Richard North, 21/06/2012  

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Institutional reforms are needed to the EU "to make the European Union and the euro irreversible". The EU should fewer commissioners but a more powerful commission, which should become a "real European government".

There should be a single, directly elected EU president, and a bicameral parliament similar to the US with its Senate and House of Representatives. The upper house would be a National Council of Ministers, equal in status to the EU Parliament. In the longer term, the parliament would become a true legislature, with the right to initiate legislation (structure illustrated below).

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There should also be a common European border guard, European rather than national visas, the expansion of the common foreign and security policy, with decisions taken by qualified majority voting, the creation of an EU army, and more direct control of national budgets.

These are the interim recommendations of the "Future Group" (Zukunftsgruppe) on the European Union, presented to Barroso, Van Rompuy, ECB chief Mario Draghi and euro group chief Jean-Claude Juncker – the so-called "quartet".

On the initiative of German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, the group was launched on 20 March, with a meeting in Berlin of nine European foreign ministers (from Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland, as well as Germany), later joined by Denmark, making a group of ten.

It was initially set up to take a broader focus of the challenges facing the European Union. The aim was to kick off a "strategic debate", specifically addressing the question: "Where do we need "more Europe?" – not "whether" but "where".

The eight-page report has been widely reviewed by the German-speaking press, including Handesblatt, Die Welt, FAZ and Die Press. So far, though, the only report in the British press seems to have been in the Financial Times, reflecting the lack of attention given to the growing discussions on a new EU treaty and the plans for political union.

And although it is not anticipated that the precise issues rehearsed by the Future Group will be raised at the European Council in 28 June, they are very much in accord with the line being taken both by the "quartet" and Merkel.

Furthermore, the Zukunftsgruppe has not yet finished its deliberations. It is aiming to present a final report in the early autumn, in good time for the expected IGC on a new treaty on fiscal and political union. The next consultations are in Spain in July and then with the new French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

Should some or all of their proposed changes be adopted, they would undoubtedly trigger referendums in many EU countries, and most certainly in the UK, as they go far beyond just the eurozone, and go to the heart of the power structures in the EU.

But even if they are not adopted, the fact that such changes are being considered indicates the general direction of travel. This should be taken as a warning. The final shape of the United States of Europe is beginning to emerge and, in the nature of things, it can only be a matter of time before the "colleagues" try to turn it into reality.


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