The EU is doomed to fail

There is disillusionment with the state of the European Union. Citizens have the impression that Brussels is governing national politics in an opaque way. The Member States pursue their own, often very disparate, interests. How should it go on? Consolidate the status quo? Or develop the EU into a real European democracy? Pragmatism or vision? The Europe experts Ulrich Speck and Manuel Müller argue about this.

Mr Müller, you are one of the most persistent advocates of European federalism in Germany. On your blog you name the goal: "a complete supranational federation in which a European government is responsible to the European Parliament and the European Parliament to European citizenship". Why are you so attached to this idea?

Müller: For me, European integration is first and foremost a freedom project because it opens up opportunities for people. The idea that national borders are less restrictive in the way you can live in other countries. However, this also creates social interdependencies and a need for joint political solutions. Classically, they were looked for through diplomacy. But if the interdependencies are too great and every state retains a veto, blockades arise and the problems remain unsolved. But if you abolish the veto, then you need new democratic opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making. And that is precisely the European idea: to build democratic institutions on a supranational level, with the EU Parliament and the Commission, which was linked to Parliament. This structure is not yet complete, but we have come a long way.

Speck: That is a beautiful vision. But it has a political cost. We are now in an intermediate stage. Things are delegated to the European level without the citizen really knowing what the Commission is doing, what exactly Parliament is responsible for. These are only rudimentary elements of a state-like structure so far. You can now see, however, that integration can no longer be done behind the backs of the citizens. According to the Monnet method: a logic is implanted which, with new constraints, leads to further unification steps. But there is resistance, from the right and the left, from governments, from reality: the EU cannot deal with many crises - the euro, migration, Ukraine - and the national states are then called upon again. Politically, there is also no will to turn the EU into the United States of Europe.

It is significant that, apart from Martin Schulz, no other prominent politician is calling for this. The Greens tend in this direction, but neither use the term.

Müller: Many governments no longer dare to do that, actually since the failed constitutional treaty. In the crises of recent years, the EU also lacked the skills and instruments in important areas to be able to respond adequately. It fell back on the national governments who tried to portray themselves as saviors in the European Council. The problem with this: Conversely, no one took collective responsibility if the decisions of the European Council caused dissatisfaction. Instead, there was no alternative to these decisions, which gave the impression of undemocratic politics being imposed by "Brussels". We fall into this trap again and again as long as we do not strengthen the European institutions. Then the European Council will continue to work out solutions and no one is satisfied because no one has the impression that they voted for this solution.

But many citizens would like to have a vision for the EU, that was the European secret of success: having a goal in mind. Do we have to get used to the fact that the EU is now aimless?

Speck: There were always different goals, each country imagined its own EU. The German EU looks very different from the French. The French have always seen the EU as an instrument of their foreign policy. The Italians had great distrust of their own government and wanted something overarching in which Italy was embedded. And the newcomers have changed the nature of the Union: unification among the many has become more difficult. It is no longer enough for Germany and France to agree. This leads to new coalitions among the member states. There is also little consensus on what the EU is supposed to be there for. A vision that arches over all 27 is no longer possible.

Does this amount to a multi-speed EU?

Speck: I just don't see a common answer anywhere between north and south, east and west, with the euro or the budget, with the question of how much EU we want, with security and defense. Rather, states use the EU more to pursue certain clearly defined goals.