Sun, Feb 04, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Why we need a debate on the future of the EU

At issue is the fundamental matter of when to rely on national governments' agreement and when to turn to common EU institutions

By Bronislaw Geremek

Ever since France and the Netherlands rejected the EU's proposed Constitutional Treaty, EU leaders have been busy pointing fingers at each other, or blaming French and Dutch citizens for misunderstanding the question they had been asked. But no amount of finger pointing can obscure the fact that, 50 years after the European Community's creation, Europe badly needs a new political framework, if not a new project, to shore up its unity.

To be sure, French and Dutch citizens did not respond to the question that they were supposed to answer. Their vote was a protest against globalization, a rejection of the contemporary world, with its distant and incomprehensible governing mechanisms. Like the anti-globalization movement, the new anti-Europeanism can be regarded as a demand for a "different world" -- in this case, an "alter-Europeanism."

The two world wars and the Cold War shaped European integration as a project of peace, defense of the West's fundamental values and common economic prosperity. But the collapse of communism in 1989, and the chance to overcome the Continent's historical divisions, now required a redefinition of the European project. The Treaties of Maastricht (1992) and Amsterdam (1997) created a new organizational structure for the EU and laid the foundations for political institutions equal to Europe's economic power. The Treaty of Nice (2000) was the result of a rather poor compromise.

Declarations by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country assumed the EU's rotating six-month presidency at the beginning of this year, are unambiguous -- the period of reflection, approved by the European Commission in 2005, has ended. The German presidency will seek to implement the Constitutional Treaty resolutions, and the Berlin Declaration on March 25 -- timed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome -- will offer a vision of the EU's future. The aim is to leave to Germany's successors in the EU presidency -- Slovenia, Portugal, and France -- a roadmap for future reform.

In the past, when politicians debated the EU's future, they spoke of a definitive formula for European integration, as defined in a famous lecture in 2000 by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The accompanying intellectual debate, inaugurated by the philosophers Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, defined the nature of European identity, above all, against the foil of the US, but also in terms of the challenges posed by globalization. A similar debate addressing key questions concerning the EU's future should be launched now.

First, how should relations between national and common European interests be defined? At issue is not only the allocation of competencies, but also the more fundamental matter of when to rely on national governments' agreement and when to turn to common EU institutions, namely the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The second question concerns the EU's scope. Europe is a peculiar combination of geography and history, but the EU's boundaries -- and thus the prospects for its further enlargement -- are determined as much by its capacity to integrate candidate countries as by these countries' own adaptive abilities.

After the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the EU has 27 members, with Turkey and Croatia, but also the other Balkan states, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, waiting in line. Is enlargement the only effective policy for stabilization and peace, or can the EU's "neighborhood policy," falling short of full admission for some of the countries knocking at the door, become an instrument for supporting development and stabilization, much as the Marshall Plan once was for Western Europe?

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