events archive

Europe without Europeans?

7:30pm, Thursday 23 February 2012, Berlin, Germany

“No one should take it for granted that there will be peace and affluence in Europe in the next half century”, (Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, 26 October 2011)

“The Greek disaster is (..) a clear warning of the post-democratic path that Merkel and Sarkozy have taken.” (Jürgen Habermas, 11/04/2011)

“This is a spectacle of the degeneration of values and beliefs which once seemed embodied in the very idea of Europe”. (Frank Schirrmacher, 11/01/2011)

What has become of the idea of a unified Europe – bringing together the people of the continent? What seemed unimaginable only a few months ago has become widely discussed today: the possibility of member states leaving the community and even the failure of the Euro. Elected representatives have stepped aside in favour of independent experts or “technocrats”: these new governments of “national unity” act at the behest of the EU, ECB and IMF. Their goal to reduce national debts and impose austerity programmes. Whether they will succeed is more than questionable. Even now it seems certain that the austerity measures imposed on a country such as Greece will not stop the downward spiral of its economy. Yet Chancellor Merkel considers the European project in its present form as without any alternative: “if the euro fails,” she famously warned, “then Europe fails”.

Following the rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005, and the Irish ‘No’ to the hastily-assembled replacement Lisbon Treaty in 2008, the EU has spent the last decade in particular struggling to generate democratic legitimacy. The lack of political agreement is lamented by many in these times of crisis. But as Europe is being split into “financially strong” and “financially weaker” countries, the interests of individual member states seem to diverge more and more. Power relations seem to shape the political climate as Germany and France determine the way forward. At the same time, the seeming resurgence of anti-European populist parties – from Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands to Hungary’s increasingly significant far-right Jobbik – among disenchanted electorates offers warning signs to many of a possible return to the darkest days of the twentieth century.

Is the current mantra of ‘crisis management’ the only way to save the dream of European unity, or does upholding the EU at any cost risk undermining its democratic principles? Do calls for more democratic accountability threaten the stability of a continent still emerging from the fall of Communism, and weathering the storm of the financial crisis? Is it possible to uphold the ideals of a common Europe without the EU?


Sabine Beppler-Spahl, Lecturer University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, economist, member of editorial staff NovoArgumente

Kostas Dimakopoulos, Lawyer and Political Scientist, member of the Greek-German cultural association “Exantas”

Uwe Knüpfer, chief editor, vorwärts

Simon Nixon, Editor “Heard on the Street“, Wall Street Journal

Bruno Waterfield, Brussels Correspondent, Daily Telegraph