Habermas’s response

Another of my reading companions on our US trip was The Federalist Papers. I’ll blog about them in due course, but I thought I ought also to read an ‘antidote’, and so have also been dipping into Jürgen Habermas’s The Crisis of the European Union: A Response. I don’t know why I thought Habermas’s analysis would be an antidote; his book (a collection of several articles and a long interview piece) could well have been included in The Federalist Papers. It is strange how the pace of events has changed the way in which people may regard Habermas’s argumentation. What seemed prescient or unrealistic a year ago is more-or-less reality now. Consider this passage: ‘These are fateful times. The euro zone countries are heading towards a situation in which they will have to choose between a deepening of European cooperation and relinquishing the euro. Our lame political elites, who prefer to read the tabloid headlines, must not use as an excuse that their populations are the obstacle to a deeper European unification. With a little political backbone, the crisis of the single currency can bring about what some once hoped for from a common European foreign policy, namely a cross-border awareness of a shared European destiny.’ Habermas’s implicit argument is that Monet-style slowly-slowly incremental integration has served its purpose and outlived its usefulness. Habermas does not argue for a ‘big bang’ but proposes that the crisis, in creating a sense of shared destiny, should enable the EU to make a democratic leap forward. Habermas was writing for a German audience but his arguments are not Germanocentric. Fascinatingly, he argues that the current popular disillusionment with politics is because politics ‘makes too few demands’; ‘the citizens sense that a normatively hollowed-out politics is witholding something from them. This deficit finds expression both in the turning away from organised politics and in the new enthusiasm for grassroots protest… It might nevertheless be worthwhile for one or other of the political parties to roll up its sleeves and take the fight for European unification to the marketplaces.’ His telling conclusion? ‘Renouncing ‘grand’ projects is not enough. The international community cannot shut its eyes to climate change, the worldwide risks of nuclear technology, the need to regulate financial market-driven capitalism and the implementation of human rights at the international level. And, by comparison with the scale of these problems, the task we have to perform in Europe is almost manageable.’ Well worth a read. Postscript (4 September): excerpt from a speech given by José Manuel Barroso at the University of Yale yesterday: ‘The present crisis has shown the limits of individual action by nation states. Europe and the principles of the Treaty need to be renewed. We need more integration, and the corollary of more integration has to be more democracy. This European renewal must represent a leap in quality and enable Europe to rise to the challenges of the world today by giving it the tools it needs to react more effectively and to shape and control the future.’

1 Comment

  1. Hugo Kijne

    Habermas is right on target. The main issue is that politicians have to lead on Europe, not just have a regressive populist approach and reject further an expedited integration because ‘the citizens’ of their countries reject it. Leading, and educating those citizens, however cannot take place without a radical democratization of the EU and its organs, because right now one cannot blame the citizens for having the impression that the EU is a platform for the high and mighty only, the largest corporations and biggest banks, and not for them.

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