State of the Union 2017 scenario: with full breath ahead

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

On September, 13th President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the annual speech of the State of the Union (here). Against the background of the White Paper on the Future of Europe and in solid dialogue with the European Parliament, President Juncker presented some new ideas as well as highlighted previous proposals. More importantly, the European Commission demonstrates that it is effectively holding the position of initiative with which the Treaties empower it – in close democratic discussion with the Parliament.

Here we intend to comment the first impressions about key aspects of some of the topics the Juncker Commission brought to life and debate.

1. After valuing the European institutions role on “helping the wind change” for growth, job creation and control of public deficits, he expressed the will to strengthen the European trade agenda by negotiating international agreements. It seems that after the cases of the Paris agreement (on environmental issues) and the uncertainty around TTIP, there are two messages underlying this point. The first is to make the EU the main business platform worldwide (Canada, Japan, Mexico, South America and the proposal to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand). Reliable and stable, Europe wants to be the ideal partner and the first in line in global economy. With many interrogations amounting over the US, this also seems to be an external policy strategy (“we are not naïve free traders”, he said). Alongside investment, the idea is to make the industry stronger and more competitive as well as being the leader in fighting climate change. More and more signals of the projection of the leadership of the Union in the world.

2. As far as migration, external borders and the Schengen area are concerned, migration will remain a priority. So will the support to Italian authorities who are “saving Europe’s honour in the Mediterranean”. In parallel, the Commission wants to work on legal pathways to end illegal activities like trafficking at the same time it calls for solidarity in welcoming refugees. This is a novelty. After Germany’s policy of opening doors, now the EC looks like the new leading actor in this matter. Contrary to the position of his political family, which never clearly came out, President Juncker took on a stand closer to the approach of S&D. It will be interesting to follow the next parliamentary debates and what the EPP’s reaction will be, even though its following remarks were in a more agreeable way to these terms. Finally, suggesting that Romania, Bulgaria and soon Croatia should become members of the Schengen area is a political movement on a critical region where Russia has been growingly active. The idea seems to be to overpower its influence there – the direct reference of the 100th anniversary of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania proves just that.

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Editorial of June 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

Waiting for a federal big bang in EU? Updating the theory of federalism in times of liquid modernity

On May, 22-23, at Nova Law School, Lisbon, took place a conference on “The federal experience of the European Union: past, present and future”, organized by Professor Nuno Piçarra. Sixty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome and twenty-five years after Maastricht, the EU may be living a true moment of “constitutional mutation” that may dramatically change its identity. Yes, it is possible to re-found the EU without revising the Treaties (as constitutional mutation is nothing new and it has been working since the beginning of the integration) and without committing “semantics imprudences” (avoiding the “blasted” nature of terms such as constitution and federation). Therefore, this is the right time to address the EU federative experience from an historic perspective and to analyse the role which such an acquis may play in the shaping of the future EU. For these reasons, the purpose of that conference was to tackle the following three questions. First, how should we evaluate the EU federative experience, sixty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome? Second, which are the main challenges facing the EU in the light of its federative experience? Third, do these challenges and respective answers suggest that the European federative dream is over, or just undergoing a new form of development?

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Eurogroup and secrecy

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by Andreia Barbosa, PhD student at the Law School of UMinho

It is clear from Article 1 of Protocol No 14, annexed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that Eurogroup meetings take place informally.

Informality is reflected in two aspects. First, according to the terms in which the meetings are held, that is, as to the procedure adopted therein. In fact, there is no set of rules defining the procedure to be followed, for example, to ensure the involvement of all actors and to determine the order in which such interventions can be carried out and the duration they may have. Secondly, the terms in which «decisions» are taken and how they are made known to the public. It is through press conferences that the outcome of the meetings is presented to citizens of the Union (and when they are).

It should be noted that we refer to «decisions» as a result of Eurogroup meetings, even though we know that the formal, final, and binding decision on the subject is actually taken at the Ecofin meeting. However, we are also aware of the fact that the votes made at Ecofin express the outcome of the previous Eurogroup meeting. The final decision of Ecofin was born in the Eurogroup.

So, the informality resulting from Article 1 of Protocol No 14 actually means «opacity». Contrary to the idea of necessary transparency and publicity in all decision-making centers, no minutes or documents are signed in the Eurogroup, there are no transcripts or records relating to the respective meetings. No database has ever been set up to add up the «decisions» taken. The proposals under discussion, the presented votes, the conflicts of interest that have arisen and the commitments made are not known. Moreover, the acts of the Eurogroup can not be syndicated before the Court of Justice of the European Union, even though they are not documented, neither on paper nor in audio or video.

Although a certain procedural informality is admitted (but still susceptible of criticism), it does not seem to admit an opacity in the decisions. In abstract, a procedure can be informal and simultaneously transparent. In particular, the functioning of the Eurogroup may be informal, but its «decisions» should not be opaque. And the lack of transparency that exists goes beyond mere confidentiality.

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