We still have the choice whether we want to waste the current European crisis – or to use it to change the EU. While last week’s European Council was expected to agree on the finer details of the fiscal compact and its implementation we should remember that the new treaty is a necessary – but not a sufficient condition for the crisis to end. We still need to decide what kind of EU we want. And there are some good news: In Germany the debate is changing. Instead of asking ‘why Europe’ the debate is now focusing on ‘which-Europe-now’.
A lot still remains to be done: from the implementation of the second Greek aid package to the bail-out and the haircut. But on a more positive note the ECB has once again provided liquidity, the Euro-system is stable and the ‘Greexit’ discussion seems to be over. This obviously does not mean that the Greek crisis has been handled in the best way – or that no money was wasted, as Martin Feldstein argued in last week’s ZEIT. But, as he writes, even if mistakes were made – actually he considers the euro itself a mistake – it would be better to go on with it now, whilst pointing towards the central weakness of the euro: the lack of a common fiscal policy. Compared to the US, there is no central power with sufficient discretionary means to organize some sort of fiscal transfer. Indeed, the fiscal compact does not give any concrete answer to this question; and not even a hint whether fiscal transfers are likely to happen or not. Hence, the EU will eventually need to provide an answer to this question. Redefining the EU is necessary, muddling through is not an option. After having put an enormous amount of money in the European system – wouldn’t it be nice to get something really bold and beautiful in return? Something that would truly reconcile European citizens in Athens and Rome, in Dublin and Berlin, in Madrid and Vilnius.
Former EP President Klaus Hänsch got it right in last week’s FAZ when he argued that ‘more Europe’ is in fact already happening. However, the development of ‘more Europe’ has not been thought through properly. Instead the EU needs a completely new framework: common debt assurance, de facto erosion of the budgetary rights of the Bundestag, economic governance and German leadership: but here the reality seems to be ahead of the thinking. It is high time to think about the future of Europe – and what sort of Europe we really want. What holds us together now other than money? Do we just stick together because we are financially and economically so interdependent? Is there still anything else out there that holds Europe together? Values? Ambitions? European super-power dreams? Solidarity? Habits? Goals?
For Hänsch ‘more Europe’ takes place within the framework of the Lisbon Treaty. There is no need for a European super-state or a definite answer to the ‘finalite’-question. There will be ‘some’ more Europe compared with what we have got today, but there will definitely be no United States of Europe. No more ambitions – no more disillusions. I agree, this is a realistic assessment. This however might lead us to the Staatenbund scenario, as sketched out by Thomas Schmidt, in which Germany rigorously asserts its newly found hegemony – and others desperately trying to prevent this from happening. From my own experience, the latter is quite a realistic assessment for the current state of affairs.
What we need to address now is the question how to fundamentally restructure the EU. We need courageous concepts and no taboos whatsoever. Just think of the double seat of the EP in Strasbourg and Brussels, the role of EcoSoc or the common agricultural policy. Something old needs to go for something new to come. We have a unique chance to build a European Union for the future. With such an agenda we might be able to reconnect with the people of Europe – but we have to change things radically. The book “So nicht, Europa” by Jochen Bittner, the former Brussels correspondent of DIE ZEIT, could provide a guideline what needs to happen now – especially in the context of the crisis which indeed provides multiple windows of opportunity. Bittner argues that the EU regulates ‘small things’ too comprehensively and ‘big things’ (such as the currency, foreign policy, military capabilities) not vigorously enough. Perhaps we should, indeed, reverse this, and make the Union a stronger force in the global system – and cut back some of the nitty-gritty regulatory issues. I would have no problem witth getting rid of the Strasbourg seat of the EP in exchange for a European Monetary Fund (EMF). And this newly created EMF could be based in Strasbourg.
Republished with permission of the European Council on Foreign Relations