24 November, 2004
International seminar: The prospects of federalism in an enlarged
On November 21-23, 2003, around 50 participants - UEF, JEF and other participants from around 15 different European countries) had the opportunity to enjoy Sofia, not only beautiful weather and the wonderful food UEF and JEF Bulgaria had organised, but also, and first and foremost, to learn about and discuss the issues that were debated during the two days in the non-militant surroundings of the Sofia Military Club.

Despite the fact that Bulgaria does not belong to the countries acceding to the EU in May next year, the seminar organisers had managed to attract the attention and participation of high-ranking officials in the seminar. An official welcome address from the Prime Minister (and former King) Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha was read by the President of UEF Bulgaria and MP Svetoslav SPASSOV. The Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon PASSY said in his welcome speech that the terrorist attacks in Istanbul demonstrated that no country is safe on its own and that a common European Foreign Policy therefore was a necessity. The Deputy Prime Minister Plamen PANAYOTOV underlined the importance of a European Foreign Minister. Furthermore, he emphasised that all countries which had participated in the Convention should sign the Constitution together, once agreed upon by the IGC, even before their accession.

In a welcome address, which was read to the participants, José Maria GIL-ROBLES, who was unable to attend in person, said that:

"We are on the eve of winning a Constitution for Europe. A basic step on the long road from the logics of cooperation - which is the logic of equilibrium of forces - to the logics of federalism - which is the logic of building together, the logic of service instead the logic of domination. The new European countries will play - I am sure - a decisive role in this new phase of European integration, as they are well placed to understand the change of logic I have underlined and to engage themselves to build and push the present Member States to build together the Europe of mutual service...the federal Europe."

THE CONCEPT OF FEDERALISM

A diverse number of topics were touched upon and discussed. Elaborating on the concept of federalism, Richard LAMING (UEF Bureau member who was baptised 'chief ideologist' by some) explained that federalism was both 'old-fashioned' (based on the belief in government, in progress and detail) and a 'new political thinking' (not being constrained by national borders, federalism as a direction rather than destination; thinking of politics as a moral issue). Bruno BOISSIERE (UEF Secretary-General) also emphasised that federalism first of all was based on the belief in representative democracy that, however, could be supplemented and combined with elements of direct democracy (such as a referendum). The participants also agreed that federalism was a way to organise cultural and political diversity.

THE EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION AND THE IGC

Lothar JASCHKE (Austrian Embassy representative) emphasised that the title - Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe - showed that the vocation of the Constitution was not to remain limited to the current EU member states, but to apply all over Europe.

As regards the Intergovernmental Conference, Marc-Oliver PAHL (UEF Bureau member) pointed out that 91 amendments had so far been handed in to the draft Constitution, which demonstrated the impossibility of renegotiating its content. Only Germany and Italy had refrained from handing in amendments in order to support its ratification without changes. Taking particularly account of the difficulties and claims brought forward by Poland Spain, Alexander von LINGEN (EP representative) stated that a miracle was needed, but added that miracles had happened before in the history of European integration.

A great deal of time was invested in the discussion about the composition of the Commission. Almost all participants agreed that 'bigger wasn't better' and that an efficient and competent Commission was most important. However, a Bulgarian participant said that, with the proposed rotation system, countries might have to wait for up to 10 years for one of their nationals to become Commissioner after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. This put into question the composition of the Commission based on rotation. Lothar JASCHKE defended the idea that the Commission composition should be as diverse as possible, by saying that the overrepresentation of small countries was one of he founding principles of European integration. Marc-Oliver PAHL supported the idea that the question remained open until 2008, also because it would necessitate the convening of a second Convention, which would be in charge of preparing revisions of the Constitution before the European elections in 2009.

EUROPEAN FOREIGN POLICY

During the discussion on CFSP, the speakers Sonja DIEZ (European Commission Delegation to <st1:country-region Bulgaria), Elmar TIMPE (Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy), Alexander von LINGEN and Philipp AGATHONOS (UEF Vice-President) agreed on the importance of a coherent and unitary foreign policy. The Iraq crisis had almost completely jeopardized CFSP by revealing deep disunity. It was pointed out that Europe could not have a common foreign and security policy without having common defence. As regards the new position of Foreign Minister, everybody agreed that it made little sense to have a minister without a common policy.</span>

Philipp AGATHONOS put forward the idea of the emancipation of Europe from the United States and that Europe should promote its interest more independently in the world. However, most agreed that the definition of 'European interest' and strategies should take place on the federal level rather than in the Member States. Kristina WEICH HONDRILA (UEF Organisation Manager) stressed that the values (democracy, freedom, human rights etc.) and (federal) principles promoted internally by the European Union should also apply externally to the actions of the EU if its policy was to be legitimate. This would particularly mean promoting not so much exclusively European interests, but universal rights and strengthening worldwide institutions such as the United Nations.

INVOLVEMENT OF EUROPEAN CIVIL SOCIETY

Professor POPOV (Rule of Law Institute in Sofia) underlined that NGOs were essential to the functioning of democratic societies and the promotion of tolerance, human rights, the rule of law etc., particularly in countries having suffered of 50 years of communist rule. In countries like Bulgaria a new culture of mutual understanding and conflict resolution had to be created, although mentality changes are those taking the longest time after revolutions. One of the most urgent problems facing countries like Bulgaria was the general lack of information. Velko IVANOV stressed that integration of the accession countries was about far more than simply the closing of chapters. What had to be explained to the populations was what they would gain not just in terms of money, but most of all in terms of values.

Bruno BOISSIERE outlined those articles of the draft Constitution in which the role of civil society, the role of the European parties and social partners where progress in comparison with the previous Treaties had been made and which showed the intention of strengthening participatory democracy. He said that organisations like UEF should put pressure on the European Parliament, national government and the Commission to initiate amendments to the Constitution once it had been ratified.

Everybody agreed that civil society organisations like UEF and JEF had an important role to play in contributing to the establishment of a common political culture in Europe.


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