People like to think about the European Union (EU) as a pragmatic, bureaucratic system, which is an institution enabling the member states to cooperate. One could say that the European community is based on economic association, and the biggest problem for the EU is the shape of bananas. Nevertheless, this perception could not be further from the truth.
Politics have been shaping the destiny of this community since the beginning of European cooperation. The founding fathers of the European Union and the leaders of the member states had lively political debates over the terminus of the project. While Altiero Spinelli and Jean Monnet argued for a more united union – even a federal one in the form of the so-called ‘United States of Europe’ – other political leaders, including Charles De Gaulle and Winston Churchill, wanted to give more sovereignty to the member states. The debate has not ended, and the two sides are still fighting for hegemony over the European Union and its future.
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Over the decades, the European Economic Community (EEC) transformed into the European Union. As time goes by, more political decisions are being made at the EU level. However, the future of the EU is still unclear. It remains to be seen how the integration will end up, what the primary goal of the cooperation is and how will it be achieved. Nevertheless, the competition of visions is not a problem at all: the history of the integration is based on this cleavage, and there were periods (like the Empty Chair Crisis in 1965) when the sovereignty of the member states won the round, and other times (like the Delors white book in 1985) when the European integration could be deepened.
The real problem of the debate on the future of the European Union is the lack of innovation and encouragement on the federalist side. The failure of the European Constitution and the series of crises in the past decade discouraged the reformers. Instead of thought-provoking discussions and bold new draft treaties, everyone is talking about failed small-scale reforms without new conceptions, a partial increase of the power of the institutions, and the “Conference on the Future of Europe,” which is just a proposal-collecting series for the decision-makers, without any binding consequences.
The European community needs original alternatives and progressive solutions that will redesign the shape of the EU and our thinking about politics. For this purpose, a federal Europe cannot stand without deep and all-encompassing democratization. Only democratic legitimacy could give enough power and authorization to a federal reform package.