The European Union is founded on democracy. The member-states join forces willingly in a whole that is far greater than its parts.
This “multiplier” of power also constitutes a systemic weakness: At any one time, a nation may decide to leave the European Union, as the British did in 2016, or they may reject a proposed constitution, as the French and Dutch did in 2005. In 2008, the Irish held up (for over a year) the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, which took the place of a constitution, with 53.2 percent voting against it in a referendum where the turnout was 53 percent. It is clear that a small majority in just one country can affect the future of the whole Union.
Today, the member-states’ leaders and the top officials in Brussels are called upon to take decisions to save the European Union, decisions that will provoke reaction among many voters. The proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for the Commission to raise 500 billion euros on the markets for regions and sectors affected by the pandemic is precisely the “grand gesture” that the Union needs for its own citizens and for the world to believe that it will do whatever it takes to preserve the EU.
However, some countries already oppose the proposal. It is also certain that the German chancellor will face a storm at home. Merkel’s joint proposal with Macron is, after all, a response to the German Constitutional Court’s direct challenge to the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing program (which is widely accepted as having saved the euro) and the primacy of the European Court of Justice.
The leaders of Europe’s two strongest economies have risen to the challenge. It is now up to the rest of the member-states to accept their proposal at their summit that will take place on May 27. Equally important, though, is the need for voters in each country to believe that such action is necessary, so that neither indifference nor outdated dogma should jeopardize the gains of many decades and undermine each EU citizen’s place in the world.
It must be clear that nothing is easy and nothing is a given; that governments and people, North and South, East and West, have common interests, a common fate; that the European Union’s survival is everyone’s personal business.