If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there. So where do we want to go with the EU? Where is the European vision? Where is the shared master plan drafted by courageous and far-seeing statesmen that leads us towards ambitious goals, towards progress, towards confidence in a common cultural and political set of values?
There are no long-term plans for EU goals and development strategies, nor is there a common vision, not even a qualified proposal from individual member states for a planned future. None whatsoever.
Do we want nothing but a market place clinically cleaned of any political power and responsibility? This is the direction in which we are floating. Or do we want an integrated political, economic and cultural collaboration that is rooted in our shared European cultural base? Can we muster the courage to work towards a Europe that reaches for political influence and geopolitical responsibility in the international political void which we Europeans have created for ourselves and which Russia and Turkey are in the process of filling?
It is incredible that European politicians are so far away from their voters that they do not understand that the modern anti-authoritarian, freedom-seeking citizens of the EU will never accept centrally adopted political guidelines in areas such as taxation, welfare, education, culture or the labour market. On the other hand, the voters will widely understand that some tasks should be centralised because they cannot be decentralised. There are certain political top priority issues which can only be handled as a joint effort. For this reason, voters will understand that a European government should have a shared federal responsibility for developing a military defence to protect the EU’s democratic structures and economic values. They will understand the necessity of a joint responsibility for combating terrorism and for common policies in the fields of foreign affairs and foreign aid. A federal finance authority, a breakdown of the remaining obstacles to trade and a strengthening of the EU’s competition rules are also areas that would probably meet with broad popular support. The obvious solution is the EU as a European “Federation Light”, i.e. a version of a federation in which we only centralise what cannot be decentralised. A Federation Light is a political community of free citizens, regions and nations bound together by strong but narrow ties at the top.
We should not demand more from political collaboration within the EU than we demand as citizens from our own countries. Irrespective of our different political attitudes, we are already demanding of ourselves and our politicians that we work together to ensure our freedom, safety, security, prosperity and welfare. If we want an EU that works, the demands must be the same – no more, no less.
Asger Aamund is an ECFR Council Member
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.