Its lack of generative force, that is the incapacity of Fischer's political discourse to find its way into reality, is due to two main reasons. First is the current mood in European integration. Gone are the fears that stand at the root of the integration process. Of the blend of federalist ideals and mutual advantage bargains that was at the heart of European integration, the ideals fade as pragmatism increasingly pervades the whole project. Pragmatism at a great price, that of missing the spirit of the project. As if struck by collective Alzheimer, the Union loses sight of its deep meaning and ideals, of what it stands for. Forgetting is sometimes as important as remembering, as it liberates energies to go on doing things. Forgetting the essential, however, is rather unwise, for the things we go on doing may sooner or later turn against ourselves.
In European affairs, it seems to me, politicians are at present forgetting the essential, and the things they do or try to do - as unbound flexibility or the aberrant, because statutory and constitutionally blind, project for a charter of fundamental rights - may soon turn against all of us. But still, this is just the reflection of a mood, and a mood does not change by changing what we do; we do differently by changing our mood. Critically, Fischer's speech does not change the prevailing mood in European integration. To be sure, much of the critique of his speech actually is a critique of the mood in which it finds place, not of the speech itself.
I would like to refer to a wider problem. May a single man change the mood of a continent (plus that of a rather moody island)? He may if he has enough power, mobilising ideas and persuasion. Fischer has power. It is precisely his function as German foreign minister to administer power and influence. He may have some persuasion, but sometimes seems not to want to persuade. As to his ideas, I at least am not convinced by many of them.
To begin with, Fischer embarrassingly insists in that he is not talking as foreign minister, as Shuman did, but as a common citizen: "Allow me, if you will, to cast aside for the duration of this speech the mantle of German foreign minister and member of the government - a mantle which is occasionally rather restricting when it comes to public reflection"; "allow me then, [...] to really leave behind me now the German foreign minister"; "it is a personal vision for a future solution of the European problems"; "This, ladies and gentlemen, is my personal vision for the future". We got the point...
Independently of the current mood in European integration, this fact already takes away much of the potential force in Fischer's ideas. I may have a vision for the future of Europe, bore my friends with it, occasionally write an article and so on, but I am not the foreign minister of the German Republic. Hence my vision would normally have but little impact on reality. In contrast, the vision of the German foreign minister must have an influence in reality, if only because he was elected to give reality to political power.
Incidentally, I do not think the fact of being foreign minister should be regarded as a limitation on public reflection... On the contrary, these are the very questions that should worry Mr. Fischer, the German foreign minister that is. His whole speech is therefore built on some sort of "I say what I say, but I don't say it; I don't say what I say, but still I say it". The ambiguous identity of the speaker takes away much if not all of the force that the speech could have had. As a theoretical curiosity, however, the musings of citizen Fischer deserve our attention.