Jürgen Habermas is always worth listening to. On the occasion of the EU's 50th birthday, Habermas was interviewed by Perlentaucher.de on the way forward in Europe. Habermas celebrates the notable successes of the EU, but is also frustrated that further progress is stalled because of seemingly intractable differences among member states. His solution for the logjam is worth noting - Sign and Sight provides an English translation of the interview:
"(J.H.) A bold vision for 50 years down the line will not help us get on right now. I am content with a vision for the period leading up to the European elections in 2009. Those elections should be coupled with a Europe-wide referendum on three questions: whether the Union, beyond effective decision-making procedures, should have a directly elected president, its own foreign minister, and its own financial base. That is what Belgium's Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt advocates. Such a proposal would pass muster if it won a "double majority" of EU member-states and of individual citizens' votes. At the same time, the referendum would be binding only on those EU member-nations in which a majority of citizens had voted for the reforms. If the referendum were to succeed, it would mean the abandonment of the model of Europe as a convoy in which the slowest vehicle sets the pace for all. But even in a Europe consisting of a core and a periphery, those countries which prefer to remain on the periphery for the time being would of course retain the option of becoming part of the core at any time.
Habermas has been an outspoken critic of the US-led "war on terror". For this outspokenness he has often been accused of "anti-Americanism". Here he rejects that label and mentions what America means to him:
"(J.H)my criticism of the Bush government bears not the faintest whiff of anti-American sentiment. Here in Germany, anti-Americanism has always been part of the most reactionary movements. But the fact that my generation in particular admires and has learned from the political culture of the United States, which is rooted in the 18th century, does not oblige me to unquestioning loyalty. Rather, it obliges me to hold fast to the normative significance of the Federal Republic's orientation towards the West, even against the self-destructive policies of an American government which can be voted out of office. Secondly, I am not naive enough to believe that even a Europe which has learned to speak with a single voice could alone bring about the long-overdue reform of the United Nations. If the United States does not spearhead the movement for reform – as it did twice in the course of the 20th century – there is little prospect of its success. We can at most cultivate the hope that a stronger Europe will be able to influence its allies along these lines. At the same time we must reckon with the likelihood that the next U.S. administration will pursue a neo-realist power policy and will tend not to be open to the normative prospects of a strengthened United Nations Organisation.
I like his reference to "the self-destructive policies of an American government which can be voted out of office." That is what we are trying to achieve in 2008. And I also believe that some of the Democratic candidates such as Barack Obama are open to a reinvigorated UN.