Taking a Political Stance for Europe: Challenges and Perspectives Ahead

By Olivier and Gael Sirello, Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris

A European dream fading away: the EU attacked on its core values

Over the past few months, there is no doubt that we have witnessed sadly the progressive dismantling of the European ideal of "an ever closer Union." Although these words are still engraved in the European treaties, they sound more and more empty today after the recent and tragic events.

Massive inflows of migrants coming from Syria, Iraq and other places have certainly contributed to shed a bright light on deep divisions among member states. While there is no surprise to observe divergent national strategies because of the unprecedented nature of this catastrophe, the stark contrast between the policies of some states, especially from Eastern Europe, and the rest of the continent now clearly unveils the existence of a dangerous fault line in the European architecture.

Even more spectacular are the repeated attempts of the EU to resist such inflows. Not only have they shown the clear lack of solidarity towards some member states under exceptional pressure, but they have mostly come as a serious rejection of some of the core European values as a land of tolerance, non-discrimination, and peace.

The recent wave of terrorist attacks in Europe does not contribute to ease the present difficult political situation either. National security has become understandably the priority of European governments. Yet, since the last Paris attacks French institutions have been living an extended period of time under the provisions of "Etat d'urgence", an unparalleled situation in recent history. National militarisation is also making sneakily its way back in the society. French army recruitment campaigns are being advertised massively everywhere, from subway stations to radio announcements, with slogan like "Je defend mon Pays avec toutes ses couleurs" (in English, "I defend my country with all its colours.")

Under such "exceptional circumstances" we are also facing an unprecedented rise of national egoisms which are embodied by dangerous populist and extreme right-wing movements. In traditionally pro-European countries, like France, Germany, and Italy, Eurosceptic and right-wing movements are getting bigger and bigger everyday. The Front National in France, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and Lega Nord in Italy are just the most known. Seizing a context of weak economic recovery, widening social inequalities, and terrorism, most of these movements are giving breath to very dangerous political associations between terror, Islam, and immigration as sources of distress.

Yet, it is precisely during periods of great distress that we can perceive the whole grandeur of the European project. Indeed, one question that few wonder about is simply: what would be happening if Europe had not been created? While there cannot be any right and proper answer, it is still reasonable to argue that one would be certainly worse-off today, and that for plenty of reasons.

We shall indeed not lose faith in the European project. We shall be committed instead to work for deep institutional and political changes within the EU framework, by following two main directions: the reinforcing of supranational institutions and the political emancipation of European citizens from the representation of States.

The renewed Europe: looking for a manifesto for European dreamers

For decades, it has been argued that the real engine driving European integration were the functional spill-overs mainly set by economic integration. We cannot deny the validity of the intergovernmentalist stance to understand what issues are at stake in the EU today, but we fiercely argue that a renewed EU has to come temporarily from the impulses of the remaining and weakened European supranational institutions. These are still placed at heart of the European governance and they shall assume their responsibility in front of the EU crisis, not hesitating to innovate within an institutional framework poisoned by dangerous national rivalries and rising populisms. Institutions such as the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice, which have already demonstrated their ability and power to drive European integration in the past, are those which are able to drive the EU outside the institutional and political contingencies in which it finds itself today. They shall draw their path between the undeniable need for deepen integration and the risky compromises set by states, increasingly interested in preserving their sovereignty and provincial interests. The recent moves from the ECB board seem to follow this direction, although its questionable accountability and lack of democratic legitimacy are likely to constitute a threat to its power if they are not addressed with the importance they require.

Even more importantly, it our deepest belief that, in the longer run, a renewed Europe has to be the Europe for Europeans, with Europeans and by Europeans. Preserved in the short run by supranational institutions, this Europe has above all to come from individuals, no longer from States. The striking majority would object this claim, by opposing that the EU, because of its current institutional framework, will never be able to overcome the fundamental sovereignty of nations, which States pretend to incarnate historically. We argue that it is precisely because the EU has been designed in this way that it has to change, and it has to do it quickly. It has to change under the impulse of individuals and nationals, who are after all the only true depositary of their individual freedoms and social rights. When we see astonished some Austrians, Greeks and Lampedusani taking care individually of migrants and refugees in need of help - not to say of "Humanity" - sometimes against the will of their governments, we cannot claim that the European spirit has faded away from all Europeans unlike the vast majority of their governments. Instead, we understand that there are still people defending, at their own expenses, the fundamental values that drove intellectuals like Spinelli and Rossi to think of a federal Union in Europe during the darkest moments of the 20th Century.

These were the values of peace, freedom and unity. These are the values that Europe is crucially missing today and which it must rediscover to revive the European dream again. Many Europeans are waiting for reviving them. Everyone, one by one, should be committed to achieving so.