At 92 years old, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former French President and EU founding father, wants the bloc to move forward with a ‘stronger nucleus’ of committed countries.
Under Giscard’s presidency (1974-1982), France and Germany put in place the European monetary system that laid the ground for a single EU currency, and established the European Council, which is widely considered the most powerful institution in Brussels. It was also under Giscard’s tenure that members of the European Parliament were directly elected for the first time.
He later presided over the drafting of a constitution for the European Union, which was discarded after French voters rejected it in a 2005 referendum.
“The world has changed but Europe has not moved forward” — Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
For Giscard, the EU’s last major step forward took place in 1992, with the Treaty of Maastricht, which laid the foundations for the euro and widely expanded cooperation between European countries. The lack of progress has left the Continent adrift in a world buffeted by ever more rapid change.
The bloc is now in a state of “profound confusion,” he said, because it is weak, bureaucratic, and “traditional methods are out of order and no longer produce satisfying and innovative results.”
“Europa is one of the most sucessful and admired projects in history”, but we need to “restart the project to recover its original spirit” — Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
In a 2014 book, “Europa: The Last Chance for Europe,” Giscard called for a rebooting of the European project, with the “urgent” construction of a “strong and federated” entity of 12 European nations that would include the six founding members (Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) plus Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, Finland and Poland.
The project calls for the creation of specific institutions, a single budget and tax system, without any treaty change.
Anticipating the criticism, Giscard says it is not about creating a multispeed Europe. “Europa is one Europe at one speed that advances along the historic trajectory of Europe.” He insists the EU needs new ideas to encourage that trajectory in a changing world. In order to provide those, he launched a new advocacy group called Re-imagine Europa (RIE). Its mission is ambitious: “To reinforce Europe’s role as a global economic power in the 21st Century able to safeguard a prosperous future of peace, freedom and social justice for all its citizens.” RIE is a political incubator that facilitates the creation of innovative ideas and actions.
According to its chief executive Erika Widegren, Re-imagine Europa — which includes OECD head José Ángel Gurría and former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok on its advisory board — the group will focus on Giscard’s “clear-cut vision” of a “stronger nucleus” of EU countries. “Re-Imagine Europa is a modern organisation to prepare the next steps to move towards Europa,” Widegren said.
The think tank’s first proposal, said Giscard, will be to modernize the EU’s fiscal system.
“It is not about aligning existing tax systems, but replacing them,” Giscard said. “We must get back to simpler and more comprehensible concepts.” The EU’s tax systems inherited from the 19th century are “very complicated, and overwhelmed with debt,” he added.
The EU should also reconsider some of the ideas that were included in his draft EU constitution, he said, including reducing the number of commissioners, cutting back on bureaucracy, and making better use of the subsidiarity principle, which reduces the authority of Brussels over issues better handled by national, regional or local governments.
What Giscard does not advocate is giving more power to European institutions. On the contrary, the bloc’s problems lie in part in the perception that Brussels has overreached in its attempts to wrest power from national governments. This has led to “a deformation of the European system,” which is “what makes it unpopular,” he said.