What is The Ljubljana Initiative? What is written in this 70 pages document, produced by some prominent Slovenian politicians and political analysts, which should pompously mark the new era in European integration and give an incentive to Slovenes and Europeans to become more European?
The Ljubljana Initiative might have given Slovenes a sense of belonging to the European family and a sense of shared responsibility for the European project. However, this part of the President of the Republic’s political campaign is (unfortunately) very far from a potential new Treaty on the Constitution for the European Union.
Everything was done by the book. A presentation was made, press releases published, statements delivered and a number of articles were published in many Slovenian media outlets. The Ljubljana Initiative is described as many things: a part of a political campaign, a document that would become a new Constitution for Europe, something that materialized during a walk of a small number of Slovene intellectuals, an initiative supported by the President of the Republic himself. In the midst of numerous political analyses of the Ljubljana Initiative, all of which mainly looked at its impact on internal policies of Slovenia, EU360 prepared our own opinion from the viewpoint of Europe.
A non-state federation based on sovereign Member States?
The first rule in communication is to know what your message is. In advance. Maybe the message of the Ljubljana Initiative was to inform Slovenian and European citizens that we do care about the European project. But how this European project should look like, is less clear. The more we dig into the text and compare it with press releases, the less it is clear whether they support a federal Europe or wish to see an intergovernmental cooperation. This can be summed up in a statement by one author of the Initiative saying that the EU should be “a non-state federation based /among other things/ on sovereign Member States”. How can autonomous Member States constitute a non-state federation, remains a mystery.
Concepts of federalism (partly based on the example of the USA) and intergovernmentalism (as a classical international organization) are fighting throughout the text of the Ljubljana Initiative. In reality, this is not surprising for a sui generis organization such as the EU. However, a document subtitled “A Constitution for Europe” could have taken a clearer stance in this regard.
Elements of a federal Europe are the most obvious in the framework of the institutional setup:
- An elected President of the European Union (Chapter 4), who represents, with his/her Cabinet, the executive branch. A dismissal of the European Commission as such also gives this President the task of initiating legislative proposals. At the same time s/he reports to the European Parliament on budgetary issues.
- A bi-cameral European Parliament (Chapter 3), where citizens (directly elected into an Assembly) as well as Member States (2 representatives of each Member State in a Senate) are represented.
- Adoption of the “Ordinary legislative procedure” as the main decision-making procedure, with the President initiating the legislative procedure. Proposal of legislation would then have to be adopted by both chambers of the European Parliament.
- Judiciary, where the European Court of Justice plays the role of both the High Court and the Constitutional Court (Chapter 5).
- The Union finances itself exclusively through own resources (Article 112), which represents an important step towards budgetary autonomy. Unfortunately, the text does not say where these sources come from.
On the other hand, a quite puzzling set of steps is suggested in relation to Union’s competences:
- Additions to exclusive competences of the Union include surveillance of external borders, area of freedom and justice, space research and nuclear energy.
- Shared competences, in comparison to those listed in the Lisbon Treaty*, lack social policy, agriculture and fisheries but contain external affairs and defense.
- Competences that somehow remain outside the Ljubljana Initiative are health, industry, culture, tourism, education (only partly included under common commercial policy), training, youth and sport, civil protection and administrative cooperation.
Such categorization of competences seems a bit chaotic and could reflect l’esprit du temps of the document when big numbers of refugees were entering the Union.
EU360 offers some constructive comments:
- International Affairs of the Union. The authors did not decide to give the Union a single voice in international affairs (common external and defense policy remain a shared competence). The whole idea of external action seems a reaction to the current refugee/migrants situation and allows us to feel and accept the relative powerlessness of the Union in world affairs. This will most probably become a very pressing issue when the new President is elected in the USA and a strong European voice could be very much needed.
- Energy policy. It is difficult to understand the division of the energy policy into two parts. On the one hand, the Ljubljana Initiative puts energy policy under shared competence, even though the Union has been actively working on creation of a single energy market in the past years (in this context, the EU Agency for energy regulators, ACER has been established and has its seat in Ljubljana). On the other hand, nuclear energy, which is currently regulated under the separate Euratom treaty, is suggested to become an exclusive competence of the Union.
- Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). There is no mention of the common agricultural policy in the Ljubljana Initiative. Knowing that this is one of the Union’s traditional policies eating up a third of the common budget and one of the main a reasons why the French tolerate the Germans, any Constitution for the EU would have to include the CAP to avoid a new “empty chair crisis”. And when we talk about a document that is to be adopted by all Member States, we cannot afford to have an empty chair.
- Soft policies. By excluding areas of cooperation in the fields of culture, tourism and education, the authors ignore those soft policies, which can, in the long run, importantly contribute to building a true European identity, as per the great example set by the Erasmus programme.
Even though the text of the Ljubljana Initiative does include all key concepts (from subsidiarity onward), it seems like a kind of a copy-paste of parts from both treaties constituting the Lisbon Treaty** and some new old ideas from the time of Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. The text seems furthermore strongly influenced by the current political context of the refugee crisis and looks more like a way cry for help in managing the chaos at external borders of the Union. There is no real talk about an ambitious approach to upgrading the current integrations where a new Treaty would be required, let alone a Constitution.
Big words for an instant effect
The authors of the Ljubljana Initiative might have (on purpose) forgotten the attempt to adopt a Treaty on the Constitution for Europe at some point in recent history. At that time, in much less turbulent times, when economic crisis and migrant crisis as well as Brexit and a new American president were far from people’s minds, the Constitution did not make it through national referenda. That Treaty on the Constitution was meant to become a real founding document of the Union. With its form and content, the Ljubljana Initiative discredits its ambition to become the constitutional treaty of the Union.
Some might call it good PR, but EU affairs experts were clearly disillusioned following big expectations deriving from the title of the initiative. Let us hope that representatives of fellow EU Member States will be less disappointed.
European leaders usually decide to renegotiate Treaties when they expect that the new compromise will be better than the current. In fact, this logic underpins all negotiations – it is worth haggling only when you expect the result to improve your current status. This would lead us to believe that authors of the Ljubljana Initiative expected their compromise to offer a better balance than the Lisbon Treaty between autonomy of Member States and a common external policy of the Union. While European integrations many times see major developments in the context of crisis, at this moment it is difficult to imagine that Heads of States will soon negotiate a new founding treaty, which would then require ratification in each Member State. It seems more probable that “through the back door” methods will be used for certain policy fields, such as security and management of external borders and common foreign and defense policy, to further European cooperation in a less pompous but more efficient way.
Making Slovenes more European
Overall, the Ljubljana Initiative could represent a stride forward for the citizens, especially Slovenes. It helped open a discussion, if only temporarily, on what kind of Europe we wish to live in. Slovenes might have acquired a shared sense of responsibility for creating a successful European Union. One thing is certain, and both federalists and supporters of intergovernmental cooperation would probably agree – the strength of Member States depends on the strength of the Union… and the other way around.
* Shared competences as per Lisbon Treaty: (a) internal market, (b) social policy, (c) economic, social and territorial cohesion, (d) agriculture and fisheries, except preservation of maritime biological resources, (e) environment, (f) consumer safety, (g) transport, (h) trans-European networks, (i) energy, (j) area of freedom, security and justice, (k) public health.
** The Lisbon Treaty is composed of the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Information on both Treaties can be found in our ABDCEU section.