The existential debate

Despite the budget agreement reached at the recent European Union summit in Brussels, the EU’s existential problems remain. The massive no-votes in the French and Dutch referendums last spring have left the EU Constitution dead in the water and thrown its plans for further enlargement in disarray. Despite deep public skepticism, more and more countries are being given a seat in the waiting room. Enlargement has to stop before the EU, an increasingly heterogeneous and sluggish superstate, collapses under its own weight. Last year’s rejections demonstrated the yawning chasm between voters and a complacent political elite. The vast majority of voters are concerned about the EU’s neoliberal policies, its dismantling of the social model, high unemployment, faltering growth rates, the democratic deficit and failure to promote Europe’s political emancipation. In other words, most voters reject the political and economic premises that sustain the process of European integration. At the same time, people feel cut off from the Union’s institutions. In another sign of arrogance, political elites paid no heed to the signal sent by the low turnout at the June 2004 European elections. Pat Cox, then-president of the European Parliament, said that the voters’ provincial mentality made them blind to the grand visions of the eurocrats in Brussels. The high abstention rate at European elections and the constitutional debacle should not be taken as denial. Some people undoubtedly reject the integration project altogether, but they are still a small minority. The majority may dislike EU institutions but remain in favor of the goal of ever-closer union. Despite their differences, Europeans have developed a sense of shared identity. Most want a more democratic and independent Europe with a strong welfare state.

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