Calling for the creation of the "first supranational democracy in the world," EU Commission President Romano Prodi laid out his vision for a federalist constitution of the European Union.
European Commission President Romano Prodi wants to create a more powerful EU executive
As Europe continues to debate its future shape, one of the European Union's most powerful voices on Thursday called for greater centralization of power in Brussels.
In a speech before the European Parliament, European Commission President Romano Prodi rejected calls for the creation of a powerful EU president by countries like Great Britain and France. Prodi said the power should reside with the policy-initiating commission and the 626-member European Parliament. He proposed establishing a foreign minister for the EU who would become the body's "single voice" on international issues.
"It is no longer just a question of ensuring the institutions work properly after enlargement," Prodi said. "It must work out the overall shape of the Union for generations to come."
The Commission president submitted his draft to parliament in a 17-page, bound red pocket book, which has been dubbed "Prodi's Bible." Among the primary commandments listed is Prodi's call for the abolition of the right to veto held by member states.
Describing unanimity as one of the "bleakest periods" of EU history, Prodi said he would only support the requirement in cases of "constitutional importance" and instead insisted on the acceptance of qualified majorities in most EU decisions. The right of member nations to veto legislation and regulations has made it difficult for the Commission to assert authority in crucial areas ranging from contentious agricultural policies to defense.
The shift would likely provide the EU with more authority on home and judicial affairs that could extend into taxation and defense. Simple majorities are the best way of avoiding legislative gridlock after the EU grows from 15 to 25 member states in 2004, he argued.
No need for an EU President
Saying it would "cause more problems than it would solve," Prodi also rejected calls for a democratically elected European president and instead suggested that the Commission president should be elected by a two-thirds majority in parliament, thus providing democratic legitimacy for the position.
An elected president "may enhance continuity and visibility of the Union's work," said Prodi. "But it divests the member states -- and it deprives us all -- of an opportunity for close involvement in the European project. Quite frankly, such a position would open a rift in our institutional structure."
Valery Giscard d'Estaing
France, Britain, Spain and EU Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing (photo) have all called for the creation of a president of the European Council -- a single visage for the continent. Names from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar have been bandied about for the top slot. But Prodi said Thursday he is in favor of maintaining the current six-month rotating EU presidency.
A single face for foreign policy
But there is one area where Prodi clearly sees the need for a single voice: foreign policy. He is calling for the creation of a single, powerful EU foreign minister who would be given more power and merge the global duties currently shared by Javier Solana, the EU's high foreign policy representative, and Chris Patten, it's external relations commissioner. The position would be appointed by the Commission president and EU member states and would be considered the Commission's vice president.
"National leaders should act on their commitment to make Europe a superpower," he told the parliament. "Speaking with one voice is essential to defend Europe's social model in a globalized world and protect our values."
Support may be limited
Prodi's vision for a European constitutional framework with a strong federalist backbone is likely to create conflict with Britain, France and Spain, which favor greater sovereignty for member states. But it is likely to be supported by Germany and many of the smaller EU states, which prefer strengthening the triumvirate of power in Brussels.
"He's delivered an integrationist agenda with useful ideas, but one where member states are worried about the commission's ability to take over those responsibilities," Heather Grabbe, research director at the London-based Center for European Reform, told DW-WORLD: "The Commission's proposal is acceptable to some of the member states, especially the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), but many others including France and Britain are opposed to having more power for the Commission -- especially in areas of defense, foreign policy and taxation." Grabbe believes opponents to Prodi's vision want to maintain veto powers in those policy areas.
The Commission released its plan just one month after Giscard d'Estaing, who is heading the European constitutional convention, unveiled his own blueprint for a future European constitution. Among d'Estaing's central proposals was the creation of a powerful EU president. Giscard d'Estaing and the delegation he is leading are expected to prepare a draft European constitution by next summer.