Europe needs to make up its mind

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.

Such a federal state can be justified by claiming that the moral substance of traditional nation states has been deeply compromised by past belligerence, or as a practical preventive measure to keep the potential of new nationalist passions in check. Moreover, the British political scientist Glyn Morgan has argued that a robust concept of pan-European security also requires a pan-European state, and that it is irresponsible on the part of Europe’s elites to maintain a permanent position of strategic dependency on the United States. Related to this is the idea that only a strong EU can save the “European social model.”