The European Union urgently needs reform. On that, everybody seems to agree. The difficulty is in deciding what those reforms should actually look like. The Eurozone economy is now ticking along nicely, yet there are still fundamental issues left to resolve, including debt and fiscal governance, the refugee crisis, Catalonia, and Brexit. Are the existing structures and institutions up to the task?
There’s certainly no shortage of ideas and suggestions to draw from. The Austrian writer Robert Menasse has just won the German Book Prize for his novel “Die Hauptstadt” (The Capital), a thriller set in the European capital of Brussels and exploring ideas of supranationalism and federalism; it seems European integration has finally made it to the bestseller list. France’s President Macron has also made concrete proposals and is looking for allies to help him implement his ideas.
Yet counter-proposals are also coming from the Eurosceptics. Parties such as the German AfD, Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Geert Wilders PVV would rather see a Europe of strong nations, with sovereignty returning to national capitals (or even with the EU abolished entirely).
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Pieter who calls for a Europe of regions, without nation states, under the umbrella of a common European republic. Is this a Utopian fantasy?
We put Pieter’s comment to Ulrike Guérot, Professor of European Policy and the Study of Democracy at Danube University Krems and founder of the European Democracy Lab. She has for years campaigned for a European republic of the regions through her writings, research and lectures. Would a European republic really work without a common European people?
I would look at India as an example. India is based on the principle of one person, one vote. Every citizen has a voice in Indian politics, even though it is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious state… What the Indians can do, we can do too.
I’m from Grevenbroich in the Rhineland, and there I only read local newspapers and I did not know what kind of papers they read down in Bavaria. At the same time, I was a German citizen in a community with the people of Bavaria. We do not necessarily have to consume the same media to have a sense of common belonging. We can belong to our local communities and still feel European. You do not always have to know exactly what other Europeans are reading.
I bet that not everyone in California gets up in the morning and wonders what they are doing in Alaska today. And that’s exactly the way it can be in Europe. The important issues are translated and communicated via the media, so that Berlin understands what Bavarians want, for example… We do not all need the same language, nor do we all need the same interests, in order to be equal as citizens before the law.
We also had a comment from Elajah, who wants to see the EU become less political and more about free trade. He wants a new EU trade union of sovereign states, economically stable and in peaceful cooperation. Member States should remain completely politically independent. Why can’t we just go back to the “good old days”?
We can always look back at history, but we can’t turn back time. Instead, something new will come along. I don’t want to give the impression that there is only one solution, namely the European republic. We can choose to build that, or we might not. If we chose not to, the story would go somewhere else. But we certainly cannot go back to what we had before, because it’s simply no longer there.
We cannot go back to the world before Maastricht or before the Single Market, because we are now so interconnected with one another that we now have completely different economics conditions. Whatever comes next must be something different from what we had before.
Now, you can ask: Why did we get to this stage? Why didn’t we just stop at trade? We have to remember the arguments we had about this in the 1990s. Having separate currencies, such as the Deutsche Mark, also carried challenges. And if we go back again, what would that actually mean? What would it mean for the society in which we as European citizens now live. It would mean no common currency and a return to borders and capital controls… Every system we choose comes with different costs, we have to think about the costs of ‘going back’.
Do we need a new European model? Should we have a European republic of regions? Or should the EU become purely a free trade bloc, without any political integration at all? Can the current systems and structures cope with the challenges we face? What would you change? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!