Six months at the helm of the European Council has taught French President Nicolas Sarkozy the wrong lessons.
According to Sarkozy, only the heads of state (France) or government (most of the others) have the legitimacy to move Europe forward.
This fallacy is the nearest thing imaginable in modern day Europe to the paternalistic world-view of the rulers who formed the brittle Holy Alliance against the democratic aspirations of ‘their’ peoples.
As long as the unanimity rules are in place, a European Union of state leaders will stand on feet of clay.
Instead of ‘ad hoc’ summits issuing statements, the European Union needs real powers where they matter, namely on the world stage. But real powers and robust institutions at European level are legitimate only if based on the voters in their capacity as EU citizens.
The European Union stands at a crossroads. It can continue to emulate the Holy Alliance or it can transform itself into a robust and democratic union.
For the briefest of outlines on the Holy Alliance, read the Wikipedia article:
Robust means a union able to reform and to decide, without being frustrated by its own ‘liberum veto’ (unanimity).
The tragicomic histories of treaty reform, international weakness and stalled accession negotiations show how the European leaders have almost invented the ‘perpetuum mobile’, an unending sequence of failure.
Institutional reform is not navel-gazing, because it is a precondition for the ability to deliver common public goods still outside the effective reach of the European Union, for instance security.
Democratic means giving the citizens of the European Union the power to vote the legislators into and out of office and to set the course for the union in all questions European, through the composition of a politically accountable government.
The paternalistic order of President Sarkozy will fail and it deserves to fail, until the ‘Copernican revolution’ of democracy dawns on the European Council.
Powers and democracy have to meet at the same level. Double legitimacy is as true as double speak.
Two paradigm shifts are needed to save the European project: Robust rules and the EU citizens at the centre.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has shown that he is alien to true reform. De Gaulle may be pleased and anti-Europeans have cause for celebration, but history will hardly judge President Sarkozy’s ego-centric lack of vision kindly.
In this context, it does not matter too much if the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force. It does contain a few inter-institutional improvements, but it only prolongs the life of a union of leaders without citizens.
Instead of taking up the cause of EU citizens, the political parties at European level and the European Parliament seem to have become oblivious courtiers.
The prospects for the European elections in June 2009 and beyond are far from rosy.