Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer


The European Union as a Sovereignty Association of a Special Nature

German Version

M. Rainer Lepsius *

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This paper is a part of contributions to the Jean Monnet Working Paper
No.7/00, Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer

The European Union's prospects of development were always open in relation to its territorial extent, the definition of its powers and its organisational structure. From all three viewpoints, the EU has, over the last 50 years, developed, from its beginnings as the European Coal and Steel Community, into a complex sovereignty association. This historically unique political and economic project, though successful in outcome and meeting with recognition both internally and externally, has continuously advanced without defining its `finality'. The current debate is now raising the question of its `completion', with calls for a new `constitutional treaty', and various drafts of a conclusive organisational structure. There were `constitutional debates' at earlier points in time, too. Thus, in 1984, the European Parliament presented the `Draft Treaty establishing the European Union'. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty has since set up the European Union without a new constitution having been required. Numerous procedural changes have so far assured its functionality, even with an expanded number of Members, new areas of competence and greater involvement of the European Parliament. Why, then, a renewed `constitutional debate'?

To minds used to thinking in categories of the constitutional state, it seems unaccustomed and irritating to conceive of the EU sovereignty association as an evolutionary process; a regime sui generis, as it is put. The open prospect ought to be closed. Does this simply express a need for cognitive structuring? Currently, there is need for action on decision-making procedures, on Member State representation, on both the Commission and the Council, and on enhancing democratic legitimation. In particular, as regards representation and decision-making procedures which have created rising membership numbers, changes have been due for some time. But this alone is not yet enough to compel a `qualitative leap' towards a new covenant for the Union. At the Nice Inter-Governmental Conference, the most needful changes will likely be decided without the Union having to change as a whole. Behind the procedural amendments lies another ground for opening a constitutional debate. Eastward enlargement is giving occasion for concern, summed up by Joschka Fischer as the alternative between `erosion or integration'. He evidently fears that incorporating some 15 states of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe will threaten the acquis communautaire, further obstructing the deepening of co-operation, and that `relying on an alliance of states would mean a standstill, with all its negative consequences.' The constitutional debate that has been sparked off is evidently primarily directed against a feared erosion of the degree of integration already reached, and is calling for the singling out of such older members as may desire a more far-reaching political union. The latent formation of a front against the new members has also immediately been recognised by the latter. Earlier, too, for instance in the case of `southward enlargement', the question of `widening or deepening' was also raised. But the alternative did not present itself: the enlargement went hand-in-hand with an enhancement of integration. And if creating a lasting peaceful system in the area covered by the Union is its highest objective, then the Union could also give this goal priority over further internal integration. Eastward expansion-wherever it may end-is a historically unprecedented process that the Union has still to enter into. The alternative between erosion or further integration is directed at the `West-European Union', neglecting the `East-European Union' and its inclusion in the formation of the West-East European Union. Consolidating the Western-European core politically before completing the eastward expansions is problematic. A number of keywords run through the debates; we shall briefly comment on them below.

* Translated by Iain L. Fraser.


© M. Rainer Lepsius 2000


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