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The End of the European Supernation?

MADRID – Since the eurozone crisis began in 2008, the European Union has, from a political perspective, led an intergovernmental life in supranational clothing. But as the EU prepares to negotiate Britain’s exit, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Union no longer has any clothes at all. The question now is whether the EU’s status as an enterprise dominated by its member states is permanent.

The supremacy of member states – especially Germany – in EU decision-making is far from new. It was evident throughout the euro crisis, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, along with the European Council’s then-president, Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy, took center stage.

But the myth of European supranationalism persisted. In particular, after Jean-Claude Juncker took over as President of the European Commission in 2014, the EU’s executive branch began to bill itself as a Brussels-based institution capable of leading the way toward what Juncker called in his 2015 State of the Union speech “more Union in our Union.”

This year, Juncker delivered a far more sober speech. Indeed, it seems that the June Brexit vote has chastened not only Juncker, but all of the Commission’s Europhiles, who have largely been sidelined in the ensuing battle over what Europe will look like. (The notable exception is Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s very public stand on taxation, the outcome of which is still to be determined.)