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The EU Merry-Go-Round

EU leaders have tended to operate on the assumption that Europe is inevitable, and that Europeans are inescapably bound together in a community of fate. But many citizens don’t see it that way, and if they aren’t given a more convincing rationale for European integration, the only inevitability will be the EU’s demise.

MADRID – In her first State of the European Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen offered a wide-ranging view of the current moment. She touted Europe’s recent achievements and identified its goals for the coming years. She dedicated significant attention to the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda, and called for the completion of the banking union and capital-market integration. In normal times, it would have been a solid, if not particularly inspiring, performance. These are not normal times.

Yes, the policies and actions Von der Leyen described are important. But, at this point, no policy will fortify the EU’s foundations sufficiently. No grand-sounding program or budget increase will ensure its progress. No amount of common debt will guarantee its survival. To survive and thrive, Europe needs an overarching vision that captures the breadth of the challenges it faces, establishes a sense of common purpose among all citizens, and galvanizes popular support.

EU leaders have long peddled a hollow concept of European citizenship, one that emphasizes rights, rather than responsibilities and shared burdens. They have shown what the EU does, but not what the EU is for. And many refuse so much as to discuss the question. They believe the answer to be self-evident: Europe is inevitable, and Europeans are inescapably bound together in a community of fate.

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