A Referendum on Europe

It’s Time to Ask the People What They Think – Published on Spiegel Online International, by by Dirk Kurbjuweit, Sept. 6, 2012 (Photo GalleryTranslated from the German by Paul Cohen).

  • The Germany democratic system has suffered as a result of the euro crisis, but it has also made fighting the crisis harder. Now it’s time to hold a referendum on European integration. Only then will Berlin have the democratic legitimacy it needs to take effective action.  
  • After World War II, the West gave Germany two great gifts. The first gift was democracy; the second gift was being integrated into a Europe of free nations. This also included the overriding vision that one day both gifts could be combined to create a democratic United States of Europe. But there was a lack of determination and strength to accomplish this. To make matters worse, both gifts have suffered from the attempt to use a common currency to integrate Europe. Postwar German democracy has never been in such a sorry state as today. It has been a long time since the peoples of Europe eyed each other with so much mistrust.
  • That is the current situation. Next week, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court will issue another ruling on Germany’s euro policy. This is not expected to clear the air or fundamentally improve the situation. A court decision cannot accomplish that. But something must happen. We cannot allow both democracy and Europe to go to rack and ruin. Democracy and European integration form the foundations of our country. The problem is that they have come into contradiction with each other. Assuming the debt mania doesn’t continue to spiral out of control, it’s a fact that democracy impedes a rapid rescue for the euro, while a rapid rescue for the euro undermines democracy.
  • Such a contradiction begs a decision. What is more important to the Germans: their democracy or Europe? Or is there a way to reconcile the two, democracy and Europe? It isn’t easy. It cannot be done without risks. But there is a way.

The State Of Democracy: … //

… Time to Ask the People

  • German democracy is suffering under Europe, while Europe is suffering under the national interests of the member states and the lack of a sensible political structure. That is the current state of democracy and Europe, the foundations of postwar Germany. What direction should we take now? Does democracy take priority over Europe? Or does Europe take priority over democracy?
  • There is a way to avoid this conflict. The Germans can reconcile their democracy with European integration. To do that, they would need to be asked.
  • Fundamentally, it is a good thing that we have a representative democracy where people go to the polls and politicians make decisions between elections. They have the expertise and the time to consider how society should best be organized. But sometimes we have to decide on the really big issues — and then it is time to ask the people. The current crisis involves a really big question: Is the population prepared to transfer sovereignty to Europe so that effective euro policies are possible?
  • This doesn’t mean that we have to rewrite the German constitution. It doesn’t mean that we have to create a United States of Europe. For the time being, it’s enough just to clarify the issue. From a legal perspective, it’s not very easy, but it’s possible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • The debate that would be held in the run-up to such a referendum would already be valuable in itself. Although the focus is fiscal policy, Germany would have to engage in a broader debate over what kind of Europe it wants and what its own role should be. The politicians would first have to make up their minds and then, assuming they make the right decision, campaign for greater integration. But this time they would use modern arguments in favor of Europe, such as a large shared culture, a greater say in global politics and favorable conditions for German exports.
  • If the politicians manage to convince the majority of the population, the German government would have a mandate to campaign in Europe for greater integration in terms of fiscal policy, in exchange for relinquishing sovereignty. It would then have a strong legitimization, a strong mandate for pro-integration policies. That would be the better scenario.
  • The worse scenario, of course, would also be possible — but it wouldn’t spell the end of Europe. The EU has already survived a French referendum that rejected the proposed European constitution. The German government could continue to work to help debt-stricken countries. This would be done in accordance with German budgetary law, which would not be weakened.
  • No matter what happens, democracy is the winner in such a referendum. The cause of European integration could win, but it could also suffer a setback. But this way the proper checks and balances are in place. After all, when push comes to shove, democracy ultimately has to come first.

(full text).

Links:

Venezuela’s Oil Refinery Blaze: Seven Good Reasons to Suspect Sabotage, on Voltairenet.org, by James Petras, Sept. 1, 2012;

Unlimited Bond Purchases: ECB Head Draghi Backs Up Pledge to Save Euro, on Spiegel Online International, Sept. 6, 2012.

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