Lecture delivered on 26 April 2013 in Leuven Univ.
The European Union owes its existence to the efforts of political elites who could count on the passive consent of their more or less indifferent populations as long as the peoples could regard the Union as also being in their economic interests all things considered. The Union legitimized itself in the eyes of the citizens primarily through its outcomes and not so much from the fact that it fulfilled the citizens’ political will. This state of affairs is explained not only by the history of its origins but also by the legal constitution of this unique formation. The European Central Bank, the Commission, and the European Court of Justice have intervened most profoundly in the everyday lives of European citizens over the decades, even though these institutions are the least subject to democratic controls. Moreover, the European Council, which has energetically taken the initiative during the current crisis, is made up of heads of government whose role in the eyes of their citizens is to represent their respective national interests in distant Brussels. Finally, at least the European Parliament was supposed to construct a bridge between the political conflict of opinions in the national arenas and the momentous decisions taken in Brussels – but this bridge is almost devoid of traffic.
Thus, to the present day there remains a gulf at the European level between the citizens’ opinion- and will-formation, on the one hand, and the policies actually adopted to solve the pressing problems, on the other. This also explains why conceptions of the European Union and ideas of its future development have remained diffuse among the general population. Informed opinions and articulated positions are for the most part the monopoly of professional politicians, economic elites, and scholars with relevant interests; not even public intellectuals who generally participate in debates on burning issues have made this issue their own. What unite the European citizens today are the Eurosceptical mindsets that have become more pronounced in all of the member countries during the crisis, albeit in each country for different and rather polarizing reasons. This trend may be an important fact for the political elites to take into account; but the growing resistance is not really decisive for the actual course of European policy-making which is largely uncoupled from the national arenas. The actual course of the crisis management is pushed and implemented in the first place by the large camp of pragmatic politicians who pursue an incrementalist agenda but lack a comprehensive perspective. They are oriented towards “More Europe” because they want to avoid the far more dramatic and presumably costly alternative of abandoning the euro.
Starting with the roadmap that the European institutions have designed for developing a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union, I will first explain the probable technocratic dilemma in which this project becomes entangled (I). In the second part of my lecture I would like to expose alternative steps towards a supranational democracy in the core of Europe and the obstacles we would have to remove on that road (II). The major hindrance, the lack of solidarity, leads me in the last and philosophical part to a clarification of this difficult, yet genuinely political concept (III).
The Commission, the Presidency of the Council, and the European Central Bank — known in Brussels parlance as “the institutions” – are least subject to legitimation pressures because of their relative distance from the national public spheres. So it was up them to present in December 2012 the first more detailed document in which the European Union develops a perspective for reforms in the medium and long term that go beyond the present, more or less dilatory reactions to critical symptoms. Within this expanded timescale the attention is no longer focussed on the cluster of the recent causes that since 2010 have connected the global banking crisis with the vicious circle of over-indebted European states and undercapitalized banks refinancing each other. The important and since long overdue Blueprint, as it is called, directs attention to long-term structural causes inherent in the Monetary Union itself.