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It has been sad to see the Greek crisis gathering pace, culminating in a Eurozone summit which, on condition of deep and intrusive reforms, allows Greece to remain in the Eurozone, and offers the perspective of another bailout. But no one is under any illusions that the crisis is resolved. It is clear that European integration has reached a very low point, judging by the acrimonious debates at all levels: official, media, and social media.
This post does not comment on substance but on process. If there is a silver lining to the crisis it is, in my view, the birth of a European political space. The long-living mantra that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit is well known. It is coupled with a profound scepsis about the potential for ever narrowing, let alone removing, that deficit: there is no European demos, only demoi. Democracy continues to be embedded in the nation-State, a conception most extensively articulated by the Bundesverfassungsgericht (German Constitutional Court) in its Maastricht and Lisbon judgments. To put it in less elevated terms: all politics are local. The EU’s main top-down attempt at instituting democracy at the EU level is tentative and has not worked well: the directly elected European Parliament is not a full sovereign parliament and its elections do not manage to transcend the local nature of State politics. The democracy sceptics consider that all this is evidence that there can be no real EU-wide political space. Notwithstanding decades of – one would almost forget – largely successful European integration, we all continue to live in countries which are too diverse to enable us all to engage in genuine European political debate. There is no European political space.
Or is there? For anyone who has followed the Greek crisis (and has not nearly everyone, to some degree?) it is difficult to deny that we have seen and are seeing a genuine European debate. It is a moral debate, about who is right and who is wrong; it is an economic debate, about the merits and flaws of the euro-project and of austerity policies; it is a social debate, about protection of people and solidarity; and it is a hard-core politics debate, on left and right, and on power structures. That is not to say that there is no national dimension to the debate. Views are clearly very different between creditor States and bail-out States, or, to simplify, between North and South. Indeed, the debate is way too nationalist in many ways. But a European debate it nonetheless is.