Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


Prologue: The Fischer Debate - The Bright Side

Christian Joerges/ Yves Mény/ Joseph H.H. Weiler


Does Europe need a Constitution? Does it already have one, albeit one which does not generate the type of legitimacy that good European governance would require? What are the failures of the European construct that we have to address? How could the necessary changes be brought about?

Such questions nurture endless discussions among lawyers and political scientists all over Europe and beyond. To its surprise, this learned community learns about a talk given on 12 May 2000 at the Humboldt University in Berlin by Joschka Fischer. 'Allow me cast aside for the duration of this speech the mantle of German Foreign Minister .... Although I know it is not really possible to do so', Herr Fischer explained. Whether possible or not, one huge virtue was on display: that this was not a speech with electoral returns or the prospects of pre-election in mind - a truly bright and a refreshing breath of fresh air in today's politics. His talk became immediately accessible in three languages not only through the website of the Walter Hallstein Institute at the Humboldt University but also as a 'Grundsatzrede' on the website of the German Bundestag. Wide public attention was intended and was, in fact, accomplished. The German Foreign Minister had initiated an intensive public debate. The responses in Europe circulated primarily in the various political arenas of the Union's Member States and were often enough articulated by citizen Fischer's high ranking colleagues.

Public attention was not restricted to the political system and the organised public opinion. Only rarely do politicians in public free themselves from the constraints of their roles of being either the specialist managing necessities or the generalist delivering uncontroversial messages. Our initiative was born out of academic curiosity for a tertium. We witnessed the emergence of a European-wide discussion on problems and prospects of the European polity inspired by an unconventional type of political act and wondered whether we could mirror this event: how does the academic world address the issues raised in the political system and what, indeed, do academics have to say when they themselves leave their own circles to raise their voices as citizens?

Such an initiative can neither be representative or original1 in any way nor can it articulate some communis opinio - academics, appropriately, are good at unfolding ever more problems but not, perhaps, at coming up with common answers. What we sought to bring about was a multi-disciplinary, multi-national, pluralist response which would document common concerns and the existence of a European public sphere - at least in the social sub-system we inhabit. With our initiative, we step outside the ordinary confines of the academic world in much the same way as Joschka Fischer operates outside the conventional boarders of the political system. This is neither to suggest that both worlds could merge nor to establish a hierarchy among them. However, it nevertheless remains our ambition to enrich the public debate.

1 Cf. the Forum of Integration 3/00149-197 with contributions by Peter-Christian Müller-Graff, Heinrich Schneider, Beate Kohler-Koch.


© Christian Joerges, Yves Mény and Joseph H.H. Weiler 2000


This site is part of the Academy of European Law online, a joint partnership of the Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law and
of the Academy of European Law at the European University Institute.
Questions or comments about this site?