At the end of World War II, there was a goal at the end of the European tunnel; a hope of peace. Today, there is a hope of something that seems closer but that, day after day, is becoming more elusive and more abstract: European political union.

Leaders, economists and lawyers are demanding it; calls from intellectuals are growing. But nobody is actually doing anything about it. Taboos that have made us erase words like "constitution", "federation", and even "law" from European treaties still dominate.

The scenario has changed, and everyone knows it. A “European public space” has been created. However, it is not the space of cohesion and a common public opinion desired by the federalists, the guardians of the grand tradition. It is a space, rather, stamped by a negative perception of the constraints and levies imposed on us in favour of the “others” – that is to say, the poorest or the richest, depending on whether one is in the north or the south.

No wonder that in this space, the political fortunes of those who speak against Europe and its institutions are prospering. They accuse the Union not of being an ineffective shield against the crisis, but of having actually caused it.

New movements

Beyond the fact that they were necessary, the sacrifices and budget cuts have opened the way to political movements that are challenging not only “this” Union, but also its constitutional heritage, as shown by the recent shifts of political power in Hungary and Romania. The pressure of populist movements hostile to the European system, though, is being felt everywhere, from Germany to Italy.

That a democratic deficit will be brought about is a risk facing the entire EU. It is the risk of which German Constitutional Court judges should have some foreboding. Those judges have taken on the responsibility – with the grave consequences that we know already – to return their judgment in September on the introduction of the latest rules concerning Germany's financial solidarity with the rest of Europe, which have already been approved by the Bundestag.

Indeed, this time reason is on the side of the German parliament, which grasps that it needs to legitimise “the state of exception” today – not only under pressure from the markets, but because the German deputies finally see in the latest EU decisions that a change is in the works, that a new process is underway. It is a process that does not focus exclusively on the rules and their observance, but on the strength that comes from the network of institutions.

Naturally, it is a process full of obstacles, of side-steps and barriers. However, we have seen progress that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

EU budget

And so we see, in the “European semester”, the reciprocal monitoring of budgetary powers – the same power that gave birth to Parliaments – the first step towards an EU budget. Similarly, inter-parliamentary cooperation is the hallmark of a parliamentary Union. It would go beyond the opposition between the European Parliament and the national assemblies and would found their joint action on themes at “conferences”. We should also mention the abandonment of the unanimity criterion for the entry into force of new common rules. Such rules now become effective once they are ratified by a majority of states.

All this only makes sense, however, if it can be presented in a compelling narrative to voters in 2014, and if they feel they want to vote for a different Europe – a Europe capable of dealing with the crisis, not only by the rulebook but also through common institutional mechanisms. This is called "Euro-nationalism".

There is no more time – nor even, perhaps, room, in an atmosphere that has grown oppressive – for cumbersome constitutional machinery that would involve amendments to the treaties, with highly unpredictable outcomes. But we do still have ample time to decide on some key points.

Without changing the treaties, states could adopt a “uniform electoral procedure”, which would allow the big European parties to exchange candidates among countries and present joint lists of front-runners. It would thus give meaning to a political space formed not by fears but by hopes, and not just at the national level.

EU president

The states, through joint pre-election statements, could also decide to appoint the Commission President elected by a majority in Parliament as the President of the European Council. This European Union president, too, could be feasible without changes to the treaties.

States could alter the non-constitutional rules that today distribute the bulk of European cohesion funds among the regions, often wastefully and more or less out of sight. They could regain control of these funds to make them instruments of a common economic policy.

And finally, the national and European parliaments could declare with one voice that they accept the prospect of future work on major issues of the Union through “Euro-national” conferences and conventions.

Thus, they would get across to the voters that the recommendations, the checks and the inquiries of each elected body have meaning only if they reflect the interdependence of the issues. And that therefore the inter-parliamentary cooperation, foreseen in the treaties, is the only form of parliamentarianism in tune with our times.

In short, this so often invoked “political union” could emerge in 2014 – the centenary of the founding European tragedy – from a chain of institutional solidarity; it would ensure the citizens that their vote for Europe will have the effectiveness of a full political choice. Because, of all the crises, a massive abstention would be the most serious.