the Union to take action fast.
- A joint socio-economic policy platform to complement the economic and
monetary union we created a couple of years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The question then is : which is the best method to facilitate this
European idea of the future and these new lines of policy? The answer to
this question is essential because - although it does not seem to be so
- this is the underlying debate that is going on. Do we prefer the
intergovernmental method or the community approach? And which is best to
achieve our aim?

Let me state right from the start that I share with much of the
criticism on the present community approach: non-transparency, too much
bureaucracy, and lack of democratic legitimacy. But it is not because we
have ascertained that these weak points exist that the community
approach itself is to be rejected and that we must strike out on the
intergovernmental course.

We all know that international institutions (whether they function
properly or not) are based on an intergovernmental method. Big
successful countries and states, especially the ones in which various
cultures are united, are based on a community approach. Some might call
it a federal approach, but the word is not relevant. The debate that is
going on now can be formulated as follows : is the European Union going
in the direction of an ordinary international institution that is based
on intergovernmentalism and the rule of unanimity? Or do we keep
developing a joint community approach in a radically new version that
meets three imperative conditions: transparency, efficiency and
democratic legitimacy.

So you see, by making these conditions imperative I do not intend to
ignore the imperfections of the present community approach. But once
again, it would be foolish to conclude from the existence of these
imperfections that we must drop the entire community approach. I fear
that an explicit choice for the intergovernmental approach in a European
Union with 28 member states will inevitably take the form of a
"Directoire"; a virtual government by a restricted number of larger
member states. Even if this fear proves to be exaggerated, I am still
convinced that an intergovernmental approach - whatever its nature may
be - can never compensate for the lack of community institutions. This
may be illustrated by means of a number of obvious examples.

Once again I refer to the wars in the Balkans. We did not have the
necessary institutions and means to react quickly and effectively. And
the intergovernmental game between the European member states, which
existed at the time, has done little to remedy this situation. In the
end, the United States had to take the initiative and the lack of a
community approach turned out to be a recipe for what is called a
"Europe impuissante" (powerless Europe).

A second example is the current weak position of the Euro. It is clear
that the exchange markets underestimate the value of the Euro. For the
underlying socio-economic reality is positive : the economic growth
perspectives are high, unemployment is decreasing, and inflation remains
low. Then what is wrong? I think it is the lack of a community
foundation in spite of the existence of the European Central Bank. This
lack manifests itself in two domains. First there is the lack of
integrated, joint socio-economic policy options for the entire Eurozone.
Secondly there is the fact that everybody has his own governmental say
about the Euro. We need one community institution - by nature the
European Central Bank - which must control the Euro and set out the
monetary policy; not five or six eminent personalities : the chairman of
the European Central Bank, of course, the chairman of Euro XII, the
Commissioner in charge of the monetary policy and the Ministers of
Finance of a couple of member states. Only a consensus can inspire
confidence, especially in the people of those countries that are not
part of the Euro yet.

My third example to illustrate the indispensability of a community
approach - albeit a radically new one - is the migration issue. In spite
of all the impetuses that were given at the extraordinary European
Summit of Tampere, which dealt with issues such as asylum, migration,
police and justice, it is clear that we will not achieve results with
intergovernmental agreements alone. We will actually have to create a
European scope for justice, we will have to take joint measures to
combat crime, we will have to work out a joint approach with regard to
asylum and migration, and this will have to be done through community
institutions. Otherwise I am afraid that we will not achieve any results
at all.

There is one more example I can give you: food security in Europe. How
are we going to ensure this without a community approach? Belgium has
developed its own control and detection system in the past year, but the
demand for a European food security agency remains.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that it may be proved that in all these fields only a
community approach yields results. There are lots of examples to prove
that a community approach pays off. In the WTO negotiations, for
example, the impact of Brussels is evident. Competition, which is the
competence of the Commission, and which is therefore a community matter,
produces actual results. Surely, everyone remembers the merger between
Boeing and McDonald Douglas, on the occasion of which Commissioner Van
Miert prevented this merger company from entering into exclusivity
contracts with the major American airline companies. Only recently,
Vodaphone and KPN-Orange were compelled to split up in order not to
distort the competition on the Dutch mobile telephony market.

The internal market, as we know it today, is the example par excellence
of the potential strength of a good community approach. This internal
market was the result of a community approach on the basis of
directives, transposition terms and jurisdiction, with an increasing
impact of soft law with peer review, convergence pressure and
benchmarking. All these measures did not lead to the predicted
uniformity and to a levelling harmonisation imposed from above. On the
contrary, they led to the creation of an integrated market that allowed
considerable space and freedom.

Does this imply that the intergovernmental approach should be avoided at
all costs? Of course not. Intergovernmental co-operation can be an
initial impetus, and sometimes an intermediate stage towards
integration, but it can never be the actual objective. Whereas a
community approach may be based on qualified majorities, an
intergovernmental approach can only be based on a consensus and the
strict unanimity rule. In many cases this boils down to a situation of
impotence and indecisiveness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to seize this opportunity to raise a point which relates to
this issue and which we will have in Nice, particularly the discussion
about enhanced co-operation, which, I am afraid, is slipping further and
further towards an intergovernmental approach. Indeed, enhanced co-
operation should never become an intergovernmental instrument that
allows a number of member states to tear themselves loose in a number of
fields, with a secretariat that functions outside the community
institutions. It should not be an instrument to create a two-speed
Europe. I am in favour of enhanced co-operation. I believe that it can
be a means to speed up integration and to involve member states, which
did not join in during the first phase.

In other words, enhanced co-operation can never be a mechanism to
withdraw oneself from the Union. It is an instrument to strengthen the
Union from within, an instrument of integration, not exclusion. An
instrument that is aimed at attracting member states, not rejecting
This also implies that enhanced co-operation can never become the
standard. At first sight, this may seem an attractive thought, but in
fact it would be a way to conceal that we do not want to increase the
number of areas where majority decisions are the rule. For that reason
alone, I argue in favour of transforming enhanced co-operation into a
mechanism that is managed and controlled in and by the Commission. That
is why I am also in favour of linking a number of catch-up mechanisms to
enhanced co-operation, which will facilitate the integration of those
countries which could or would not participate in a first phase.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to return to the weaknesses of the current operation of the
European Union : inefficiency, lack of transparency, lack of democratic
legitimacy. What would a new community approach, cured from these three
illnesses, look like? And which profound modifications are required in
order to achieve this?

Efficiency is closely linked to cohesion. Without cohesion there is no
efficiency. Four radical measures are needed : in the first place, a
socio-economic basis for the monetary union, a socio-economic policy
platform which is completed each year by means of directives or
recommendations and which outlines the policy to be pursued in these
domains within the Union. This goes much further than GOPE (the "grandes
orientations de politiques économiques") and the annual adjustments of
the Luxembourg and Lissabon guide-lines. Not only must this socio-
economic basis combine these instruments. The aim is also that it
follows the example of the public finance policy we pursued in the past
and which led to the creation of an economic and monetary union.
Obviously, it should be less stringent yet comparable in a sense that it
is based on annually adjusted programmes which are comparable to the
stability programmes that have led to the creation of the economic and
monetary union. Such a socio-economic policy platform would be a basis
for our joint currency and would make it possible for Europe to respond
as a Union to exogenous factors such as the recent oil crisis. And this
in contrast with the disparate position of the member states which we
are currently experiencing, to say nothing of the complete absence of
the Commission and Council in this respect.

Instead of sending letters to request an explanation about the hasty
measures which the member states have taken these past few weeks or
which they were forced to take, Commission and Council had better taken
a joint European initiative.

It seems to me that the second measure is the inevitable separation of
the Council's general secretariat and the High Representative for the
Common Foreign and Security policy. To my view, it would be better if
this High Representative had a seat both on the Council and the
Commission in order to avoid ambiguity in this respect. It is untenable
that both the High Representative and the Commissioner are involved in
the Union's joint foreign policy.

A third measure which is necessary refers specifically to the Union's
defence policy: in 2003 we will have a rapid reaction force, but we
already have a Eurocorps, a reinforced co-operation agreement avant-la-
lettre which unites five countries at present. Together, they may be the
steppingstone to a truly European defence system. For the Eurocorps is
an instrument for converting the rapid reaction force into the nucleus
of what is to be the future European defence system. Because the rapid
reaction force that was created in Helsinki is nothing more than a list
of troops and means on which the High Representative can count. However,
in the relatively short term we must go further than that and create an
integrated European defence system with a collective military force,
common equipment and materials and even a common defence industry which
can provide all this.

A last measure to increase efficiency intends to create treaty
mechanisms, which make it possible to switch from a system of unanimity
to qualified majority - provided that there is a consensus -, all this
without the need to follow the rigid procedure of an intergovernmental
conference and a ratification round. It would certainly be a tremendous
step forward in areas such as justice and domestic affairs. Article 29
of the Treaty provides for such a "passerelle". We will have to examine
if it would be appropriate to create more of these treaty articles or
rather to extend or at least effectively apply the possibilities
provided for in article 29.

Two radical measures are necessary to achieve genuine transparency
within the Union. Firstly, I refer to the Charter of the Fundamental
Rights that in the long term should be included in the Treaties. I do
not see the point of limiting ourselves to a mere declaration. We
already have a European Declaration on Human Rights. The charter must go
further and add something new. Furthermore it is also necessary to
rewrite and simplify those Treaties. This should be the initial phase
towards the creation of a Constitution of the European Union.

Secondly, we must regulate the Kompetenzabgrenzung (delimitation of
competences). In other words, each level - the Union, the member states,
the regions and the federal states - should know its competences. There
should be transparent and clear agreements regarding competences in
order to remove the impression that the Union is surreptitiously
shifting competences and is assuming competences which had better be
exercised at a different level. It is not my intention to make a plea
for a European superstate, quite the reverse. The European integration
process is unique precisely because the Union does not subject or phases
out or substitutes the existing states nor the regions and the federal
states, but peacefully integrates them in a greater unity. The growing
weight of the regions is already clearly noticeable in the demographic
and economic field. In several members' states, cross-border co-
operation between regions is already a fact. In a globalising world it
is better to put competences where they can be exercised most
efficiently. This is a common trend today in major member states of the
Union which were centrally controlled until recently, such as France or
the United Kingdom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A new community approach will only constitute a breach with the past if
there is real democratic legitimacy. Indeed, a true democracy is founded
on a system of checks and balances. And we must dare to admit that this
has actually never been the case in the European Union. There is
insufficient democratic legitimacy within the Union.

That is partly due to the weakness of political party formation in
Europe is concerned. And it is also related to the current structure and
position of the European Parliament. The concept of a bicameral system
proposed by minister Fischer is a step in the right direction. The first
chamber would seat the directly elected members of parliament, on the
basis of the respective populations, the second chamber would seat the
representatives of the member states with a fixed and equal
representation of those member states, exactly like the United States
Senate. Therefore I opt for the second alternative that was presented by
the German Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Democratic legitimacy also implies the existence of an
interinstitutional balance. Most European constitutions make it possible
for government and Parliament to dissolve each other. Within the Union,
however, a unilateral system is applied, according to which Parliament
can dissolve the Commission, but cannot be dissolved itself. In a union
of checks and balances this imbalance must be adjusted.

Finally, democratic legitimacy implies the creation of a different
Commission, a Commission which does not draw its power from its past,
from the personality of one or more of its members, but from a renewed
relationship with other institutions and more particularly from a
democratically and directly elected chairman. Besides, I do not see how
Europe could benefit from a weaker Commission. We need a strong
Commission that can exercise its right of initiative to the full.
Subsequently, the Council must outline its principal priorities and act
as legislator, together with the Parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is the significance of all these proposals to the intergovernmental
conference, which will hopefully come to a conclusion in Biarritz and
Nice? How does all this relate to the Intergovernmental Conference? As I
already stated, the debate on the ultimate goals must not be a pretext
for postponing the important decisions, which we now have to take. The
present Intergovernmental Conference must carry through the necessary
reforms in the first place to ensure that a Union with 28 member states
remains operational. The more we can do in that respect, the better. But
the discussion should not be ended even if Nice turns out to be a
success. That does not mean that I am hoping for new left overs. But I
do think that after Nice and even before the start of enlargement we
will have to outline the ultimate goal of our joint undertaking, namely
the European Union. Making a first outline could be a task for the
Belgian presidency, which could result in a declaration of the 15 member
states, a declaration which does not give the exact content but which
rather indicates the direction of the ultimate goal. A new modification
of the treaty immediately after the Intergovernmental Conference is not
realistic and I do not advocate it. But a declaration in which the start
is given for a debate about the leap that the expanded Union will have
to make ought to be possible. I do not know when this will lead to a new
modification of the treaty, and for the time being I do not think that
is relevant. But it will happen eventually.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to quote the famous Hölderlin: "Man is a God when he dreams,
but a beggar when he thinks". What we need to guide the European Union
to its final destination are both gods and beggars, both dreamers and
thinkers. The European Union was the result of a vision and of the
every-day political reality. Let's continue along these lines and dream
and set to work at the same time.

Thank you.