All democracies are inherently doomed to fail

There is disillusionment with the state of the European Union. Citizens have the impression that Brussels is governing national politics in an opaque way. The Member States pursue their own, often very disparate, interests. How should it go on? Consolidate the status quo? Or develop the EU into a real European democracy? Pragmatism or vision? The Europe experts Ulrich Speck and Manuel Müller argue about this.

Mr Müller, you are one of the most persistent advocates of European federalism in Germany. On your blog you name the goal: "a complete supranational federation in which a European government is responsible to the European Parliament and the European Parliament to European citizenship". Why are you so attached to this idea?

Müller: For me, European integration is first and foremost a freedom project because it opens up opportunities for people. The idea that national borders are less restrictive in the way you can live in other countries. However, this also creates social interdependencies and a need for joint political solutions. Classically, they were looked for through diplomacy. But if the interdependencies are too great and every state retains a veto, blockades arise and the problems remain unsolved. But if you abolish the veto, then you need new democratic opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making. And that is precisely the European idea: to build democratic institutions on a supranational level, with the EU Parliament and the Commission, which was linked to Parliament. This structure is not yet complete, but we have come a long way.

Speck: That is a beautiful vision. But it has a political cost. We are now in an intermediate stage. Things are delegated to the European level without the citizen really knowing what the Commission is doing, what exactly Parliament is responsible for. These are only rudimentary elements of a state-like structure so far. However, you can now see that integration can no longer be done behind the backs of the citizens. According to the Monnet method: a logic is implanted which, with new constraints, leads to further steps towards unification. But there is resistance, from the right and the left, from governments, from reality: the EU cannot deal with many crises - euro, migration, Ukraine - and the national states are then called upon again. Politically, there is also no will to turn the EU into the United States of Europe.

It is telling that, apart from Martin Schulz, no other prominent politician is calling for this. The Greens tend in this direction, but neither do they use the term.

Müller: Many governments no longer dare to do that, actually since the failed constitutional treaty. In the crises of recent years, the EU also lacked the skills and instruments in important areas to be able to respond adequately. It fell back on the national governments who tried to portray themselves as saviors in the European Council. The problem with this: Conversely, no one took collective responsibility if the decisions of the European Council caused dissatisfaction. Instead, there was no alternative to these decisions, which gave the impression of an undemocratic policy being imposed by "Brussels". We fall into this trap again and again as long as we do not strengthen the European institutions. Then the European Council will continue to work out solutions and no one is satisfied because no one has the impression that they voted for this solution.

But many citizens would like to have a vision for the EU, that was the European secret of success: having a goal in mind. Do we have to get used to the fact that the EU is now aimless?

Speck: There were always different goals, each country imagined its own EU. The German EU looks very different from the French. The French have always seen the EU as an instrument of their foreign policy. The Italians had great distrust of their own government and wanted something overarching in which Italy was embedded. And the newcomers have changed the nature of the Union: unification among the many has become more difficult. It is no longer enough for Germany and France to agree. This leads to new coalitions among the member states. There is also little agreement on what the EU should be there for. A vision that arches over all 27 is no longer possible.

Does this amount to a multi-speed EU?

Speck: I simply don't see a common answer anywhere between North and South, East and West, with the euro or the budget, with the question of how much EU we want, with security and defense. Rather, states use the EU more to pursue certain clearly defined goals.

"We have to get over the right of veto"

What would your ideal EU look like, Mr Müller? Which policy areas would be Europeanized?

Müller: That's less important to me than the question of how to vote on European areas. Namely, with the EU Parliament as the central decision-making body, so that citizens can bring their ideas into politics in the European elections. To do this, the national governments have to lose power - for example by no longer unanimous decisions in more areas. At the moment, this is particularly true of tax, social, budgetary and foreign policy. We have to get over the right of veto and instead strengthen Parliament and the Commission.

Speck: Those are the core areas of national sovereignty. Take Schengen, for example: the internal borders are gone, but there is no agreement on who is allowed to enter our territory. For a common asylum law, either a consensus or a majority decision would be required, and Poland and Hungary would then also have to accept quotas for asylum seekers. But that would trigger an enormous backlash in these countries. We're not getting anywhere at the moment. Even when it comes to foreign policy, the big players are reluctant to be included. Germany, allegedly willing to integrate, is pulling through Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline project with Russia, regardless of its neighbors. France is pursuing its Africa policy without a European consensus.

It would be good to work better together on foreign policy in the EU and to act together more often. But it's not easy. Should the Germans accept that the Bundestag can no longer decide on German missions abroad?

Speck: In Germany, for example, the issue of arms exports has been fraught with identity issues for decades. There were always scandals. We cannot simply forget that with the stroke of a pen, in favor of a common arms policy and closer cooperation with the French or British. A majority decision must meet with acceptance. Foreign policy issues are also very controversial domestically, see the relationship with Russia. The problem: The big states can act efficiently, they talk to Washington or Beijing, but they lack the legitimacy to speak for Europe.

We are experiencing a return of power politics. If we Europeans have to take care of our own security again, then that falls to the national states, which are the actors in this area. The big players have to sit down and think about how the EU should deal with China, Libya, Syria or Russia. I don't think that the EU Commission can take the lead here.

So there is no getting around the nation states?

Müller: I'm also not happy with the idea of ​​focusing integration primarily on foreign policy. This is an executive area. To do this, competences would have to be transferred directly to the Commission, which has too little legitimacy because it is not yet responsible to Parliament. In addition, the debates about an EU foreign policy are currently mainly about Europe's self-assertion in the world: An EU is to be created that is so united that it can be a great power among great powers. But this is in contradiction to the European idea, which aims to overcome traditional foreign policy by building common institutions.

Speck: The logic of the EU was that the Europeans believed that after 1945 they had said goodbye to history, some sooner, others later. They were no longer creative powers. It was only about the bipolar East-West conflict. The EU was created in this protected space. Now the Americans are gradually withdrawing from Europe, the Americans no longer think about our interests and often no longer even listen to us. The international situation has become tougher: Russia is pressing, China has stopped integrating itself into the world order and has its own ideas. The US has become rougher and more robust. So how can we act together? There is the idea of ​​a European Security Council. The question is whether and how this will be integrated into the EU.

Müller: In any case, it would be a mistake if the EU behaved like the nation states of the 19th century again in the world. The temptation is because there are so many threats, a new arms race, a global policy based on conflict. But the EU did well to overcome this classic policy.

Speck: The EU must also protect the area in which integration is possible. Keyword cyber. We cannot ignore the fact that there are actors who do not like our way of life. And the free European order must also be defended with means of power. This sometimes requires deterrence. See Ukraine: If it is to have room for development, we have to signal to the Russians: We are against you submitting this country like a satellite. That is the new European question: can we do it? Do we do it as nation states, or can we find a community there, and what role does the EU play in this?