An English translation of Jürgen Habermas's introduction to a discussion with Emmanuel Macron and Sigmar Gabriel on the future of Europe, Berlin, March 16, 2017:
"Why The Necessary Cooperation Does Not Happen"
(Social Europe, March 20, 2017)
A German version here: "Europa neu denken" (Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, April, 2017).
More information on the discussion here.
"European unification has remained an elite project to the present day because the political elites did not dare to involve the general public in an informed debate about alternative future scenarios. National populations will be able to recognize and decide what is in their own respective interest in the long run only when discussion of the momentous alternatives is no longer confined to academic journals – e.g. the alternatives of dismantling the euro or of returning to a currency system with restricted margins of fluctuation, or of opting for closer cooperation after all.
At any rate, other current problems that attract more public attention speak in favor of the need for Europeans to stand and act in common. It is the perception of a worsening international and global political situation that is slowly driving even the member governments of the European Council to their pain threshold and startling them out of their national narrow-mindedness. There is no secret about the crises that, at the very least, necessitate reflection on closer cooperation:
* Europe’s geopolitical situation had already been transformed by the Syrian civil war, the Ukraine crisis, and the gradual retreat of the United States from its role as a force for maintaining global order; but now that the superpower seems to be turning its back on the previously prevailing internationalist school of thought, things have become even more unpredictable for Europe. And these questions of external security have acquired even greater relevance as a result of Trump’s pressure on NATO members to step up their military contributions.
* Furthermore we will have to cope with the terrorist threat in the medium term; and Europe will have to struggle with the pressure of migration for an even longer time. Both developments clearly require Europeans to cooperate more closely.
* Finally, the change of government in the United States is leading to a split in the West not only over global trade and economic policies. Nationalist, racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic tendencies that have acquired political weight with the program and style of the new US administration are combining with authoritarian developments in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and other countries to pose an unexpected challenge for the political and cultural self-understanding of the West. Suddenly Europe finds itself thrown back upon its own resources in the role of a defensive custodian of liberal principles (providing support to a majority of the American electorate that has been pushed to the margins).
These crisis tendencies are not the only thing impelling the EU countries to cooperate more closely. One can even understand the obstacles to closer cooperation as just as many reasons for accelerating a shift in European politics. It will become more difficult to effect such a shift the longer the unresolved crises foster right-wing populism and left-wing dissidence as regards Europe. Without an attractive and credible perspective for shaping Europe, authoritarian nationalism in member states such as Hungary and Poland will be strengthened. And unless we take a clear line, the offer of bilateral trade agreements with the US and – in the course of Brexit – with the UK will drive the European countries even farther apart." (......)
"The institutionalization of closer cooperation is what first makes it possible to exert democratic influence on the spontaneous proliferation of global networks in all directions, because politics is the only medium through which we can take deliberate measures to shape the foundations of our social life. Contrary to what the Brexit slogan suggests, we will not regain control over these foundations by retreating into national fortresses. On the contrary, politics must keep pace with the globalization that it set in motion. In view of the systemic constraints of unregulated markets and the increasing functional interdependence of a more and more integrated world society, but also in view of the spectacular options we have created – for example, of a still unmastered digital communication or of new procedures for optimizing the human organism – we must expand the spaces for possible democratic will-formation, for political action, and for legal regulation beyond national borders."