Could there ever be an unbiased opinion
Preconceived templates do not help - the future of Europe needs to be invented and achieved
Frank Burgdörfer is a member of the board of the European Movement Germany.
Gerhard Losher credits Helmut Kohl with the idea of creating “a federal system of united states modeled on Germany” at the same time as German unity in Europe. This did not work out, could not have done, because the EU states are not ready to give up sovereignty. Without statehood, however, the required need for democratic legitimacy for the EU is “inevitably lower than is often assumed”, and parliamentarization of the EU is therefore a mistake. As a “community of projects and tasks” at different speeds and different levels of depth, the EU must remain the responsibility of the nation states.
Losher not only misjudges the pragmatic and long-term process-oriented thinking of the former Chancellor, but also the fundamentally new quality that European integration means for the political order of the continent. His article throws around with terms from the era of nation-state Europe, without caring about their content and relevance. He pretends that the approach to European integration is dogmatic, while he himself advocates flexible pragmatism - viewed exactly the other way around. He misjudges the everyday relevance of European politics and the origin and task of parliamentarism. And he defamed Helmut Kohl's unfamiliar quirk, which is of fundamental importance for stability, democracy and self-determination in Germany as well. But one after anonther.
The EU stands for something fundamentally new
Europe is a continent on which very many people who understand each other as differently live together so closely that they have always shared a common fate. In good times, we inspire each other and drive each other to achieve top performance - in science, culture, technology, business, sport and politics. In bad times we envied each other and fought each other with disastrous results.
The European Union is a very successful attempt to give our continent a new kind of political structure. A structure that creates space for exchange and peaceful competition. That gives everyone - even the smallest and weakest - rank, status and the opportunity to have a say and participate. And which, through joint institutions, ensures that the mutual dependency does not result in the dominance of the big players and that no one can steal advantages or create problems at the expense of the neighbors.
Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Winston Churchill, Marga Klompé, Konrad Adenauer, Paul-Henri Spaak, Alcide de Gasperi and the other spiritual fathers and mothers were never just concerned with “securing peace by pooling resources”. All their lives they stressed that their actions marked a completely new beginning, a fundamentally new way of thinking and doing politics in Europe. European unification was successful because they did not dwell on arguing about principles, but simply started.
The EU has a state function and ensures sovereignty
The EU has sovereign tasks, enforces the law and has a jurisdiction. In addition, it is a legal entity in international law. Whether as a result, among constitutional lawyers, the concept of statehood is expanded to include it, or whether it is characterized as something completely new with state properties, is a purely definitional question. Politically it is irrelevant.
Even the concept of sovereignty mentioned here, as is so often the case, does not work if it does not reflect reality. Understood as the exclusive right of an actor to solve certain problems, it leads to immaturity and irrelevance where this is objectively not able to do so. “National sovereignty” was already a fiction for almost all states in the age of the nation states and the then dominant great powers. It is all the more so in the age of global flows of goods and data as well as (at least in Europe) interests organized across borders.
You are sovereign if you determine your own way of life and can assert your ideas. In view of the rise of authoritarian China, upholding human rights and individual freedom, defending the European state order against an imperial Russia, securing tax revenues from global corporations and enforcing individual freedom on the Internet - all of this can clearly only be achieved in Europe as the European Union Association of their states and their citizens.
The EU is the epitome of political flexibility and creativity
The accusation that the EU is somehow a dogmatic, ideology-driven event that finally has to come to terms with a reality that is unpleasant for it is completely wrong. In the EU, the characteristics of a state were combined very pragmatically with those of an international organization. It is a structure sui generis, that is, of its own kind: Without a role model, without reference and with an uncertain future. Enduring this indeterminacy has led to creative excellence.
With the EU, Europeans have created an unusually large toolbox for solving problems. Like a state, the Union can set and enforce directly applicable law. Like an international organization, it can encourage and coordinate the activities of its member states (or even part of them). In the broad field in between, it can provide guidelines that are perceived as appropriate. It can even implement policies through its common institutions that do not affect all member states (see for example monetary union and Schengen).
Different tools create many options for action. European policies often begin with agreements between governments. When cooperation becomes more intense, the support of the Commission is used. And if their work proves to be useful, one switches over to European lawmaking with the inclusion of Parliament.
Conversely, if joint legislation fails - as in the refugee and financial crisis - then one tries to work with governments. If this does not work with everyone, then some will make a start and show what is possible. This flexibility in the approach makes it possible to break through blockades again and again and to effectively push ahead with what is necessary.
Externally, too, the EU has created an unbelievable variety of legal arrangements that enable states in the neighborhood to participate in accordance with their wishes. The bilateral agreements with Switzerland, the European Economic Area with the EFTA states, the customs union with Turkey, the enlargement policy in the Balkans and the neighborhood policy in East and South should be mentioned.
The EU needs its parliament as a motor and corrective
The double faced nature of the Union described above is reflected in its institutional structure. The Council represents them as the Union of States, and Parliament as the Union of their citizens. In the area of common lawmaking, the Council of Ministers acts as a second chamber alongside parliament; in the area of mere intergovernmental cooperation, parliament only has a supervisory function.
Gerhard Losher declares the latter to be an ideal. In doing so, he negates the fact that a European Union that intervenes very powerfully in the everyday life of all citizens via internal market legislation and international trade policy also needs strong democratic control. Anyone who wants this control to be exercised at the national level would have to relocate the relevant responsibilities there. So behind every demand to push back Parliament is inevitably the one to dismantle the EU. And this dismantling would have serious consequences for the political conditions on the continent, for our prosperity and for our global ability to act.
Parliaments were once devised to bring all politically relevant groups in a society into dialogue after revolutionary upheavals. They mean a fundamental change in the logic of power politics: In them, it is no longer the suppression of political opponents, but only the search for allies that leads to success. The exchange of arguments, the parley, takes the place of the struggle of different groups. The fact that the whole thing happens in public gives the population and their stakeholders the opportunity to exert influence by addressing parliamentarians. And because the formation of opinions takes place transparently, it can be considered legitimate and hoped for acceptance.
It would now admittedly be excessive to see the European Parliament as the embodiment of this ideal. It is not yet deeply anchored in the public consciousness, which is why it does not receive enough attention. Because it does not have this, the power of its members is massively underestimated - with far-reaching consequences for internal party debates and the selection of the appropriate personnel. And because many MPs still see themselves more as part of a well-established Brussels machine than as representatives of the people, they are too susceptible to backroom politics even in everyday life.
The inevitable teething problems in the ten years after parliamentarization through the Lisbon Treaty (and ten years are nothing in this context) in no way mean that the EU could do without its parliament. In view of the very heterogeneous interests of more and more member states, it is becoming more and more difficult for the Council to work out viable solutions. Governments that are responsible to a parliament and to the public at home must enter into negotiations without specifying clear interests and then declare the result to be a success if they are seriously interested in a political solution. In the Council, action is then all too easily determined by the question of which agreement, if possible, enables everyone to return home without losing face. The results are then often neither productive nor convincing. This is a task for Parliament that it is playing to some extent and into which it urgently needs to fully grow: As a forum for European politics, as a creative, innovative think tank, in which policies are developed under the eyes of the public that take different interests into account have a majority and which the Council can fall back on.
A successful Germany is inconceivable without the EU
That brings us back to the hook of Gerhard Losher's article. Helmut Kohl was not an unworldly idealist when he declared European unification to be the other side of Germany. Neither his statements nor his actions indicate that he could ever have believed that Europe could be poured into a stable state structure, as happened in the case of Germany in 1989/90.
For him it was about the firm anchoring, which he put into work with the internal market, monetary union and Schengen at the same time. Not as overcoming all problems, but as a framework for necessary common solutions. Only the prospect that the reunified Germany would also contribute to stable structures for the entire continent and not even enter a national competition for influence and power made the resurgence of the giant in the middle of the continent acceptable to the other Europeans. In this respect, incorporation into a democratic Europe as equals among equals remains our national obligation forever and is rightly a constitutional mandate.
“Brexit” teaches us how hopelessly someone who artificially inflates structural questions and elevates them to ideology gets sidelined. The only thing that counts is that we Europeans do not paralyze each other and that we can confidently shape politics according to our own ideas even after we have lost our global supremacy. With the European Union we take a clear position for political creativity and courageous shaping of the future - and for a political system that does not serve itself or any preconceived ideas, but rather the people on the continent and beyond.
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