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20 October 2015

Carnegie Europe: The Real Reason for EU Treaty Change

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If Europeans want to enable the EU to cope with the existential crises around it, they need to expand the union by revising its treaties, while keeping nations intact. European integration has to be built in line with national interests, and under a different kind of organization.

These days, political life in the European Union is determined by three core facts. First, in the policy fields that cause the biggest trouble to Europeans—fiscal policy (think euro crisis), foreign policy (think Russia, Ukraine, Syria, China, Turkey, and so on), and citizenship (think refugees, migration, integration, and asylum)—genuine European integration is weak or nonexistent.

Second, an increasing number of people and governments believe that it is not in their interests to solve these issues in close cooperation with their European partners, but that they are better off alone. In fact, some believe that there is already too much integration, and that this is to blame for a fair share of the problems Europe faces today.

And third, it is entirely unclear whether the tremendous political forces at work in fiscal matters, foreign policy, and citizenship will in the end bring Europe further together or push it further apart.

Europeans need to understand that yes, more European integration will be necessary to grapple with these forces, but it must be balanced against the basic trust people have in what made them who they are: their country. Such a rebalancing means reconfiguring the EU’s institutions, and that, in turn, will require changes to the union’s founding treaties. [...]

Compromise is easy to find when an issue is important but not existential. Or when it does not touch on core elements of political identity: fiscal issues, foreign policy, and citizenship. Or when self-interest is not narrowly defined and short-termist, as it tends to be in times of duress.

And this is the double whammy against the EU today: On the one hand, the three major crises hitting Europe (the eurozone, foreign policy, and refugees) attack the core of what makes a nation, and the obvious remedies—more cooperation, more burden sharing, more solidarity, and more integration—attack that core even further. The remedy looks like the very illness Europe wants to fight. [...]

The most important lesson these crises have to offer so far will not surprise realists, but it will stun those who thought that the days of the nation-state were numbered and that postmodern, transnational governance was the new name of the game. What Europeans need to recognize is that the majority of people, in times of crisis, turn to the nation for protection, for accountability, and for a sense of belonging. [...]

If Europeans want to enable the EU to cope with the existential crises around it, they need to expand the union by revising its treaties, while keeping nations intact. European integration will be built in line with national interests, or it will not be built. [...]

Integrationists and federalists tend to believe that only the nations will have to change to make this shift possible. If only they realized that to save your sovereignty, you need to share it. But while that remains fundamentally true, it is only one half of the equation.

The other half is that the EU will need to be a very different kind of organization if it really wants nations to give up more of their sovereignty. The convenient unaccountability of the European Parliament would have to change dramatically. Real governance would have to be brought into the European Commission, so that it will become the true guardian of the treaties again, and less of a guardian of its own self-interest. [...]

To answer Europe’s crises with more integration, which I believe is what Europe needs, Europeans must also change the place into which their sovereignty is pooled. If, as a result of such integration, sovereignty is lost in the democratic institutions of government back home, then the new vessels of sovereignty in Brussels must be at least as democratic and accountable, if not more so, than those at the national level. And the national level will have to get a whole lot more scrutiny than it has now.

This is the real reason for treaty change in the EU today. If you want more Europe, you need a different Europe.

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© Carnegie Europe

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