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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.

 

Mutual mistrust

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.

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Comments

  1. Europe has become something to be for or against

    It is easy to see the logic in your blog however, in the case of the UK here we are 40 years on in what could be best described as a ‘bugger’s muddle.
    You are right to state that national politicians have never engaged the population (UK) and in fact have lied about the whole project (McMillan. Heath. Wilson).

    It is the view of many that 60 years after the founding fathers came up with the idea and 40 years after the UK joined, we are skidding along the bottom. We were told that eventually things would evolve but with no real time scale, maybe 50 or 100 years.

    Twelve years ago an ill conceived currency union was formed. This and its subsequent meltdown has caused a huge panic which it seems can only be solved by Political, Banking and Financial Union. It seems that a US of E is to be inflicted upon us regardless.

    We read from journalists and others about the ‘European Dream’ and the United States of Europe.
    My question is where are the citizens of this artificial concept? Where is the glue that is needed to bind us together? Where are all these so called Europeans? Can anyone define what a European is, coming from so many disparate backgrounds and cultures with many different languages. And what it is that will hold them together?

    We have a very expensive Capital city, Parliament and a Civil Service/Commission which has given us thousands upon thousands of pages of laws, rules and regulations. Yet no one seems to understand or value it/them.

    Many bloggers compare the EU to the USA but the Americans have their values clearly defined in a Bill of Rights and US Constitution. The EU does not have something similar, which any citizen could pick up and read without employing an army of lawyers for interpretation. I have tried to read the ‘Lisbon Treaty’ but had to give up in favour of the ‘will to live’. The Americans started from fresh and it has taken them 225 years to get where they are today.

    So the question must be how will the EU stitch together the patchwork quilt that is the current EU and give its citizens the ‘will to survive and succeed’?
    Where is the glue that will hold us together (USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia anyone)?
    Where is the route map and time-scale?
    Where is our democracy coming from?
    All answers please on a postcard addressed to the EU Council of Ministers, Dublin.

    George Mc

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