At the end of several months of discussion about who would preside over the exercise, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission have finally reached agreement on the structure of the conference on the future of Europe. About the content everyone had more or less agreed. The problem was the balance of powers between the three main European institutions. Who organized the debate and decided the conclusions.
The solution, disenchanted by the Portuguese presidency and very much like Brussels, was to have a triple presidency and an executive committee with seven representatives per institution and a few more delegates from the economic and social committees and the regions, somehow accompanied by representatives of the National parliaments. The conference has not yet started and there is already a crowd vying for power. Only the people are missing. This is what the speakers want to invent. Or pretend there is.
Only a political entity that does not have a people, but that it would like to have, and that has more internal institutional conflicts than ideological divisions, would remember such an exercise. Organizations like the United Nations or NATO (two very different examples) would not have a similar meeting of people and purpose. Nor do sovereign states.
In all of these cases, the legitimacy of political representation – elected or delegated – is sufficient to legitimize political processes and decisions made about the present or the future. In the European Union too. The European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of each Member State; the Council is composed of the governments resulting from 27 democratic elections (and its composition is dynamic, because there are several national elections every year and as many governments that change, or not), and, finally, the Commission is the result of the balance of powers between the outcome of the European elections and the parties in government in office at the time of those elections.
European decision-makers, however, want more, at the same time as they want contradictory things. They want the people to be enthusiastic about Europe and to reinforce the legitimacy of each of the institutions, with Parliament wanting more power and more ideology, the European Commission wants more European competences and ideological-free commitment and the Council wants more Europe without losing national power and, above all, without submitting to one or the other.
This square of the circle is the Europe we have. A construction of sovereign states that abdicate some sovereignty in exchange for policies that, made on a large scale, benefit them and the citizens. And, considering these circumstances, necessarily imperfect and in permanent tension. But it cannot – at least as long as there are sovereign states and historical memory – be something else.
There is nothing wrong with the idea of holding conferences, debates and panels on Europe and the future. On the contrary. The more we talk about Europe, the more we realize that European policy is a continuation of national policy and national policy is a continuation of European policy, the better. The problem lies in thinking that this way, what each of these institutions wants the future to be, and the power it wants to have, will be legitimated.
European politicians must realize that they must be the first to say that there is no lack of European democracy or a lack of legitimacy to decide on the future. They may want to discuss all of this in different formats, but they cannot pretend that this is the voice of the people. Europeans are already legitimately represented by governments and parliamentarians. The European people do not exist, and a conference does not replace democratic institutions or make a people.