Archive for the ‘A future for Europe?’ Category

Utopia remains close, but far, after the Dahrendorf Symposium

Eleven panels, roundtables and keynote speeches brought together 53 participants (though the real number is actually slightly lower, as some speakers appeared more than once on the podium) from politics, academia and civil society. The Dahrendorf Symposium, held last week at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin, pointed high and aimed at “Changing the Debate on Europe”.

In fact, participants discussed European democracy, the European social space and the European foreign policy. The dominant topic, however, was the euro-crisis. As Alina Mungiu-Pippidi from Hertie School has pointed out, three alternative ways to handle the crisis became apparent. The first one she labeled “Transformative Power of Europe reloaded”. It is basically a more-of-the-same-strategy, whose proponents suggest that after the crisis, European countries, cultures and economies will re-converge towards a more united Europe. The second option, called by her “Abandon the Bridge Too Far”, presumes that not all European countries can really cope with a common currency. A break-up of the euro would be the consequence. In that case, alternatives have to be found to make possible a smooth transition and the continuing existence of a European project – though it won’t be the same as today’s project. The third way would be a further differentiation of the integration process.

None of these three options found consensus, of course. Experts and policy-makers alike are unsure how the crisis will evolve and what measures are adequate to address it. All options would have consequences for citizens, but which exactly remains somewhat obscure.

Are these options new? Did the Dahrendorf Symposium succeed in “Changing the Debate on Europe”? No. All of them were discussed in newspapers and think tanks for some time now. But the Dahrendorf Symposium was nevertheless an opportunity to meet and discuss the current crisis, as it brought together so many participants, including ministers, ex- and incoming-Prime Ministers, and Parliamentarians from different countries.

What was missing in the debate? As the euro-crisis consumes much of the time, other issues never made it on the table. Discussions of resource-consumption and environment are victims of the euro-crisis, the situation of migrants and minorities was discussed only at the margins and possible negative consequences of the currency-crisis for democracy in Europe are acknowledged while alternatives were unfortunately not suggested.

Public participation has always been a weak point in European integration. To allow for more participation would mean a real major shift in the debate on Europe. But as long as discussions about the right way forward in Europe are seen as essentially negative, as long as publics in European states don’t take notice of arguments in other countries and don’t engage in public discussions with them, as long as the media are seeing developments in Europe often enough as “foreign” news, even if these developments affect very directly welfare and well-being of the citizens, as long as the media entrench themselves behind barriers of national borderlines, such a change of debate still seems to be a kind of utopia. Many more forums, and not only, are still needed to turn this so close utopia to reality.

The unfair evaluation of Europe’s common foreign policy

From down-to-earth social problems, the Dahrendorf Symposium, held last week in Berlin, took a lift to the atmospheric altitude of Europe’s foreign policy. Discussing first “Europe as a social space”, addressing minority problems, it switched to “Global Europe”, addressing, well…, what exactly? European Foreign Policy seems to be a linkage of major failures. Europe did not push through a comprehensive climate change agreement; it did not find common positions either on Iraq in 2003 or on Libya in 2011, and had to accept the ruin of its nuclear non-proliferation strategy with North Korea getting the bomb and Iran being close to it.

Of course there is some kind of a European Foreign policy. In fact, it is even visible in media coverage, Thomas Risse from Freie Universität Berlin pointed out. And Europe has some influence. Strangely enough, this influence is stronger often in those areas, in which its influence is not intentionally implemented. International Courts, for example, model the European Court of Justice, and other regional organizations study the EU very closely to copy elements they like.

Later that day, Wolfgang Ischinger, German ex-ambassador and now Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, cited Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Secretary of Defense: “If you can’t solve the problem – enlarge it, put it in a wider context.” That idea might be useful for the discussion on European Foreign Policy as well. Even if chances remain low to negotiate some effective international agreement, say, on climate change, chances might be higher if Europeans negotiate together then if they were to negotiate alone. The same goes for most other policies.

Yet even when it comes to the common foreign policy, expectations might easily fly high, and, indeed, too high. A common European foreign policy might be more effective then 27 national foreign policies. However, other international actors still have to be persuaded. So it might be fairer not to judge European foreign policy in the simple terms of success or failure and more in respect to what results probably might have come out of a given situation without a common policy (in the making). Additionally, National states as well often implement non-coherent foreign policies (in conflict with their trade- or development policies, for example), change them over time, contest them domestically, and react too slowly to new circumstances (have a look at the Arab Spring). That said, EU-foreign policy might still benefit from a more coherent strategy, less quarrels and quicker decision-making. But it doesn’t look as catastrophic as it seems on first glance.

Global Challenges as the Motivation for deeper European Integration?

Written by Vincent Venus | November 10, 2011 | 0 Comments | Theme: A future for Europe?, Global Europe

European integration has been in most cases positive for the European people. Nevertheless, Europe is no political pop star. In the past decades it was the prospect of peace that legitimised integration. However, this will not be applicable for the future as Norbert Röttgen, German federal minister, said yesterday. He is right as only 47 percent of EU-citizens still believe that their respective state’s membership in the EU is “a good thing.” Nevertheless, all participants of the panel “global Europe” pointed to the necessity of Europeans getting their act together and cooperate in foreign policy. May this be a new narrative for European integration? Do global challenges legitimise deeper European integration?

Sir Colin Budd agrees. The former UK ambassador believes in the high potential of EU foreign policy in terms of actual policy making but also as a motivation for the Europeans to work together.

State of affairs

Today the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is as elaborated as never before: The EU has a diplomatic service, the External Action Service (EEAS) headed by Catherine Ashton. The EU has military forces, the “EU battle groups”. The EU runs several operations all over the world, for example in Kosovo or at the coast of Somalia. And the EU has institutions to wield control, such as the Political and Security Committee. However, most foreign policy is still conducted intergovernmentally, that is, by the nation states.


During the panel debate “global Europe” and those of the first day all participants stressed that the EU has indeed a potential to further its efforts in this field. There are many examples for this: the fight against the climate change, the defence of human rights, crisis response, cooperation in diplomacy or defence.

Depending on the speaker the argument for further foreign policy cooperation was based on international power play, like the upraise of China or balancing the US, or rather cosmopolitan reasons, to “save the world.” In either way, the reason d’être for closer European foreign policy seems undisputed.

Europe in a globalised World – the new narrative?

The facts are clear but is the prospect of Europe in a globalised world reason enough for Europeans to actually demand deeper integration? In my eyes solely rational arguments are not enough. Even though the advantages of integration are more clear when you look at Europe from a global perspective, people may be reluctant to vote for this undertaking. Why is this?

First of all, people have problems so adopt to the rapid changes of the 21st century. Instead of accepting the changes they prefer to keep the situation they have been used to. As Wolfgang Ischinger puts it: “The people fell in a love affair with the status quo.” Second, life is not only rational – feeling plays an important role as well: “We all know the advantages of the EU by heart, Cem Özdemir, a German politician, said, “but the people do not feel them. They are too unfairly allocated.” Finally, Europeans are afraid to lose control over what is happening.

How to solve these problems? First, Politicians need to communicate the necessities of EU integration better. Yes, they need to take over responsibility and actually lead. Second, People have to feel the advantages of European integration and they need to feel more European as well. Thus, give Europe a social dimension or advance exchange programmes like Erasmus to include already school students. Finally, make sure democratic control is given on all levels. If foreign policy becomes Europeanised, the European Parliament needs to control it – and not the executive of the Member States.

If Europe succeeds in this we would not only ensure Europe’s influence on world stage but also find a new narrative for Europe. Can we change the debate on Europe to achieve this?

The courage of thinking big

The European integration has always had two faces. The first one based on the institutional, economic and legal convergence, and the other being more social, being expressed in the motions of European identity and European citizenship.

Part of the first pillar – the Eurozone – is now at stake as a result of the financial crisis and years of negligence of mutual control within the European Union itself. Luckily so far the other aspect of the institutional integration in Europe is not being questioned. But we do not know what is yet to come. Several months ago we wouldn’t believe in many of ideas that are now in the mainstream.

Unfortunately, the other element of the European construct – the European consciousness – unnoticeably jumped out of the window the moment crisis knocked at the door. Within days we observed most of the European political elites forgetting about their Europeanness. A vision of a financial crisis possibly messing with the unstable monetary union caused the politicians to step back into their comfort zone of the national arena. Instead of seeing acts suited for the times, as the times of trouble require people of a bigger format and actions of a bigger vision and a higher meaning, we ended up with leaders not courageous enough to be true statesmen of the united Europe.

The sad truth is that no one of them is really interested in acting as European. Each and every EU Member State entrenched in their national rhetoric. Everyone is happy to have same one to complain about, everybody has a scapegoat. The Germans and French has the Greek and Italian to blame for living beyond their means, the Greeks and Italian political elites has the Germans and French to act as the bad guy that forces the painful cuts and reforms. The grey middle zone – countries not big enough or not financially weak enough to be spotted – use their chance not to be in the center of the events. No one wants to jump in as the new ‘problem’ but also no one is interested in sharing the responsibility of rescuing and bailing out the unfortunate ones. But there is no European thinking behind it.

We do not think as Europeans, we think as Germans, Greek, Italians, Poles and so on. Somewhere on the way we lost our ability to act together. It is very convenient for state political elites, because it makes the internal discourse easier – you get the external power that forces you to do things you would otherwise not have done, you have a dog to blame all the non popular decision on.

But on a long term it is detrimental for both the European integration as well as the condition of the economy. Due to the crisis the European project is already pretty fragile, as even a dissolution entered the mainstream debate as a possible solution. If we do not act as a collective, if we do not have and according to a sense of belonging together (or, so as to quote the favorite German expression of Sylvie Goulard, the ‘Wir-Gefühl’). On the other hand, if the markets snd international financial institutions saw a solidary, unanimous Europe not afraid of facing problems and oriented on finding solutions, the search for the latter would be possible in a less chaotic and unpredictable environment.

Maybe it is time for us to have the courage of standing up as Europeans. Europeans caring for and taking care of their co-citizens. Europeans living up to their values.

What to do with Greece?

Wolfgang Ischinger just proposed that “we should go there to hold a speech to Greece not only in order to tell them what they have to do but to tell them that we love them.”

“Emotional elemtents are important, we have to tell each other that we love each other.”

Fassin on a New Racialization of Europe

The Symposium started with a panel on ‘Europe as a Social space’. Eric Fassin, Professor of Sociology at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris, spoke about the shift of a former open access European social order towards a closed and racialist one. Contrary to Dahrendorf’s understanding of Europe as ‘a closed system to create a open society’ in 1989, in Fassin’s eyes Europe today is incrementally racialised. Proclamations about the ‘failure of multiculturalism’ create the picture that Europe’s tolerance is the core problem but not the rising intolerance. Fassin sees the year 1989 as a turning point because diminishing class conflicts gave way to address social issues in a racial way.

In 2005 the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty led to a search for its failure in cultural aspects in order to preserve the EU, its integrity and national identities.

Is Europe going backwards?

The crucial difference between racism in the early 20th century and xenophobia today is that in the past racism was automatically connected with anti-democratic forces. Today racism is justified in the name of democracy: Geert Wilders, a right-wing politician from the Netherlands claims that he is not extreme right-wing because he has nothing against homosexuality movements nor against women rights but instead wants to defend them against Islamic forces that want to destroy these achievements. In 2007 Sarkozy stated that ‘in France women are free’.

A tendency labelled as ‘sexual nationalism’ sheds light on a new form of racialization of Europe: Gender and sexuality help to maintain the definitions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and serve to justify in democratic terms the rejection of others.

The core problem here is that ideals are connected with identities and values are seen identity-dependent. If we are able to overcome that issue, it would lead to a joint effort in promoting these liberal ideas.

It’s not about ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Europe, it’s about what kind of Europe we want


During the panel ‘Global Europe’ a very interesting statement was made by Mary Kaldor, the professor of Global Governance at the London School of Economics. As she claimed, we do not need a debate on do we want Europe or we don’t. We need a debate on what kind of Europe do we want and what do we want Europe for.

I could not agree more. There are many, many areas of potential interest and usage of the structure of the European Union, but it should be defined and wisely decided, which problems can be at best solved on the European level and which opportunities the EU gives us and how we can make a best use of it. The redefinition of the role, vision and mission of the European project is a task that still to be done. But it is very important to remember the very core of the whole European integration – which is serving its citizens.


Jonathan White on a Change of the Terms ‘left’ and ‘right’

Dr Jonathan White, Lecturer in European Politics at LSE, London, spoke this afternoon about the shift of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ after the crisis at the panel on “Europe as an ideological space and as a vision”. He posed the question if these two terms can still be seen as a dichotomy of the 21st century? ‘Left’ and ‘right’ had different meanings over time: Before the crisis being on the political right meant to be neo-liberalistic, whereas being ‘left’ was more associated with social movements.

The shift of the ‘right’ meant conservative critique of the market and the realization ‘that something went wrong’: The world that we are facing today should not be defended but we should find a new form of right-wing critique. Put differently, a rediscovering of communal aspects took place on the right.

In contrast to a former focus on an ideological or gender perspective about inequality, left-wing changes put on stage economic forms of inequality.

Consequently, according to White, in the aftermath of the crisis the division of ‘left’ and ‘right’ is a more diagnostic and prescriptive one: Both, moralistic criticism coming from the conservative side as well as a leftist understanding of the crisis as a systemic failure rather than a result of wrong choices are mostly a “ghost” that hovers around far away from decision-making spheres and leaves neo-liberalism still quite prominent in policy making.

Keynote Speech Röttgen

Written by Johannes Erhard | November 9, 2011 | 0 Comments | Theme: A future for Europe?, Dahrendorf Symposium

Minister Röttgen makes a strong point for the urgent necessity to seize the moment of crisis for a more general discussion of the further evolution of Europe:

In order to do so, however, he says it is important to recognize that the current crisis is not a Greek crisis or a sovereign debt crisis but above all a European crisis.

Although the European bailout mechanism has reached an incredible dimension, it does not at all solve the current problems at their root. A continuation along this current trend would on the long term be disastrous both politically and democratically as it would deprive states of their very basis of legitimacy.

Hence, there is an urgent need to look at what’s behind the current banking and sovereign debt crisis. The markets have brutally revealed Europe’s weaknesses and posed the question of Europe’s ability to act jointly.

However, this leads directly to the question of Europe’s willingness to show assertiveness in times of globalization, as globalization requires solutions that can only be found beyond the nation state. Europe’s ability to act jointly must be assured in all major policy fields that are dominated by globalization:

1. Economic and currency policy

2. Defense and foreign policy

3. Climate and biodiversity policy

All three fields pose substantive global challenges that go far beyond the nation states ability of solving them. Only if Europe manages to speak with one voice, we have the possibility to be designers of a new global order. Hence, for Europe this is a question of being or not being…

There are abundant examples of the disagreement of the European states, as for example the voting over Palestina’s access to the Unesco or the role of Europe at the climate negotiations in Kopenhagen in 2009. If Europe remains discordant, the 21st century will certainly not be a century of the West.

A new arrangement of the sovereignty of the nation states, on the one hand, and Europe, on the other hand, is necessary to be distinguished by policy field and according to the question if the policy field is one of the core fields of globalization or not. A new political order in Europe requires a sovereignty shared by European institutions and nation states. However, the fear of nation states of losing sovereignty has been very dominant, despite the fact that they are not losing much materially as the overall power of nation states is already limited.

As possible future steps in the right direction, Röttgen underlines the necessity of a new and more harmonized European financial market governance and the completion of the introduction of the euro by establishing common rules of procedure, and a true economic and fiscal union.

In the end, he says it comes down to the question if the European countries’ power and willingness for collaboration or rather the fear of loss dominate. As a technocratic, discordant and democratically not legitimized construct Europe has no future.

As one central themes for the debate on Europe he underlines the question of how to heal the democratic deficit of the European policy making.







Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

Written by Vincent Venus | November 9, 2011 | 2 Comments | Theme: A future for Europe?, European identity

Why do the losers of decision making processes accept the outcome as legitimate in a democracy? Does this also apply for decisions made on the European level? And what does that reveal about the real or perceived democratic deficit within EU decision making processes? Starting out from those questions, Simon Hix gave a brief presentation of his most recent research findings on Democracy in the European Parliament and the EU in general.

By looking at the voting behaviour within the EP, he found empirical evidence that the traditional consensual way of doing politics (where the EPP and the S&D would more more less agree on an issue beforehand) slowly gives way to a more majoritarian style in the EP. Broken down to single issues and the fractions it appeared, that shifting coalitions would form the majority. Despite being the strongest group (not only in the EP but also in the EC and the council) the centre-right (EPP) is not able to dominate the decisions taken in the Parliament.

Interestingly, there is a growing left-right split which gives those parties lying between the EPP and S&D a pivotal role: by voting either with the conservatives or the social democrats they often provide the necessary votes for the majority.

He thus concludes that the European Parliament is becoming an ever more attractive democratic arena and, indeed, a well working parliament, which no doubt reflects the democratic discourse in Europe. In doing so, it provides a stark contrast to the closed-door decision making of the council, which structurally works more like a senate.
He ended his presentation with the question on how to bridge the gap between public perception of democratic deficits and the improving performance of European Parliament? Tackling this question will be fundamental for the EP to gain public support.

In the following discussion, he argued for an election of the EC President out of a set of rivalling candidates, to provide a focal point to the decisions made in the EP, as direct elections are still to far off. (Co-written by Lutz Gude.)


Brief Comment from a Federalist Perspective

Simon Hix findings once more point out the need to politicise the European Parliament – not only in terms of the institutional frame but actual public political discussion. His idea to let the EP vote on rivalling Commission President candidates is the right step. The Young European Federalists have been demanding this reform for years. Next to that the parliament candidates should be freed from national boundaries. The EP should not only be a European but a transnational parliament. Thus, transnational lists should be introduced as proposed by MEP Andrew Duff. The idea behind those two proposals: To make the European citizens realise how important the European Parliament is, wee need them to get engaged in it.