Habermas on Europe

June 19, 2008 at 10:34 am | Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

As someone who spent a large part of my degree pouring over his theory of the public sphere, it’s a delight to see that at 79, Jürgen Habermas is still participating in it vigorously. In his first essay since the Irish voted ‘no’ on the Lisbon treaty, Habermas outlines some of the inherent problems in attempts to formalise European integration and the perception that the EU has become divorced from the citizens it seeks to speak for. His advice for Europe’s leaders on how to wriggle free from the seemingly irreconcilable difficulties they helped to create? Begin a continent-wide public debate on the future of the EU, culminating in a refurendum in each member state:

The European train has come a long way, despite allowing the slowest member to determine overall speed. But from now on that is the wrong tempo. Even German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s proposal that Europeans be allowed to directly elect an EU president goes well beyond the timid Lisbon Treaty. The European Council should take the plunge and tie a referendum to European elections next year.

The wording of the referendum would have to be sufficiently clear to allow voters to reach a decision on the EU’s future direction. And all European citizens should cast their ballots on the same day, using the same procedure and on the same issue — all across the continent. One of the shortcomings of referenda to date has been that the formation of opinion has remained stuck in individual national contexts.

With luck and commitment, a two-speed Europe could emerge from such a vote — if the countries where the referendum is accepted joined forces to cooperate more closely in the areas of foreign, security, economic and social policy.

Were they confronted with an alternative, also those recently acceded countries in central and south-eastern Europe would seriously reflect on where their interests lie. And for skeptical member states, a politically successful core Europe could generate additional appeal. Finally, an internal differentiation — as legally difficult as it may be — could facilitate the controversial enlargement of the union.

Photo: Flickr user Giampaolo Squarcina (Creative Commons)

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