The Nobel Peace Prize that the European Union received in Oslo on 10 December 2012 says more about the Union’s past than about its future. In order to justify further European integration, more will be needed than a story of ‘peace and security’. Our wish for 2013 is that the EU sets further steps towards becoming a true democracy.
By Nik de Boer and Maarten Hillebrandt
Already in 1999, the eminent legal philosopher Joseph Weiler submitted that the story of peace and security had its limits, now that reconciliation between France and Germany has been achieved. This point is once again demonstrated by the current crisis. A banking union, far-reaching aid packages and budget supervision by the Commission cannot be justified with reference to peace and security alone.
Most leaders have long conceded this point. They have resorted to emphasising the economic benefits of integration. Due to the continuing economic and monetary crises, this reasoning has reached its limits, too: European integration turns out to cost money as well, undermining arguments based on mere self-interest.
From Greece to Finland, it is therefore the Eurosceptic politicians that profit the most from the crisis. By emphasizing the failings of the European economy, the importance of national sovereignty, and their mistrust towards their European neighbours, they are putting pressure on the mutual relations. This in turn leads to an inability to find a common solution that will bring an end to the crisis.
Eurosceptic politicians are succesful because the current mode of European integration comes at the expense of democratic legitimacy and common resolve. For years, European citizens have been experiencing a widening distance towards the European institutions. This manifests itself, among other things, in declining voter attendance at elections for the European Parliament.
The alienation of European citizens is perfectly understandable: the European member states have never really sought to involve their citizens in the EU. The political debate about the goal of the EU and the way to reach it has largely taken place behind closed doors. This has led to the phenomenon that, when presented with national referenda, European citizens have repeatedly and in large numbers stepped on the brake.
A colour for the Parliament and Commission
Thus, the EU has turned into something to be either for or against, instead of a Union that gives its citizens real choices about the Europe that they want. Citizens should have the choice between a liberal, social democratic, christian democratic, green, or other political vision on the future of the EU.
As it stands, a vote for the European Parliament is not a vote for a colour of the administration, a specific direction, or a particular leader. Only once the composition of the Commission is coupled to the colour of the Parliament can the citizens’ vote become a vote for the direction of the EU.
European citizens will then get the opportunity to participate in Europe-wide deliberation. In this way, the EU will not only live up to the promise of the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, but also into the future. Perhaps 2013 will bring this much needed change.
This article first appeared in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw on 10 December 2012.
Nik de Boer LLM is a PhD researcher at Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance. His personal page can be accessed here.
Maarten Hillebrandt MSc is a PhD researcher at Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance. His personal page can be accessed here.