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:: Habermas calls for EU referendum (21-03-2007 04:46)
Habermas calls for EU referendum
In a new interview with Matthias Hoenig (DPA) Habermas calls for EU referendum.

Read the interview here (in German):

& here (in English):

DPA has published this article based on the interview:

"German philosopher Juergen Habermas Tuesday called for a EU-wide referendum in which citizens across the bloc should decide whether the EU should have a directly elected president, as well as a foreign minister and an independent financial basis.

In an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Rome treaties which marked the foundation of the EU, he said Europe's governments should "dare democracy" and hold a referendum on the future of the bloc, to be scheduled together with the 2009 European parliamentary elections.

Previous attempts to consolidate the European institutions had not failed due to the opposition of the people in Europe, said the philosopher and sociologist, who has received worldwide acclaim for his critical theory of rationality.

"In most countries of the continent there are sleeping majorities in favour of further consolidation of the EU," said Habermas.

"The deeper reason for the paralysis in the dynamics of integration is that different governments are governed by different targets in regards to the EU," he said.

Rather than putting the real question of what the bloc ultimately should be to the test, the national governments were avoiding the conflict that is to be expected in this crucial issue, he said.

"The agreement on principal climate protection targets in Brussels, which also remain to be made operational, has been celebrated as a success by (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel. But was that really more than a manoeuvre to avoid the real conflict?"

Habermas, whose understanding of democracy as a process based on communication influenced Germany's 1968 student revolt, also criticized the EU had not yet delivered what was expected of it as a possible mediating force on the international diplomatic stage.

The war between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon in summer 2006 was an example of this failure so far, he said.

At the time, "the United States had already become a party within the Mideast Conflict due to the one-sided policies of the Bush administration, therefore, many expectations were levelled at Europe which was regarded as more neutral," Habermas said.

"Although the EU sent its foreign policy chief (Javier) Solana to Beirut and Jerusalem, it overall presented a ridiculous picture as a chorus of dissonant voices," he said, adding that individual nations such as France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain tried to trump each other with individual initiatives.

However, Habermas said, although the EU member countries needed to agree on the meaning of the European project, nation states as such were not obsolete. On the international stage of supranational bodies and global players they still remained the "most important players".

"What has to change - and what has already changed much - is the self-image of the nation states," he said.

"They have to learn to see themselves less as independent actors than as members, who feel committed to following community norms," he said.

"They have to learn to pursue their interests within international networks via prudent diplomacy rather than by threatening military force unilaterally," he continued.

Habermas, who has been a vocal critic of US President George W Bush in the past, also insisted that the international community could not do without the US.

Even if the EU learned to speak with one voice, the US was required to head the reform movement of the United Nations, he said, adding that his criticism of Bush did not carry any general anti- American sentiment whatsoever.

For Europe, however, the "only chance" was a referendum in which the citizens of Europe could decide on the further consolidation of the union.

The three questions - whether the bloc should have a directly elected president, an independent foreign minister, and an independent financial basis - were following the ideas of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and should be decided via a double majority of member states and citizens' votes, he said.

The referendum should only be binding for those member states in which it had been accepted by a majority of citizens.

"Of course, even in a Europe of core and periphery, the nations who initially prefer to remain at the periphery have the option to join the centre at any time," he said."

By Matthias Hoenig and Eva-Maria McCormack
© DPA March 20, 2007
Thomas Gregersen