(Financial Times version)
Citizens of the European Union were recently invited by their leaders to use the so-called "reflection period" for presenting views on the further course of European integration. We should take this invitation seriously. The acceleration of integration during the last two decades has been realised by a gradual but systematic undermining of the former inter-governmental nature of relations between countries.
These changes started in the 1980s. Critical arguments were not taken into account by the political elites and their fellow travellers. They have always considered themselves an infallible avant-garde, selected by history to lead the confused masses. The political elites knew that a shift of decision-making from state to supranational levels weakens the traditional democratic mechanisms (inseparable from the existence of the nation state) and, as a result, radically increases their own powers.
Referendums suggest ordinary people see things differently. We should mention the unconvincing French Yes as well as the Danish No to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001 and the Swedish No to the euro in 2003. Nothing changed until this year’s French and Dutch No votes to the EU constitution. This time it worked. The outcome led to the collapse of the house of cards constructed without the authentic participation of those who were supposed to live in it – the citizens.
Any other powerful "blow" to the European house of cards could have had the same effect. It could have been issues associated with the potential accession of countries such as Turkey. It could have been the economic stagnation of the first years of the 21st century and the related unwillingness of some countries to continue with the past solidarity with their poorer neighbours. It could have also been the artificial multiculturalism (the basic entity of which is an ethnic or cultural group, not an individual citizen) and the subsequent mass immigration which began to disrupt the historical coherence of European states.
The two recent referendums meant that the aim to create artificially a single European nation (and culture) more or less came to an end. No new European convention, created administratively and dominated again by the Brussels bureaucracy, could bring it back to life. All EU countries will have to launch a real discussion about these matters. Only then might it be meaningful to hold further referendums; only then might it be possible to begin writing a new version of another "European" document.
We must first make clear what kind of Europe we want. Using the understandable language, we have to say what the future Europe should look like and what costs and benefits such a solution would have. It must not be about turning in on ourselves. It must not be about hindering spontaneous integration or globalisation processes. No costly, freedom-constraining uniformity, unification, harmonisation and centralisation should be part of it, nor any obligatory "European" ideology (because the market for ideas must remain open for future political developments on the left-right spectrum of individual European countries).
We will also have to decide whether it will be necessary to "constitutionalise" this new concept of Europe by an explicit document. Such a document would help us define the barriers and thus prevent creeping unification and centralisation.
There are some who think that no such document is necessary, that a process not directly controlled or organised will contribute to optimum inter-European relations better than politicians are able to do. That is why they think that no constitutionalism at the EU level is necessary. I also believe in these spontaneous human interactions but I think constructivists of all colours will not leave us alone and that "their" constructivism needs to be countered by the European majority which opposes centralisation. Sooner or later a new constitutional document will have to be created.
It cannot be a document directed solely towards the future and accepting everything past as sacrosanct. It must start by abandoning a lot of what has been done in the past two decades. It must be about finding a new balance between freedom and dirigisme, the private and public, the unregulated and regulated, the domestic and international, the neighbourly and supranational, the national and European.
The idea of building a "State of Europe" must be forgotten. Since we all are – I suppose – against the "national" nationalism, we should not start building "European" nationalism. We need a system of liberal democracy that requires authentic citizenship connected with the natural loyalty of people towards their own nation.
We should create an Organisation of European States, whose members will be individual states. It will be necessary to get rid of words such as "European citizenship". The membership must be motivated only by a common belief in the ability of the member states to act in some areas jointly, in the common interest. The mechanism of decision-making must be consensual, at least in all important matters.
Everything else is secondary and, in many respects, follows from the primary delineation of the essence of European integration. However, this delineation must be resolved right now. The opportunity that emerged after the double rejection of the existing course of European integration will not repeat itself any time soon.