In 2014, during his inaugural speech as President, Jean-Claude Juncker characterised his incoming administration as “the Commission of the last chance”! Far from being a rhetorical statement, the reality of this prophecy appears more relevant by the day.

2016 has been a calamitous year for the Union, be it on the internal front (Brexit, the Italian referendum, the institutional blockages in the fields of immigration and terrorism, etc.…) or the external one (the election of Trump, the shelving of TTIP, helplessness in weighing on the Middle East and Ukrainian conflicts, etc.). The victory of the democratic candidate in the Austrian presidential elections does not remove the fact that 46% of electors backed the candidate of the far right.

2017, with elections slated in the Netherlands, France and Germany, in which polls indicate substantial progress by extremist parties, does not bode well for reinforcing the democratic legitimacy of the Union and its capacity to address the basic preoccupations of its citizens.

The need to reform the EU is shared quasi unanimously, the status quo only postponing its ultimate demise. This apparent consensus covers up, nevertheless, deep and often irreconcilable divergences which can be regrouped in three major categories:

  • Extremists or disappointed citizens who advocate purely and simply dismantling the Union (more or less 20%).
  • A minority of diehards who propose a great “federalist” leap forward (around 15%).
  • The soft EU underbelly of those who – in the name of a misplaced pragmatism – are searching for an unreachable compromise (65% who do not agree among themselves even if most consider the EU as a plus).

The first two options share the merit of coherence. It is the third, however, that is by far the most dangerous: it leads inevitably to the triumph over time of the first, whose relevance will become ever more apparent as consecutive compromises fail to bring solutions to the problems that paralyse the European project.

The terms of the debate should be easily explained to a disenchanted – not to say disgusted – public opinion by the failures of the political establishment among which a small minority – often emblematic – succumb to unethical behaviour if not downright malpractices. Over decades during which it has strived to perpetuate a self-serving system, the political class has lost all credibility when it purports to protect the interests of the population. The shunning of the political establishment, largely responsible for the election of Trump, is spreading everywhere where the increase in inequalities and the ills ascribed to globalisation are contributing to a feeling of injustice and of loss of status by the middle classes who consider themselves abandoned by the self- proclaimed elites.

In such a context the question that must be answered is not “more” or “less” EU but rather boils down to a choice between “no Union” or an “EU endowed with the necessary powers and resources to execute its missions”.

The ambition to protect the “national sovereignty” of the Member States with its full prerogatives is incompatible with a “shared (federal) sovereignty” deployed by the Union in the name of all its citizens. It is only possible to reconcile the democratic legitimacy of the Union with that of the Member States if their respective powers are exercised in areas that are complementary and determined according to the principles of subsidiarity.

Those who, on both the French left and right like Hubert Vedrine or François Fillon, in Hungary like Victor Orban or in Poland like Jarosław Kaczyński and many others who purport to be staunch Europeans, are adopting parts of the “sovereigntist” rhetoric of their opponents, are consciously lying to their fellow citizens when they pretend to reconcile a performing EU with the parallel strengthening of “national sovereignty”. If, as these well- meaning voices suggest, public opinion (but in reality their own fear of losing privileges and power) is not ripe for a federalist type reform, then it would be more honest to recognize the failure of the EU, leaving those involved to assume their share of responsibility.

In such a context the question that must be answered is not “more” or “less” EU but rather boils down to a choice between “no Union” or an “EU endowed with the necessary powers and resources to execute its missions”.

The ambition to protect the “national sovereignty” of the Member States with its full prerogatives is incompatible with a “shared (federal) sovereignty” deployed by the Union in the name of all its citizens. It is only possible to reconcile the democratic legitimacy of the Union with that of the Member States if their respective powers are exercised in areas that are complementary and determined according to the principles of subsidiarity.

Those who, on both the French left and right like Hubert Vedrine or François Fillon, in Hungary like Victor Orban or in Poland like Jarosław Kaczyński and many others who purport to be staunch Europeans, are adopting parts of the “sovereigntist” rhetoric of their opponents, are consciously lying to their fellow citizens when they pretend to reconcile a performing EU with the parallel strengthening of “national sovereignty”. If, as these well- meaning voices suggest, public opinion (but in reality their own fear of losing privileges and power) is not ripe for a federalist type reform, then it would be more honest to recognize the failure of the EU, leaving those involved to assume their share of responsibility.

and attempt to anticipate future developments. Their implementation is hindered principally by a lack of political will which, if overcome, would allow seemingly intractable obstacles to be identified and confronted transparently.

The detailed analyses by a Guy Verhofstadt (“Le Mal européen”) or a Sylvie Goulard (“Bye, Bye Europe”) and many others confirm beyond any doubt the real weaknesses imbedded in today’s European construction and underline the imperative necessity of reforms. Far from being utopic, the specific proposals of these federalists are a realistic alternative to the catastrophe implicit to the dismemberment of the EU.

Just as in 2008, when the explosion of the “subprime” bubble was the trigger (rather than the cause) of the crisis, it is hard to guess which event in 2017 will eventually lead to a blowout. It could originate with political events within the EU following the results of elections, with geopolitical developments in which, failing to speak with a single voice, Europe will stand by helplessly watching and bearing decisions taken by the United States, China or Russia, or else with social unrest and/or financial turmoil that could spread out of control.

Failing to take firmly their destiny in their own hands, in all matters where the EU constitutes the optimal level of decision making to shape the future of its citizens, Europeans are condemned to increasing their dependence on the major world powers among which it will no longer be able to pretend belonging.