What these two dynamics have is common is that they are both based on the perceptions (real or otherwise) that European leaders have of public opinion : David Cameron is certain that the British are all Eurosceptics and Europhobes, François Hollande remains convinced that the French are not ready to accept more political federalism or European constitution, and Angela Merkel is relying on public opinion to oppose Eurobonds, a Greek bail-out and the recapitalisation of Spanish banks. Another thing they have in common is that pursuing – and indeed resolving – these dynamics will paradoxically lead to both a strengthening of and fragmenting of the EU. The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG) exemplifies the result of these two dynamics perfectly : the fiscal and economic integration of Europe was strengthened by going back to the German idea of strict budgetary control but maintaining intergovernmental structure (demanded by the French) and without the British.
The banking union represents a second element of fragmentation : the UK has been fairly enthusiastic in this respect, all the while stressing that it would never enter into this union. Finally, the UK’s recent decision to opt out of matters of justice and internal affairs show yet again that Cameron’s UK is turning ever further away from Europe. These days, the UK is committed to no more than its support for the single market and common trade politics and opposition to agricultural policy, the budget, fiscal policy, social policy and cohesion politics.
Following the example of François Hollande and many leaders and pro-European observers, the time has come to make the UK (not forgetting the Czech Republic) face up to their responsibilities. And to no longer fear the fragmentation of Europe, without which the EU will not be able to grow. Repudiating or resisting this fragmentation in order to preserve its prerogatives, - a move welcomed by the European Parliament and European Commission – is an outdated struggle. Either the UK and its allies agree to re-join the hub – organised around the Euro, deeper economic governance and social and justice/home affairs policies – and they will be welcomed with open arms, or they don’t, in which case no concession should be granted.
However, the EU-27, which is organised around the single market and common policies such as agriculture and trade, can and should be maintained, developed even. But it no longer represents the place for advanced institutional and political necessities : the political brakes are more powerful than the driving and strengthening factors. Let’s face it, the EU-27+ is a possible and credible political horizon. All that remains is for the Germans to overcome their fears of financial burden-sharing and for the French to overcome theirs of political federalism, and to move towards a stronger and more democratic hub.