European Debate – February 2014

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Jürgen Habermas

The philosopher German Jürgen Habermas in Athens, August 6, 2013. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

The 23.02.2014 at 12 :39 • updated the 24.02.2014 at 10 :47

Repolitise the European debate

by Jürgen Habermas

Our time is characterized by a growing disproportion between a global society in the process of systemic homogenization and fragmentation of the world of the States, which remained unchanged. Resulting in serious problems. States integrated with the minds and consciences of their citizens are able to act effectively unique collectives based on the democratic will formation, and intentionally influence on their societies.

But these States is always enmeshed deeper in functional reports which, unbeknownst to them, sneaking across national borders. Face the politically undesirable consequences of this systemic integration, a need for regulation is felt, whereas nation States are less and less able to meet.


Politicians and citizens are aware of this loss of capacity for political action, and cling with all the more vehemently to the nation State and its borders, yet become porous since a long time. This defense of the nation State is understandable from a psychological point of view, but it is paradoxical.

Flexibility now missing the nation-State can indeed be recovered at the supranational level. And that’s also what takes place in the form of interstate cooperation : with the quickly growing number of influential international organizations, a form of governance, vaunted, presented as a conquest, has in the meantime built up, beyond the nation State.

But these international treaties largely elude the democratic controls. An alternative solution is the training of supranational communities who, if they do not on the whole State format, also can basically meet the democratic criteria of legitimacy.

Because only this way, we are on with the European Union, can lead to a trans-nationalisation of democracy, the business of the European Union is already justified for reasons of democratic self-affirmation, against normatively unchangeable constraints of a global society networking on the systemic mode.


The European model of society deplored by so many people is based on the internal report of the social State and democracy. If the increase is permanent, since two decades of social inequality (a trend empirically proven for industrial countries), does not reverse, this report will tear.

This drift toward a demerger of the company combines in an alarming trend to political paralysis growing, as well as a pronounced disinterest of the voters belonging mostly to the poorest layers, i.e. the erosion of equal representation of the electorate and the whole spectrum of interests.

There is no need to share prerequisites Marxists to recognize in the unleashing of capitalism in the financial markets one of the decisive reasons for this development – and to conclude that we must carry out a re-regulation of the global banking sector is giving every chance to succeed, and above all in an economic area with at least the weight and the size of the euro area.

The functioning of the European banks, who can no longer invest profitably a virtual capital bloated, cut off from the real economy, requires precisely in the first place a common European solution. And aside from the obvious sacrifices in crisis States covered primarily by austerity measures, sacrifices which we know already today the scale, is at the end of the crisis that we can identify his victims, who paid the Piper. This also depends on the policy we choose today.

However, the continuation of European unification can take place instead on the defensive mode on the offensive mode. In any case, she can’t rely on these emancipatory visions under the control of a kind of intuitive evidence that had once inspired the European constitutional changes – as these visions which are now the revolts in Arab, Eastern European or Asian countries where anger is bubbling.


Europeans have good reason to want a political union. But the result, consisting of an extension of the usual “copes” of their nation States, in order to share a higher level with other nations, is not the kind of intuitive evidence that had once been the European project.

Claus Offe described “cases” in which the European project bogged down between the “economic constraints” and “politically feasible”. This dead-end situation is also a consequence of the shortcomings of the political elites of their inability or their refusal to associate their respective populations in due time to the process of unification. Today, it is especially the responsibility of political parties and media do about it catching up education.

I limit myself to justify the need for political change by three urgent problems, but so far widely denied. The German federal Government has, since May 2010, and quite vigorously, argues above all the semi-hegemonique position of Germany in Europe.

It has thus generated proof in European domestic policy, that any rhetoric of appeasement does curb. In addition, crisis management has led in recent years to an informal extension of the powers of the Council and the Commission, which worsens dramatically the current deficit of legitimacy of the European Union, and causes the intervention of national resistance. This policy is truly disturbing in that it does not affect the causes of the crisis.

The federal Government, because of its economic weight and its power of informal negotiation, imposed German ideas to overcome the crises, to the European Council of ordoliberales ideas. He forced the countries in crisis to radical “reforms”, without the responsibility to the overall European level of more that severe consequences of this austerity policy lacking any balance in the social field.


A change of mentality is reflected in this attitude against weaker partners. The reunification of Germany from the West and 17 million citizens who reported any other political socialization, indeed brings back a forgotten sense, that of a German national-State normal.

This restoration of the oldest layers of the collective consciousness is superimposed on another element : the importance that European unification could take for the citizens of the old Federal Republic, who could thus see it restored to its international reputation, so politically and morally destroyed.

However, it is not only here about style. It is in our national interest not to come back again to this ‘semi-hegemonique position’ of Germany, who pioneered the way in two world wars, and the process of European unification was finally allowed to overcome.

Without a time political change across the whole of Europe, we should not rely on the goodwill of neighbors we have manhandled through a policy of imposed crisis of more than Cavalier.

We must certainly take the first step towards closer cooperation, but above all to show our determination to make structurally dispensable German leadership, and show our willingness to undertake together with the France of new initiatives, on good terms with her, on an equal footing – while correction to the place of small States.


The room for manoeuvre of the Commission, the Council and the European Central Bank, in the meantime expanded on the informal mode, must be the object of a legitimization of catching up in terms of the situation created by the crisis management. Here it comes to several sets.

In all cases, the European Parliament, including where he was a partner in the legislative process, took no active part the insidious strengthening of the powers of the organs of the European Union.

The fiscal pact of March 2, 2012 is a Treaty of international law between Member States of the European Union (with the exception of Great Britain). This strange treated is a product of the German distrust : for the purpose of protection, he scored once again in the constitutions of the decisions of the European Union be taken for a long time about deficits and of the levels of authorized State debt–with penalties for non-compliance.

With the European stability mechanism (ESM), the members of the European Monetary Union are created a financing instrument for the State budgets in trouble, but the organs of MY not yet subject to any parliamentary control. Because the shape of the international treaty allows any democratic legitimation for this cooperation.

The infamous Six-Pack came into force on December 13, 2011, with the assent of the European Parliament. These provisions deepen intergovernmental collaboration with objectives for the reform of the stability and Growth Pact ; They also built a monitoring system dedicated to macroeconomic imbalances.


The bodies of the European Union lack any legitimacy to these competencies. Indeed, the Commission can now intervene in State budgetary programming, preventively, to end of control, and to provide patches, even while she is allowed to it by the European Council, while Parliament can at most be informed, provided that express the wish.

Finally, the European Parliament is missing momentarily a body likely to during to the powerful Euro-groupe created by the European Council. Without the formation of a Standing Committee of States non-members of the Monetary Union, Parliament cannot even properly exercise its control rights, in any case far too weak.

The division of Europe between payers and countries benefiting from these payments urges, in national public life, mutual accusations and the designation of scapegoats. The reciprocally distorted perception of unequal fates in the crisis until obscenity has also been strengthened in Germany by a false interpretation of the causes of the crisis.

Because, the Greece except, the immediate cause of the debt overhang of the States was the evolution of debt private, and not, as alleged, the fiscal policy of the Governments concerned. But it is above all the way to focus on the issue of State debts, which explains the active repression, until today, in crisis management, fundamental structural problems.

Certainly, the State debt crisis could be avoided only because the European Central Bank has simulated convincingly a common guarantee, i.e. this fiscal sovereignty lacking the Union – and this conflicted with the ban on it all lease-out, any external bailout. But responsibility for refund which is the European Central Bank is not the essential construction defect of the Monetary Union.


Specialists in political economy attention long misdiagnosed conditions prevailing in the eurozone for a common monetary area. Due to differences in the real economy in the current account balances of the various national economies, uniform interest rates give false signals to the Governments. One size for all fits none (“a same size for all not suitable to anyone”).

Without common economic government, the chasm separating capacity of structurally different economies will continue to expand.

The political line followed by the German federal Government’s only concern is to please investors. She prescribed in crisis States, alongside the necessary reforms of administration and markets work, austerity, and this at the expense of wages, social benefits, public services and investment in State infrastructure, in a counterproductive way.

Instead, it’s the real defect in the construction of monetary union is its lack of political union which must be remedied. Without the institutional frameworks of a fiscal and economic policy consistent commune (with consequences for a common social policy), the structural imbalances between the different economies will get worse.

Consolidation policy lives on the false assumption that crisis States are able to catch up, on their own, economic, in a fierce competition with Member States fundamentally more competitive than them – even though their fiscal and tax policy flexibility is greatly reduced…

Instead of imposing a specifications on national Governments, and to treat the citizens of a democratic community like irresponsible minors, the Council and the European Parliament together should be able to decide on the guidelines of the fiscal, economic and social policy.


The pursuit of the policy pursued so far can only aggravate the vicious circle that is activated by the three problems. More the powers of the Council and the Commission extend over the implementation of the policy of consolidation, and more governance conducted behind closed doors made aware citizens of the legitimisation of more weaker growing technocracy weight – and more federal Government finds himself stuck in the dilemma of its semi-hegemonique position.

In the meantime, the strong medicine imposed with intransigence, priced at political debasement of whole peoples, and the social decline of generations, social strata and entire regions, has wizened so the economies of the countries in crisis “the horses drink again” : in other words, investors come back.

But even if investors are back, we cannot yet longer avoid real issues. It is insufficient to deliver legally and apply on the technocratic fashion the political model of peacebuilding. We take the issue by a piece or by another, a political change involving the transfer of sovereignty over national borders does that to expect too much.

And this is irreconcilable with this fiction that the Member States should be sovereign as they were previously. The German federal Government must decide whether to propose to the other Governments of the euro zone, in their own long-term interest, a new configuration of the Monetary Union, then transformed into a democratically legitimized Euro-union.

Only the federal Government is able to take the initiative. He alone is in a position to propose to the France and the countries of the South of Europe, where a renunciation of sovereignty and deeper integration do not raise enthusiasm, a solution as well as economic policy.


Of course, a very long and difficult process could begin by this single signal. In addition, the signal in question would be credible only if it was disposed to four things : accept a two-speed Europe. renounce the intergovernmentalism ; aspire to a European party system ; and take a break from the current modus operandi of European politics, which is the product of an elite. Take these four points one after the other.

The current institutions of the European Union should be differentiated so that is is a Euro-union being open to new accessions of other States of the European Union (and first and foremost the Poland).

A union with a heart and a periphery be able to pursue, for example, the British wishes of a retrocession of certain skills, as well to a controversial membership wants (as for example those of the Turkey), provided that this is possible under the existing treaties.

But a change in the primary law would first inevitable over the implementation of a policy change to decide first and foremost within the Euro-groupe.

The intergovernmental method, and its precedence further strengthened by the crisis, should be permanently scrapped in favour of the Community method. Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament, working hard at this, with a great power of persuasion.

While the meeting of the heads of State or Government, whose legitimacy is based solely on the national elections, is tailor-made for the negotiation of compromise between a rigid national interests, the formation of political will in a Parliament composed of parliamentary groups makes possible a counterbalance of national interests by a generalization of the interests across national borders.


The elections of the European Parliament offer the first opportunity of a politicization of the agenda, with backdrop of crisis management highly controversial across the whole of Europe. First of all, common candidates can, beyond national borders, make visible different programs – and in this way different possibilities of truly alternative votes.

Without such politicization, the elections of the European Parliament cannot deserve the name of democratic elections – and such politicization not yet actually took place. A system of European parties should also develop from these beginnings there.

Finally, the political elites should stop cutting their local electorates European policy, and stop as this populist mixture concocted at home, including the basic ingredients are a systematic denigration of Brussels and a rhetoric of Sunday made comments kindly pro-Europe commitment strictly to nothing.

Defeating of their routines, these political elites could structure the fight of opinions, not just to the trailer of pollsters, but with objective first of resolutely form public opinions. Because, so far, national public lives are overall made of misconceptions about ‘Brussels’, and no strong opinions informed, able to compete each other seriously.

We in Europe of smart people, and not the kind of sentimental political fictions of right populism would persuade us that they exist. For a supranational democracy remaining anchored in national States, we don’t have need of any European people, but of informed individuals, having learned that they are both, together in a same people, citizens of a State and citizens Europeans.

These citizens can altogether, by participating in their respective national public lives, participate in a forming of the political will across the whole of Europe. To do this, we have need of nothing else only existing national public lives and existing media.

While television and national newspapers aware of discussions at work in each of the other countries about relevant themes and concerning all the citizens of the Union, national public lives open to each other.

Translated from the German by Frédéric Joly

Jürgen Habermas

Philosopher. Born in 1929, he led the Institute for social research in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) by taking the rest of Theodor Adorno until 2001. Theorist of the “ethics of discussion” and of “constitutional patriotism” – attachment to democracy beyond the nation-he regularly in the German and international press for European construction. Author of many books, he published ‘The Constitution of Europe’, Gallimard, 2012.

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