Conference on Future of Europe must restore sense of purpose to EU post-Brexit, says former UK MEP

Andrew Duff’s comments come with the EU about to embark on arguably its biggest ever reflection on the future of the Union.
European Commission Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Mar 2021

Duff, a former Liberal member and constitutional expert, said that the UK’s exit from the bloc “holds important lessons for the future of Europe” and that Britain’s relations with Europe are set to be “rocky until such time as the sovereignty fetishists of Brexit have had their day.”

“The British remain a European people but have chosen the path of disintegration,” he says, adding that the imminence of the German and French elections could slow the pace of any EU reform.

This could be complicated further, he warns, by the search for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s successor which “should be starting soon.”

Duff, an MEP from 1999-2014, also warns, “Neither COVID-19 nor the Conference must be allowed to delay or divert the institutions from restoring a sense of purpose to the Union now that the Brits have gone.”

He argues that the loss of the UK “should prompt serious reflection about the constitutional direction of the European Union,” adding, “The secession of a Member State changes the context of European integration. Brexit leaves the EU weaker, smaller and poorer, but it can and should also spur reform.”

The EU should aim to have major changes in place by 2029, including treaty revision, he says.

The reforms should include a renegotiation of the Brexit deal leading to a “new class” of affiliate membership, completion of the constitutional framework for a fiscal union, and a European Parliament “fully legitimated” by election from transnational lists.

“The secession of a Member State changes the context of European integration. Brexit leaves the EU weaker, smaller and poorer, but it can and should also spur reform” Andrew Duff, former UK MEP

Duff also advocates for a ‘European Security Council’ of defence ministers to span the divide between the EU and NATO.

He predicts, “The Conference on the Future of Europe may prove to be a useful democratic experiment, but it is not designed to address the important constitutional challenges that the Union faces.”

Duff, in a policy paper for The European Policy Centre, proposes creating an expert reflection group to stimulate the full implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon as well as prepare the way for the next Convention which, he argues, must be called to amend the EU treaties.

“More immediately, the reflection group should make proposals to settle the controversial matter of how to elect the new President of the European Commission in 2024,” says Duff, who is now President of the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and of the Spinelli Group.

Elsewhere, Christian Odendahl, chief economist and John Springford, deputy director at the Centre for European Reform, say the scale of US President Joe Biden’s spending plans means the US economy will recover much faster than Europe’s.

They said, “There are two reasons why the economic recovery in Europe will be slower. First, the rollout of vaccines in Europe is roughly six weeks behind the US. As of late March, the EU had administered 13 doses per 100 people, according to the ‘Our World In Data’ website. The US passed that mark on February 10.”

“Neither COVID-19 nor the Conference must be allowed to delay or divert the institutions from restoring a sense of purpose to the Union now that the Brits have gone” Andrew Duff, former UK MEP

“Six weeks is not a huge difference, but there are worrying signs of a third wave of the pandemic hitting Europe, and British and South African variants of the virus may force governments to impose tougher, longer and therefore more costly lockdowns in order to contain them.”

They said, “The second reason is economic policy. But it is now up to national governments - some of them highly indebted and at risk of falling foul of Europe’s fiscal rules in the future - to boost their economies further.”

In a policy paper they said, “In some ways, Europe is more in need of stimulus than the US, yet on current plans its governments will do far less than the Biden administration.”

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