This, in a sense, brings us back to functionalism. Although the concept is associated to the idea of elite accommodation, functionalism had the immense advantage of providing simple answers to the question: what does Europe stand for? The Coal and Steel Community stood for peace and freedom, the common market for economic prosperity, and so did the single market in the 1980s. This enabled people to make some sense of the project, and it provided some simple parameters to assess the performance of the whole system. Like it or not, years of Eurobarometer surveys have shown that there was a clear relation between the unemployment and the growth rates and support for the EU: pro-EU feelings grow when the economy is in expansion and unemployment declines.3 Similarly, Europe was judged severely for its failure to prevent the eruption of ethnic violence in former Yugoslavia, and it will probably be blamed for the current weakness of the euro.
This suggests that it is often on the basis of its performance that the European Union will be judged. Arguably, the same is increasingly true at national level, where there appears to be widespread disenchantment about politics. But the phenomenon is likely to be stronger at European level, given the weakness of other forms of legitimation. As it is presently unable to create an `imagined community' like nation-states, the EU has little choice: projects are needed to give sense to the European venture, and its ability to reach positive results is a key element of its overall legitimacy.
Does it follow from this that one should altogether abandon any attempt at institutional reform, and instead focus on developing a managerial culture at EU level, as one often hears in some countries?
Not at all. For the ability to achieve results is naturally determined by institutional design. From this standpoint, the prospect of the forthcoming enlargement is clearly worrying, no matter how justified it may be on historical grounds. As has been amply stressed, it is difficult to conceive of how a Commission of thirty-five members or a Council with about thirty delegations could effectively dispatch their regular duties. The problem is not merely that this would prevent the EU form exploring new shores, as is often suggested, it is rather that it would no longer be able to fulfil its present tasks. Would the decentralised competition policy now proposed by the Commission effectively work in countries which have just discovered the market economy. Given the rather diverse expectations of their respective constituencies, will national governments be able to act in common when the next food scare arises?
Thus, even from a down-to-earth efficiency standpoint, institutional reform is much needed. If anything, it should actually go further than the current agenda, and encompass issues such as the relationships between the Commission and the Parliament, and the much-needed reform of the Council of Ministers. Likewise, giving a voice to the people appears to be an imperative necessity, in an era characterised by growing mistrust in political elites, at regional, as well as at national, level. But here is the crucial point: no matter how necessary it may be, institutional reform is unlikely to emerge as the result of an exclusive focus on institutional issues.
3 Cautrès (1998: 112-13).