Last year we marked the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which brought about the creation of the European Community. However, this Treaty was followed by others that deepened European integration, including the Treaty of Lisbon, the last one to consolidate certain provisions which reinforced the institutions in Brussels and became the starting point for the formation of two distinct realities of the EU and of its development. One of the two realities has been shaped by the approach of the Member States, while the other one has been upheld by the vision of the institutions in Brussels.
The difference in the approaches towards the EU, or, if you will, in the perception as to whose world is more important or more powerful, became particularly evident after the migration crisis. However, it is not the rivalry between the two approaches that matters, but rather the mentality that Brussels has shaped over many years, which is becoming increasingly less compatible with the visions maintained by the Member States.
The differences have become particularly noticeable shortly before the informal meeting of the 27 EU heads of state or government of 23 February 2018, when the European Commission and the European Parliament presented their proposals on EU institutional reforms. I will discuss the proposals further on, although it could be said right away that, if implemented, they would basically mean consolidation of a federal model and transformation of sovereign states into provinces.
I would like to begin with the proposal to establish a European constituency where candidates in the elections to the European Parliament would be selected from transnational lists. In view of the differences in voter numbers, one could expect that one or two Polish politicians might get a seat in a reformed European Parliament. However, it would be unrealistic to assume that somebody from the Baltic States or any other country similar in size would get a seat. This would, of course, lead to larger Member States wielding greater influence on the European Parliament. Therefore, this proposal comes nowhere near to delivering proportionately adequate, let alone equal, opportunities. Instead, it would give rise to an obviously discriminatory rule.
Another proposed idea suggests merging the positions of President of the European Council (supreme body representing the positions and interests of Member States) and President of the European Commission (main European enforcement body). This, in my opinion, would mark the beginning of the integration of the European Council, as an institution, into the Commission, thus turning it into a common European federal component and, in the long-run, but a mechanism of governance in the federal structure.
The proposals maintain the same policy on the possibility to extend the scope of qualified majority voting in the European Council without changing the EU treaties. There is only one thing that could be said in this regard. This, indeed, is envisaged in the treaties. However, solidary and unity are in no way achieved through mechanical voting. Genuine solidarity is not something imposed, as it is suggested at the moment (in that if there is no unanimous solidarity, that of the majority will suffice). It is rather achieved through discussion and the ensuing search for consensus.
It is also proposed to downsize the European Commission, which currently has a representative from each Member State. This once again translates into reduced political rather than administrative representation of smaller Member States at the European level.
What is probably by far the best example of the massive difference in the understanding between Brussels and Member States is the discussion on the right to nominate the President of the European Commission. The European Parliament and the European Commission both maintain that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process should be used (i.e. the European political party that received the majority of votes in the European Parliament elections designates the candidate for the post of the President of the European Commission).
However, if the European Council is stripped for good of its discretion to appoint the President of the European Commission, this would mean a significant victory for the federalists in reducing considerably the powers of Member States in the EU decision-making process. Meanwhile, the approach towards the rights of Member States is best illustrated in the viewpoint of Esteban González Pons, Member of the European Parliament representing the Group of the European People’s Party (although, to be fair, the approach was also supported by members of other key political groups). He pointed out that if heads of EU Member States try to eliminate the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process, the European Parliament should reject any candidate nominated for the post of the President of the European Commission. He even went on to threaten that such decision by the heads of state would cause a serious interinstitutional crisis.
Accordingly, the establishment built by the will of the Member States is now coming to bite the Member States themselves, who are the founders and developers of the European project. Allow me to remind you that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process is not envisaged in any of the EU treaties. It is merely an agreement made against the backdrop of the previous European Parliament elections in an alleged attempt to bring the European institutions closer to the citizens. This goes to show that appetite comes with eating. Of course, the fact that the leaders of European institutions are seen to have so far taken a reserved approach towards the said proposals should not mean that we can rest assured.
The attempts to act outside the framework of the treaties by the institutions, in particular, have lately become increasingly more evident (disguised as acts of generosity, say, willingness to ensure democratic legitimacy in the decision-making process, reinforce the concept of European citizenship, etc.). To make matters worse, the existing two different approaches give rise to a third one, i.e. absolute disenchantment with and scepticism about the current EU, which results in total rejection of the idea of a unified Europe. Lithuania maintains a reserved position, which is the right approach towards the said proposals by the European Commission and the European Parliament.
What is important though, is looking for and bringing together allies to prevent any initiatives of the kind all together. There can be no compromise on matters such as these, because adoption of one proposal may trigger a chain reaction, until one day we wake up to find ourselves in a place where we definitely did not expect to end up, i.e. a province of the European federation with our own flag and parliament, but wielding no real power to adopt essential political rather than administrative decisions.