By Fernando Delage (for Safe Democracy)

Fernando Delage analyses the state of the European Union’s impasse and explains how the organization is hindered from moving forward not from a crisis of values, but rather from a failing of leadership and disorientation in the face of societies disillusioned with their leaders and fearful for their futures. The impact of globalization and the loss of Europe‘s international influence are both factors, which have contributed to the decline of popular support for the Union; a support, Delage affirms, that is essential in order to secure the strong Union that democracy needs in Europe.

Fernando Delage is a member of the Advisory Council of the journal Foreign Politics in Spain.

ONE YEAR AFTER THE REFUSAL BY FRANCE AND HOLLAND to ratify the European Constitution, and months before the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome –in spring of 2007– the process of integration in the European Union has come to a standstill.

The meeting of ministers of foreign affairs, called on the 27th and 28th of May by the Austrian Presidency, failed not only to resolve the current crisis, but also further revealed the confusion and lack of initiative that are plaguing European leaders.

It would be just to describe the difficulties of the moment: the presidential and legislative elections in France are next year, and little can be done until we know the results, in order to determine in which direction French European policy will orient itself. Time, however, problems will not resolve these problems on its own, and decisions must be made without any more hesitation.

The suggestions to toughen the membership process are obviously necessary, though more rigid criteria could negatively impact the incorporation of Turkey into Europe, which is perhaps the most strategic long-term tactic for the Union to take.

But even more troublesome is the notion that simply calling the Constitution by another name can divert crisis.

The most important thing now is to save the content, commented the minister of Austria. To think that the French and Dutch voted against a text only because it was labeled constitutional would follow a stange reasoning; a treaty can be constitutional no matter what it is called.

The current world order has changed the context of European integration. It is not a crisis of values that has inspired this change, but rather a crisis of leadership and disorientation in confronting societal issues of doubt, fear for the future, and mistrust of political leaders. The leaders themselves have no idea how to confront the impact of globalization or how to slow the loss of Europe’s international importance to the new emerging powers of the world.

The problems of the old continent will not simply cease just by changing the label of constitution in name only. Public approval must be gained in order for the current project of creating a stable and unified European Union to continue.

Without popular support, the strong Union that European democracy needs will not exist.