FEPS Fresh Thinking

Last week, the European Council gave a clear sign that the EU is back in the Sixties. The heads of state are not willing to go further in sharing sovereignty and concede more power to the European institutions.

Europe as it currently functions is not a Europe shaped with regard to the challenges ahead. It is clear that, in the 5th year of the crisis, Europe has given up to further integration. The crisis is much more than a financial and economic one. Europe faces the crucial question of the existence of the union itself. Is Europe really developing towards a more federal, and hence social, Europe or is the crisis slowly swallowing the federal dream?

The crisis shows ever more clearly that there are huge differences and divergences among the member states. Some are perhaps ready to do more together in order to prevent the worst but most of the member states are not showing any enthusiasm to go further. It seems that the times of a closer and deeper union are over – at least in the mind of the majority of the heads of state. A new unambitious and negative mood has become more dominant and the overall feeling is that the foundations of the Union are very shaky, so heads of state feel they should be careful in proposing more Europe or deeper integration.

It is alarming that this is in total contrast to the preamble of the Lisbon Treaty, which stipulates the goal of a closer union amongst the European nations.

Even if the crisis highlighted the weaknesses in Europe’s political system, and particularly the lack of cohesion between the EU member states, it should not paralyse Europe. Nor should it encourage centrifugal tendencies with the clear risk of a standstill in the functioning of the European integration process. Such a shift is very dangerous and could very quickly raise the threat of new nationalist movements.

For sure, Europe is still grounded in the strong nation state. But national governments and European institutions have to act together and Brussels cannot only be a coordination mechanism. This is too weak and this is clearly a throwback to the 1960s when Europe was little more than an intergovernmental economic community.

If the European Union is only about coordination, the crisis and the austerity policies will definitely lead to greater disaffection from the existing EU institutions, which epitomise the progress made since 1958. Overcoming the crisis and mapping a clear path to recovery requires closer and more federal governance in economic, social and political terms together with greater participation of the citizens.

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