Saturday 9 May 2009

Europe Day 2009 stocktaking

Europe’s history is full of mass slaughter and devastation, but Europe has also been the home of the universities, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, leading to representative democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.

Schuman declaration

We read the visionary, yet realistic words of the Schuman declaration of 9 May 1950: Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

Enlargement and some progress

Since then, the European Union has come into being, encompassing 27 member states. It was a major achievement when Central European countries were able to reunite with the democracies of Western Europe. But this larger EU is far from ready to master the challenges of the 21st century.

Despite remarkable achievements, the nation states of Europe have remained more wedded to the past than committed to the future.

Just as their rejection of the Briand plan opened the door to the Second World War, shortsighted political elites sunk the European Defence Community and the European (Political) Community, cold-shouldered the Spinelli draft Constitution and ushered in an era of endless institutional tinkering, instead of opting for a strong and democratic union.

Behind the curve

We Europeans are behind the curve, and the misdirected anti-EU campaigners are even more oblivious of the world’s challenges than our leaders and we citizens in general.

The state of the union is sobering: The Treaty of Lisbon is like a revised issue of a maintenance manual for the European Union. Minor faults in the Treaty of Nice have been corrected, but the main failings are preserved, even if the Lisbon Treaty enters into force.

In the United States, more than 200 years ago, the main purposes of that Union were succinctly put by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist, number XXIII:

“The necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union is the point at the examination of which we are now arrived.

The principal purposes to be answered by the union are these – the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.”


Vision: Real powers and real democracy

Cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as national, regional and local politics can continue to thrive, but two main areas require more Europe:

1) If we want the European Union to enhance our security on the global scene, and if we want it to do good in the world, the EUt needs to be effective.

2) For our prosperity, the European Union needs to become a borderless area for people, services and justice.

In order to be effective, the EU needs real powers, where they count.

Real powers must be based on democratic legitimacy: the directly elected European Parliament and a politically accountable government, based on the citizens’ vote.

When EU citizens have understood this much, future Europe Days will remember the coming of age of Europeans and of Europe.

Even with the limited political rights that we have, between 4 and 7 June 2009 you can vote for a forward-looking version of Europe, instead of a continent rooted in past prejudices.

Ralf Grahn


  1. The EU needs a new story, really. It can no longer be about member states; it has to be about citizens, and it has to speak to citizens (or, preferably, encourage citizens to speak to it).

    It may have been (and be) a project to save the nation state, but Europe needs to be a way of citizens ensuring effective government when the nation state simply isn't up to the task. Europe needs to be about citizen empowerment; about citizens being able to influence and set standards in society. The idea of Europe needs to speak to people in these terms.

    Which is why it's disappointing that the EP parties haven't been as assertive or organised as they should be.

  2. Eurocentric,

    For a couple of years, I published posts with the text of the Schuman declaration on Europe Day, as a reminder of where it all started (if we look at the now EU institutions).

    Now I was content to link to the text of the declaration, because I wanted to express that the European Union has to move beyond franco-german reconciliation and peace between the member states.

    The old model of supranational technocracy and diplomatic relations has reached road's end.

    Our common challenges are now in the wider world, where we need a common foreign policy, and in internal policy areas, which have widened beyond the stuff fit for technocrats.

    You are quite right: The future has to be built on new foundations, empowering citizens.

    In short, we need EU level democracy.

    The European level parties have by now ample funds (including their political foundations), but this European election campaign has shown them to be practically useless.

    They have offered excuses instead of top candidates and they offer no real visions for a Europe beyond the Lisbon Treaty.

    If they lack both visions and activities, it is hard to see them as anything but useless.

    Politically Libertas - without credible policies, with Polish extremists, with French ultra-nationalist rejectionists - is just about as bad as it can be, but their on-line marketing contrasts with the inertia of the incumbent parties.

    I wonder what will happen if the established Europarties remain paralysed and the national parties remain absorbed by national issues, even when campaigning for the European Parliament.

    The old storyline of European integration and the Europarties as inert coalitions of national grandees have outlived their usefulness.

    Although old structures often survive long after being overtaken by events, it is important to think about and to discuss the needed new foundations.

    It can only be the citizen, if we want Europe to stay relevant in the world.

  3. Except that the EU doesn't have any citizens, except on paper, apart from a few weirdos like you two.

  4. Anonymous,

    About 490 million of us EU citizens, on paper and in fact.

    Our political rights at EU level are underdeveloped, but moving from EU 1.0 to EU 2.0 would change that.


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