PressEurop, July 15, 2012
Europe continues to lurch toward ever-greater union, but few ever make a positive case for it, says Jason Walsh.
Eurogroup head and prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker has come out in favour of an EU president – a real, elected-by-the-people president.
Speaking to Der Spiegel, Mr Juncker said: “I would be in favour of creating the position of a European president at the end of the process who would be directly elected by the citizens of the EU.”
Mr Juncker is not alone. Declan Ganley, long regarded as Europe’s bête noire, has welcomed the idea of a European presidency – once again, a real, elected-by-the people head of state.
“Juncker’s call for the merging & then citizens election of Presidency of EU Council & Commission is to be greatly welcomed. Let’s have at it […] The battle for European Presidency could strain Europe’s current political sclerosis to breaking point. That’s good, real reform will follow,” he said in series of messages on social networking web site Twitter.
Having interviewed Mr Ganley for reports in the Christian Science Monitor on several occasions, it is perfectly clear to me that his position is not that of a eurosceptic. In fact, he is pro-European and supports closer political integration – much closer than many EU establishment figures would be comfortable with.
Don’t believe me? In May he wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Europe needs a parliament than can legislate and a president that can lead […] To the population-based EU Parliament, a nation-based EU senate should be added. By the end of next year, the EU should have elected somebody with the moral and democratic authority to lead it in a clear, consistent direction, and given itself an infusion of democratic legitimacy and political vision.”
Whether he is setting the bar so high that it is unachievable, as his critics intone when briefing agasint him, remains an open question, but that is a matter for another day. His arguments, whether one likes them or not, are coherent.
Perhaps you think Mr Ganley is a fringe character. Perhaps he is. Perhaps. But he is not the only person speaking on this issue.
Germany and Britain swap places
Dr Sinn’s objection is pure euroscepticism: he is objecting to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s moves toward an EU banking union that would, he says, create “collective liability for the debts of the banks in the euro-system”.
The underlying argument is simple: why should there be a banking union if there is not also a political union?
On what we might call the pro-EU establishment side, what we hear is… deafening silence.
Wolfgang Münchau of London’s Financial Times, a noted europhile, complains, quite accurately, that “today’s pro-Europeans are incapable of defending” the idea that the EU we already have requires an, at least minimal, fiscal and political union.
It’s a theme not unfamiliar here, if looked at from a rather different perspective. At heart the EU is an anti-political institution. That is not to say it is unpolitical – far from it, though some of its biggest boosters seem to wish to project the idea that it is. What Europe seems to fear most is the public, as a result of which a truly European public has never developed. The rich irony here is that a real European populus is precisely what would be needed to save the EU.
Pro-Europeans have long dismissed criticism of the creation of an EU ‘superstate’ as paranoid nonsense. That argument can barely be sustained anymore, not because we’re necessarily on the way toward a single European state – in fact, it seems more fanciful than ever – but simply because the inexorable logic of the euro is, as we all always knew, political union of some form.
British newspapers regularly thunder about German domination of Europe. How again ironic, then, that the brake on political integration has been applied not by semi-detached Britain, but by Germany, more usually accused of harbouring crypto-imperial ambitions than acting like a one-eyed, small town bank manager. After all, Ms Merkel’s push for a banking union has come very late into the euro crisis and feels like a move driven by desperation rather than vision.
For now Germany’s politicians are resisting the push for political integration because they know full well they will be expected to foot the bill for fixing the problem that is the euro. There is some justification for expecting Germany to dig deep – the country’s exports benefited enormously from a dual-prong policy of domestic wage restraint and offering cheap money to its neighbours – but it is also an understandably tough sell to an electorate that feels, also with some justification, it is being asked to pick-up the tab for other people’s parties.
Whatever side one takes on the question of whether the EU should become something like a state, it should be a source of embarrassment for those of a pro-EU bent that they continue to, at best, obfuscate and, at worst, dissemble on the issue.
It’s tempting to say it’s now make-or-break time for the Europe, but such a thought is, sadly, the stuff of hyperbole. It’s always make-or-break time for Europe, but here we are and Europe is neither remade nor broken. I suspect the stalemate will continue for as long as it is possible to dampen the centrifugal forces that, if we were to actually be honest about things, would either break-up the euro and loosen the EU or else tie the continent together into some kind of federal non-nation state.
It is time for something, though. It is time to stop pretending. Pick a side. Be on it.