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20/12/2011

The Republic of Europe

Thanks to Radoslaw Sikorski's speech in Berlin, Poland has at last joined the big European debate about restructuring the EU in connection with the euro crisis. By Adam Krzeminski

It was high time Warsaw broke its silence on the vital question of how to reestablish trust in the euro and above all in the EU. This voice, which has the backing of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, was not only urgently necessary in view of Poland's expiring EU presidency, but also because if EU reform is going to reassure the markets, then at least a rough outline must be drawn up at the EU summit of 27 states in Brussels on the 8th and 9th of December.

The clear stance taken by Tusk and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski, was also important for us here in Poland, because it opens the floor at last to debate on Poland's place in the Europe of the future. Poland's president, who from the start had insisted that the discussion about Europe should first happen in Poland, joined the discussion by talking about what "more Europe" might mean. The right – as always – cried "treason". PiS (the Law and Justice Party) is demanding that the minster be brought before a state tribunal and is mobilising the population to take to the streets (on the anniversary of the declaration of martial law) to protect Polish independence from the threat of a Fourth Republic. It is difficult to discuss things in this way but the Poles need the European debate – with or without the PiS.

Berlin was a good place to stake out the Polish position on the EU (more here). Sikorski pointed to the stability of German-Polish interests, while at the same time cautioning Merkel's government not to delay, also for the sake of Germany – the greatest beneficiary of the EU – in making important decisions when it came to saving the euro. The historical sentence "I fear German power less than German inaction" is not a "Berlin homage" [intended in reference to the historical painting 'The Prussian Homage, -ed]. To the contrary, Sikorski was reminding Germany that in view of its potential it has major obligations towards Europe, even if these clash with short-sighted national egotism.

This view is being stated more and more frequently in Europe today. Basically the whole of Europe is currently looking towards Germany and Chancellor Merkel. Timothy Garton Ash recently warned in The Guardian that because of its passivity in the euro crisis Germany stands to blow its second chance of taking the helm in a united Europe. It squandered its first chance in 1914 when, as a dynamic economical, technological and cultural power, it tried to impose its domination with the arrogance of the nouveau riche. Germany's second chance has come about, with the agreement of the neighbours, through the peaceful reunification of 1990, and they expect strong engagement in the community from a democratic and prosperous European Germany, and not national egotism.

Germany normally answers by saying that it is beyond reproach, because – after all – it forced the pace of NATO and EU expansion eastwards, and it continues to make the largest net payments in the EU and is also paying out the most for Greece. Sikorski made a point of listing all the benefits the German economy derives from the existence of the Euro and referred to the political reforms which will be needed if the EU wants to avoid breaking up like the former Yugoslavia or succumbing to the sort of internal-paralysis that overtook the Poland-Lithuanian Union back in the day.

This puts two contradictory scenarios in circulation. The first is the collapse of the euro and the return to national egotism. The second is that the strongest EU states grow together to form a proper federation.

Economists and political scientists have already played through the scenarios of an exit from the eurozone time and again, not only with respect to Greece and Portugal, but also Italy. There has also been no lack of speculation about the chances that Germany will abandon the ailing euro currency and its irresponsible partners and form an elite group of selected states where currency, economics and politics are intensely integrated.

The EU has a long had a number of plans for saving the euro. For months now, Jose Manuel Barroso has been pressing for the introduction of eurobonds, whose de facto guarantee would be the strongest economic power, ergo Germany.

Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken out in favour of relaxing European Central Bank sanctions, to allow this institution – even at the risk of increased inflation – to buy up the bonds of states on the brink of bankruptcy, such as Italy and Spain, and saving French banks in the process.

Angela Merkel on the other hand has repeated that the first step is to exercise self-discipline when it comes to the budget and to use the EU to increase control over states living beyond their means. All forms of communitisation of debts – including eurobonds – will only be possible at the end of the restructuring process.

The common German-French standpoint, which was introduced after the meeting between Merkel and Sarkozy on the 5th December and which is to lay the foundations for the counselling at the Euro summit is – as was to be expected – a form of compromise, albeit one oriented towards German suggestions. The French president and the German Chancellor promised to pull out all the stops to save the euro system and restore the confidence of the financial markets in European countries. Changes to the constitution would be necessary, but more realistic was a treaty of the 17 euro countries that was open for others, Poland included. Merkel and Sarkozy want to see a stabilisation pact drafted by March next year that will be in place by the end of 2012. An important element of such a plan would be the introduction of automatic sanctions as soon as a nation exceeds its budget deficit by more that 3 percent annually. This stipulation should be written into the national legislation of all the states involved in the treaty. The implementation into legislation would be supervised by the European Court.

Merkel and Sarkozy rejected the flotation of eurobonds. In their thinking, the European Central Bank should retain full independence; debt reduction of individual states should proceed according to IMF regulations, and the ECB and the IMF need to work together in this area. This is also Chancellor Merkel's former position on the matter.

To what extent are these recommendations – if adopted – the solution to European problems and to what extent do they allay fears of "German domination"?

This spectre has been looming over Europe for weeks now. Like the Nasz Dziennik daily in Poland, Greece's popular TV commentator Georgios Trangas sees the Federal Republic as the "Fourth Reich", which is turning the weaker EU countries into its protectorates. The Spanish press writes about a "Germanisation of Europe". In Italy and in France we are seeing the reappearance of a bad joke, which has also done the rounds in Poland: Merkel in SS uniform or spiked helmet as the new dictator of Europe. A strange dictatorship in which the "hegemonic state" is not accused of imperialistic hyperactivity but of excess passivity. And people are not only taking exception to Germany's institutions, they are also jealous of its profitable economic model.

People also forget that the euro was the answer to German reunification. It was intended to integrate the enlarged Federal Republic into Europe in such a way that it could not spark any more chaos and stop switching between East and West. That was the aim of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. The euro was supposed to put the golden handcuffs on German history. It was meant to be a milestone in the creation of a United States of Europe, which Winston Churchill had tried to convince the Europeans of in 1945 – albeit without Britain, which he still saw in the role of an independent global power.

In 1992 the founding fathers of the euro knew only too well that a common currency would only make sense if accompanied by political union. They also knew that the EU states would not agree on an entirely political federation. Yet they assumed that a common currency would force a consolidation of the loose ties between states. This is the so-called Jean Monnet method – the creation of partial fait accompli which force further integration. The Monnet-initiated community for coal and steel, for all its limitations, turned out to be a more solid flywheel for Europe than the bombastic European Defence Community project which was rejected by the French National Assembly.

With the introduction of the euro in 1999, it was said, the EU had embarked on its path to power. The passing of a European constitution, the upgrading of the European parliament, the formation of an EU economic government and the direct election of the EU president – all were intended to lead to the creation of a construction which would have all the characteristics of a federal state.

When the French and the Dutch rejected the treaty for a European constitution in 2004, the whole thing was stymied. The Lisbon Treaty of 2006 even went as far as to distance itself from the EU flag and the EU hymn. But with the onset of the current Euro crisis the subject is up for discussion again. It is not only dyed-in-the-wool Europeans and Euro politicians like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, philosopher Jurgen Habermas, sociologist Ulrich Beck, the historian Heinrich August Winkler who are talking about a United States of Europe, but even the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

These theoretical references to the EU – also to the USA and Switzerland – lent Sikorski's Berlin speech an edge which will be necessary to prevent the EU projects of institutional reform from being smothered by technocratic newspeak. When the Polish minister in Berlin quoted Jurgen Habermas' bitter observation in his essay "On Europe's Constitution" (English excerpt) that after the suppression of the democratic revolution of 1848, Western Europe took a hundred years to regain the same level of democracy as before, he was not only referring to the technical but also the historical-philosophical debate about the future of our continent. In the 21st century Europe – as a closed Europe – can play an important role in the new pentarchy of the world, but if the EU were to be paralysed or even ruinous, it could well be condemned to long-term global marginalisation.

According to Cohn-Bendit, our Republic of Europe would not be organised like the United States of America but like a federal republic. The government, the European Commission that is, whose members would be elected by the European Parliament, would have its seat in Brussels; the second chamber, the European Council as the representative of the states, would also be incorporated into lawmaking processes. Foreign politics, defence, financial policy and to a large degree economic policies would be regulated in Brussels. Until only a short time ago, anyone propagating such a vision could have been called a traitor to their fatherland, or at least as a traitor to a "Europe of fatherlands". But now many political scientists and intellectuals are analysing the model of a European federal state. Shouldn't the European Council be replaced by a senate, in line with the American model? In this case the senators would not be appointed by the governments of the member federal states, but would be elected in their countries. This would give them a direct mandate.

Reformers admit that the European political nation does not yet exist. Nevertheless, in the 21st century all European societies will be reconstituted. Traditional national identities will not disappear, but they will lose their primary significance. Given that one in five Germans comes from a family with a migration background, the old national exclusivity has meanwhile become a fiction. In this way, national patriotism is being supplemented by the universal patriotism of human rights, and some new supranational institutions, such as the International Court of Justice, enjoy more renown that national institutions. 

Lawyers, political scientists and historians are once again drafting models for the direct election of the EU president, the transfer of the election of commissioners to the European Parliament, a tax union and an economic government.

In Poland these are not unfamiliar ideas. According to a representative survey by Rzeczpospolita in 2004, the majority of Poles were in favour of directly electing the European president, for joint foreign policy and environmental policy and a common  Euro army.

As always, the language problem is raised as the main European problem. However, Switzerland is proof that a political nation can serve multiple native languages. Minister Sikorski cites the example of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, which did prevail for 400 yeas, two hundred of which were quite successful.

The euro crisis is a crisis of the entire EU, not just the eurozone. This, however, does not preclude the possibility of it being the Union's fourth act of constitution. For the generation born after the fall of communism, this will be more important than its previous constitutive moments: the victory over the genocidal Third Reich in 1945, the German-French reconciliation of 1963 and the self-liberation of Central Eastern Europe in 1989. The nightmare of financial catastrophe not only forces the practical dimension of European solidarity but also a rethinking of extensive institutional reform within the EU.

A sense of threat polarises opinions but also accelerates the integration process, even if the interests of the national states still clash with those of the community. This conflict can be alleviated by a democratic European constitution (this would put the European Parliament on equal footing with the parliaments of the member states). It would form the basis for wider civil solidarity, which would also incorporate members from other nations. National states would not disappear, because they "are the embodiment of the national cultures that are to be preserved", "they are the guarantee of a certain level of justice and freedom, which the citizens rightly wish to retain," writes Habermas in an essay cited by Sikorski.

When federations are the result of a voluntary process in which states and nations merge while retaining their differences – as with Poland and Lithuania – when it is not forced – as in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – then they can develop and persevere. However, when they fall into stagnation and their inhabitants are not able to join together in a civil community, despite governmental, ethnic and religious differences, then they disappear from the stage, torn apart by new major powers.

Crisis-inspired brainstorming is taking place throughout the EU. But this is also causing a stir of different voices. The voices of the indignant – in France the radical left, in Poland the radical right – that invoke the spectre of the past are causing genuine chaos. French Minister for European Affairs Jean Leonetti compares with being back in wartime.

Our brainstorming surrounding the supposed "Berlin Homage" is just as much a copy of the past. Is Jaroslaw Kaczynski truly being incendiary in calling for a demonstration for the protection of independence, as Leszek Miller claims? The impression he gives is more of a fossil from the period prior to the invasion of Sweden. He dreams of a land separated from the West by a wall, with endless funeral processions and a gallows on Plac Zamkowy as described by Rymkiewicz.

Sikorski was right when he said on TOK FM that Poland is again facing a critical decision which surfaced repeatedly over the course of its history: East or West? The Republic of Europe or the Prypiat marshes...

In contrast to the British, the Poles cannot say, "My home is my castle." Neither the Bug, the Oder nor the Neisse are an English Channel. It's one or the other. Either Poland enters the hard core of the EU, with a newly worked and functioning federal structure, or it slips into the East – like Ukraine – into the political and economic steppe. Whoever fears that an EU federation will become "German", should not only look at the positive balance of trade between Poland and German and our civilisational boom of the last few years, which has been supported by the EU and thus to a large extent by German money, they should also listen carefully to German debates on the future of Europe.

After the catastrophe of WWII, Germany knows that it needs European support and involvement in Europe. That was the reason behind the founding of the European Community. Europe will not become "German", not even if it adopts "German" budgetary discipline. The consolidation of the EU does not mean a reduction of the sovereignty of Poland, France and Italy to the benefit of Germany, but that of all countries – and perhaps first and foremost Germany – to the benefit of the EU, the executive power in Brussels and a democratic European Parliament. It also means improved chances for the entire continent in the face of ruthless global competition.

Even today EU citizens are facing the question of how to bring national egotism into line with European solidarity. How to be both a citizen of the EU and also a citizen of one's own country? The "European Reformation" advocated by Germany does not mean that the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation will be established in Europe, but instead – let us hope – the Republic of Europe.

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The text was originally published in German on 7 December 2011 in Polityka Nr. 50. Edited by Paul-Richard Gromnitza. (German version)

Born 1945 in Radecznica (Eastern Poland), Adam Krzeminski studied German language and Literature in Warsaw and Leipzig. Since 1973, he has been the editor of the news magazine
Polityka and is considered an expert on German-Polish relations. In 1993, he received the Goethe Medal. His commitment to German-Polish understanding was honored in 1999 with the Federal Cross of Merit. Krzeminski is chairman of the Deutsch-Polnischen Gesellschaft in Warsaw.

Translation: lp and ls

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