Book presentation with Wilfried Loth and Prof. Günter Verheugen in the Representation of the European Commission Berlin
The occasion for the event was the presentation of the book „Europe’s unification/An unfinished tale” by Wilfried Loth. The introduction was held by Prof. Günter Verheugen on the topic “History and future of the European Union”.
According to Prof. Verheugen, European integration has been characterised by a dual dynamic, with each crisis being followed by a step towards integration. Based on initially modest goals, a unique, continually expanding system has emerged. In the meantime, however, in the eyes of the people the idea and the reality of European integration have drifted apart. This is not associated with mistrust of the European idea as such but rather the expression of disappointment with technocratic decision-making, nationalism and a lack of vision. Consequently, the previous dynamic has been lost: the usual answer “more Europe” no longer works. At least, it is necessary to ask precisely where and for what more Europe is necessary.
The fundamental question regarding possible improvements must be asked, and democracy and flexibility, according to Verheugen, play a decisive role in the answer. The next step towards integration must be accompanied by a fundamental democratization of the European system. The current criticism of the EU as lacking democratic legitimacy, however, falls short because it makes the same demands of the EU as of a democratic state, which the EU, however, is not. The Commission should emerge from the European Parliament elections as a European government, with the parliamentarisation of the EU resting on a bicameral system. Second, the EU must promote greater flexibility particularly in its enlargement policy but also in the development of the acquis. Only in this way can European integration continue in the global competition of Europe with more dynamic regions.
In the subsequent discussion, in which Wilfried Loth also emphasised the continued key role of the nation-state in the identity formation of Europe’s citizens, Verheugen specified his reform proposals for the EU. The EU must dare to take the step towards becoming a parliamentary democracy similar to the US, in which the European executive emerges from a bicameral parliament (a house of representatives and a senate) with legislative powers. The condition for such a “federation of nation-states” (Jacques Delors) is the people’s desire for integration, regarding which the lack of a sufficient public discourse on Europe is currently the decisive obstacle.
Due to current events, the discussion also revolved around the situation in Ukraine. Verheugen referred to mistakes made by the EU. Thus, in December 2012, the Ukrainian side was willing to sign the Association Agreement, but the EU added conditions that Ukraine was unable to meet. It is not advisable to now push ahead with the Association of Ukraine without requirements for constitutional reform, free elections and democratization. The rule of law must be an imperative in Ukraine. Furthermore, efforts should be made to deescalate the situation and engage in a constructive dialogue with Russia. Undoubtedly, the question of the EU’s foreign policy is the quintessential question for the future.