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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.

Phillip Handy