Enough with Realpolitik

Article published on Oct. 3, 2004
community published
Article published on Oct. 3, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

European Integration is pregnant with promise - the process must not be aborted.

As in 1957, Europe’s founding fathers have gathered in Rome, the city of Romulus and Remus, to witness the birth of a new European order. Before them lies the European Constitution, the brainchild of countless deliberations and 15 months of negotiation by the Convention on the Future of Europe. Their task, as 46 years ago, is historic: from a Europe pregnant with promise they are to deliver a fledgling young union, a union that with nurturing will grow, in the words of Habermas, into a ‘postnational constellation’, a spectrum of states whose history and destinies are delicately arranged under the Union's 12-star-studded flag.

But now such star-gazing ideals face a rocky descent to earth. The negotiations in Rome risk showing that, even in the supposedly ‘postnational’ constellation, realpolitik between nation-states remains the true centre of gravity. Despite the fact that every state was represented in the Convention’s work, governments are now clambering to make changes. The British government has drawn its ‘red lines’, notably, on foreign and fiscal policy. The Catholic countries, and in particular Poland, are calling for a reference to Europe’s ‘Christian roots’ to be included in the constitutional treaty. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the Polish Foreign Minister, has declared it ‘out of the question’ that the treaty be accepted ‘as is’. Faced with the task of bringing a new entity into the world, Europe’s founding fathers want to argue more over whose features it should carry, and less over the well-being of the child itself.

Why has this come about? Some disappointed Euro-federalists have taken it as a further sign that Europe cannot be trusted to its governments – member states naturally pursue their own goals first and leave the European interest on the back-burner. The conclusion is that the future development of the EU should be taken out of the hands of state executives and placed in the lap of Europe’s peoples. This conclusion, of course, is fatally flawed: it neglects the fact that in most cases, governments are aggressively seeking changes to the constitution precisely because of pressure from their domestic electorates. No-one can doubt the domestic popularity of the Poles insistence on referring to Europe’s ‘Christian roots’ nor that of the tough negotiating stance of the British. Indeed, were it that neither government had a domestic electorate to please, it is unlikely that they would be so persistent.

The problem, then, is not the ‘democratic deficit’, but paradoxically, the very fact that Europe’s elites are responsible to their national peoples, who simply do not share the same inspiration for the European ideal that they have. The problem, at the core, is the lack of a European demos, that is, a single people sharing common values and a sense of destiny. How, or indeed if, we are to find a solution is the central question of the European project itself. It is possible that, over a long period of time, participation in Europe’s institutions may install a sense of common purpose in Europe’s peoples. For the time being, there are plenty of signs to the contrary: among which the result of the recent Euro-referendum in Sweden, and the growth of euro-sceptical movements, are examples.

As for the negotiations in Rome, an abortive outcome is not an option. Enlargement has forced the need for institutional redesign, and an agreement must be reached. For every participant, the cost of failure would be higher than the cost of giving up whatever demands they still have on the European constitution – a calculation that even the most hard-headed foreign policy realist can understand.