Phoenix Europe: How the EU Can Emerge from the Ashes
The old European Union didn't work, that much has been made clear by the ongoing debt crisis. But many in Europe think there is now a clear path to a new, more integrated -- and smaller -- bloc. What must happen first? Greater democracy and less nation-state sovereignty. By SPIEGEL Staff
The jogger is undeterred by the wet, foggy weather in November. Once again, Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister and eminence grise of the Green Party, has taken to running regularly through the quiet neighborhoods of Berlin's Grunewald district. It is the kind of exercise, he says, which gives him time to think.
"While I was running," he says, it occurred to him "how things could work in Europe."
To stabilize the continent in crisis Fischer, an avid European, wants to see a resolute political body consisting of the leaders of euro-zone countries. They should, he believes, be outfitted with far-reaching authority and granted sufficient power by their parliaments back home.
Fischer is thinking about a rescue plan. Not just a rescue plan for the banks, for Italy or the euro, but for everything. He envisions a fire brigade of European Union government officials, and sees it as an "avant-garde of the United States of Europe."
It is, in other words, time to stop complaining. Europe can only be saved if it is completely reinvented. The financial crisis is the turning point in the history of European unification.
The old EU is finished. The 27-member bloc has never been as unpopular as it is today. Citizens have taken note that the massive bureaucracy in Brussels clearly lacks the power to master the crisis spreading through the currency union. It has likewise become apparent that the national governments they have elected are in the process of dismantling the historic project of European unification. After all, it isn't the European Council, the European Commission or the European Parliament that the world is relying on to pull Europe out of crisis. It is Angela Merkel.
Old Europe No Longer Exists
The German chancellor and French President Nicolas Sarkozy more or less singlehandedly implemented the bailout plan for Greece, brought down the government in Athens and placed ailing member state Italy under international supervision. The words "History is being made in Cannes" were emblazoned on posters in the city during the G-20 summit there in early November. But that's new history. Old Europe, that construct of unity housed in imposing buildings in Brussels, that visionary collection of ideas about peace, freedom and prosperity, the Europe of big words and impenetrable treaties, the Babylonian monster that spits out tons of paper in 23 languages every day, meddles in everything and tries to spoon-feed its citizen. That Europe no longer exists.
Citizens in Athens and Brussels, Madrid and Berlin are taking to the streets of the tottering continent to protest against their politicians. Has Europe turned into a nightmare?
It is time to stop complaining. The new Europe will be a dream, not a nightmare.
Unlike Fischer, not everyone with ambitious plans the future of Europe goes jogging in the November fog. There are many other big thinkers in the most influential nations of the European Union, people who are hard at work developing plans for a European house, one that will be better, more democratic, more unified and more impervious to crises than today's Europe.
In capitals across the Continent, governments have assembled their experts for brainstorming sessions, while international law experts and political scientists gathered at think tanks are busy developing models and seeking a future for Europe. Influential thinkers like German philosopher Jürgen Habermas have weighed in on the debate as they try to shape a united continent.
'Opportunity to Do Great Things'
The experts seek to escape the current crisis by taking a significant step forward. For the first time in years, those government officials seeking an end to the crisis have begun thinking about "more Europe," a new Europe with expanded powers and a real government. The crisis, says Munich sociologist Ulrich Beck, is "an opportunity to do great things."
"Neither a Frankfurt group nor a troika, and certainly not the G-20, which answers to no one, should have the right to decide what Europe's citizens should pay for and how much they should save," says Ulrike Guérot, the fiery Berlin spokeswoman of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the international think tank to which Joschka Fischer also belongs. According to Guérot, such decisions ought to be made by a strong European executive branch, "supported by a parliament for the entire euro zone."
"We must invent and establish Europe a second time," says Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD). It's easy enough to say this from his standpoint as leader of the opposition. But many in Merkel's party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), tend to agree -- they just don't talk openly about it. Officials at the Chancellery are also looking for concepts for the day when the crisis is over.
It's an opportunity to change the world. Why, for example, shouldn't it be possible for "the Europeans" to pull together, just as the 13 new American states did in 1787 for their constitutional convention? Then, too, the states were jostling for power and money. But, after a long struggle, they managed to constitute themselves -- under the motto "We the People" -- into a powerful, democratic, federal state that has endured to this day.
The Americans enshrined "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. But is that any different than the European dream of peace, freedom and prosperity? Could the words "We the People," or "We Europeans," also be chiseled into the constitution of a European federal state one day?
A Well-Thought-Out Vision for Europe's Future
Just how close this historic idea has already come to real-life politics is reflected in the passion with which German philosopher Hermann Lübbe rejected the notion of a United States of Europe in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a few days ago. If, in the wake of the "common currency," a similar "common nation" were now to be proclaimed, Lübbe warns, it would only "accelerate the catastrophic outcome" of the crisis. For Lübbe, there is "no prospect" of achieving consensus among "Finland and Greece, Slovenia and Portugal, Austria and France."
The It-Won't-Work pragmatists are keeping the Let's-At-Least-Try-It idealists in check. As a result, only very few politicians are able to develop a well-thought-out vision for Europe's future anymore. "After all, everyone wants something," complains Habermas, a passionate proponent of Europe. The ultimate goal, he says, has become obscured.
Peter Altmaier, the influential conservative parliamentarian and an important ally of Merkel's, says that although an American-style European federalism is not "in our immediate future," it should be possible "to at least talk about it."
There is no lack of bold ideas. Charles Grant, founder of the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank, has come up with a vision for a democratically united Europe in which the citizens of the various member states vote directly for European commissioners -- replacing the present system whereby they are chosen by national governments behind closed doors. Grant's model sees the EU president selecting the 10 best of the 27 citizens' picks, with the remaining 17 becoming deputies. This concept would produce a strong and democratic European government.
The idea of a single, robust Brussels government for all EU countries -- or at least for the euro zone -- is also shaping plans promoted by certain groups within the European Parliament. And most agree that citizens in any future United States of Europe must have a stronger voice and Brussels have greater powers. Which would in turn mean a transfer of sovereignty from individual countries to the European Union.
- Part 1: How the EU Can Emerge from the Ashes
- Part 2: The Approaching Reality of a Smaller Europe
- Part 3: The Problems of the 'Merkel Method'
- Part 4: The French Hurdle
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- Pt. I: How a Good Idea Became a Tragedy
- Pt. II: How the Euro Zone Ignored Its Own Rules