The Need for Real Debate How to Get Europeans to Care about Europe

For far too long, the Germans have allowed the Europe debate to be led by a small number of experts, meaning they bear partial responsibility for the current chaos. But there is still a way to achieve a better Europe and get ordinary people to care about the EU -- through direct elections.

It's time for a political throw-down.
REUTERS

It's time for a political throw-down.

A Commentary by


In 1787 and 1788, a series of articles -- now known as "The Federalist Papers" -- were published in New York newspapers under the pseudonym "Publius." Behind the name were American statesmen spreading a clear message that the loosely connected states should finally unite to create a strong, pluralistic and democratic nation.

More than 200 years later, we Europeans find ourselves discussing the unity of the continent. But our debate is flabby and phoney -- far from the Federalists' passionate and inspired will to unite. When we talk about Europe today, we mean money. The newspapers and the men and women in the street are all asking the same question: "How much will it cost?"

The Germans are playing the role of the know-it-all pedant, pushing the blame for the confusion onto others -- namely the Greeks, Spaniards and Italians. But the bitter truth is we're the ones who botched everything up. Us, the supposed super-Europeans.

For years, Germans thought Europe was just swell, but only euro-nerds in Brussels actually concerned themselves with the fine print of this mammoth project. Regular people weren't at all interested in Europe.

We allowed former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former Finance Minister Hans Eichel, to name just a few, to pass resolutions in Brussels that hardly anyone understood. And it was apparently not clear to them either what the consequences of their decisions would be.

We tolerated only mild punishment for Greece's violations against the Stability and Growth Pact, and we suffered the installation of a European Parliament whose delegates have less say than a member of a city council.

We failed to turn up at European elections, and turned off the TV when Brussels was on the news. In short, we failed as citizens.

Politicians Look Only As Far As the Next Election

Of course, Europe isn't exciting. Most people find disgraced former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg infinitely more interesting than Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council. Thoughts of Europe call up images of eurocrats in Brussels, endless late-night meetings and the famous "butter mountains" created by the Common Agricultural Policy. There is little enthusiasm for the European project. Its considerable achievements -- such as freedom of travel and the single European market -- are taken for granted.

There is no single European public sphere where Europeans can discuss issues with each other. Each country holds its own internal debates, while national politicians think only of the next election, and tell their voters at home what they want to hear.

At least now that things are affecting our pocketbooks, we're waking up a bit. We're paying attention and making an effort to get informed. But are we also fighting for a better Europe, like the authors of "The Federalist Papers" stood up for a united America?

True, everyone may know that euro bonds have nothing to do with 007, but with our money. We're buying gold and complaining about the Italians and their massive debts. But there is no real debate about the future of Europe.

Europeans Need a Referendum

That can be changed. But it would require a bold move, such as the following: Europeans need a European referendum. It would ask the question: Should we roll back the European Union, or do we dare to choose more Europe? Do we want a directly elected European president? A real parliament? How about European politicians who are -- at long last -- held accountable when things go wrong? Now is the moment to decide. Such a referendum would finally spark a widespread debate.

We have to get away from the economist-dominated debate and into a political discussion. Anyone who agrees with a common currency, or even speaks of a transfer union, should take the next step and bring up clear political unity. Anything else is beating around the bush. Nobody benefits from the endless discussion about "economic governments" that should meet twice a year. This intransparent, technocratic policymaking among leaders generates exactly the kind of dangerous Europe-fatigue that is helping the populist idiots win support.

If Europeans finally manage to get a real election, they'll get involved too. Other EU countries have shown how referendums can enliven the national European debate. And in the end the Europeans will reach the right decision. But the previous tedious wrangling over Europe must come to an end.

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mae 08/19/2011
1. s
When the federalist papers were published in the USA, it was a country of 4 million people struggling to make a livng in a small patch of land on the east coast of a new continent, surrounded by a mighty Spanish Empire. Very different from the Europe of today. Another big difference was that the 13 American states all had the same roots - they had all been former British colonies and shared a common language (English) and shared the same legal traditions and laws (British common law). This tiny desperate peoples of 4 million can hardly be compared to the Europe of today. It is so absurd to compare the creation of the USA to the EU. They are so different in every way.
mr.democracy 08/20/2011
2. Reality Check.
1."We failed to turn up at European elections" Why ? Perhaps because the EU "parliament" does not represent the peoples of Europe (that's what their national Parliaments do)or maybe it's because the EU "parliament" has no opposition and is not democratically elected...as well as being impotent. 2."Politicians Look Only As Far As the Next Election"...unless they don't have to worry about elections like the un-elected commission. 3."Of course, Europe isn't exciting." Yes it is...and so is the EU ! 4."But are we also fighting for a better Europe, like the authors of "The Federalist Papers" stood up for a united America"? (Anyone who has a different viewpoint is of course a "populist idiot" even if they love Europe but not the EU's flawed currency,illegal bailouts and illegal eurobonds plan). 5."True, everyone may know that euro bonds have nothing to do with 007" Yes they do...My name is Bond,Euro Bond,licensed to kill democracies. 6."Europeans need a European referendum". THEY ALREADY HAD ONE...the French,Irish and Dutch said no thanks !!!! 7."Other EU countries have shown how referendums can enliven the national European debate. And in the end the Europeans will reach the right decision" ....after the EU makes them vote untill they vote "yes" (or changes the name of the treaty from "Constitution" to "Lisbon".
muley63 08/21/2011
3. A Foreign Adventure or Project
What bonded Americans during the early years was expansion into the West. For better or worse, Americans found common cause at the expense of the native Americans and slavery. Europe would do well to find a foreign adventure or project. In fact the Europeans have already started on one. North Africa. By all indication, Gaddafi is about to fall. This is something Europe should celebrate since this has been a European venture. The European politicians should celebrate this accomplishment and follow-up with an even bolder plan. Expand European influence to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. It sounds like imperialism but it should be proposed as a partnership among liberal democratic countries. It should be formed by a single European institution where all Europeans can participate and follow easily instead of separate national projects. The NATO war against Gaddafi shows that European are much more effective when they pool their resources.
ExMsNegativity 08/22/2011
4. ?
a European president? and how would he/she be elected? I get the feeling that each country would vote their own candidate for president no matter who he was. European countries are too locally proud now. There are too many dislikes among the countries from wars past. And then the languages. The way I see it, Germany has to keep working its way up economically, money is power, and then, take over. But of course I say that because I love Germany so I would not mind Germany being in charge, I doubt the English would agree. And I certainly don't want an English president, or an Italian one. I think Germany should try to gain control one step at a time, because of its economy, and then one day, we will all have good management :-)
mae 08/24/2011
5.
Zitat von muley63What bonded Americans during the early years was expansion into the West. For better or worse, Americans found common cause at the expense of the native Americans and slavery. Europe would do well to find a foreign adventure or project. In fact the Europeans have already started on one. North Africa. By all indication, Gaddafi is about to fall. This is something Europe should celebrate since this has been a European venture. The European politicians should celebrate this accomplishment and follow-up with an even bolder plan. Expand European influence to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. It sounds like imperialism but it should be proposed as a partnership among liberal democratic countries. It should be formed by a single European institution where all Europeans can participate and follow easily instead of separate national projects. The NATO war against Gaddafi shows that European are much more effective when they pool their resources.
An European venture? Actually no, Germany vetoed Nato action in the UN security council. And this has been mainly a British, French and American venture with some help from the Canadians, Spain and Italians. During the first two weeks, the vast majority of sorties were American and then the Brits and French took the lead. Later on American precision bombing and predator drones were used to take out Gadhafi's military components. Doesn't come as a surprise that whenever something is sucessful, the American contribution is conveniently overlooked. However don't despair, prehaps "Europe" get a new venture the next time the Balkans blows up. Don't call in the Americans to put out the fire like you did last time.
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