Article published on Jan. 22, 2014
Article published on Jan. 22, 2014

Citizens no longer dream of the European Union. Their hopes are increasingly unfulfilled; the mountain of Eurosceptic parties are testament to this. The EU seems stuck in a rut. But Europhiles are still waiting for a collective European stand to push the continent in a different direction. They keep saying, “It’s up to you to say what you want.”

Con­fer­ences on the fu­ture of the Eu­ro­pean Union are start­ing to in­crease in the run-up to the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions. The con­fer­ence halls may be packed, but con­trib­u­tors are unan­i­mous; the role that cit­i­zens have is key. “This is an im­por­tant mo­ment for the con­ti­nent and peo­ple just don’t see it”, says MEP Sylvie Goulard re­gret­fully, at an Al­sace Re­gional Coun­cil con­fer­ence. These elec­tions are cru­cial in as much as they are going to de­ter­mine who the next Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion will be, which in turn lays out the po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion of the Union.

Nev­er­the­less, in­ter­est in Eu­ro­pean mat­ters keeps de­creas­ing. While in 2009, 16% of Eu­ro­pean cit­i­zens had a neg­a­tive opin­ion of the EU, that fig­ure is now 29% ac­cord­ing to the Eu­ro­barom­e­ter. The Eu­ro­pean pro­ject has fallen vic­tim to col­lat­eral dam­age amidst the Euro res­cue. Poli­cies are aimed more at keep­ing the Euro’s head above water than in­still­ing a feel­ing of be­long­ing in the hearts of Eu­ro­pean cit­i­zens.  The new anti-euro party in Ger­many, Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many, justly ad­vo­cates an exit from the sin­gle cur­rency - an ac­tion that could lead to geopo­lit­i­cal dan­gers with the re­turn to a mon­e­tary cri­sis, ac­cord­ing to François Heis­bourg. The au­thor of La Fin du rêve européen (The End of the Eu­ro­pean Dream) and Pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies dis­cussed the pos­si­ble di­rec­tions the Union could take, with econ­o­mist Michel Dévoluy and his­to­rian Mar­tial Lib­era. This was at a round table or­gan­ised by France Cul­ture (a French radio chan­nel) as part of the World Forum for Democ­racy. Hav­ing analysed the sit­u­a­tion, the Modem (De­mo­c­ra­tic Move­ment) MEP be­lieves that ex­trem­ists in mem­ber coun­tries are doing every­thing in their power to harm the Eu­ro­pean con­struc­tion. “Many are going to war against Eu­rope but they don’t know any­thing about it. They are mis­tak­ing this elec­tion for an ex­cuse to vent,” she says.


Eu­roscep­ti­cism is grow­ing be­cause the EU in­sti­tu­tions seem in­ef­fec­tive. “We com­plain about their in­tru­sion in daily life but at the same time their lack of ac­tion in im­por­tant areas of diplo­macy,” Mar­tial Lib­era ex­plains. For Sylvie Goulard, the EU must not only be in touch with its cit­i­zens but it must also deal with in­ter­na­tional mat­ters. “For local prob­lems, we have our re­gions. The EU should con­cen­trate on re­la­tions with China, with the US, and cli­mate change. There is a di­vi­sion of pow­ers to be found.” Eu­rope no longer ful­fils the plans we had laid out for it, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys. “This cri­sis has re­vealed some fun­da­men­tal prob­lems,” con­fesses Michel Dévoluy.

“Since 1990, Eu­rope has in­vested in pre­rog­a­tives that were not in­tended for Eu­rope,” ex­plains Mar­tial Lib­era. And the dys­func­tion is also in­ter­nal. Since the start of the eco­nomic cri­sis, the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil has taken on an ab­nor­mally im­por­tant role. “If we keep on with this in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal logic, we will come crashing into a brick wall”, warns Michel Dévoluy. The an­swer these three men sug­gest is to trans­form the Union into a fed­eral Eu­rope. But alas, the so­lu­tion is not so sim­ple. As Michel Dévoluy points out, “If we made an offer of a fed­eral Eu­rope today, cit­i­zens wouldn’t wel­come it be­cause they want so­lu­tions to their eco­nomic prob­lems. And the mem­ber states have no rea­son to change the model.”

But the battle is far from lost. “The his­tory of the EU is rid­dled with crises, such as the Eu­ro­pean De­fence Com­mu­nity in the fifties, or the re­jec­tion of a ref­er­en­dum in 2005,” Mar­tial Lib­era re­minds us. The cri­sis is only fur­ther proof that Eu­ro­peans must re­solve this to­gether. The his­to­rian pro­poses elect­ing a Pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Union to re­vive Eu­ro­pean en­gage­ment. “This so­lu­tion isn’t enough”, pro­claims François Heis­bourg, “a nice thought though it may be. We need an elected gov­ern­ment that makes de­ci­sions for the good of all and votes on Eu­ro­pean taxes.”

All the con­trib­u­tors fi­nally agree on one point: in order to change Eu­rope or give more weight to the de­mo­c­ra­t­i­cally elected Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, we need to change the treaties. “This can only come from the ini­tia­tive of cit­i­zens”, François Heis­bourg con­cludes.

All in­ter­views by Célia Gar­cia Mon­terro, in Stras­bourg.