AUDIO & VIDEO RECORDINGS
Brussels-based discussions on the political future of Europe rarely represent the most suitable stage for provocative ideas and substantive debates. This event chaired by the director of Bruegel Guntram Wolff, however, offered an intense exchange between radically different views on how Europe should proceed and how its future institutional setup should look like.
Ulrike Guerot, founder and director of the European Democracy Lab (EDL), made a passionate case for a European Republic – a political utopia according to her own definition. Differently from “political union” and “United States of Europe”, in fact, the notion of “republic” conveys an emotional message which Europe desperately needs in this historical period. In Jacques Delors’ words, you cannot fall in love with a single market, and Europe needs a soul. The republican goal might fill this void, empowering citizens by making them truly equal from a legal perspective too. Convergence has taken place in the realm of services, markets, currency; what we lack are laws on citizens, and a European common stance on voting, taxation, and social aspects that citizens hold the dearest. This is why the goal should be to achieve (i) electoral equality (instead of the current system split by nations), (ii) equal fiscal policy, and (iii) equal access to social rights (e.g., a European unemployment scheme, the implementation of a European Social Security Number). After the economically driven integration, it is time to pursue the political objective of European citizenship, the only way to deal effectively with the rise of populism, vastly due to the inability and/or unwillingness of European elites to address legitimate criticisms and go forward with the European project. Ms Guerot has therefore launched the European Balcony Project on November 9th, inviting citizens and associations to express their support to a European Republic.
Adriaan Schout, visiting fellow at Bruegel, took a much more pragmatic stance, inviting the audience to appreciate how well the European Union functions the way it is, at least in relative terms. Creating high expectations about the potential for improvement, as both Macron (with his ambitious proposals) and Juncker (with his demand for an EU that delivers) did, is unwise and might easily backfire. This is all the more true as most issues and fragilities in Europe lie at the national level: individual countries have to improve to a much greater extent than the European Union. Some of the packages recently proposed at the European level, such as the EMU one, are indeed pretty satisfactory compromises, although not radical enough to raise much enthusiasm. The European Union is a resilient and pragmatic economic union: values are of course important, but it would be risky to expand the reach of EU competences while national idiosyncrasies have remained fairly stable during the past sixty years, despite EU membership.
Event notes by Jan Mazza