The federalist ambitions of the EU’s likely foreign policy supremo should make us even more relieved we’re leaving

The federalist ambitions of the EU’s likely foreign policy supremo should make us even more relieved we’re leaving

The nomination of the EU’s new top eurocrats has, understandably, been drawing public attention to their track records. Potential Commission supremo Ursula von der Leyen, already tweeting pics of herself be-desked in her provisional Berlaymont office, has already come in for some stick. As Germany’s Defence Minister, she oversaw a military that was short on functioning planes, helicopters and armour. A shortfall in personnel left operational tour gaps for deployed troops breached. There was a scandal over the high cost of consultants. Her doctoral thesis came under review on the charge of plagiarism. And there was the handling of a scandal involving an extremist officer who faked being a Syrian refugee, facilitated by a system that didn’t even check if he could speak Arabic.

Such elements of their CVs will emerge naturally from journalists digging. What is less obvious is what their actual political views are on a range of EU issues that will cross their desk.

Here, happily, there is a body of useful documents for at least one of the nominees. Josep Borrell Fontelles has been put forward to run the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In addition to his time in the Spanish Government, he is a former President of the European Parliament. Less well known is the detail that he was a delegate on the Convention on the Future of Europe, which drafted the EU Constitution that later became the Lisbon Treaty. And here, at a point in time when he was less under the spotlight and more in a position to express his deep personal views on where he thought the EU should be going, he proved very active.

Borrell’s output was normally co-submitted with his alternate, or stand-in. I count six papers and 107 amendments (I may have missed some: it’s an archived site with no search engine). This probably puts him in the top ten percent of delegates trying to amend the draft text. You can find the amendments here but your Spanish needs to be reasonable (which should prove no difficulty to the Leader of the Opposition) and your patience with the website boundless. For these very reasons, however, his proposals are easily missed and are thus worth here revisiting today.

So what are we to make of his approach to the EU? Provocatively, a prominent short paper dealt with an early controversy – the Pope’s call to insert a reference to Europe’s Christian values into the text. Borrell responded with a short submission leaving no room for ambiguity, entitled “Let’s Leave God Out of This”. His premise was that it was dangerous to include any reference to Christianity, in case the EU in the future definitively blocked Turkish accession (the inference being that this was likely). “God,” he provocatively writes, “is a recent convert. He was comfortable for centuries with slavery, yesterday He still blessed Franco and He has not been unaware of the Balkan tragedy.”

While this would not have won him plaudits from the Poles, other proposals would have gained friends elsewhere. He emerges as a supporter of “gender mainstreaming”, pushing the policy “in all policies and at all levels”, as well as adding a self-revising mechanism for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to allow the EU to gain an increased policy role in Reproduction and Gender Rights.

He was a peculiar and rare advocate of increasing the role of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), of which he is clearly a huge fan. This included, of all things, EESC policy input into a proposed common asylum system. Another competence he wanted to extend was a greater EU role in sport that would be incorporated more widely into other activities of Directorates-General, including specifically an EU role in dealing directly with those running sports bodies. Understandably, the prospect of Commissioners being responsible for dealing with the likes of UEFA proved to be the square root of quangocracy for member state negotiators, so that idea got nowhere. His support for adding Tourism to EU competences, on the basis that it related to economic policy, had limited success.

Here, he is evidently integrationist. He called for greater association of economic policy with social and employment policy. He proposed a Qualified Majority Vote (QMV) system endorsing greater EU revenue powers, mooting the levying of “European taxes of a progressive character”. Small mercies, perhaps, he is not being nominated today to run the European Central Bank.

On Article 50, intriguingly he sought to simplify the text in a way that, intentionally or not, reinforced the right of a state to leave. One amendment presumably contributed to the deletion of an ambiguity in the initial draft. This had allowed for notice to leave, once given under A50, to be followed by a potential reflection period on the EU side. This gap would have provided potential for Brussels to stall the process and encourage die-hard Remainers. Borrell’s amendment contrasts favourably with the forgotten submission from the UK Liberal Democrats, which allowed the Article 50 state only as a route into an “Associated Status”. Even so, Borrell also separately endorsed a new mechanism to permanently accelerate integration, by allowing a simple majority of MEPs and just a QMV endorsement from national governments to set up further drafting Conventions.

There is no doubt about it: Borrell was openly federalist. In one amendment, he proposes the text be changed, specifically stating the EU is to operate “según un modelo federal”. In another, he supports the (already otherwise castigated) concept of the ‘rubber clause’ allowing for integration on the hoof in any area – even if not provided for in the treaties – just so long as no-one objects. The federal ambition is explored more in the biggest document he signed up to. Here he talks of the need to

“create a political will to defend the general interest of Europe, arming itself with more powerful instruments in foreign and home affairs policy and in socioeconomic policy. It must clarify its powers and give the Union’s citizens the leading role. In other words, Europe can stay the way it is, which would really imply a step back towards the renationalisation of essential policies (agriculture, cooperation, foreign policy) or it could take a qualitative leap forward in political terms and make a determined bid for a federally orientated Europe that could genuinely be described as a Political Union.”


“We propose an institutional structure for the EU which converts it into a Federation of States based on the principle of the division of powers”.

This approached entailed the end of the veto. Institutions would federalise. The European Council (as a new Chamber of States) would elect a “Head of State” for 2.5 years, non-extendable. The European Commission would become the“Government of the Union”. There would be a new Chamber of the States, an appointed Senate. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) would become the “Constitutional Court”. The EU budget would be expanded, and raised in part from direct EU taxation.

Other elements included: a genuine statute of European citizenship; a European Constitution; greater direct legal effect for the ECJ, and more linkage with the ECHR; an increased EU role and budget for welfare; the Charter of Fundamental Rights to become legally binding; an EU minimum wage and “social standards”; considering abstracts such as “solidarity, universality, fairness, quality and access to essential public services” when working on Single Market policy; more powers to trades unions; the ECB to become beholden to MEPs, with more social spending; plus tax harmonisation , a new European Tax, and a new European Ecological Tax.

That’s already quite a list. But to these he added QMV in CFSP with a greater role for the Commission and MEPs; greater Justice and Home Affairs powers and QMV, more of an MEP role with Europol, the unification of criminal legislations, and the introduction of a European Prosecutor; and common migrant management. Which takes us onto the fact that Mr Borrell is now the nominated head of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy – and with it, why it is a very good thing that the UK is getting out of the EU.

To Eurosceptic Atlanticists in the EU27, there is one saving grace: Borrell aspires to pursue EU defence integration within a NATO framework, as least at this stage. But it is as a “NATO pillar with maximum identity”, intended to unite EU states to generate collective parity with the US contribution, and thus no real safeguard to nation states at all. He declares an ambition to deliver on an EU “Common Defence”, with active deployments in crisis missions, an independent EU rapid intervention force answerable to the European Council, and a defence industrial policy (the last of which he has ended up with). EU policy would include some caveats for traditional neutrals, but required them to accept that the “essential core” of defence should be through common processes, and associated with other EU policies in order to make the EU globally more credible. The resulting ambition was that

“The foreign policy reforms that the Convention must promote should aim to achieve the following objectives:

a) constitutionalise the CFSP as a lasting, democratic, common security policy, which addresses the underlying causes of insecurity and goes beyond the traditional military approach to security problems.

b) coordinate this policy with the policies on cooperation, trade and migration so as to create a genuine, all-encompassing, joint foreign policy, something which the Union does not have today.

c) provide it with sufficient economic resources.

d) ensure the EU acts with a single voice in international institutions and with its own legal identity (World Bank, IMF, United Nations institutions).

e) combine the diplomatic offices of each country in a single office representing the EU.

f) rule that member states may only act alone if their actions are in line with the common European policy or if the EU has no common position. They must inform the European Council of these initiatives”

His basic view on the global function of the EU is a bit of a mix. In order to defend “la independencia e intereses de Europa”, the EU has to actively promote its values in the world and establish a “just and democratic” international world order. Yet on the one hand he tried to insert a clause into the EU Constitution stating that the EU rejected the use of force as a means of conflict resolution; in another he successfully inserted a text change that added “Peacemaking” missions to the Peacekeeping activities of the EU.

His aspirations to jump from gradual Defence integration into a “Common Defence” are underscored by a number of proposed amendments. He sought to underline the link between Security and Defence policy functions. He pushed reinforced cooperation specifically in the areas of Defence capabilities building, and mission preparation. He sought in multiple amendments to turn Common Security and Defence Policy into an area of QMV. He also saw it as developing from member states formally committing themselves to converging over time in terms of policy and capability, under the leadership of a new EU Minister for Foreign Affairs – of which after a fashion he is now set to become, though not with the QMV to which he repeatedly sought to change the system. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a soon-to-be grandee in the European Parliament, he also sought to introduce a key role for MEPs in overseeing this new EU Minister.

Of course, these texts date from 15 years ago and his views may have changed since then – though from what I have seen of what’s happened since to other Convention delegates (both integrationists and Eurosceptics), their views have invariably hardened.

In any event, from this policy log drive we can observe an old EU insider who, while conscious of some of the democratic deficit associated with the role he now seems set to occupy, nevertheless is a longstanding advocate of the post having vastly wider and deeper responsibilities and powers. His track record should not inspire confidence that the EU’s Security, Defence, and Defence Industrial ambitions will remain circumscribed over the next five years. Particularly when one also considers another amendment he put down, seeking to award the EU a seat in its own right at the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE, and OECD.

If Josep Borrell is indicative of the future EU institutional leadership – and he is – then it is a good job that Brexit is happening when it is. Because with such people taking operational decisions in Brussels, the simple consequences of merely administering the EU will make it harder for countries to leave with every passing day.