In This Review

The Crisis of the European Union: A Response
The Crisis of the European Union: A Response
By Jurgen Habermas
Polity, 2012, 120 pp.

Europe's most eminent public intellectual, the German social theorist Habermas, here addresses the most important problem facing the continent: the legitimacy of European integration. The EU is more than a classic international organization subordinate to its member states, yet less than a state with a monopoly of coercive force and a cohesive political identity. Many believe that Europeans are thereby saddled with a perpetual democratic deficit. Habermas disagrees, arguing that the EU permits its member states to better govern their societies in the face of globalization, thereby expanding, rather than shrinking, genuine democratic control. This works as long as its members share common democratic values and as long as the right to final legal adjudication lies with national, rather than EU, constitutional courts. This is a surprisingly conservative vision. On the question of the current euro crisis, Habermas is more radical, favoring electoral reforms that he believes would enhance participation and deliberation. Europeans might thus come to realize that a fairer distribution of the gains from monetary integration is consistent with their values and interests. Wishful thinking, perhaps; still, this slim volume is crucial for understanding how influential Europeans are reflecting on their predicament.