GHDI logo

Europe as a Community of Shared Values (December 28, 2005)

According to historian Heinrich August Winkler, intensifying European integration meant more than just reforming institutions and decision-making processes. Advancing “Project Europe” also meant identifying with common values. The expansion of the EU, Winkler explained, would reach its limits if questions of political culture were neglected. A good example of this, he observed, was the discussion of Turkey’s potential accession to the EU.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 5

An Overextended Sense of Community

As a community of shared values, the EU can only include countries that are unreservedly open to the political culture of the West.

Europe is in a state of profound crisis. Ever since the French rejected the European constitution in a referendum on May 29, 2005, and the Dutch did the same thing three days later, it has been clear that the treaty will not enter into force in its present form. With the common constitution, the European Union wanted to implement the reforms that are necessary for the community to remain functional after the admission of ten new members on May 1, 2004, and to remain capable of integrating additional new members.

On January 1, 2007, or at the beginning of 2008 at the very latest, Bulgaria and Romania are supposed to become EU members. On the night of October 3, 2005, accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia began. The western Balkan states have been assured of the prospect of full membership at a later date. But how the institutions of the European Union are supposed to handle the accession of these countries remains entirely unclear.

The French and Dutch “no”-votes on the constitutional treaty were the expression of profound discontent with the way European politics [Europapolitik] has been practiced for a long time, namely, above the heads of the citizens. Fundamental decisions are made behind closed doors, without any prior discussion in the various national parliaments or the public sphere. Large segments of the population view the policies handed down by the European Commission in Brussels as alienated, lacking democratic legitimation, and effectively controlled by no one – least of all by the European Parliament. “Autocratic executive power”: this phrase coined by Karl Marx in 1852 in reference to the Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III offers a fitting description of the European Commission.

Lack of “belief in legitimacy” (Max Weber): this can describe the crisis facing the European integration process, but it cannot explain it. The most important cause of the present crisis is the gulf between enlarging and intensifying the European Union. In no other EU member state were the hopes for a convergence – or even a “pre-established harmony,” as [Gottfried] Leibniz would say – of enlargement and intensification as widespread as in Germany. The German illusion of convergence combined two other German illusions: the federalist and the postnational illusion.

Joschka Fischer still used the federalist illusion as his point of departure in his legendary “Humboldt speech” of May 12, 2000.* He demanded “the transition from a union of states to full parliamentarization as a European Federation,” “a European parliament and a European government that actually exercise legislative and executive power within the Federation.” This Federation would have to be based on a constitutional treaty. Above all, one thing remained from Fischer’s speech: the term “constitutional treaty.” But it was just the term and not what the German foreign minister understood it to mean. The mission of the EU constitutional convention would have profited more from a less misleading label.

* See document 6 in this chapter – eds.

first page < previous   |   next > last page