How can the European project be salvaged? A debate on the future of the EU

by Leticia Díez Sánchez

Leticia Diez Sanchez NEWDuring this session, we have tackled the current European crisis from various perspectives. Such crisis has not been the first one in a political sense: as reminded along the discussions, events such as the “Empty chair” of the 70s and the French “Non” to the Constitutional Treaty did already put the EU in an awkward situation.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a consensus in the Euro-crisis being the most prominent economic difficulty the EU has ever faced. This context has paved the way for the rise of eurosceptic feelings, adding an important social dimension to the crossroads in which the EU finds itself today. The origins of the (economic) European crisis are commonly agreed upon and can be summarised in:

a) A “construction” deficit: the EU has fully developed a monetary union without implementing an equally needed economic union. Misguided fiscal policy at national level devoid of adequate supranational supervision has ultimately resulted in a financial crisis of great magnitude.

b) Deficient legal and political instruments in the Eurozone to deal with these economic difficulties, as the different Member States showed an increasing divergence when facing them.

c) The overall lack of a bold reaction to the crisis, with continuous political tensions among the actors involved and numerous difficulties to reach a common response.

As things stand now, there is room for some optimism. The latest statement by the European Central Bank on its willingness to buy sovereign bonds has pleased the markets. European actors manifest their readiness to think about long-term perspectives, as evidenced by Van Rompuy’s recent report “Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union”. In turn, national actors have become more aware of their existentialist interdependence and offer a more collaborative and constructivist approach – for instance, how Angela Merkel acknowledged different perceptions on economic reality but the need to put them in common during her last meeting with Antonis Samaras. This by and large muddle through starts to shed light at the end of the tunnel. Euroexit has lost prominence, but attention should be paid to the fragility of the situation: the danger of complacency, the need to balance austerity with growth and the extension of the EU crisis to other countries are still a matter of concern regarding the future of the EU.

At this point, it has been suggested a further ambitious muddle through for a definite resolution of the Euro-crisis. Beyond the complex negotiations for a banking union and the 2012 European budget, it might be time for a re-design of the institutional setting of the EU, e.g. better including national parliaments or establishing a different role for the European Parliament. Treaty changes should be adopted if needed, but would ideally be shaped by means of a convention. Finally, collateral damage of crisis should also be dealt with, in view of the socio-economic challenges presented by a “lost” generation with increasing anti-European sentiments.

Nevertheless, we might also consider what kind of European project we really want to rescue. The prominent more Europe is not the only vision on the exit of the crisis. The failures of the elite-planned monetary union have become apparent, and it might well be the case that citizens instead prefer a EU less invasive of their taxation and budgetary policies. It is for this reason that other sectors advocate for a slowing down of the greater European economic integration proposed by some institutions and political figures: at the end of the day, political ambitions cannot replace economic and democratic national realities.