The idea of functional competitive selection is consistent with the traditional functional-utilitarian justification of the European Union. The raison d'etre of the Union is its presumed superiority in problem-solving and conflict resolution, compared to other forms, and, in particular, the functional utility of the nation-state. Likewise, increasing international interdependence and globalisation is seen to require further European integration.
In the current situation, however, there is no guarantee that the characteristics of the objective environment, through processes of competition and selection, will, by functional necessity, dictate specific forms of organisation and governance. Moreover, it is not at all obvious that such processes will drive out existing institutional arrangements and replace them with Fischer's vision of a European federation. Instead, a common economic-technological deterministic perspective sees political leadership as irrelevant and portrays attempts at European integration towards a state-like polity as `ironic' and `tragic'. This is because such efforts work against the overwhelming forces of a global borderless economy of competitive markets (Ohmae 1995:38).
More trust has been invested in the idea that the European Union already has intrinsic dynamics of integration. For instance, The Treaty of Rome (1957) asserted a determination `to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.' The Maastricht Treaty (1992) was presented as `a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.' Now, the Preamble of the Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union claims that `the peoples of Europe have established an ever closer union between them.' Existing internal dynamics are seen to lead inevitably to a closer union, even without any deliberate political act.11
Fischer, however, is not a utopian in the sense that he expects an external or internal `hidden hand' to produce a European federation. Quite the opposite, he sees the internal dynamics of the EU, as well as global changes, as demanding political leadership. The steps towards a constituent treaty, a precondition for full integration, `require a deliberate political act to re-establish Europe.' Institutional reforms are supposed to help the EU both to cope with enlargement and increasing internal complexity, and to make Europe's voice better heard throughout the world.
Nor is Fischer a utopian in the sense that he expects his reform plans to be accepted by all significant actors. Traditionally, institutional reforms in the EU have been presented as Pareto improvements, in other words, changes where some gain and no one loses. This image has become problematic as European integration has become more politicised. And as could be expected, the Fischer plan has been received with scepticism, and even hostility, by many actors.
For instance, it has been argued that from an Eastern European point of view, the Fischer plan is incompatible with enlargement, because it will doom the Eastern members to be second class members, permanently excluded from the core.12 For a British opponent, the reform plan looks like `a Franco-German plot to destabilise the Union.' The French and the Germans are seen as wanting a directorate of larger Member States, at the expense of the Treaty-based inter-institutional system.13 Creating a secretariat for an avant-garde outside the EU institutions obtains little support from Commission President Romano Prodi.14 The Commission is also faced with the dilemma of whether to work for further integration with a pioneer group led by some major powers, or to protect the coherence of the EU and the position of the smaller Member States.
Several small states have been concerned that the reforms will change the balance of power in favour of the larger countries. However, the issue is hardly one of whether some actors will have more power than others. They already do. Independent of the current legal forms in the EU, a basic reality from the European balance-of-power era is still alive. Co-operation within the EU has been based on a tacit understanding that some countries are more equal than others.15 The issue is, rather, how much the balance of power will change and whether it is possible to find a legitimate pathway towards a European federation.
Finally, the plan has not received overwhelming support even in Germany. Fischer presented his speech as his personal views. While realising that it would not really be possible to do so, he explicitly tried to divest himself of the hat and mantle of the German foreign minister. However, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has characterised the idea of a European president as `a perfect illusion', presented by `one of the leaders of the Green Party seeking an identity.'16 European Commissioner Günther Verheugen-a German national-has argued (in the Süddeutsche Zeitung) against the idea of a core and warned against the EU becoming a superstate like the USA.
What, then, are the possibilities for institutional engineering? The ideas of federalism and a dynamic core are hardly new in the European context, but, so far, they have received modest support. During both the Amsterdam process and the current IGC, it has was difficult to get agreement on comprehensive institutional reforms. Is the Fischer plan, in the face of the hostility, scepticism or apathy doomed to be utopian?
A power struggle over reforms, given the traditional consensus norms in the EU and the current preferences, world-views and powers of the various actors, is likely to threaten the EU itself, or to change the Union in fundamental ways. This is so even if Fischer's view is triumphant in the end. Most likely, the plan will remain a Utopia and a source of disappointment and frustration-unless there are significant changes in key concepts and vocabularies, preferences and world-views.
Such changes are, however, not impossible to achieve for patient institutional gardeners. Political leaders are neither omnipotent, nor impotent. From an institutional perspective, democratic institutions and identities cannot be engineered and re-engineered overnight. There are limitations of transformative leadership through institutional design, and, in order to avoid the utopian trap, reformers have to go beyond ordinary processes of coercion, exchange, bargaining, negotiation and coalition building. Seen as a contribution to a future debate-a broad, democratic, constitutional debate on the preferred political order, something that has been missing in the EU so far- Fischer's speech may come closer to a vision than a utopia.
11 Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Brussels, 28 July 2000, Charter 4422/00 (email@example.com).
12 See, Zielonka, in this Volume.
13 British Liberal Democrate Andrew Duff, Agence Europe No 7723, Wednesday 24 May 2000.
14 Agence Europe No 7759 Saturday 15 July 2000 p. 5.
15 For instance, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has argued that `larger European states have always preserved their special influence ... . Nothing will change that. The voice of the French President in the European Council counts more than my own. He knows it, I know it and accept it and there is no need to formalise this in the treaty' (Speech at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, June 7 2000, Agence Europe No 7735, 10 June 2000).
16 Interview with Le Figaro (Agence Europe, No 7761 Wednesday 19 July 2000 p. 6).