For more than half a century, Europe has offered its member states and peoples a guarantee of peace, democracy, economic prosperity, respect for minorities and a level of social wellbeing that is unequalled elsewhere in the world.
Today this heritage could be on the brink of collapse. For the first time in 50 years, we are seeing a resurgence of issues that have the potential to bring about a cascade of fears and nationalisms similar to those that marked Europe in the 1930s. Even if we do not expect a repeat of the history of that decade, it is nonetheless important to point out that the main reason for the founding of a European democratic space based on a social market economy was to banish the spectres of unbridled nationalism and totalitarianism.
Faced with the challenge of globalisation, the frenetic development of international finance, and a rapidly evolving world, Europe, notwithstanding its position as the world’s leading economic power, has not been able to take a further step towards integration to safeguard this heritage, overcome the crisis and immediately tackle the Greek question.
On the brink of disaster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally proposed, only two weeks ago, to take a step towards political union, without offering any real details on the nature of her project (which appears to be limited to the imposition of European control on the budgets, banks and public finances of EU member states)
A politically united Europe
It is important to bear in mind that for Europe’s founding fathers economic integration was not an end in itself, but rather a means to attain the goal of a politically united Europe. At the time, the wounds of war had not yet healed, and it was reasonable course of action.
Economic cooperation was supposed to bring nations together and reduce the risk of further conflict. As Jacques Delors remarked during his time as European Commissioner, "Europe forges ahead in disguise." For years, this strategy proved to be effective. But today, the economic and monetary chaos has highlighted the weaknesses of an elitist method, which fails to involve citizens in decision making procedures.
This problem has become critical to the point where many voters believe the crisis has been caused by too much Europe rather than by the fact that EU institutions do not have the right tools. And, with the rise of anti-European extremist movements, there appears to be a real risk of Europe disintegrating.
We have now reached a crossroads where no European country, not even Germany, has the requisite weight to exert a determining influence on world affairs. Europe has therefore become a political necessity if we are to retain control over our destiny. However, Europe cannot be consolidated without its peoples or indeed against the will of its peoples.
Transfer of sovereignty
It follows that the only reasonable approach is to transfer sovereignty to a European power that has been made democratically legitimate. This is the reason why the many European summits that came and went in recent months have at best only been able to deliver provisional solutions. The approach to the Greek question speaks volumes on this issue. It is now clear that even if it makes enormous sacrifices, Athens will be unable to repay its debts.
The option it has been offered is the cancellation or mutualisation of Greece’s debt in exchange for close supervision of the future management of the country’s public finances. Only the European Union could take on such a task. However, at the same time, the Greek people, like the other citizens of the EU, will not be unable to accept the loss of sovereignty (which has already been significantly weakened by the markets) if the European authority tasked with supervising Greece’s finances does not have an adequate level of democratic legitimacy.
To address this problem, we should undertake an immediate overhaul of Europe’s institutions and transform the EU into a direct democracy. No one is really insisting that the EU resolve its economic, banking and financial problems before reforming its institutions.
Role of citizens
The reality is that national governments want to prevent the transfer of major aspects of their sovereignty and they justify this attitude on the pretext that their citizens are not ready for such a radical change. It is therefore up to the citizens of Europe to campaign for a common, federal, political space. And it is up to Europe’s politicians to demonstrate their determination to build a strong, sovereign, united and democratic Europe.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of proposals to establish the foundations of a political union, on which political leaders and also citizens should adopt a clearly defined position:
1) establish the direct election of the President of the European Union through universal suffrage
2) merge the roles of EU President and European Commission President to create a single EU representative
3) establish a double majority voting system in which decisions are approved by a 51% majority of member states and 51% of the European population as represented by a majority of MEPs in the European parliament
4) introduce European lists for elections to the parliament in Strasbourg (with a high proportion of non-national European candidates)
5) introduce citizen’s referendum legislation in the EU
In responding to the crisis, Europe is faced with a choice between courage and decline.