30 JANUARY 2002

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The Future of Europe

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami addresses the Mini European Assemby, where he highlights the fact that it is not enough to complement European economic integration with the consolidation of common political institutions, explaining that attention also has to be given to social and cultural issues

When we talk about the Future of Europe we are really talking about the emergence of a new order. A new sphere of peace and progress, firmly rooted in justice, that will decisively leave behind the chaotic Europe of the first half of the 20th century. A Europe that was shattered by wars, torn and tattered by internal rivalries.

I would, of course, prefer to see the birth of the new Europe that is now underway to continue to evolve quietly and gradually, albeit without any unnecessary loss or waste of time. This will allow for a softer, more pragmatic approach to the transition, making things happen step by step, fundamentally and effectively, rather than with any great burst of trumpet-blowing and drum-beating, or of rhetoric and theoretical spin.

Two models for this Future Europe are frequently being presented. On the one hand, the media project the idea of Europe as a super state. This conforms to the way in which states have been ideally conceived in modern times - a pyramid structure, with a constitution at the top, and with subordinate powers distributed downwards to the lower levels of national and sub-national regions and localities.

At the opposite end, there is the idea put forward by more pragmatically minded people that Europe will progress better without any elaborate, overall political framework. Let us move forward, they say, just by ensuring increased contacts and communication, and by fixing up "ad hoc" agreements.

Such people believe that Europe should grow organically and naturally, as opposed to artificially and mechanically. They favour a return to something like the medieval approach to society, viewing this almost as one would a living organism, and away from the technological modern concepts that treat Government as if it were a machine.

I suspect, however, that a general feeling is emerging that the future of Europe requires something else. New systems of government are needed, because the Europe that is being brought into being is a new kind of creature in World History. Its model should be neither the human body, nor the combustion engine. In this dawn of a new millennium, having just stepped over the threshold of the 21st century, should it not rather be something like an electronic network?

A network model means that in the Europe of the Future there need not be anything like the apex of a pyramid, or any monarchical position. The system has, of course, to be a multi-level construction, in the sense that authority has to be exercised at different levels – local, regional, national and continental.

However, provided the authorities at each level have a clearly defined field of jurisdiction, there is no compelling need for one level to be subject to that above it in a hierarchial fashion.

On the contrary, the European Union is celebrated for having adopted the principle of "subsidiarity", as it has been somewhat equivocally called. This principle essentially means that no decision should be taken at a higher level, if it can effectively be taken at a lower level.

A formulation of this, together with other such principles, combined with a restatement of universally acknowledged human rights, might even be considered an appropriate "Constitution" for Europe. It might not quite look like the Constitutions we are accustomed to having proclaimed by states, adhering in some way or other to Social Contract theories of sovereignty. But it would reflect the novel character of the unprecedented political entity that is being set up.

In the Europe of the future, it needs to be recognised that the State cannot be the only factor of governance. All future democratic systems will call for partnerships between both public and private institutions, and collaboration between them in the pursuit of the common good.

It is not enough to complement the economic integration accomplished in Europe, and symbolised by the Euro, with the consolidation of common political institutions. Attention has also to be given to social and cultural issues. In these areas, maintaining the balance between integration on a European scale, and preservation of national individuality, is even more difficult and delicate.

Some years ago, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, a conference was held in Malta about Social Policy in Europe. In that Conference, the idea was explored of how to transform a Welfare State into a Welfare Society. The underlying principle of such a transformation is that the provision of welfare should not be considered as an exclusive responsibility of Government, and consequently be doled out mainly in the form of money.

It should rather be shouldered as a joint responsibility, which Government shares with families, churches and other kinds of non-governmental organisations more capable of meeting personal needs, with government support, in non-bureaucratic, personalised forms.

There was consensus that, while differences in values and culture would not allow Europe to set itself up as a Welfare Super State, it might be possible to bring about a Welfare "Super Society". That is, a Europe in which equality in the provision of welfare was guaranteed in terms of different blends of public and private inputs. However, this issue has not yet reached a high ranking on the immediate European agenda.

Yet the social, or third phase, of European integration provides a perspective which can be helpful in finding the right guidelines to resolve the dilemmas of the present political, or second phase. These dilemmas must now be faced in the wake of the definite progress achieved in the economic, or first phase, of the process.

The political correlative of the European level of the transformation of welfare state into welfare society might be formulated as follows. After the First World War, it was believed that peace would be ensured by applying the principle that: Every nation has the right to become a state. European experience has since suggested that the principle should be modified into: Every nation has the right to preserve its distinct cultural identity within supranational political networks.

In this context, perhaps the fundamental issue underpinning the entire debate on the future of Europe is how to find the best way of applying the recognition embodied in the principle that I have just stated. The recognition that peaceful and democratic development, such as Europe is after, has implications in terms not only of economic markets and political institutions, but also of cultural pluralism.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt