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.
A EUROPE IN NEED OF REINVENTION
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.