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By Valery Giscard d'Estaing

Valery Giscard d'Estaing is a former president of France and Europe's ranking elder statesman. He wrote this article for Global Viewpoint.

PARIS -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has just made public Germany's vision of the future of the European Union. Strictly speaking, it is a document that has been drafted by his party, the SPD, but one cannot imagine that it has been done, on so sensitive a subject, without the chancellor's agreement.

Schroeder proposes an organization of Europe that looks like the German constitution -- a federal structure; a government made up by the European Commission, whose president would become the prime minister and would be responsible to the European Parliament; an extension of the Parliament's powers, that would become sovereign in the fields of its jurisdiction; and, finally, the transformation of the Council of Ministers, that actually assembles the representatives of the governments of the member states, into a high chamber like that of the German Bundesrat.

It is indeed the German constitutional scheme, inspired by the United States, that has worked satisfactorily since 1949.

Schroeder's proposition has provoked a mini-storm. The reactions are mainly negative, with the exception of the Belgians. And if the storm is not stronger, it is because it is tempered by the skepticism of the European leaders who, deep down, hardly believe in its chances to succeed.

To begin with, one must applaud the fact that the German chancellor has presented the image of a consistent Europe, unlike so many of his colleagues who often take refuge in contradictory or ambiguous declarations.

Schroeder understands that, to interest the public in the European cause, he had to present a general outline of the future.

One must finally thank the German chancellor for daring to transgress the taboo that surrounds the word "federal,'' until now banished from the European vocabulary. Remember that, in the Treaty of Maastricht, the expression "of a federal nature'' appeared but was taken out of the final text at the request (notably) of Great Britain and France.

Aside from these merits, for me Schroeder's plan raises several issues:

1. Unlike the process leading up to the creation of the European Parliament and the euro, the Schroeder plan is an isolated proposition, advanced without previous consultation with Germany's partners. In accentuating the European Parliament's role, it seems to favor Germany's interests as obtained in the Treaty of Nice -- that is, the upholding of its parliamentary representation when that of its main partners (United Kingdom, France and Italy) was reduced.

2. The proposition to make the European Commission the future "Government'' of Europe, and its president the "European Prime Minister,'' comes back to the initial conception of the Treaty of Rome. This was given up over the years because public opinion would not accept the political legitimacy of the Commission. The European Council, that brings together the representatives of the national governments, possesses a democratic legitimacy greater than that of the Commission. That is what Jean Monnet acknowledged when, in 1974, we created the European Council.

3. The proposition to make the Commission the government of Europe contradicts the decision (in truth, absurd) taken at Nice that the Commission be composed of one representative for each state, whether of old standing or new.

No government of Europe could work on this basis. To be able to follow the Schroeder project, the Treaty of Nice would have to be renegotiated, even though the parliaments of member states are already in the process of debating ratification.

4. Schroeder does not specify if his federal project relates to the current members of the European Union, or the founding members, to those members who belong to the Eurozone, or to the whole of the future members of the Union. However, the transfer of competencies entailed in setting up a federal power is easier to realize among relatively similar states (for example, those in the Eurozone) than among strongly differentiated states whose historical and political cultures are divergent.

5. The essential weakness of Schroeder's project is that it takes for granted a common will in Europe on the necessity of building an effective political system, and that any differences only concern the means to reach that goal. I do not think that this common will exists today: Everybody can note the differences of approach among Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Spain or even candidate-states such as the Czech Republic.

If Schroeder's proposition has the great advantage of "shaking the shaker'' of the limp European way of thinking, the discussion will progress only when it takes into account the present realities of the European debate.

Whether one decides in favor of a federative plan, or for an intergovernmental proceeding, drawing the line between national and local competencies on the one hand versus Union competencies on the other is unavoidable.

Failing such a clear partition, the management of the Union will get only more entangled and subject to bureaucratic drift. One can only approve, for example, the idea to give back to the member states the management of regional aid. The Belgian presidency in the second semester of 2001 will propose the most effective and realistic method to define this sharing of competencies.

The other reality is this: From now on the enlargement of Europe and its deeper integration constitute two different processes that require different approaches.

Since the decision to enlarge the European Union to 27 members (meaning more states than North and South America combined, with as much distance between their levels of development), it is out of the question to turn back. Yet it would be unrealistic to search for a high level of integration among these disparate entities.

The main problem is to make the whole, diversified group work well through good governance. It is to this issue, more practical than political, that Europe's leaders must give priority in the coming decade.

The other key issue is the creation of a European political power, able to balance the megapower of the United States. As Schroeder has by now discovered, that political power will likely be continental as the chances of Great Britain accepting a federative structure are minimal.

This European political power already has two embryos: the group of Founding States, that must maintain an active solidarity, and the states of the Eurozone, among which definitive monetary unity from 2002 on will weave an ever closer intimacy. The growth of these embryos has to be strengthened and developed.

The confusion caused by the German leaders of the 1990s resulted from their systematic assertion that it was possible to simultaneously realize the enlargement of the European Union while moving forward toward political unity.

This chimera resulted in the bastard treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, in which neither good governance for a greater Europe nor realistic progress toward political union for those states with a federative will can be found.

As long as nobody is determined to deal with these issues separately, the confusion shall go on at the risk of creating a disillusioned public that will too readily yield to the calls of the sovereignist sirens.

Greater Europe is too varied to mold itself into a federal structure. At the same time, the individual European states, Germany included, are too small to carry any weight in the decisions of the international community. These two facts dictate the only viable future: A European Community with a federal structure built within the larger development of a greater Europe.

After all, the American continent does not organize itself differently!

We must thank Schroeder for having at last provided the foil for the real debate, or rather two debates, on the future of Europe: a project of good governance for the Europe that keeps enlarging, and a federative project for those states that long for building a European political power together.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 5/10/01)