Europe needs to make up its mind

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, political theorist Jan-Werner Müller assesses the three main visions of the European Union's future. With none commanding majority support, a pragmatic approach to the EU as a kind of “Commonwealth” is the most honest alternative.

The celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this month come at an opportune moment. For now is the time for the European Union to call an end to its self-imposed “reflection period” following the rejection of the European Constitution by the French and the Dutch, and make up its mind about the future.

The reflection period has been mostly devoid of actual reflection, and Europe’s leaders have failed to offer Europe’s citizens any new, fundamental vision. So how should a “refounding” (Neubegründung) of Europe – as called for by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her first parliamentary statement on European policy – be accomplished?

In theory, there are three competing, fundamentally different visions of the EU’s future. Some still take the form of a “state of nation states.” These thinkers – often imprecisely called “Federalists” – refer to the Constitution as a necessary step towards a European federation.

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