The Maastricht Treaty on European integration was signed 25 years ago. The accompanying euphoria is now gone. What’s needed now is a new realism, says DW’s Christoph Hasselbach.
What excitement there was in 1992! It seemed that Europe would continue to grow together, both economically and politically. Perhaps there would even be a United States of Europe. And as a symbol, Europeans would have a common currency - something that, at the time, sounded almost impossibly adventurous. And it was adventurous, without a doubt.
Because from the outset, a host of tricks were used to make the common currency a reality and soothe the critics. The stability pact criteria were repeatedly trampled on, also by Germany, without any consequences. It became the norm to turn a blind eye to infringements on the rules. Those who did draw attention to them were accused of small-mindedness. Twenty-five years, several expansion rounds and a serious financial and national debt crisis later, we still have the euro, but it's come under increasing pressure. No one can guarantee that the common currency will survive in its current form. And politically, nothing is as it once was.
Britain's planned exit from the EU is only the most obvious sign of the forces at work all across Europe that would wish a speedy death to the ideas of the Maastricht Treaty.
The usual reflexes are still at work in the European institutions, as well as among many governments, particularly those of the old EU. Whenever there's a crisis, they demand "more Europe" as the solution. That was true at the height of the debt crisis, and it's true now in the wake of the election of euro-skeptic Donald Trump as president of the United States. But such calls are sounding more and more desperate.
'More Europe' didn't always mean progress
Why is it that many Europeans don't wish to hear them anymore?
Because they remember all too well what "more Europe" can mean.
Two examples: For years now, the governments of Italy and Greece, both suffering from crippling debt, have been calling for "more Europe."
While it sounds good, it means that people from other states should pay for their folly - and in the case of Greece, for a country that should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place.
"More Europe" is also what Chancellor Angela Merkel said when she called on other EU countries to take in migrants that she never should have let into the country. It was an abuse of the European idea for Merkel's own morally overreaching purposes. It's no wonder that it failed miserably.
Such poor decisions have damaged the European idea, but that doesn't mean that the idea itself is wrong. It's only natural that this small continent with its many countries would seek to present a unified front in an increasingly unstable world.
What's needed today is a new realism. Instead of integration for its own sake, we need cooperation to solve concrete problems. In terms of the common currency, that can only mean a new discipline when it comes to maintaining the criteria for stability. Essentially, a return to the Maastricht Treaty as it was originally intended.
A widespread consensus has emerged on the migration crisis that Europe should focus on fighting illegal migration - no more, but also no less. Europe has to deliver on this front if it wants to remain relevant to its citizens.
The euphoria that accompanied the signing of the Maastricht Treaty has dissipated. It was a different era, when almost no one questioned the European idea. But it is not a mistake to question those things that seem inevitable. Only then, do we find sound answers. Whether it's out of unfettered enthusiasm, or sober consideration, in the end we come to the same conclusion: We need Europe.
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