The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the nations of Europe in terms of public health and the economy, reaching a magnitude unseen since World War II. We also saw that the EU struggled to manage the crisis, giving us a picture of European institutions that have trouble dealing with real, everyday problems. This pandemic exposed the fact that today, the EU does not work the way it was originally intended by the member states.
We need a serious reform of the EU and an in-depth debate on the future of the European continent. We need to admit that Europe has lost the last decade. The current crisis is just the last in a series of episodes, a series of crises that left a mark on the EU. No convenient solution was found to combat the effects of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008. Then, the EU let its guard down in the face of the migration crisis and the rise in terrorist attacks that had serious repercussions for the security of European citizens. What’s more, the EU has – for the first time ever – lost one of its member states - and not just any. The second largest European economy, the United Kingdom commands essential diplomatic and military power.
The confrontations among European institutions and those of the member states have been unavoidable. The recent controversial decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court accurately sheds light on the present imbalance between EU institutions and EU members as well as the clandestine erosion of member states’ competences. It hasn’t only the German Court, however, but the constitutional courts of other member states have also tread lightly around the increasingly expansive interpretation of EU law to the detriment of the laws of the member states.
The growing number of confrontations between these national courts and the European Court of Justice is a sign of the crisis we face today. I believe that my colleague, Professor Bertrand Mathieu, spoke from his heart when he recently declared in an interview that the national legislature sometimes finds itself “in a corset,” submitted to judicial control in the name of fluid legal norms. In my eyes, the member states should hold the key to reform and to surmounting difficulties.
We have a lot of work to do in Europe. National economies need to be restarted, European enterprises need to be rendered more competitive, European economic sovereignty needs to be found and the security of European citizens assured, just to name a few things. Then, there is also the need for viable solutions to the current demographic challenge caused by the ageing of European societies while also rejecting the idea of mass migration, which bears the risk of destroying the values of European culture.
This is why we all need to note that European politics need a new impetus. In this sense, we need to jump at the opportunity presented by the pandemic to invert the course of European political thought. It is time to make a clean break from the idea that led to the crises of the past decade and change our attitudes. It is not the European nations that need to serve Europe; on the contrary, the EU should exist to serve the interests of European nations.
To this end, we need to clarify a fundamental confusion. The EU does not exist in offices in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg. The EU emanates from the happiness of the Italians, the discipline of the Germans, the heroism and the battles of the Polish and the inventiveness of the Hungarians. We need not forget that Europe is to be found in the history and spirit of the European peoples - in the cities, the countryside and the villages of Europe.
Without these, Europe is nothing but an ensemble of clumsy ideas. If Europe rejects her nations, she will lose her soul. That is why we cannot let the Brussels elite derail the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe from its veritable goal. We simply cannot envision a prosperous Europe without implicating the national parliaments that represent the sovereignty of the European peoples.
The people of Europe have no interest in ideological debates about European integration. The question in itself is not whether we should have more or less Europe. Citizens are rather more interested in the advantages of the accession of their country to the EU in terms of their daily lives. I see the same tendency among my students at university. One of their recurring questions is: what purpose can the EU serve in the 21st century?
This change in mentality may herald a new era in which the EU would need to justify the areas in which it should have the authority to bolster the prosperity of its member states. These domains are evidently different for each member. We could see this in the recent debates in the European Parliament on the conditions for Brexit. For the French representative of the European People’s Party (EPP), the most important question was the interests of fishermen. In contrast, the important aspect for us was the representation of the interests of those Hungarian citizens who work or study in the United Kingdom.
While our priorities diverge, we all expect Europe to contribute to the promotion of our interests in a much more efficient way. That realistic perspective should shape the agenda for the Conference on the Future of Europe.
- László Trócsányi is a law professor at the University of Szeged in Budapest and a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament for the Fidesz party. He is a former Hungarian justice minister
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