Mario Telò is the head of the Centre for the Study of Politics in Europe at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. A major focus of his department’s work is European Integration. Professor Telò believes that foreign policy is a vital element for the cohesion of the European Union’s member states. He spoke to Sergio Cantone, EuroNews’ Brussels Correspondent:
EuroNews: Professor Telò, welcome to EuroNews. In terms of Europe’s position in the world, the EU has clear policies on areas like economics, but not really an overall policy on foreign relations; isn’t that the case?
Mario Telò: In spite of internal difficulties, the European Union is not doing too badly in these uncertain times, with very serious international crises, political as well at economic, during the period when Finland has held the rotating presidency of the EU, first there’s been the lack of progress in the Doha round of international trade negotiations, and secondly the failure of US policy in the Middle East. The European Union is playing a political role, for the first time, in the Middle East,which is very important, but at the same time, the difficulties have increased with Russia and with Europe’s neighbours, Turkey and Russia. So, from this point of view, we are in a new phase, in which the EU’s internal conflicts, the internal lack of unity, is less of a problem in terms of world initiatives than it is with regards to its relations with its neighbours.
EuroNews: So what about the EU constitution, or whatever we call whatever might replace it; is there any possibility of coming up with something?
Mario Telò: I believe there will be a new constitutional treaty and that when Germany takes over the presidency of the EU, they will launch moves leading to a new treaty for the European Council in June 2007. On the other hand, perhaps you have to take into account the lack of European leadership in this area. That just hasn’t emerged. Germany did not take the leadership of a group to come up with a constitutional treaty in a timely way.
EuroNews: But it would seem that even Germany – which is due to take over the EU presidency for six months from January – might be prepared to accept a scaled down version of a constitutional treaty?
Mario Telò: We can’t expect too much from the German presidency. Germany itself has lowered expectations. That’s because it will have to wait until after the presidential elections in France. It will have only one week. Therefore, I think that it will put forward only one procedure. Which means that the Portuguese presidency, in the second half of 2007, will be essential. The Portuguese presidency will have to manage what could be the draft of a new constitutional treaty, conserving the essentials of the first and second parts of the original constitutional treaty.
EuroNews: The political leaders who oversaw the creation of the constitution aren’t going to be around any more. Do you think that will be beneficial for the treaty or will it work against it?
Mario Telò: Europe does not have the kind of supranationalist leaders it did, up until, say France’s Francois Mitterrand, Germany’s Helmet Kohl, Spain’s Felipe González. Today, perhaps, they don’t have time. Why? Because globalisation makes national democracies fragile. They have fragile majorities, there are divisions and the political leaders are preoccupied with domestic policy, domestic policy is their priority. The result is that we don’t have a leader in Europe. The national political systems do not produce big European leaders.
EuroNews: A kind of rejection of the expansion of the EU by the people of Europe created the crisis particularly over the constitution. Do you agree that is the problem, the idea of more countries joining the EU?
Mario Telò: This debate creates two extreme view points. On one side there are those who say the problem doesn’t exist, that we need to move towards expansion, that any expansion is good. The opposite extreme position is that we should freeze Turkey’s membership application and send out a clear message that it’s impossible for the European Union to absorb new members, at the risk of making the democratic deficit worse( such as shortfalls in democratic rule of law).
In my opinion, it is necessary to work on a middle position. Indeed, it is absurd to ignore the fact that the French or Dutch referendum outcomes were because those countries’ citizens had never been given an opportunity to express their views on the swift speed of the EU expansion. Therefore, what’s needed is to digest the current EU expansion and the Finnish Prime Minister has talked about a phase of consolidation. There could be further expansion in 10 years, 15 years. Therefore, there’d be a phase of consolidation within which the European Union can, in its current state, but also with a Foreign Minister, manage its international role.
The realistic thing to do would be to try to reinforce the European region, that is the member states and the area around the European Union. 500 million European citizens, and around 500 million neighbours. And that is, including Turkey, where common policies are possible, not only for trade but also for action on stability. I think that is a real approach within the world of globalisation and if it is not done then there is a risk of democratic crises in the European Union countries themselves.