European leaders are gathering in Brussels for a two-day summit to give the alliance new momentum. But can the EU extricate itself from its constitutional tangle? DW-WORLD.DE talked to Commissioner Viviane Reding.
How embattled is Europe really?
The European Union's mid-year summit takes place against the backdrop of the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitution and the looming battle over the 2007-2013 budget. DW-WORLD interviewed Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Infomation Society and Media about what's in stake for the future of the 25-member bloc.
DW-WORLD: Commission President Barroso has called for a period of reflection with regard to ratification of the constitution, what does that actually mean for the constitution?
Reding: That means that the constitution is still alive and it is important that it is alive because it has been agreed upon by the political forces of all member states united in the convention, which means this agreement should be the basis for future discussions, but in the referenda procedures we saw that people were not informed about the content of the constitution and very often voted on the problems they have with Europe or the problems they have with their governments. So we think it will be very worthwhile to have a second look at this constitution and to present it to the public in a better way.
How long might that take?
That will take as long as it takes until the time is right for a decision. One cannot foresee that; it could be very short or it could also take several months.
How is it possible to regain the faith of the people with regard to the European project?
Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media
I have been listening to the citizens carefully during the last years, not only during the referenda period, and they have some problems with the way Europe is being built. The constitution was an answer to this problem, but people didn't understand it was a solution to their criticism. So this is the message we have to bring across.
Is there a general level of fatigue among Europeans when it comes to being members of a union?
I don't think so. When you see the figures, although the constitution was rejected by 55 percent of the French people, 70 percent of French people feel European and they want the European Union. They have a problem with the way this EU is developing. It is also a fact that in the last 10 years the development of this union has been running at such a pace that nobody has been able to follow it -- with the big enlargement and several reforms of the institutions. I believe it is going too quickly for the normal people.
How are you going to slow that down?
That is exactly why the president has said we have to calm down for a moment, we have to reflect, we have to explain that the criticism and the problems raised need a solution, and we have to explain how this solution is going to come about. We cannot keep running and running and running, and I think most of all, we must not continue enlarging Europe without discussing this with our populations. The last enlargement was not conceptualized by our citizens.
So what does it mean for those countries lining up to join the union?
I think that they will need more time to join the EU than they probably thought in the beginning. There is no timeframe in mind, this will be discussed according to the merits and the evolution of the different countries but I really feel very strongly that we have first to conceptualize and understand the implications of the last enlargement before we can go to further enlargement.
What could have been done differently in order to make the last enlargement more successful?
Information. I have always been astonished at how well the citizens of the 10 new countries were informed about the Europe of the 15, and I was always shocked to see how little the citizens of the Europe of 15 knew about the 10 newcomers. It is not enough to have a big welcoming party, you have to explain the advantages and the dangers to the people, to explain what is being done in order to secure a smooth transition from ten to 15, and now we are seeing the results. Many of our people have not understood the value and the advantages of enlargement and they are afraid of the pitfalls. And all this is happening because nobody has ever taken the responsibility of explaining the enlargement to the citizens of the 15 countries.
What would you say to those euroskeptics who are trumpeting that the EU is beginning to crumble?
That is wishful thinking and absolutely removed from reality. Europe is a reality and it has been since the World War II. Even those who have a problem with European institutions today don't have a problem with Europe. In a globalized world, the only way you can survive and keep your industry and economy strong, is by joining forces. To have individual countries fighting monster constructions like India or like China would be absolutely ridiculous.
Would you then reject the idea that there is a will among individual states for a greater degree of sovereignty?
The national states gave up part of their sovereignty in order to share it with others and become more efficient. Foreign trade is one example where one commissioner is negotiating for the 25. Could you imagine what would happen if the 25 were to negotiate individually? They wouldn't go anywhere. It is important that we join forces where we need to, in order that each of us becomes more efficient. There are many other levels of politics, such as taxation, where national states have kept their sovereignty, so it is also very difficult for the people to understand who is doing what in Europe, and I don't think that has been sufficiently explained. The crux of the matter is that the new constitution sorted this division of labour out in a very very clear way, and it is a pity that this answer to the fears of the people now has to be postponed.
What do you hope will be achieved at the summit over the next two days?
I hope they will keep a cool head and make wise decisions. One should not panic in the face of a problem, but sit down in a quiet way, reflect, and find the appropriate solutions. There is no use now in running. I think we have to calm down and think about it, discuss it and then decide on the next steps. I am sure there are going to be next steps to be taken, Europe is going to advance, it is going to do so at a different pace as foreseen in the recent past, but it has no other choice than to move on. The world around it is advancing, so if Europe does not keep pace, it will be at a disadvantage to the rest of the world.