We have to reimagine the European Union and provide it with a new legal foundation. The EU must be given a new legal and emotional status. For that to happen, however, there must be an impulse for renewal, one that resuscitates the idea of community and goes beyond purely economic development.
1. A Deeper Discussion with the Citizens of Europe
This new EU idea can only be developed within the European public: Solutions that benefit everybody can only be found in discussions with everybody. We should not get bogged down in debates over construction plans in two Bulgarian villages, but should instead launch a European conversation over global and European challenges. That, in turn, means that we need more European media outlets and real pan-European political parties. Why? Because regional parties like the Christian Social Union in Bavaria or Lega in Italy are by their very nature focused on geographically defined constituencies rather than on broad issues that affect us all. That is not the way to address problems that extend far beyond national or even European borders.
2. The European Parliament as a Legislative Body
The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution in the European Union that plays a role in the creation of laws. The representatives voted into the European Parliament make up the most important venue of debate in the European democracy. But the European Parliament still doesn't enjoy the power that should result from the role it plays. In a new, functional Europe, it must be a fully entitled lawmaking body with the right to introduce legislation of its own.
When it comes to problems that must be solved on an international level, the European Parliament should wield more influence than the German Bundestag or the French National Assembly. National and regional parliaments within the European Union would remain responsible for political issues that affect citizens inside of national borders. Take the example of asylum policy. Since 1997, the Europewide Dublin Regulation has been in effect. But because representatives of EU member states in the European Council have been unable to agree on changes to the regulation, the EU has been paralyzed on the issue for years. A new Dublin IV regulation, prepared by experts and passed by a European Parliament outfitted with more lawmaking powers, would solve this problem.
As a result, individual member states would have more bandwidth to focus on important regional issues. Along with fewer competencies comes more creative energy to spend at home. The original European principle of subsidiarity remains sensible. For the survival of the EU, it is essential that it now be applied.
3. A New Ban on Interference Between the EU and Member States
Since 2009, there has no longer been an EU regulation pertaining to the straightness of cucumbers. But on important trade and environmental issues, the EU still regulates many aspects of the lives of its citizens. In an EU member state like Germany these days, some 30 to 40 percent of all laws are influenced by the European Union. But how many of the 500 million people living in the EU actually know when Brussels is responsible for their laws and when their own national lawmakers have the accountability?
The intertwining of national and European law has simply become too complicated. As a result, the distribution of competencies between the EU and its member states must be made clearer. The European Union must receive more exclusive legislative rights to put an end to the jumble of responsibilities between the EU and its member states. The EU is especially lacking important competencies when it comes to the policy areas of migration, finance, social welfare and defense. Member states have retained their responsibility for those issues, but that has meant a delay in the search for solutions to international problems. The most salient example here is the area of foreign policy: If the Office of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is ever to become anything more than a cumbersome title, EU foreign policy must be changed from the principle of unanimity to the principle of majority. Only then will it cease to be possible for a single country to block the foreign policy of the entire bloc.
A new, more coherent distribution of competencies also means, on the other hand, that the EU must stay out of issues that remain the responsibility of individual member states. As such, a new ban on interfering must be established to make it more obvious where EU law ends and national law begins. It is a bit like street traffic: When some people don't know where pedestrians are allowed to walk and where cyclists are allowed to ride, conflicts are inevitable.
4. Enforceability of the New Legal Order
Legal competencies are meaningless if they aren't implemented in reality. Laws lose their validity when there are no consequences for breaking them, and the institutions that pass them lose their credibility. Let's go back to migration policy: EU countries have sought for more than two decades to solve the challenges of flight and migration together. During that period, the EU treaties have been amended three times: In 1997, with the Treaty of Amsterdam; in 2001, with the Treaty of Nice; and 2007, with the Treaty of Lisbon. Each change has been accompanied by a dispute over the competencies of the European institutions. And each time, those institutions have been given a bit more responsibility. But those competencies transferred to the EU must also be implemented, and for that to happen, the EU needs more personnel. Officials securing the external EU border, for example, must be coordinated at the EU level.