Europe is now in an interesting lose-lose situation - facing a veritable tragic choice, only partially of its own making. Fischer's speech should be understood as a response to this situation -- though like an entire European political class, the makings of this tragic choice have been masked, tabooed and Haiderized.
Consider, first, the following ubiquitous irony. On its face the speech is the Nth response by a European politician to the dilemma of architectural reform in the face of an enlarging Union. The diagnosis, discussed ad nauseum for at least two decades, is simple enough: The current Commission-Council-Parliament architecture, the essential design of which has survived the first half-century of Community and Union life, will implode with any further enlargement. It will implode functionally - robbing the Union of its greatest (if discomforting) achievement namely its remarkable efficiency in achieving its ambitious original goal with a stunningly small bureaucracy (the Union employs less officials than any middle-sized European city) and a laughably small budget. It will implode normatively too: The ability to deliver the goods has been the single most important source of Community legitimacy lulling the European citizenry into a sated tolerance of the many, many democratic defects of the Community and Union. Once removed, the intolerability of governance without government, will, indeed, become intolerable. The violation by Europe of the most basic and fundamental norms of democratic accountability - the ability of the electorate "...to throw the scoundrels out" and its violation of the most basic and fundamental norm of democratic representation - the ability of the electorate to influence through elections the policy orientation of European Institutions, will begin to undermine the success of the past and impede would be successes of the future. Hence the need to touch the hitherto untouchable: The basic Community architecture.
The virtues of the Fischer speech are many and were mentioned in the Prologue to this volume and elsewhere.
First, he is, surely, the most simpatico of our political masters. Honest in his enjoyment of power and status and the good life and not pretending to be a suffering public servant; very good at it, as well. (That is important). And, how flattering, he chose to make the speech in a University setting honoring the professorate and intellectuals in general.
Second, though there was nothing all that remarkable in the content (Delors has been up and down that path on more than one occasion) what was remarkable is that it was a Member State foreign minister expressing in a programmatic speech preferences for a series of options which one would, indeed, normally expect from a Delors. From someone socialized into Commissionthink and Commissionspeak. And therein lay a valuable honesty: Acknowledging, at least in speech-acts that the architectural status-quo will not suffice; and that talk of important re-design, rather than tinkering was not something that Commission bods are prone to do only to be shot down or dismissed by those who really count, the Member State governments. Fischer has dealt a straight hand: Enlargement requires a solution of the magnitude elaborated in his speech. And then, though Nice itself will be just another postponement, we suddenly have Chirac and Amato and others throwing their respective thoughts into the cauldron presenting a variety of options which we can now debate, assess, advocate, eventually even choose.
So what do we choose? Do we want the plain plan? The Strawberry plan, or
perhaps the chocolate plan? And therein lies that dark and unpleasant irony. A
speech dedicated in its content to the values of democracy, in its method to
the process of deliberation and consultation and in its intended consequences
to the most profound constitutional overhaul since World War II is premised on
something that has somehow been put beyond the values of democracy,
deliberation and consultation - Enlargement. Enlargement represents, easily,
the single most important constitutional event in the history of the Community
and Union since inception. The move from fifteen to twenty or so is of an order
of magnitude which makes it a change of kind, not a change of degree as has
been the case with previous enlargements. And yet the decision on this
constitutional which conditions the Fischer type proposal was adopted in a
manner typical of the worst in Europe - white smoke emerging from the
Copenhagen summit of '93 wherein our Heads of States and Government, like so
many Princes, without a serious debate in any of the national parliaments,
without a serious debate in the European Parliament and most importantly,
without a serious debate in the European public space or the European public
spaces just made it a fait accompli.
Strawberry or chocolate? That we may choose. But do we actually want the milk? That is a question European public opinion was never asked and has been put beyond bounds of decency. Machiavelli was simpatico too.
And herein irony dissolves into tragic choice. The case for Enlargement is easy to make. It is about a moral responsibility towards the emergent democracies - could we look into our own faces if through Community passivity these democracies became destabilized? It is about social solidarity - could we allow the disparity in wealth and prosperity to create a new velvet curtain through Europe? It is about cultural identity - could we artificially consolidate a short lived separation of West and East Europe and condition yet another generation to think of that dividing line as natural in any plausible sense? And there are, of course, also a slew of utilitarian arguments which have to do with security, alliances, and all the rest.
But, and this should be stated with no shame and no fear: To question and even challenge Enlargement is not, as current European political correctness would have us believe, a question which is proto-facistic, Haiderist or morally deplorable. And, unintentionally, the Fischer speech makes that very clear. Cut through the verbiage and his proposal falls into a genus with rather dubious CSU ancestry - the genus of the West and the Rest dressed up in earnest constitutional garbs. From a Center-Right perspective it is perfectly honorable to oppose the inevitable diminution and further erosion of national identity which the constitutional consolidation of the core would occasion pious statement about a State of Nations by Habermas, Mancini or Fischer notwithstanding. From a Center-Left perspective one can resent the breach of the principal of solidarity which the West and Rest concept would entail pious statements about `them' being always welcome notwithstanding. There is something ugly about a - you can join, but at the moment of joining we will be leaving for something else. And democrats on the Right and Left could jointly and most honorably simply resent the idea of Enlargement which will bring even further diminution of the specific gravity of each individual pious statement about Subsidiarity notwithstanding.
The choice is truly tragic: Stop enlargement and you commit to a course of grave moral and political consequence. Proceed with Enlargement and you commit, too, to a course of grave moral and political consequence if we are to take the Fischer prognosis seriously as we should.
But should not this be at the center of the European public debate? It should, but it will not. When a hapless German Member of the Commission had the temerity to suggest a couple of months ago that the issue of Enlargement should be a legitimate issue of public deliberation and decision, his wings were clipped so quickly he barely made it back to his cozy Brussels nest.