Since the creation of the European Union in 1993, we have faced a major dilemma: What kind of Europe do we want? A “Europe of States”, in which Member States governments would have the main say at the European level, or a “Europe of Citizens”, where the citizens and bodies elected directly by them would be the main force behind EU’s policy.
The European Communities that existed before the EU were a “Europe of States”. After all, they were mainly about the economy, not politics. However, since the Maastricht Treaty, the European institutions have been gaining new competences. At the same time, the EU has been moving closer to a “Europe of Citizens”, mainly by expanding powers of the European Parliament. Currently, it’s a mix of both, but with national governments still playing a larger role than citizens.
And here is the question we should ask at the Conference on the Future of Europe: What kind of EU do we want on the long run? Do we, as citizens, want to have our say as directly as possible, or will we be satisfied with our national governments representing us? Both options, or a mix between them as it is now, are perfectly legitimate. Both are supported by valid arguments.
At first sight, the Parliament might seem as the most legitimate body in the EU. After all, it is elected directly, while the national governments represent citizens much more indirectly at the EU level.
On the other hand, Europeans generally do not consider the European elections as important. Therefore, a national government could have a higher legitimacy to speak for its citizens. But it could also be argued that these governments represent only roughly a majority of their citizens, because they are usually formed as majority coalitions, not by consensus. The European Parliament, on the other hand, represents a huge ideological spectrum of citizens at the European level, since all parties that pass a threshold get in.
But even if the European Parliament elections suddenly gained importance in the eyes of Europeans, it is still not enough for a “Europe of Citizens” to be the right option. In the nation states, we accept the legitimacy of a coalition government even if we voted for a party that ended up in the opposition. Would this be a case for the EU?
Let’s imagine that a European coalition government would be formed between, for instance, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals, but people in “my” Member State voted overwhelmingly for the right-wing parties. Would that coalition still be seen as legitimate in the eyes of my nation? Meaning, would my nation also accept that apart from our “national us”, there is also a “European us”, which can rule all Europeans by roughly a majority?
Until now, the EU has been working very consensually. And even in the “Europe of Citizens”, we could still have elements that would make sure that no Member States’ voice is ignored. For instance, there could be a European Senate, which would represent the national governments, act by some kind of a consensus and would also have to approve EU legislation. The possibilities of European institutional design are infinite.
The European integration process is, well, a process. It is a path. At the Conference on the Future of Europe, it is worth asking the question of what kind of EU do we want. When we answer it, we may finally end this major dilemma and embark on a path towards the “final version” of our Union.
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