The recent speech by Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, in praise of European federation was attacked by Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the French minister. Here they debate the nature of European integrationby Ben Hall / August 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
The Europe debate has moved up a gear, driven by the changes required by EU enlargement and by Joschka Fischer’s now celebrated Berlin speech in May. To counter an enlarged EU’s inefficiency and lack of legitimacy, Fischer proposed a classic federal structure: a European parliament and government with real legislative and executive power, circumscribed by a constitution. Such proposals are not new-elements of it already exist. Fischer’s originality lies in the idea that a core group should forge ahead, leaving the rest behind. Eventually, they would abandon the gradual pooling of sovereignty for a once-and-for-all constitutional settlement, allocating powers between centre and states.
But federalism is not a popular concept in France, least of all with Jean-Pierre Chevènement (who opposed the Maastricht treaty). For this leftist Republican, sovereignty resides at the national level, though this does not preclude delegating power to Brussels. Chevènement’s view carries extra weight because it is close to that of Lionel Jospin.
The irony is that the Europe debate is still, to a large extent, driven by national interests. France has always defined its influence in Europe by leaving other countries behind, especially Britain (hence President Chirac’s endorsement of the pioneer group idea). Meanwhile, Fischer is arguing for a neat allocation of powers in the EU, as in the Federal Republic.
As Martin Wolf wrote recently in the FT, there are three responses to integration: “The first (the German) combines maximum integration with some kind of federalism; the second (the French) combines maximum integration with control by governments; and the third (the British) combines minimum integration with control by governments? But the federal ideal is unworkable, bureaucratic inter-governmentalism is intolerable, and minimal integration is unavailable.”
Can the EU transcend these models? What is frustrating about the following debate is that it ends just where it should begin, with the question: what belongs to the nation and what to the federation? Perhaps a dose of Anglo-Saxon empiricism is required to find the answer.
Le Monde/die Zeit: Joschka Fischer, what was your reaction when you heard Jean-Pierre Chevènement, in response to your speech in Berlin, say that Germany was still dreaming of the Holy Roman Empire and had not fully recovered from the Nazi period?
Joschka Fischer: In France, Jean-Pierre Chevènement is regarded as a supporter of national sovereignty. By contrast, I am a convinced integrationist. Perhaps that’s what bothers him. Alternatively, perhaps what…