The Country of EU

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Little noticed during the European Union’s troubled summer are the efforts by some politicians to plan a true political union once the current crisis, or even the next, is behind us. Ten of the EU’s 27 foreign affairs ministers have been discreetly erecting the scaffolding of a continental superstate. With their report due out in September, the “Future of Europe Group”, as might be expected, is not blessed with any modesty of ambition.

 MORE EUROPE

Led by German foreign affairs minister Guido Westerwelle, the group makes no bones about its opportunism. “We should take advantage of the crisis to take an historic step towards more integration,” states Westerwelle. In this he echoes his boss Chancellor Angela Merkel who sees the crisis as an overwhelming argument for “more Europe”, by which she means a transfer of responsibilities frommember capitals to Brussels. What is proposed is a shift from intergovernmentalism to supranationalism: the European Commission, it is suggested, should become a government, the European Council should be its second chamber and the European Parliament evolved into a proper Parliament with full budgetary and legislative rights. Also thrown in is the idea of a finance minister for the whole of Europe, which would also have a European Army, one seat at the United Nations, and a lending facility like the International Monetary Fund. The former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder states the view that structural problems are the reason for the current crisis and therefore competition in EU economies can only be restored by structural reforms – that is, further political integration which would morph into a “European federation”.

PRESIDENT OF EUROPE

Crowning these changes to existing structures would be a President of Europe, who would combine the job of the President of the European

Commission President, currently José Manuel Barroso, a former Prime Minister of Portugal, with that of the President of the European Council, who is Herman van Rompuy. Such a figure would be directly elected with the freedom of choosing his or her own cabinet, ie the European Commission.

The idea of an EU supremo briefly inflamed political imaginations when the full-time presidency of the European Council was first mooted and it became known that former UK premier Tony Blair had looked in the mirror to find exactly who that person should be. The prospect prompted second thoughts in many capitals and the job went to Herman van Rompuy, a former Prime Minister of Belgium, who has neither rattled the coffee cups nor disturbed anyone’s sleep patterns.

DEMOCRACY

Should these reforms begin to be realised, much of the focus would

inevitably be on who this European Leader should be rather than the effect on the union’s democracy, just as it was when van Rompuy’s name emerged from capital-to-capital discussion about his current post. And as an example of what could happen when such proposals are exposed to rude electoral consideration, a recent poll in Germany asked a sample of voters about the definition of Europe and found the majority to be “floundering in the dark”. Worse, most of those who were quizzed said the EU’s institutional leaders had “contributed significantly to the weakening of political enthusiasm for Europe”. In other words, the Marley’s ghost of the union’s “democratic deficit” is present from pubs to parliaments and back, wherever the topic of Europe might be raised. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen put it in the International Herald Tribune: “the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates.” This, he added, is a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” which the pioneers of European unity aspired to. The President of the Czech Republic,

Vaclav Klaus, put it thus: “We should forget anti-democratic ambitions to politically unify Europe. We should return to democracy, which can exist only at the level of nation states.”