The direction the European Union takes in the future is a source of division and debate within the bloc. For Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt the answer is clear and unequivocal – a United States of Europe. That is the title of his recently published book devoted to the question. Verhofstadt outlined his position to EuroNews.EuroNews:Prime Minister, welcome to EuroNews. Let’s begin with the idea of a United States of Europe. Wouldn’t a two-speed Europe be a solution to the institutional impasses affecting the Union. Verhofstadt: For the moment the discussions have not reached a sure conclusion….whether to deepen relations within the EU as it is, or to continue enlargement. I think we can work in two concentric circles – a United States of Europe based on the Eurozone, and seperately, an organisation of European states which expands. That could be a solution. It would permit the countries which are members of the Eurozone the advantage of integrating their economic and social politics. EuroNews:Concerning the more integrated circle, do you imagine there would be cooperation on an intergovernmental basis, that’s to say, between the different governments of the member states, or something deeper? Verhofstadt: I think the danger today is that we could fall into a Europe with several projects based on several governments who are the driving forces behind these projects. And that’s not something we should do. We need to create a real political union, with politics based on the community, with a Commission which becomes, little by little, a real government for the European Union. EuroNews: But don’t you worry, for example, that a Europe too integrated, or the idea of it, would be terrifying for those Europeans who fear the bureaucracy of Brussels? Verhofstadt: There is too much bureaucracy in the European Union at the moment…we have to,rather, consider the big questions. The big questions are: how do we address people’s fears about globalisation, what communal politics can we develop on the level of social protection, of the economy and even taxation… and that’s what we have to explain. And, secondly, we also have to present projects like, for example, a defence for the European Union which shows we can play a role at a global level. When we consider the opinion polls carried out in recent years on how Europeans feel about the European Union, we see that they’re in favour of a European army, a European defence, but we haven’t done it. EuroNews: When you talk about common defence and common diplomacy, do you really think member states would be prepared to abandon their sovreignty in these areas? Verhofstadt: That’s the question. Are we ready to lose a part of our sovreignty to gain more weight on the world stage? Because that is what it will take. If we want to play a more important role on a global level it’ll be necessary to cooperate together and to lose some sovreignty. EuroNews: You talk about a two-speed Europe, but it’s impossible to imagine common European foreign policy and common European defence without the support of the UK, for example. Verhofstadt: No, but I also make a distinction. The Eurozone is necessary to develop credible policies in the socio-economic edifice. But a united states of Europe could cooperate, collaborate with all other members of the European Union on defence, on foreign affairs etc. In any case, what I’m proposing is open cooperation, but I believe it could also help public opinion understand and accept continued expansion. EuroNews: Would a two-speed Europe make it easier for countries like Turkey, for example, to join more easily? Verhofstadt: No, no, I really think with this proposition we make a distinction between deepening relations and enlargement, it would make it much easier for public opinion to accept the advantages of enlargement. EuroNews:Is the Constitution dead? Verhofstadt: I think the most important thing at the moment is to start debate on the future of Europe, and not just to say: first ratification, and then we’ll see. No, I think the moment has arrived to make clear choices – to choose whether we want a Europe which is just a space of free-exchange or whether we want a Europe which is rather a political union with all its attributes and all its instruments. EuroNews: You’re the first head of government to present a proposal speaking of a two-speed Europe, not necessarily formal, but significant and official all the same. From the institutional point of view when do you think you can put it on the table before your European colleagues? Verhofstadt: I hope that all countries, the 25, will join this project, so there won’t be a two-speed Europe. It’s not that if some countries wanted don’t want to adhere it would be necessary to continue with a hard core. I hope that all members could join. And the first time that we’re going to discuss it will certainly be the end of the Austrian presidency because we’re anticipating a discussion on the question at the Council in June.
Verhofstadt outlines united Europe plan