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In search for legitimacy

20-04-2016 | Michiel Luining

EUforum will give insight in the diverse and broad discussion on legitimacy and support for the European project.

Trust in the European project is at an all-time low.
‘Europe is in crisis’ is an often heard phrase the recent years, whether economic, political or democratic. As a consequence, so called Eurosceptic parties are on the rise all over Europe and EU member states are reshaping their relationship towards the EU, such as the Law and Justice party in Poland, Viktor Orbán in Hungary or the membership renegotiation of the UK. Although the rejection of former Ukrainian president Yanukovych of an EU association agreement triggered debate on defending and advancing ‘European values’, the Dutch Nee at a referendum is another signal that support for the current European project is withering, let alone sufficient to advance it. Trust in the European project is at an all-time low.

Since the last two decades, it is less clear what the European project and its values constitute. The year 1989, the end of the Cold War, opened up new opportunities for the project of European integration, leading to enlargement in 1995 and 2004 and a movement towards a quasi-constitutional structure with the establishment of the European Union in 1992 and the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

However, it has led to greater resistance and uncertainty as to the identity of Europe and the start of multiple narratives within Europe and the EU. While the path to become an ‘Ever Closer Union’ was laid down from the 1990s on, it seems that after Enlargement in 2004 the EU has gone from crisis to crisis: a constitutional crisis in 2004 with the Dutch and French NO, an economic one in 2008 with debt, unemployment and austerity, leading thereafter to a social and democratic one as well. The latest European elections in 2014 caused debate regarding the view of European democracy. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said there was a lack of social fairness and democratic legitimacy in dealing with the economic troubles. A social-political crisis is also manifest with the current refugee situation.

The EU suffers even from an ideological crisis when one points to the mockery surrounding the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012. Former European Commission President Barroso called in 2013 for ‘A new narrative for Europe’ as the raison d’être, i.e. peace and prosperity, had lost the conviction of the current generation. Although he mentioned that “the European Union is fundamentally a political and cultural project based on strong humanist values”, it is striking that his speech ended with the words “Let the debate begin.” That discussion is ongoing.

Debate is normal, but the EU needs a long term consensus on enforcement of basic values and political vision that underpins and guides the project to keep it sustainable and endow it with legitimacy and meaning for European citizens and the member states. The EU’s motto might be Unity in Diversity but it entails a fundamental paradox. EUforum will give insight in the diverse and broad discussion on legitimacy and support for the European project. In order to find common ground, the question is what undermines support for the European project in each member state and what kind of Europe can count on the most support in each member state?