The publication of the book “For Europe”, co-authored by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt, is provoking debate amongst Greens – Belgian Greens in particular – due to the different (conflicting?) partisan affiliations of the two authors. Critics believe that the authors are obscuring political communication. This is true; however, if one were to adhere to the traditional federalist principles that unite these two authors, there would be nothing out of the ordinary: the European federalist project is rooted in trans-partisanship.
Where Greens and Liberals Meet?
A further criticism that has been fuelled by the publication of this book relates to the key issue proposed for the next election campaign in 2014: the United States of Europe. Is this an inspiring and convincing prospect for the majority of voters in these times of crisis? Should we not be prioritising the content of European policies rather than the architecture for the “House of Europe”? This, in any case, is the position defended by the majority of Green Party representatives: firstly, they assert the need for much more intrusive and regulatory public power over the markets and a much more redistributive fiscal policy, as well as the need to effectively make public services (education, transport, energy, etc.) and social security accessible to the whole population; criticism is also directed towards the current austerity policies being introduced across Europe which are leading to a rise in inequalities. Do Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt really see eye to eye on this issue? And if so, is this representative of their respective policies or are they simply playing devil’s advocate? The general response to this group of important questions is that we must do both, i.e. one cannot exist without the other, like the chicken and the egg. Yes, federalists are merging fire and water and no, liberals and greens do not share the same vision of European society. Yet even though this is an acceptable response, it is in fact sidestepping the debate in question: what are the current priorities within the European Union?
The authors’ first impressions are that the crisis and its ensuing developments are seriously challenging the very existence of European integration as we know it, and that, for the very same reason, the time for short-sighted measures has passed. They therefore claim priority to the architecture of the “House of Europe” that they want on a “post-national” level. This, for them, is the central political divide with which Europeans have been confronted in recent years. The objective is to establish a true European power which would allow for the protection and defence of European values in a globalised world and to play an integral role within international and multilateral institutions and for a rethink of same (Security Council, G20, etc.). It is necessary that this happens so that we do not sideline ourselves from the global stage.
A fragile and forced integration
This debate is most certainly not a new one. However, it is just and I do share the authors’ views that the banking and financial crisis is putting the existence of the European Union in serious danger and that it is forcing Europeans to move once again and to pull back from current agreements arising in the midst of the Lisbon Treaty. In support of these views, I believe the European situation is underpinned by two key features: the first being that the unique European market and currency do not prevent (but rather encourage) very different economic and social situations between member states which further exacerbates solidarity within the Union; the second stems from the fact that the response to the crisis has had a paradoxical effect on the Union in that it has reinforced political integration in the drive of national economic policies, as well as jeopardising relations between political players. In other words, the pursuit of integration has been more “forced” than “voluntary” and it is therefore fragile. Another paradoxical effect of European integration is the solid rise of regional autonomy (in Spain, UK, Belgium, etc.). The financial crisis is therefore weakening some states more than others and is putting enormous strain on solidarity between states. The crisis is not challenging the vast progress that has been made by the entry of southern and eastern European countries into the Union and their exit from dictatorial and totalitarian regimes; rather, this new situation is questioning the substance of the European agreement. Why stay together? Why pursue and renew this unique political process of federation amongst states? It is very clear that each of the 27 governments (and their electorates) will have a different response.
The political voluntarism displayed by Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt is undoubtedly in the minority and is certainly unsettling. However, it is also and more importantly, beneficial and necessary.