Conference on the Future Development of the European Union
Speaking points by President of FEPS, Massimo D'Alema
We have no more time! It has been said before and it must be said again: the crisis of detachment between European citizens and their representative institutions is a profound one. Indeed, it is so deep that we are now confronted with the risk of break-up if we fail to act courageously and rapidly. We have had enough of prevarication and stalled negotiation processes. If Europe does not move on from the present state of near inaction, it could be the end of European democracy as we have come to know it.
At its most basic level, this is a crisis of legitimacy for the European Union. The only way to restore and save this legitimacy is to show a strong initiative to resolve the Euro crisis. Among the citizens of Europe, the only way to achieve legitimacy is to deliver on the promises of the European project. Furthermore, legitimacy depends on the criteria of what should be delivered. This cannot be decided by limited interests who control the narrative. Rather it should encompass several elements which take in different perspectives.
By my reading, the only “win-win” deal would be one which accepts two distinct but compatible points of view. The present German government argues for the necessity of more integrated European Union governance. Controversially for some, this includes EU oversight over national budgets. However, the trade-off must be that the deal accepts the French perspective that demands the inclusion of an effective mechanism for solidarity and a strategy for growth. Crucially, this would include providing the European Union with sufficient resources, thus necessitating an increase of the EU budget.
Then there is the more fundamental question of Europe’s place in the world. We are forced by globalisation to transform Europe into a real political entity. In a way, the United States of Europe already exists through the common currency and single market. However, it lacks the institutional tools and effective and full democratic rights for the citizens.
Looking at our friends across the Atlantic Ocean, we can see some basic differences. If an American wants to have higher taxes for the rich and an increase in social spending, he or she could vote for Obama in the recent Presidential elections. Conversely, if he or she preferred tax breaks for the rich and cuts to spending, they could vote for Romney.
Most importantly, Americans have the option to remove the proponents of one particular philosophy from office every few years. Yet this is impossible for European citizens. They are encumbered by the constraints of institutions that pretend to be neutral. Politics is hidden under a veil of technocracy to the detriment of democratic legitimacy.
European citizens feel like they cannot influence the democratic process. Whereas in the US, discontent citizens oppose particular “Administrations”, they never disregard their fundamental belonging to the American polity. In Europe, discontent citizens will openly oppose the European Union itself.
We risk the failure of the European democracy which took so long to build.
There is also a disconnect of politics and policy. Politics is carried out at a national level while policy is decided at a technocratic level in Brussels. Politics without real delivery reduces the national parliaments of Europe to a series of “talking shops” with no real bearing on the lives of people.
The only alternative is to accelerate the politicisation of the EU. This must include a Commission president chosen based on the outcome of the European elections. It includes stronger political parties at EU level. The discussion of a conflict of national sovereignty and EU integration is a thing of the past. We must strengthen EU sovereignty.