The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade in cooperation with the State Secretariat for European Union Affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office hosted the “Stronger Together – A Europe of Nation States?” conference on 25 January, the second session of Stronger Together conference series which deals with the future of Europe.
In his welcome speech, Ambassador Márton Schőberl, Director of IFAT pointed out that the aim of the conference is to engage in a debate on whether Europe should have a more federalised future or the “Europe of nation states” is the new desired path. He added that the question mark in the title of the conference is intentional to reflect on the ongoing debate. He also moderated the discussion between the invited experts.
The first 15 minutes long pitch was delivered by Sławomir Dębski, Director of Polish Institute of International Affairs. Debski argued that the people of Europe do not want a deeper and closer Europe, nor a multi-speed one. They simply need to have a better Europe which is effective and is able to serve their needs. According to him, the problem is that we cannot have a change in the current system since accountability is linked to national parliaments not to European institutions.
Debski maintained that as long as we do not have democratic accountability tied directly to EU institutions, we would have the tension between national parliaments and EU institutions. He suggested that one important change could be the deliberation of the European Parliament, the introduction of a new political practice, which enhances member states’ voice and role in decision making processes by limiting the de facto power of the institutions. He further suggested that MEPs within the European Parliament should be both members of EP and national parliaments since nowadays it looks like that the two kinds of politicians live in completely different planet which usually creates more tension.
Martin Michelot, Deputy-Director of the Europeum Institute for European Policy expressed that a “Europe of nation states” does not necessarily mean that the European construction has to stop. From a Czech perspective, there is a need for flexibility in the decision making system. He warned the V4 countries that the negative image of them could push the Czech Republic into the direction of another regional cooperation with Germany and Austria.
According to him, there are several big questions that leave the Visegrád Four countries puzzled: Could the V4 policies be pushed more easily within a Europe of nation states? Could the V4 take part in other coalitions with other member states? Michelot highlighted the existence of “divide and conquer” mentality regarding threat perceptions and economic interest which makes the consensus hard to achieve.
He also added the French perspective to his speech. According to Michelot, if Francois Fillon wins the French presidential elections, Germany may become a minority in defining European mainstream. Fillon calls for a Europe of nations, in which the EU should focus and expand subsidiarity. He forecasts that whatever presidential candidate will win the 2017 electoral cycle, the new president will be rather inward looking. He concluded that France could serve as an important domio towards building the Europe of nation states.
Lastly, Eleonora Poli, researcher of the Instituto Affari Internazionali (Italy) presented the main concerns of Italy in connection with the current migration crisis. She exerted that the EU is facing multiple crises simultaneously and the migration crisis is perhaps the worst since the creation of the community. Poli explained the division between Italy’s government, who call for more integration, and the citizens of Italy, who have a negative perception towards the EU due to its inefficiency. As of migration, she maintained that the Renzi government favoured an effective relocation system. She added that the big flow of economic migrants who cannot apply for asylum is the problem. In her history Italy has never been a receiving country like Germany, Britain and France. The problem multiplies with the fact that there is no a working integration model. This is why Italy would like to have more help from the EU in form of financial and institutional support. In her closing remarks, Poli also mentioned the division between the North and South in connection with the fiscal regulatory opposition.