There is a widespread realisation that the European Union has missed its date with the future. Faced with a financial crisis on an unprecedented scale, the Union’s political leaders have responded by establishing an increasingly esoteric technocracy.

Never before have the divisions between European citizens been so pronounced – between citizens of the north and the south, but also within member states, between those who have suffered the impact of the crisis and those who, on the contrary, have gained from it – nor have they been so neglected by political leaders who have continued to pursue short-term objectives.

In a time of growing unemployment and inequality when Europe is increasingly marginalised in world affairs, the future of the EU has been left to hang on the outcome of national elections. Instead of seeking to restore meaningful integration, governments have continued to indulge in mutual recrimination.

In the south, the prevailing sentiment is that Europe is marching to a German tune; and in the north that it is too influenced by the countries of the south

In the south, the prevailing sentiment is that Europe is marching to a German tune; and in the north that it is too influenced by the countries of the south. In an opinion piece published in late July, the German Finance Minister [Wolfgang Schäuble] pointed out that the ECB, the European Commission, the OECD and the IMF are respectively headed “by an Italian, Portuguese, Mexican and Frenchwoman.” It is this type of debate that is sinking the EU. The time has come to call a halt and return to the basic question: what kind of Union do we need?

To date, the predominant response to this has been: the intergovernmental union for economic and monetary policy established by the Lisbon Treaty. This is the union that emerged from the compromise agreed in Maastricht in 1992, to the effect that competencies which have a direct impact on national sovereignty (i.e. economic and financial policy making) can be transferred to Brussels, but only on condition that they are managed in cooperation with national governments.

‘Union has no future’

The fact is, however, that an intergovernmental union inevitably reinforces the interests of some countries (the largest and economically strongest) and diminishes the influence of others (smaller and economically weaker states). And in a bid to obscure this significant reality, the intergovernmental union has given birth to a complex technocratic structure to administer the Eurozone, which has only served to distance the management and treatment of the crisis from the interests and demands of citizens. It is surprising that a political leader like Wolfgang Schäuble appears to be so unaware of this, or of the fact that the intergovernmental union has no future.

But the difficulties that we face also result from the weakness of the solution that has been proposed as an alternative – which is that Europe should take the traditional form of a federal state structured around the European Parliament (EP) and administered by a European Commission that reflects the political will of a majority of MEPs.

And in passing, we should note that the major parties in the EP are already preparing to present candidates for the presidency of the European Commission in the run-up to the 2014 European elections. There is no denying the difference between the two approaches: on the one hand an intergovernmental union effectively restricts decision making to the European Council of national leaders and councils of their ministers, whereas on the other, a parliamentary union would make decision-making a matter for the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Rights overlooked

In the first scenario, the rights of citizens are overlooked; and in the second, states are left by the wayside

In the first scenario, the rights of citizens are overlooked; and in the second, states are left by the wayside. But can a union of 28 member countries characterised by major geographical, cultural, linguistic, and economic and political differences, take on the form of a parliamentary state?

Handicapped by the weaknesses of these two predominant strategies for integration, Europe is unable to move forward. We cannot choose between technocracy and utopia, rather we must refocus on the facts to redefine an integration strategy that might strike a more satisfactory balance between the interests of states and those of citizens. Europe needs political leaders who are able to look beyond these two strategies, who are aware that an intergovernmental union can never be a political union, and, at the same time, have also grasped that a federal union is not a federal state.