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The autumn Presidency lunch - Monday 16 October 2006
at The Newick Park Hotel, Newick

Alexander Stubb, MEP
on the Presidency of the EU held by Finland

Alexander Stubb was elected a Member of the European Parliament in June 2004. Previously he had been a counsellor on institutional affairs at the Finnish Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels. He has also been an adviser to the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. He was a member of the Finnish negotiating team for the IGC 2000 which led to the Nice Treaty.

He is also a Professor at the College of Europe, Bruges. He received his PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1999, and before that took European Studies at the College of Europe and Political Science at Furman University, USA. He is the author of eight EU books and some 30 articles - on flexible integration, institutional questions, Intergovernmental Conferences and integration theories.

Alex is married to Suzanne, a lawyer, and they have two young children.

Aledander Stubb MEP

Alexander Stubb started by recalling that with good preparation the EC Presidency held by Finland from July 2006 had been expected to be a matter of routine. Then it was unexpectedly confronted in August with the crisis in the Lebanon. Finland being a small country, it was perhaps easier for them to deal with it objectively than it would have been for a major power.

Four main challenges fell into the span of the Finnish presidency:  the Constitution, Turkey, the Services Directive, which they were hoping to finish, and the Regulation on chemicals.

red_point.gif (889 bytes)    Eventual limits to “Europe”

The question of borders for the European Union usually arises in the context of future enlargement and has changed over the years alongside political developments like, for instance, the fall of the Berlin Wall. He envisaged a Europe of eventually about 40 countries, encompassing the present 25 as well as Bulgaria and Romania, the seven Balkan countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Ukraine, ...  and Turkey, but excluding North Africa and also Russia, the latter if only because of its size and position as a world power. The criteria for all members are - a democratic system, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

red_point.gif (889 bytes)    A modern Muslim state in Europe?

As regards Turkey's membership, those arguing against say that it is too poor and has no democratic tradition or respect for human rights, that Muslim values are different from European ones and that it would be dangerous to bring Syrian and Iranian influence so close to our borders. Those supporting its membership argue that Turkey has changed enormously since negotiations began and is likely to continue changing for the next ten years before any full membership, that as an important new market it will bring benefits to the European economy, and that culturally, although it is a Muslim country, religion and state are separated. A modern Muslim state could well fit into Europe, when based on the same universal values of democracy, freedom and human rights.

red_point.gif (889 bytes)    The Constitutional Treaty

Alexander Stubb emphasised that he very much regretted the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by two members and failure to ratify by a further seven, meaning acceptance so far by only 16. It was a good, workable document combining the four treaties (with a total of 700 articles) in a single treaty (with only 400 articles). It would make the EU clearer and more transparent, more democratic and give more competences to the European Parliament. Having a President, a common defence and foreign policy and more majority decisions would have made the EU more efficient. The Treaty is, however, not dead; there is hope that with the start of the German presidency next year work would become possible on preparing a mini inter-governmental conference by 2009.

continued in right-hand column

(continued from column 1)

red_point.gif (889 bytes)    Europe's rôle in the world

A major issue has been Europe's rôle in the world. It is already a superpower equal to the US in economic terms (20% of the world's trade is with the EU) and development aid, of which it provides 55% of the total aid. It is sorely lacking in a uniform foreign policy, as shown in Iraq and Bosnia, but is getting better, as seen in Ukraine and Lebanon. To achieve real superpower status Europe needs to speak with one voice in foreign and defence matters. Adjustments need to be made to the UN Security Council, with the EU given a seat instead of the UK and France in order properly to reflect the contemporary world situation.

red_point.gif (889 bytes)    Highs and lows

At present he thought there is a kind of "Eurosclerosis". But this need not be permanent. Over the years the pendulum has swung between the high of 1952-73 (Coal and Steel Community, EEC, first enlargement, customs union), to the low from 1973 until 1985 (economic depression and oil crisis). Then during 1985-87 came another high - the Single European Act, Maastricht and the peaceful end of the Cold War, the communist ideology overcome by democracy and free market economy – and back to the present low (Nice, with its lack of mutual trust and national power fights).

The present mood is not good: there is a lack of a "red line" with peace, prosperity and security stabilised. So what now is the raison d'être for the EU? The end of the Cold War brought also the end of big projects; the only one at present is Turkey's admission, and that is not liked by many. There is also a lack of political leadership and readiness to sacrifice some nationalism for the common European cause, as shown by previous great European leaders. For the post-war generation Europe is - unemotionally - a fait accompli. Lastly, a certain amount of overregulation by Brussels has brought the issue of nationalism to the fore again, with people arguing that money, the army and the police ought to remain the domain of national governments.

Discussion in the Library of Newick Park

In the lively discussion that followed Alexander Stubb’s talk, these points were raised:

Fear of terrorism must not be used as an opportunity to overcome national identity and a way to make people feel more positive about Europe.
Subsidiarity/federalism is a good concept: trade, foreign and monetary policy on European level, taxes, social and health issues on local/national level.
Restrictions placed by some countries on the free movement of labour had been disappointing after the 2004 enlargement. But allowing it had greatly helped the Swedish, Irish and UK economies.
United States understanding of the UK and Europe has been improving, but the US also realises the position of the EU as a superpower and fears competition.
Enlargements always cause fear, especially in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, but if corruption is not brought under control, these countries could lose up to 25% of Euro funding.
There is a lack of trust between members regarding the implementation rate of Euro legislation, but at 97-99% it varies by no more than 2%.
The cost of the EU to its members amounts only 1% of GDP over 5 years, working out in the UK at £20 per person.

Alexander Stubb's website


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