Reinventing Europe: Paweł Świeboda


As part of ECFR's 'Reinvention of Europe' project, we are running a series of responses from leading thinkers and academics to Mark Leonard's recent paper, 'Four scenarios for the reinvention of Europe'. The paper outlined four possible routes towards solving Europe's current crisis, and argued that Europe's main challenge was to solve the acute euro crisis without exacerbating the chronic crisis of declining European power. In the ninth in this series of responses, we hear from Paweł Świeboda, the president of demosEUROPA - Centre for European Strategy.


The European Union is not cast in stone. As a political project, it can easily end up in the history archives. It is probably on the way already. Needless to say, this Europe makes perfect sense and has done great things but it would not be the first entirely logical idea to be binned for internal contradictions. If we want to save Europe, as we do, we need to answer the basic question what problems Europe is trying to solve today. Mark Leonard rightly argues in his excellent essay on the “Four scenarios“ that the root of Europe’s political crisis lies in “the necessity and impossibility of integration“ at the same time.

Unfortunately, the question of Europe’s purpose is being ditched as the desperate effort continues to save a buck or two from the common currency project. The sums involved are obviously not negligible, as UBS and others remind us, and are worth the effort. The problem about the eurozone crisis is that no-one dares to ask the question if the euro is still a political project, as its founders tended to believe, or if it is today about nothing else than damage control, keeping the flood gates closed to preserve the much cherished vestiges of prosperity.

What sents shivers down one‘s spine is less the euro, which will be saved, than the exhaustion of the political idea for Europe, outside of the realm of the single currency. The sole purpose of Europe today has become the saving of the single currency. This is damaging profoundly Europe’s future. When reading the latest growth strategies, such as the statement of the European Council from 30 January or the European Commission’s work programme for 2012, one cannot stop thinking that this is a project whose time has passed. Calls to “make renewed efforts to get early school-leavers into training“ are not worth the paper they are written on, however noble the objective. Magic only works in unique circumstances.

Growth is important for Europe but now is the time to use the crisis to make a massive effort to create One (rather than a Single) Market and hence finally reap the benefits of scale. The President of the Commission should take up the One Market portfolio himself, along with real powers to cut through red tape and impose a level playing field, just as the Commission does in the field of competition policy. Some of what needs to be done is straightforward although it has still been blocked here and there – standardisation, removal of administrative barriers. The rest is much more challenging, like the creation of a single pension system in Europe to help mobility of workers.

Another real problem that Europe will have to solve is how to move beyond sustainability. The going was good when most of Europe lived beyond its means. The new model, reflected in the project of the fiscal union, is meant to correct the excesses of the past and ask for redemption. But you cannot run a successful political project on the promise of austerity for too long a time. Europe needs to rediscover the meaning of fairness in society, the ways and means to strengthen equality of opportunity, methods to ensure a robust protection of civil rights, and finally to rediscover what a vibrant democracy means. This is a project for decades, and will do more for Europe’s position in the world than a “thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiques“, as Kennan would have put it.

Europe’s position in the world is an issue in itself. The euro crisis will cost Europe dearly in terms of lost influence. The past idea of Europe projecting its model of integration and inspiring others to “share sovereignty“ is a non-starter as long as the crisis lasts, even if the European model continues to have merit. In the future, Europe will need to be “normatist“ – a mixture of the normative and the realist (the former because this is what it is about and what it does best; the latter because raw power will only continue to grow in importance). In practice this will lead to an implicit division of labour with the US, by means of which Europe will move to a neighbourhood-first policy while the US carries out its Pacific Century project.

Things in Europe will probably get worse before they get better. Choices will need to be made. The key one concerns a renewed sense of purpose. Europe is wearing a Venetian mask. As in Venice, the mask is hiding Europe‘s identity and conceals its intentions. This may have worked in the city state in the old days but is not much of an answer to Europe’s trouble today.

Also in this series:

Harold James - 'The more Europe suffers, the more its people will see that a reform agenda that is just an exercise in incrementalism is also nothing more than an exercise in futility'.

Richard Rosecrance - 'if Greece or Spain did not exist, they would have to be invented. Their participation in the euro keeps the value of the currency down from $1.80 to $1.20 or $1.30 or so, thereby ensuring the success of German exports to the rest of the world.'

Brigid Laffan - 'as the Union intrudes more and more into domestic budgetary and public finance choices, can party politics in Europe adapt to a very different governance regime?'

Charles S. Maier - 'The British can imagine that their banks will suffice, the Germans their autos, but such comparative advantage can dissipate quickly. I’d as soon wager on Greek beaches.'

Georg Sørensen - 'a substantial part of the present euro crisis has less to do with European cooperation and more to do with member states that are fragile, ineffective, have serious corruption problems...'

Chris J. Bickerton - 'Populism, after all, is politics without policies; technocracy is policy without politics.'

Carlos Gaspar - 'In an enlarged “Euroland”, Germany’s pre-eminence could be balanced by a Catholic coalition led by France, Italy and Poland.'

Dimitri Sotiropoulos - 'we still live in an era in which the nationalist project is more seductive than any project of integration among nations'.

Claus Offe - 'Europe is not just needed as a defensive mechanism to prevent the weak being overpowered by the strong, who first administer an austerity cure without then providing the requisite support for recovery.'

Mario Teló - 'what is abusively decried by populist voices as a “German Europe” might in fact look a lot like the broadly endorsed “EU2020 strategy”. Input legitimacy may complement output legitimacy.'

Josep M. Colomer - 'For democracy to survive and retrieve in Europe, responsiveness and accountability of rulers should be moving from the state level to the EU level, where so many crucial decisions are already being made'

Marco de Andreis - 'a critical mass has been already assembled to make of Europe’s integration a possibility rather than an impossibility. And to at least consider the United States of Europe a fifth scenario for the reinvention of Europe.'

Miguel Maduro - 'the creation of European politics must go hand in hand with a change in the character of politics. For that, changes in policies may be even more important than changes in institutions.'

Narcís Serra - “If we wish to favour economic growth in European countries we must address income redistribution. This must not be done through fiscal measures alone but also by dealing with the heart of the productive structure itself.”

Brendan Simms: 'In 2020, President Radek Sikorski of the Democratic Union could long back at a turbulent, but successful first term in office...'

Christine Ockrent: 'In all the countries where people struggle with the economic crisis and fear for their children’s future, Europe has more than ever become the scapegoat'

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