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Where next for Europe? Current

democracy , Europe , world politics



The European project is in crisis. The events that have engulfed the Eurozone over the past three years have raised fundamental questions about what the EU is for. The old arguments for European integration no longer seem as valid or sufficient as they once were. Three issues in particular make it clear that a new argument is needed.

First, the sovereign debt crisis has exposed the limitations of monetary union without simultaneous fiscal and economic integration. Even if the short-term problems in the Eurozone are addressed, questions will and should be asked about what we as Europeans want from our economy and how it might be reformed for the better to ensure a future built on fiscal sustainability, renewed economic competiveness and shared prosperity.

Second, ‘social Europe’ has not delivered. Jacques Delors’ vision of a Europe with common employment rights and EU-wide social benefits, which would complement the Single Market and prevent a race to the bottom among businesses, has largely failed to materialise. This vision continues to face stiff resistance from vested interests and a large section of the public, as well as a media, in many countries, who are hostile to ‘the Eurocrats’ and their predilection for ‘red tape’. Yet, new trends – Europe’s ageing society and unprecedented rates of youth unemployment that plague many member states – demand new shared solutions. The case for European cooperation on social matters needs rethinking.

Finally, the very legitimacy of the EU is at stake. For decades, the EU derived legitimacy by results. Peace on the continent, a monetary system that helped deliver for all (namely, currency competitiveness for larger economies such as Germany and the driving up of wages and living standards in the smaller Southern member states), and a Single Market that eliminated barriers to business; all helped secure legitimacy in the good times. With the exception of peace on the continent, each of the above is quite clearly no longer assured. As a result, attention will increasingly focus on the EU’s relative lack of democratic legitimacy and how the European Union and its institutions enhance democratic participation and accountability going forward.

If Europe is to prosper in the future, then these questions need to be addressed urgently. Progressives wishing to restate the case for European cooperation can no longer rely on the old arguments, but instead need to come up with a new narrative and fresh solutions to these questions.

To this end, IPPR is conducting a major project on the future of Europe.

Our research project is generously supported by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, European Commission Representation in the UK and the Institute of European Democrats.