Good afternoon. Like Seamus Coffey, I will say a couple of words on the five presidents' report. As Mr. Coffey noted, this is the third such major document since the onset of the financial crisis, the previous two being the four presidents' report of December 2012 and the European Commission's blueprint of one month earlier. There is continuity and evolution when one compares the 2012 document and the 2015 document. The easiest way to confirm that is to look at the authors, two of whom from 2012 - Jean-Claude Juncker and Mario Draghi - are also authors of this year's report. In a way, that is evidence of continuity and yet there is evolution. I notice that the President of the European Parliament was not a co-author of the 2012 report whereas he is a co-author of the 2015 version. That bespeaks a certain rise to prominence of the EU's only directly-elected institution - Parliament. I also note that Donald Tusk is an author of this year's report not in his capacity as President of the European Council but rather in his role as President of the European Summit, the body that brings together the Heads of State and Government of the eurozone states alone. It is a kind of subgroup, if one likes, of the European Council, and it informally began life in 2008 before having its existence formalised in the fiscal stability treaty in 2013. It has met three times this year, largely due to the Greek crisis. That bespeaks evolution. In other words, one signatory of the 2015 report represents a major institution that did not even formally exist three years ago. It gives us some idea of how rapidly the eurozone is developing. Changes have occurred as individual, step-by-step reactions necessary to facilitate the survival of the eurozone through a period of crisis and change has been piecemeal. It nonetheless has been astonishingly rapid, at least in institutional terms.
The eurozone's efforts to confront its challenges are leading it to become the new European Union. What I mean by that is that the 19-member subgroup of EU member states is now beginning to occupy a role formerly occupied by the European Union as the centre of European economic and political integration for the foreseeable future. That is significant. The report only contains 21 pages, albeit of small print, but it is too long a document for me to go through in detail. However, I note a few points I found of interest in the introduction. We are told that European economic and monetary union, EMU, today is like a house that was built over decades but was only partially finished when the storm hit. Its walls and roof then had to be stabilised quickly. Now, we are told, it is time to reinforce its foundations. That reminds us that the "M" in EMU is far better developed than the "E", or the economic side of things. It is that which must be rebalanced somewhat. Furthermore, the aim of the five presidents' report is to see the rather patchwork foundations rendered more coherent. In other words, it is to see rules that are presently in intergovernmental treaties and documents such as the Euro Plus Pact - soft law documents - rendered part of the European Union legal framework. That is significant.
A second striking observation in the report is that it sees the common destiny of eurozone members as requiring solidarity in times of crisis and respect for commonly agreed rules from all members. There is a balance between the two of those. That is the basic bargain underlying EMU in this document - adherence to the rules on the one hand in exchange for solidarity on the other. Seamus Coffey has already gone through the four fronts on which progress is sought - economic union, financial union, fiscal union and political union - and I do not need to mention that again. Another point I find significant is that it is envisaged in the document that there will be further sovereignty sharing within common institutions. That relates to the bargain I have just mentioned. Finally, an idea of the stages for when all this is supposed to happen is set out. Nothing much is happening until 2017. Very little is planned other than to build on existing instruments and make the best possible use of the existing treaties. Stage 2 from mid-2017 onwards envisages concrete measures and commonly agreed benchmarks for convergence that could be given a legal nature. It envisages legal intervention at that stage. There is an undated stage 3, which shows the political difficulty on getting agreement on all this, however systemically necessary it is.
In the remaining time open to me, I want to look in greater detail at chapter 5 of the report entitled "Democratic Accountability, Legitimacy and Institutional Strengthening". What that means exactly is unfortunately not really spelled out. We are told that greater responsibility and integration at EU and eurozone level should go hand in hand with greater democratic accountability, legitimacy and institutional strengthening. Like love and marriage, one is not supposed to have one without the other, as the song says. We are told in the vaguest of terms that we need better sharing of new powers, greater transparency about who decides what, more dialogue, more trust and more capacity to act. All the same, those concepts give us an idea of the direction the report wants to go in. Also, it is interesting that accountability, legitimacy and institutional strengthening are associated with the Community method. There is, in effect, an apology in the report for having chosen intergovernmental solutions in the past. Beyond that, however, we are given just a number of concrete proposed reforms.
We will have a very quick look at those reforms as that is what they are going to be aiming at in this regard. The first is a key role for the European Parliament and national parliaments. That is a stage 1 proposal, in other words something that is supposed to be of immediate interest. It relates to democratic accountability and is really the only one of the five proposals that has to do with that. There are five elements to what the five presidents recommend - that is, five sub-proposals, if I could call them that. The first two are linked to a proposal made elsewhere in the report to restructure the European semester into two successive stages, distinguishing more clearly between the European stage and the national stage. Sub-proposal 1 then is that the European Commission could engage with the European Parliament at a plenary debate before the annual growth survey is presented. Sub-proposal 2 is that another debate would be held on the presentation by the Commission of country-specific recommendations. That is democratically interesting although it is not so interesting for national parliaments. It is really a European Parliament matter. Sub-proposal 3 is of interest to national parliaments. It is that Commission and Council representatives would participate in inter-parliamentary meetings, in particular although apparently not exclusively, during the European parliamentary week. As such, the Commission and the Council want to have a bigger role in there. As national parliaments take part in that particular week, the proposal is of interest to them.
Sub-proposal 4 is perhaps the most pregnant with possibility for national parliaments, if I can put it that way. It proposes that the European Commission should work out model arrangements to make the interaction with national parliaments more efficient. It is proposed that such interactions should apply to national parliamentary debates both on country-specific recommendations addressed to individual member states and within the annual budgetary procedure. That is a really interesting idea because certain national parliaments are notoriously sensitive about being told what to do, which explains why the language in Article 12 of the Treaty on European Union is so vague. The original draft of article 12 provided that national parliaments "shall" contribute actively to the good functioning of the European Union. The scrutiny committee of the House of Commons objected to that and it was watered down to the current version that national parliaments "contribute". In other words, no obligation is imposed. It is merely a noticing of what they do. However, the reality is that national parliaments need to learn from each other how to cope with common challenges. While bodies such as COSAC can play a useful role, the Commission proposes, in effect, another strengthened learning process and model arrangements as to how national parliaments could confront the task of dealing with country-specific recommendations.
It is difficult to object to an idea such as that. Obviously, the model arrangements themselves will not be binding. It will be up to national parliaments to decide whether they want to adopt them, and yet they will exert a certain peer pressure on national parliaments to up their game - a kind of standard by which parliaments will be able to judge each other. The Oireachtas, notwithstanding positive recent reforms in the lifetime of this Dáil, does not number among those EU countries which give the most powers to their parliament and it can only gain from this particular initiative. Of course, we will have to see what the model arrangements will be, but we should watch this space for interesting developments.
Proposal 5 is that national parliaments should make more use of the right recognised in the two-pack legislation to convene a Commissioner. It is not commonly known that this right exists, but it does, first for presentation of the Commission's opinion on a draft budgetary plan under Article 7.3 of Regulation 473/2013, and second for presentation of the Commission's recommendation to a member state in the excessive deficit procedure under Article 11.2 of the same regulation. They are simply encouraging more use of that possibility where one has a legal entitlement to get a Commissioner in before national parliaments.
The remaining proposals are largely about institutional strengthening and maybe legitimacy rather than democratic accountability. I can go through them rapidly. Proposal 2 is consolidating the external representation of the euro, and that is intended to be both in stage 1 and stage 2, in other words, now and from mid-2017 onwards. It is a proposal that is directed more at institutional strengthening than democratic accountability and legitimacy. The idea is that the EU and the euro area are still not represented as one in international financial institutions, and that fragmented voice means the EU is punching below its political and economic weight. The Commission points out that that is particularly true in the case of the IMF. It is obviously desirable that the eurozone and the EU would punch with the maximum amount of weight in this regard. These meetings count for an awful lot. If I mention former United States Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Timothy Geithner, the G7 meeting and the word "bailout" all in the same sentence, one will see the importance of these meetings and having strong representation at them.
The third recommendation is integrating intergovernmental solutions within the EU legal framework. That is something that is envisaged from mid-2017 onwards. That also has to do with institutional strengthening and perhaps legitimacy. The shortcomings of the EU's architecture were patched up by a series of intergovernmental treaties and soft law arrangements. We had the fiscal treaty, the European Stability Mechanism, the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Single Resolution Fund and the Euro Plus Pact. All these solutions were taken as an alternative to amending the treaties. Ideally, such developments should have seen treaty developments at this stage but the member states did not want to have treaties, and the Commission is proposing that. I do not know how enthusiastic the member states will be about doing that. We will have to wait and see. It is something, certainly, that the Commission would like to see.
A central steer by the Eurogroup also seems to be a stage 1 and stage 2 proposal. It also has to do with institutional strengthening. While the Eurogroup is provided for in two articles in Protocol 14 to the treaties, it is under-provided for. In reality, it is becoming an increasingly important body. Gradually, it is eclipsing ECOFIN at this stage. That is not reflected in the treaty provisions and the Commission wants to see that amended. Ultimately, it wants to see something like a full-time president, such as the European Council President, introduced there.
A euro area treasury is mentioned. That seems to be a stage 3, undated proposal. That has to do with institutional strengthening. The idea is that a genuine fiscal union will need more joint decision-making on fiscal policy. As the euro area continues to evolve, some decisions will increasingly need to be made collectively. As for the kind of model, it is not a new idea. The French Minister, Mr. Macron, and academics such as Jean-Claude Piris have put forward similar ideas. For example, I have seen the idea of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy put forward as a model, in other words, that one co-ordinates the various policies that are scattered among various institutions and officials at present and puts them under one roof, so to speak. In the longer term, if one wants to see a more federal structure emerging and a shift to the idea of a federal budget, however limited, that would be the beginnings of such an idea.
Those are the ideas that are put forward in this document. How long it will take to see them put into force is not so much up to the Commission as it is up to the member states, but I think we will see movement in that general direction.