After the Crisis, Joschka Fischer Discusses Europe’s Future

On Wednesday, 15 January, The Hague Institute for Global Justice was honored to host Joschka Fischer as part of its ongoing Distinguished Speaker Series.  Fischer is considered one of the defining European statesmen of the past few decades, having served as German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

A pre-eminent European advocate, he addressed the European Union’s future in the wake of the Eurozone crisis in his inspiring remarks. Mr. Fischer contended that the EU is not only still suffering from a financial crisis but is suffering from a structural crisis as well.  As such, he argued that the currency union can only endure if supported by enhanced common European governance. Learn more about this event

Analyzing the contemporary political landscape, he identified three options that lie before the EU: (1) entering a process of re-nationalization; (2) defending the status quo or (3) moving forward with a full integration process.  He stressed that defending thestatus quo is not a sustainable route as long as the divide between Northern and Southern EU Member States subsists and as long as creditor states retain principal decision-making authority.  Going backwards towards re-nationalization is not a viable option either.  The world is now in the process of de-Europeanization, which implies that Europe’s opportunities will be reduced.  Only if Europe stands as one, will its voice be heard.

Fischer’s answer was for the EU to move forward towards further integration, and to adopt the model of a “United States of Europe”.  He elaborated a nuanced view of such an entity, first posited by Winston Churchill.  Describing himself neither an advocate of federalism nor of confederalism, Fischer rather called for the integration of the national parliaments in a “Euro-Chamber”, which would, inter alia, re-enforce the crucial principle of legitimacy.

The necessary authority to address the crisis lies within the national parliaments, as they enjoy budgetary sovereignty while, as matters currently stand, the European Parliament lacks the requisite competency to deal with the crisis.  For these reasons Fischer termed his suggested architecture an inter-governmentalist approach with clear integrationistperspectives.

At the same time, Fischer argued that the EU will not be able to move forward without a compromise within the currency union. This will emerge through overcoming the inequalities between North and South and reforming a so-called “punishment approach” towards Europe’s Southern States.  His suggested solutions – debt forgiveness and the establishment of North-South transfer mechanisms – were avowedly radical but were, he determined, the only way to envisage the long term survival of the Eurozone.

Europe, Fischer underlined, requires compromise; it was never intended to be run on the basis of a single national mentality, regardless of the quasi-hegemony that Germany has unintentionally obtained in the wake of the crisis.

He identified next June’s EU elections as a possible turning point, particularly if the pro-European centrist parties  were to be more pro-active in the face of the anti-European parties.  The challenge for the political mainstream was, Fischer emphasized, to display courage, rather than to ‘feed the beast’ of Euroskepticism, the deleterious consequences of which he saw in evidence in Britain.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Fischer emphasized the upmost importance of the creation of a European Government, unlike the European Commission, which would incorporate national decision-makers.  This need not result in the jettisoning of national cultures in the mode of the United States, but can rather exhibit a pooling of sovereignty while retaining regional distinctions, as in Switzerland.  Fischer’s final words were addressed to the politicians who, he stressed, need to tackle these issues head on in forthcoming election campaigns.

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