Solidarity and strength are the guiding themes for the future of the EU. Here, solidarity is not only a decree of EU internal policies but also a commitment to adjust international politics to global fairness. Strength means to be able to act within and outside of our borders. This includes advocating aggressively for the values and political model of the EU.
Solidarity has been, and is, a motor for European integration. It is anchored in the Treaties – for example in the principle of mutual assistance or in the statements concerning economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European community. In a material sense, solidarity has, to date, been most reflected in the agricultural, structural and cohesion funds. The Solidarity Fund provides assistance in the case of natural disasters and emergencies for which a country bears no responsibility.
Solidarity that comes about spontaneously or follows an event, such as with security threats, humanitarian crises or natural disasters, is an undisputed value that extends beyond European borders. In heterogeneous political communities such as the EU, solidarity is based on reciprocity and mutual responsibility.
Solidarity as a principle of mutual assurance is an important source of European cohesion. Solidarity in this sense is not altruism but structured self-interest.
It is particularly valid where there is awareness of mutual dependence. The EU’s internal redistribution policy is based on the understanding that reducing the prosperity gap is not only advantageous for poorer regions but also for the wealthier ones.
In any system incorporating solidarity there are always sources of friction between donors and recipients. Success is based on a commitment to come to each other’s aid for the wellbeing of the whole community. The debt crisis is the result of a lack of commitment to the common wellbeing: on the one hand excessive debt and fabricated statistics and on the other failure to adhere to the Stability Pact. In the long term, communities based on solidarity will only work when there are provisions to deter or sanction behaviour that runs counter to solidarity.
Communities based on solidarity can therefore only function over time if there are arrangements to avoid or sanction “bad” behaviour. The debt crisis has been something of an ordeal for solidarity between MemberStates and their readiness to take responsibility for each other. The fact today is that in the public consciousness the EU is de facto based on solidarity. Now, we need to decide if we are to go further down this path. We would like to campaign for this.
European integration is also an answer to the decline in the power European nation states have to shape events in a globalised world. It comes down to a democratically agreed European policy that can really impact other global players.
The maintenance and development of the values, institutions and goals of the European project can only be achieved if the EU realises its global responsibilities. It is not just about defending oneself from the effects of global change. The EU must demonstrate the worth of the liberal constitutional state, the social and environmental market economy and the value of supra national integration. This will be the most successful way to campaign for this political model.
New projects to enhance the image of the EU
To win popular support the EU needs new key projects that will encourage more dynamic forms of cooperation and clearly demonstrate the added value that Europe brings; such projects might include areas that go beyond the maintenance of peace, security and freedom. Here, relevant projects are those that further identity and which create a new basis of legitimacy beyond the preservation of peace, security and freedom.
Key EU projects
The currency union need to be complemented by an economic union (governance) to enable especially the crisis and weaker Member States to find a path to sustainable growth.
A ‘Green New Deal’ for Europe that will trigger a new economic dynamic through massive investments in the ecological modernisation of the infrastructure as well as in education and research.
A European Community for Renewable Energies (ERENE) shall provide the political framework for a Europe-wide extension of renewable energies.
A European grid for electricity from renewable energy sources, that will connect wind energy from the coasts, solar energy from the Mediterranean region and bio energy from the large agricultural regions with each other.
An extension of transnational rail systems and a modernisation of public transport systems in the EU in order to create an attractive, cheap and environmentally friendly alternative to road traffic.
A sustainable agricultural policy that respects the environment and social needs, improves the added value of rural regions, encourages biodiversity and ensures fairer cooperation with developing countries.
A Europe of social progress, in which the EU plays the role of pioneer for equal opportunities and fair participation. This is especially relevant for opportunities for participation and advancement of youths, women and immigrants.
A foreign and security policy based on the EU’s values that provides a living example of supranational cooperation and shared sovereignty able to help the world operate in the spirit of international cooperation. To do this we need a greater integration (Europeanisation) of Foreign affairs. This requires a stronger role of the Commission and the European Parliament in foreign and security policies.
An enlargement and neighbourhood policy that benchmarks cooperation in terms of democracy and human rights and provides for democratic civil society in the region. The EU must keep to its promise that all European countries can join when they have fulfilled the political and economic requirements of membership.
More Europe needs more democracy
Advances in the integration process are only possible in a ‘living democracy’, in which participation and control of the democratic institutions, especially the European and national parliaments, are strengthened and the rights of citizens to be involved in the process are also extended. In concrete terms this means:
the European Parliament to be strengthened by the addition of the right of initiative; the Commission to be linked to the party distribution in the European Parliament; future minority parties and individual MEPs to have increased rights; transnational lists for European Parliament elections to make them more European; improvements in the status of European wide parties and political foundations; a widening of the areas that fall within the European Citizens’ Initiative.
European democracy and democracy in the Member States are inextricably bound together. The EU can only realise its democratic character in cooperation with the democratic institutions of its Member States. The reverse is also true. The EU must act as a control mechanism and counteract undemocratic developments in Member States (as currently in Hungary) and call for a public debate on such issues.
At the same time the EU must demonstrate its role as the guarantor of equal opportunity and equality of participation for all, including in the Member States. The European Parliament and the Commission have a control function and must guarantee that the Member States uphold the principles of equal opportunity and rights for all.
Competences need to be reallocated to the European level if this is for the benefit of the community and increases the community’s courses for action. If this is not the case, Europe’s local, regional or national competences need to be strengthened. The democratic multi-level system and the principle of subsidiarity need to be accepted literally. Here, it is necessary to define the assets not only of the European level but also of action at the local and national levels.
For “more Europe” to go hand in hand with “more democracy”, we will need, in the foreseeable future, a new European convention where all the various ideas as to where Europe is going can be brought together and a collaborative effort made to answer the questions that arise.
Given the failure of the first convention and the current re-nationalisation tendencies in some Member States it would appear foolhardy to be thinking of a new European convention. The current practice of the executive by-passing parliaments and public opinion, however, provides no permanent solution. A convention could turn the measures that are now being decided ad hoc in the wake of the financial crisis into a collective tax and fiscal policy. In addition, it would provide an opportunity for the national debates that have drifted apart during the course of the crisis to be brought together in a common discourse and allow the creation of a European public view.
The ability to act and democratic legitimacy at odds with each other
The difficult relationship between the EU’s capacity to act and its legitimacy is a conflict that will never be completely resolved. Only a strongly united EU can shape policy. This will presumably mean saying goodbye to the principle of unanimity in areas such as foreign and security policy. This will touch the core of national sovereignty and make extended democratic legitimacy imperative.
Widening and deepening of the EU also make for uneasy bedfellows. Further moves towards internal integration will affect enlargement policy. If we continue with internal integration and “deepen” the EU, the neighbouring countries will find accession even more difficult. If, on the other hand, we enlarge the EU to 35 countries, capacity to act internally will only be possible if majority voting is used more often. This, in turn, raises issues of legitimacy.
Differentiated integration: a risky alternative
Differentiated integration illustrates the dilemma of capacity to act versus legitimacy. When some Member States agree to work more closely together this can simplify reform or make it possible in the first place. This option is not new and is already being used: Schengen and the euro area being examples.
Enhanced cooperation between interested Member States is most certainly one option to push forward European integration – some examples being the European Community for Renewable Energy (ERENE), closer economic union between a group of Member States or the successive development of structures to secure peace and resolve conflict.
Building such forms of differentiated cooperation offers the possibility of tackling closer integration by constructively utilising diverse levels of willingness and capacity. This strategy appears even more plausible the larger and more diverse the European Union becomes.