So far, I have argued that the functionalist approach which has dominated the history of European integration was largely a by-product of structural constraints which rendered an agreement on the ultimate objectives of the process more difficult, not to say unlikely. I have also stressed that given the weakness of emotional allegiance to Europe, the Union's legitimacy is more closely linked to its ability to reach substantive results than to any form of institutional architecture. The reader who has followed me up to this point might object by saying that they have found more warnings about evils to avoid than recommendations for the future.
To bring my own brick to the construction, let me then spell out a few points which, in my view, need to be addressed before we can embark on a review of the different institutional options.
The enlargement of the Union is widely regarded as a historical necessity. It is, indeed, a powerful message to send to countries engaged in a painful-and therefore politically costly-transition to market economy and an open society. Yet, beyond this objective, there remains substantial ambiguity as to what the ambitions of an enlarged Union might be. Will the current members, now so obsessed about `getting their money back', be willing to provide newcomers with the kind of financial solidarity that the latter would be entitled to expect from the better off members of the same club? Will the newcomers be able to provide effective guarantees to the safety-minded peoples of Western Europe, which expect a high level of environmental or health protection from the Union? And what kind of relationships should Europe try to build with its neighbours or with partners on the world scene. Difficult questions indeed, but questions that need to be asked now, to avoid major political clashes in the future, and questions whose the answers must shape our institutional thinking.
Those who, concerned about the potential implications of enlargement,
have pleaded in favour of a new structure that would preserve the essential
features of the European Union, face a similar difficulty. On the level of
ideas, one cannot but agree about the importance of the co-operation devices
that have played a revolutionary role in interstate relations, by replacing the
logic of power with mutual respect, the search for common interests and respect
for the rule of law. Yet, on a more practical plane, it remains hard to imagine
that national governments, let alone public opinion, prompted by a rational
understanding of the situation, would readily subscribe to an abstract project
of a supra-nationalist avant-garde of some sort. Short of a project that will
give flesh to this intuition and illustrate its concrete benefits, the odds are
that it will merely be perceived as a sheer abstraction, generous in its
intentions but unable to elicit the degree of support that is needed for any
ambitious political design to prevail in a heterogeneous polity.
Making a success of enlargement and preserving the `virtuous' character of European integration are noble aspirations. Their chances of success are dependent on our ability to conceive of ways to make them palatable to political leaders and public opinion alike. What one needs today are not only imaginative political thinkers, but also talented political entrepreneurs.