HAVE WE LOST THE EU CITIZEN?

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.

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.