Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

International Ethical Challenges for New European Union Constitution

Roundtable Discussion with Pierre de Charentenay, S.J.
May, 13, 2004

On May 1, 2004 10 new members joined the European Union: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta, and parts of Cyprus. The new entrants are expected to have equal political standing, yet it will take some time before they become equal economic partners. Recent university statistical models cited by The Economist predict between 3 million and 4 million people will migrate from Central to Western Europe over the next 25 years. The new member nations have a combined population of nearly 75 million, and Westerners are thus apprehensive about workers flooding in, taking good jobs, and taxing their welfare systems. The governments of the new members, on the other hand, are apprehensive that their countries will experience a "brain drain" of talent, as skilled and educated citizens migrate to the West for better pay. Also, within many Western nations, governments and their citizens have opposing views.

To provide insight into the international ethical challenges these new members present, on May 13, Pierre de Charentenay, S.J., described the complicated European Union constitution at a roundtable meeting at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. De Charentenay is the past president of the Centre Sevres in Paris and former visiting professor at the Ecole Militaire. De Charentenay is a specialist in European affairs, having spent the past several years in Brussels, running OCIPE, the Catholic Information Liaison to the European Union. De Charentenay began the meeting by describing the main aspects of the EU Constitution to be signed on June 17 in Ireland. Some of these include:

  • Number of votes — This has been a determining factor of the power that each member of the Union will hold. For example, before May 1, Germany, France, Italy, and UK had 10 votes while Luxemburg had 2. From May 1 to October 31; in order to accommodate the new members, the Union created a transitional voting system. There must be a double majority—50 percent of the countries, and 55 to 60percent of the population—for any policy or issue to pass. For instance, starting November 1, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK will each have 29 votes, while the much less populous and smaller scale economies of Spain and Poland will hold 27 votes respectively.

  • Number of Commissioners — There are 15 commissioners at the moment, but it is possible that the Union will have 25 after a decision is made on June 17 at the European Union meeting in Ireland. De Charentenay's view is that it would be better to have 15 commissioners who work for the good of the Union rather than having one from each country who looks out for national interests. Already it is difficult to get 15 commissioners to agree on something; many question how effective an even larger group of 25—with strongly divergent views and interests—would be. De Chartenay favors, for example, a body of good European commissioners, three of whom happen to come from Spain, rather than always seeking representation from many or all member states. He added that the small states may well feel left behind should the larger countries gain a disproportionate share of commissioners but if the Union is to be strong, there should be more emphasis on finding good people to lead the Commission than on furthering national identity.

  • Politics — Under the EU Constitution, each member country is represented in the European Council and in the Council of Ministers by its government, with decisions taken in light of the needs of the citizens of each member country. However, according to de Charentenay, the foreign policies of each of the member states are not the same. For example, some countries have a good working relationship with the United States and some do not. He went on to say that nation members should work to overcome such differences in order to achieve a consensus. He gave the example of France and Germany as the two countries that overcame their historical differences to become strong allies.

  • Competencies at the Union and at National Levels — The stronger the relationships the member states have with each other, the more able they will be to reconcile and to collaborate — e.g. Germany and Poland. De Charentenay described three levels of competencies within the EU: shared competencies between member states (e.g., security and trade), complimentary competencies between national governments and the Union (in the short term, at least, foreign policy), and exclusive competencies of the EU (e.g., monetary policy). Another major challenge that the European Union faces in the coming years is the disagreement among members concerning the presidency: Should the Union change its president every year or every four years? Should there be an EU foreign minister? (Britain for one is opposed to this idea).

Attendees at the Ethics Center meeting raised questions concerning the inclusion of Russia, the free movement of workers, agricultural subsidies, and the relationship between the EU and NATO. Russia was wary of the Baltic States joining the organization and will object to any other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Belarus joining EU and/or NATO. These and other religious, cultural, and political tensions are all on the table as the EU drafts a new constitution. The present moment is ripe with opportunity as well as economic, political, social, moral, and ethical challenges for the European Union. De Charentenay suggested that the EU member countries have to make decisions based on what benefits the Union as a whole rather than thinking in terms of national interests. Russia will continue to remain out, while Turkey could be in at some time. In any case, the decision must be voted on by all 25 members.

In conclusion, de Charentenay said that Europe should and can become a global leader with high moral and ethical values. It should promote multilateralism. The unification should create a strong partnership between member states and ultimately serve their citizens' best interests. Despite the daunting challenges that absorbing another 10 members poses in the years ahead, Europe has been cautiously moving towards integration since 1952 — and it is not about to stop now.