Crisis of legitimacy

In 2005, the French and Dutch «no» crippled the much-touted European constitution. A number of officials tried to undermine the significance of the vote with arrogant and at times even amusing comments. A week ago it was the Irish who shot down the Lisbon Treaty, a pact which governments hoped would salvage their core positions. Now that the damage has been done, and moreover by a small country, we are again witnessing that same arrogance. The Irish «no» certainly presents a major obstacle to the EU’s efforts to resolve many of its functional problems and move toward a deeper Europe. But this is just one side of the coin; for the other reveals a widespread crisis of political legitimacy, which is expressed in every referendum. This is not your typical Euroskepticism. It is a strong wave of discontent that is growing, for one reason or another, in almost every member state: discontent about the rising cost of living, high unemployment, slow growth and the gradual dismantling of the welfare state. The common denominator is a tendency in every society to safeguard its way of life. The vast majority of European citizens support full integration, but they feel alienated from the current institutions. These «no» votes are more an internal political reaction than a rejection of the vision of a united Europe. This is also confirmed by the fact that for all its diversity, time has forged a common European identity, the perception of a common future. And it is this very momentum which provides the «bones» for unification. It is this perception which makes a true Europeanist vote «no.» Those who foolishly argue the EU should not be obstructed by the votes of a few thousand Irish should remember that they were the only ones to be given a voice on the matter. The political elites of other member states chose the safe path through parliament. This, however, can only go so far, because if Europe is to have a future it must bring all of its problems out in the open and work toward viable political solutions.