Europe must politicise or die

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Europe “urgently needs a proper debate as well as choices about its political direction” if it is to “regain the interest of its citizens” and include them in its deliberations, writes Olaf Cramme for Open Democracy.

The 17 September article states that the Reform Treaty’s changes in favour of more democracy and subsidiarity are “a step in the right direction”, but will not generate more enthusiasm for the EU – and so decisions on issues such as the single market, social Europe, competition rules and the EU’s role in a multi-polar world thus need a “stronger political underpinning”. 

Cramme fears that once agreement on the new treaty has been reached, supporters of integration “will go back to sleep” and Brussels will “restart its autopilot” and concentrate on “nonsense” issues such as imports of Chinese light bulbs and the European Institute of Technology. 

This would be “detrimental” to integration, he believes, as for too long the EU has been in a “technocratic bubble”. This notion allows national politicians to “underplay the increasing influence of Brussels”, and thus, intentionally or otherwise, nurture feelings of Euroscepticism, despite the “profound economic and social impact on our societies” of EU decisions. 

Cramme claims that there is a “chasm” between policies and politics at EU level, while the opposite is happening nationally – and that only a few leaders such as French president Nicolas Sarkozy realise this. 

He believes that the EU is currently thwarting the idea of European citizenship – which he says would allow individuals to “understand and share ownership” of the EU project – and instead Brussels is dominated by technocrats proclaiming the inevitability of policy developments, which “drives individuals away” from the very concept of European integration and creates an absence of choice which magnifies insecurity. 

For Cramme, two fundamental challenges lie ahead: 

  • The impact of globalisation on inequality, social solidarity, citizenship and social cohesion in our society is debated but not yet adequately understood. 
  • The EU needs to articulate itself as a political and social project. 

Cramme concludes that politicising EU integration depends on a better understanding of the implications of globalisation and internal developments such as enlargement and the euro. In acknowledging this difficulty, politicians will recognise the “constraints on autonomous national action”, he believes. 

However, this will only happen if debates on the EU’s future become more political and reflect the importance of EU decision-making, he adds. 

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