Financial crisis, democratic deficit, too far away from citizens, too bureaucratic, “Brussels monster” and so on and so forth – the image of the European Union is not in a very good shape. For decades the European integration process deepened and widened the EU and especially in times of crises the big steps were undertaken to push forward to an “ever closer union”. That is natural as crises let us focus on the things that go wrong. With all the deficits mentioned above it sounds like we stand again on the point of either leaping forward to another big integration step or remain frustrated with an insufficient European Union.
Deconstructing and deepening the Union
It gets more popular in European capitals to reconsider the integration process and demand a retransfer of powers from Brussels back to the member states. Then we are looking forward to the next European election in May when for the first time the result will directly affect the nomination of the next president of the European Commission. The latter could become a huge step towards a real European democracy where the “European government” (= the European Commission) depends somehow on the majority in the European parliament. But just designing a new institutional blueprint for the EU won’t be enough to convince citizens and strengthen a real European citizenship. In addition it wouldn’t be smart to just overhear or ignore the voices from members states for retransfer.
A win-win situation
Banging the fist on the table and saying that there is no alternative to the EU is not very convincing especially to those who are not the biggest supporters of the EU. It would be wise to give them a little of what they want by simultaneously pushing forward to produce a real European added value. Give the EU a big deal.
A new European narrative
With the next European Commission very much interconnected to the European Parliament the member states should pass two major tasks to those two. First reconsider the (small) policies already in force that could be reversed. I fact this would be nothing more than playing the subsidiarity card seriously. But it has to be done in a concerted action along all political portfolios showing in the end a long list of debureaucratisation and simplification of rules. But secondly – and that is crucial – the member states should pass a big symbolic area to the European level to produce a big deal. It has to be something that in the end affects the citizens directly and clarify the importance of European cooperation on a daily basis. Many ideas were already produced when thinking about the long-term future of the EU. So that big deal could be the installation of an European unemployment insurance, an obligatory European Voluntary Service for one year or the establishment of a interdisciplinary school subject “European integration” in all European schools. That would require strong European commitment and political courage from the member states. But it could also initiate a new European narrative. Deconstruction the “old” European Union in the small policy areas especially at the harmonisation of the internal market and concentrating on the big problems of the 21st century which cannot be solved by the nation states alone.
The shift from the EU as we know it to a sectoral European Union which more or less only operates on the big issues could be very well put into accordance to the two initial points of deconstruction on the one hand and establishing a real European democracy close to the citizens on the other hand.
Post pic by Bleed-blue-Blood CC BY-NC-SA 3.0