Politics

Europe on the Way to a Political Union?

But such a union will face the linguistic obstacle that could possibly be overcome by designating English as the official ‘second language’ of the entire EU. And more importantly, is there a patriotic vision that the union can rally around?

“Political union” is a problematic beast as no one really knows what it is actually meant by it.  The term was coined by Germany when the Maastricht Treaty was adopted in 1992. In 1994, Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers offered the French political union in their much quoted paper on a “core Europe”. This meant not only developing the European Commission into a government and ending the principle of national representation through the Commissioners but also common budget, fiscal and social policies as are repeatedly being called for in the light of the Euro crisis.

At the core of the current crisis is the recognition that those pooling their money also have to make joint decisions as to how it is spent. In other words they need to form a political union.  A currency union means de facto giving up the principle of national budget sovereignty – the most noble of parliamentary rights. Politics is collective decision making about societal preferences: doing this collectively in the EU would de facto place the EU on a new level of statehood. That is exactly why a case is currently being brought before the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in Karlsruhe.

Eurobonds, if they were to be introduced, would require a kind of “Eurobond Parliament”, in other words a fundamental reform of the legislative components of the EU: a European Parliament elected through universal and equal suffrage and a second chamber consisting of national parliaments. One could then, if one dared, even speak of a “European Republic”, that is to say a system of European power sharing as in practice this would ultimately lead to the necessity of such important issues as a budget cap being decided collectively.

And that is why the economic logic of the euro and the necessity of fiscal federalism would have to force the EU into a political union, in which Euroland is understood as a united economic area. Exports within the EU would no longer be measured and transfers no longer effected from one national border to another but from growth regions to less developed regions within the EU. A Euroland of this kind should not only aim at becoming an optimal currency area. It should also succeed in decoupling the principle of solidarity from the concept of the nation-state and in connecting it with Europe as an “imagined community”.

Yet it is not just the complaints of unconstitutionality, such as the one made by Bavaria against the balancing of German federal state finances, that make one doubt how much sustainable European solidarity can be organised. In addition, the nation-state will probably remain the defining political space for some time as citizens are not willing to give up their identity for an “optimal currency union”. In any case the Germans, as recent polls have shown, want neither a European federal state nor a directly elected European president. There is therefore a divergence between the economic logic of a currency union and what is politically feasible and the greatest challenge, at least for the moment, will be to ensure that the euro is not torn apart as a result. The euro without political union, how is that possible? That is the crucial question of today!

The largest emotional obstacle on the way to a political union, in other words to a truly transnational democracy in Euroland, is probably not even the institutional design but the “Babel of Europe”, the diversity of language. An important step towards a political union would therefore be to introduce English as the second language and the lingua franca for all citizens, and as a complementary language of administration in all EU Member States. After all, politics does not only presuppose the ability to understand each other – e.g. concerning what to spend the common budget on. A common, not a single language could also emotionally tie citizens to the project of a “European political union”, which in all probability cannot exist permanently without patriotism of some kind, a patriotism based on “European exceptionalism”.

This article was originally published by the Körber Foundation.

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