For one and a half years, debates on the European Union in Germany could be largely summed up as "we always pay, we never get anything back". Not only is this wrong, the pure limitation to financial aspects also obstructed the view upon a more important question: In a world where the European Union "will account for only 18% of world GDP in 2020, signifying a decline of 28%" compared with 2000 levels, are citizens prepared to give the EU strong multilateral institutions? This question has long been left unanswered in Germany. The Lisbon treaty was nodded off without debate.
Thanks to finance minister Schäuble, the debate now seems to take a new turn. Schäuble has always been one of the most fervent supporters of more European integration. After his initiatives for a European Monetary Fund (more or less granted), a European rating agency (still negotiated) and an economic government for the Eurozone (granted), the German finance minister yesterday pursued that the answer to the European debt crisis can only be more Europe. For once, I've got the feeling that the debate is not directed against fellow European countries but towards the degree of competence to be given to Brussels.
Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a one-hour televised live interview last week in which she explained the reasons behind the EFSF. This doesn't happen very often, and it may have given many people a new view upon the EU and Germany's role in. People begin to understand that the country profits a lot from European integration and stronger institutions do not necessarily mean less democracy.
The time is right to pursue this debate and to wonder what Europe will look like in the future. Bavaria's CSU, in dire need of voter support, warns against a "European superstate", but it was apparent from the EFSF vote last week that there is room for more Europe in large parts of CDU, Social Democrats and Greens.
Unnoticed by many, chief German constitutional lawyer Andreas Voßkuhle recently gave an interview in which he predicted (14min30) that Germany may pave the way for stronger European institutions (within the next 10-20 years, roundabout), and give itself a new constitution to accommodate these changes. The time hasn't come for such a quantum leap, but I've got the feeling politicians start laying out the cobble stones to get there.
I hope that there will be an honest debate about the future of the EU, not only in the Parliament but also in the public sphere. After Schäuble started the debate, the next few days will show if other parties are prepared to exchange some serious arguments on this.