LONDON – The European Union appears to be capable of concentrating on only one problem at a time. This summer it is the question of who will succeed José-Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission. British Prime Minister David Cameron has found himself fighting a rearguard action to try to block the appointment of the arch-federalist Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Commission presidency is no doubt an important job. The Commission retains a monopoly on proposing new legislation, the character of which is heavily influenced by the president. But new legislation is something of a luxury for Europe these days. Rather than contemplating exciting new directives on the desirable characteristics of, say, lawnmowers sold in the EU, Europe’s leaders must complete three urgent and interlinked tasks.
The first is political. In the recent European Parliament election, a quarter of voters in the United Kingdom and France backed parties that are hostile to further integration and committed to restoring a Europe of independent member states. Even in Germany, a euroskeptic party did surprisingly well. The center-left and center-right federalists have responded by making common cause to secure a majority for Juncker.
That is not a stable outcome. Defenders of the European ideal need to engage more directly with its critics and articulate an inspiring vision, rather than sticking their heads in the sand and intoning the words “ever closer union” at every opportunity.