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19th Aug 2022

Joschka Fischer: United States of Europe is the only way to preserve EU influence

  • European concerns about sovereignty loss are "almost amusing", said former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer (Photo: Jürg Vollmer)

At a large gathering on Wednesday evening (12 January) in the European Parliament, members of the Spinelli Group, a new network of prominent euro-federalists, called for an acceleration of European integration, arguing that a greater economic and political intertwining was urgently needed to solve the bloc's panoply of problems.

"To say that Europe is in a bad way would be euphemistic," the co-president of parliament's Green group and Spinelli member, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said by way of introduction.

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Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer was equally pessimistic about the current state of affairs at the meeting, entitled 'A United States of Europe'. He acknowledged that "the EU's 'no-bailout' clause was quickly forgotten" in the face of Greek difficulties last year, and that "eurobonds are there, just in a different shape," but was critical of France and Germany's reluctance to move forward with further integration.

"Despite all the kisses [between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel], France and Germany are going through a difficult period," he said.

Only hours before, Paris and Berlin rejected a European Commission call to increase the lending capacity of the eurozone's temporary crisis management fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS).

Speaking in Hungary last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made the case himself for greater European integration. "It is not only the federalists who want more integration, it is also the markets. They are sending a clear message every day. So it is not an idea of utopia … it's a matter of realism," he told journalists.

Scholars of the European Union are quick to point out that former crises have frequently acted as an impetus for spurts of rapid EU integration. While opposed to a federal EU, or a United States of Europe, philosopher Jean-Marc Ferry said the bloc's current debt difficulties offered an important opportunity.

"The main idea of the EU was peace. That has now gone with the fall of the Berlin Wall ... and the EU lacks legitimacy," he said. "But the new legitimacy obviously comes from taming the financial markets" and fighting the negative consequence of globalisation, he added.

Concerned about losses of national sovereignty, opponents of a more unified system of European decision-making have traditionally favoured a more 'intergovernmentalist' approach, under which member-state leaders typically thrash out a course of action between themselves.

This style would ultimately bring an end to Europe's already waning power on the global stage, warned Mr Fischer.

"One thing is clear, 400 years of trans-Atlantic hegemony are coming to an end. It's almost amusing to see how Europeans worry about a sovereignty loss [to the EU] as day by day, we lose it to emerging powers," he said.

"It is no longer Uncle Sam ... but the Chinese old uncles from Southeast Asia" who are stepping in to help Europe with sovereign bond purchases.

"We need to hand over some budget prerogatives to the EU ... we need similar pension ages ... we are going to have to draw all the threads together ... [and] future integration steps need a political Europe," he said.

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