Reflection Group

The European Council meeting in Corfu in June 1994 set up a ‘Reflection Group’ to meet during the period June-December 1995 to prepare the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) that would draft amendments to the EU Treaties. The Corfu meeting also invited the other EU institutions to submit reports to the Reflection Group on the functioning of the Union. Chaired by Carlos Westendorp, Spanish minister for European affairs, the group was composed of representatives of the EU foreign ministers – mainly junior ministers, ambassadors or academics – as well as the President of the European Commission and two Members of the European Parliament. Serviced by the secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the Reflection Group held its first meeting in Messina on 2 June 1995, exactly 40 years after the Messina Conference, presented an interim report in September, and delivered its final report to the European Council meeting in Madrid in December. Reflecting the governmental bias of its composition, the group’s relatively succinct conclusions were cautious in tone, presenting options, rather than agreed positions, and avoiding any specific treaty language. The subsequent IGC was convened in Turin in March 1996, with the resulting Amsterdam Treaty agreed in June 1997 and signed four months later.

When the EU heads of government decided, at the in Cologne meeting of the European Council in June 1999, to convene a further IGC to deal with certain ‘Amsterdam left-overs’ in preparation for enlargement, they chose not follow the recent Reflection Group precedent. Instead, the task was kept entirely within the Council system, assigned to the member-state ambassadors in COREPER, the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Disappointed by this move, the new Commission President, Romano Prodi, established his own ‘Group of Independent Experts’ to look at the wider institutional agenda. Comprised of three individuals – former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, and former British Labour minister (Lord) David Simon – the Commission’s group produced a report entitled The Institutional Implications of Enlargement in October 1999.

The Dehaene text was noteworthy in proposing that the Treaties be regrouped into a single document of two parts, with a short general statement of aims, principles and key institutional arrangements in the first part, still requiring amendment by a traditional IGC, and a longer section encompassing detailed EU policies in a second part, which could be amended unanimously without an IGC. This proposal was ignored by the member states in the IGC that met from February to December 2000, producing the Nice Treaty. However, it was resuscitated in the design adopted by the Convention on the Future of Europe for the European Constitution. The Lisbon Treaty retains the concept of two parts, but as separate treaties: changes to the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – introduced by the Maastricht Treaty – always require an IGC, whereas changes to the policy parts of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) – the old Treaty of Rome – may now be made by the European Council without convening one (Article 48 TEU).

Although neither the Convention nor the two IGCs which followed (in 2003-04 and 2007) were preceded by Reflection Groups, the European Council has reverted to the concept once since. In December 2007, the heads of government agreed to the creation of a new Reflection Group, focussed not on institutional reform but on the future policies of the European Union. The recently-elected French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, wanted to nurture a debate on the ‘geographic limits’ to Europe, in the hope of increasing resistance to any future enlargement of the Union to include Turkey, and saw such a group as a potentially useful vehicle for this purpose. After some months of pressure, his colleagues agreed to the initiative. However, precisely because opinions differed sharply on the Turkish issue, the member states were only able to agree on an ambiguous mandate that made no reference to frontiers of the Union and debarred discussion of institutional questions. The focus was to be exclusively on the longer-term policy challenges facing the EU over the coming two decades.

Twelve leading European personalities and experts were invited to join the group, with Filipe González, former prime minister of Spain (1982-96), serving as chairman. They included Mario Monti, the former European Commissioner (who would also be invited by the Commission to report on the future of the single market), Rem Koolhaas, the renowned Dutch architect, and Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland and subsequently president of that country (1990-95). Although the González group met once a month from December 2008 to May 2010, it produced only a modest, 41-page report – entitled Project Europe 2030: Challenges and Opportunities – which argued that the Union faced a simple choice, to ‘reform or decline’. It sketched a fairly mainstream set of policy prescriptions to avert such decline, based on the continuing need for structural reform, improved economic governance, investment in human capital and measures to reverse the shrinkage of the working-age population. The European Council in June 2010 made only passing reference to the report, whose impact was almost completely overshadowed by the near-simultaneous publication of the more intellectually challenging Monti Report on the single market.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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