Yet, for these issues to make further progress at EU level, the fundament needs to be in good shape. Having survived a number of crises over the past years, the EU is in need of renovation.
Just six months ago the EU’s gradual dissolution seemed more likely than at any point since the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The dissolution would have happened not by design, and not because of will of a majority of European citizens, but more like an outplay of chaos theory, with a series of accidents having unintended effects.
The mood today is markedly more positive. Two recent major European speeches, by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the French President Emmanuel Macron, have re-framed debate on the future of Europe. The years of endless crises and growing anti-EU sentiments have been transformed into a new push to make the EU work better, while cherishing the benefits of integration.
Everyone taking part in debates on the future of the EU agrees that some change is necessary. Yet the precise form and even the direction of change is contested. Amidst calls and plans for banking and defence unions, a more effective common migration policy and a stronger social dimension, the core dichotomy between federalist and intergovernmental visions of the EU has resurfaced. So too has the tension between the wish to maintain the EU’s unity, on the one hand, and the tendency towards a more multi-speed Union in order to accommodate the different views of member states, on the other.
As proven by Brexit, it can be very hard for national leaders to fit together leading a nation-state and a member state of a deeply integrated union. The winds may be favourable for the EU today, as envisioned by Juncker, but there is plenty to be worried about, starting from the very fundamental issue of the viability of democracy and the rule of law.
The big questions about the future of Europe will be discussed in Tallinn on 9-10 October, at a conference bringing together leading academics and experts from across the EU and beyond. To name just a few, Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister of Italy and one of the architects of the current EU treaty, and Brigid Laffan, a leading scholar of European integration, will share their views on how to make the EU more fit for tomorrow’s challenges. Luuk van Middelaar and Chris Bickerton, award-winning authors of recent books on the EU, will discuss leadership and balance of power in EU decision-making. Cas Mudde, an internationally renowned researcher of populism, will tackle the EU’s ability to survive the rise of populist political groups in many parts of Europe. Ana Palacio, former foreign minister of Spain and a prominent participant in European and international debate, will reflect on Europe’s place in a world where the liberal order is increasingly under strain.
Marju Lauristin, a Member of European Parliament and one of the speakers at the conference, has described her feelings in the power corridors of Brussels as those of a ‘cat in cosmos’. The EU may appear distant and overly complex even to seasoned political figures. Yet it is part of our lives in ways we mostly don’t think about.
You can join an intellectual tour in the EU cosmos by following the conference online at: https://www.eu2017.ee/political-meetings/academic-conference