Open Europe Blog

An issue facing those who want to constructively question the path of EU integration – the kind of democratic opposition that is desperately lacking from EU politics, most notably in the European Parliament – is that EU enthusiasts automatically portray any criticism as a parochial attack on the entire EU project rather than rationally facing up to the EU’s failings (which, ironically, is a hugely counterproductive tactic as seen in most polls).

But it is a lot harder for people to simply put their fingers in their ears when a former German President and a former Dutch EU Commissioner say that the EU is getting things wrong. Last Friday, Roman Herzog and Frits Bolkestein, accompanied by the Director of the German based Centre of European Policy think tank Luder Gerken, made their case in the German press for why the EU needs to change or risk “complete collapse”.

Herzog made a similar splash in 2008 when he argued that something had to be done to “Stop the European Court of Justice”, calling the EU a “mammoth institution” – an article which recieved widespread attention from all sides of the debate (and served to heat up the debate in Germany).

The latest article, entitled “The EU is harming the European ideal”, takes a broader look at the EU and argues that the greatest challenge it faces is existential. And the three luminaries aren’t pulling any punches:

“It concerns the EU’s very existence: the EU must win back support for its existence, which it has lost from many citizens and even from many parts of the economy. Without this endorsement there is a risk of permanent damage to the people’s acceptance of the fundamental principle of European integration with immeasurable consequences for the EU, including the possibility of it completely breaking down.”

They argue that the loss of public support for the EU is a direct result of over-regulation and the one-size-fits-all nature of EU policies:

“The loss of this endorsement stems from an almost all encompassing impression that Brussels legislates regardless of the people’s wishes and of long established traditions and cultures, constantly introduces rules and regulates things that could be regulated at least as well at the regional or national level.

They note that the EU institutions cannot be relied upon to enforce the subsidiarity principle because they are only interested in extending their powers:

“The European Court of Justice will do nothing to enforce the principle. The Court also has an interest in a constant expansion of its areas of competence. The same is true for the European Parliament.”

It is therefore up to national governments, parliaments, the media and the public to be the “guardians” of subsidiarity:

“National governments must finally develop a culture of categorically saying No to the horse trading and alliance brokering in the Council of Ministers, when the suggested legislation contravenes the principle of subsidiarity or goes beyond the EU’s areas of competence.”

These are not exactly observations coming from the fringes of society. Concern over the EU’s democratic deficit does not mean that one cannot at the same time recognise the need for the EU, in one form or another. Herzog, Bolkestein and Gerken cannot be accused of being “anti-European” – the article demonstrates genuine concern for the EU’s continued existence – and it would be dangerous to ignore them.

They are voicing the concern of a huge number of European citizens who feel that EU integration has continually been allowed to breach acceptable limits and, as Herzog et al argue:

“European integration is only feasible if the public is also involved. We are a long way away from this, perhaps further away than ever. And if European citizens ever reject the EU in its entirety, we risk creating a mountain of political rubble of historic proportions.”

Exactly. When will the EU establishment start to open its eyes to the problems that citizens all across Europe can see?

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