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27 members, 23 official languages, and one common currency. This is what we call the European Union. But lately the notion of "union" has faded away as France and Germany reveal themselves as an efficient double act in the leadership of Europe.

The EU is rooted in the idea, which developed after the Second World War, of a political and economic alliance to maintain peace and stability. When it reached the current 27 members, it became obvious that if the EU was to be the new world power it intended to be, its members should start to unite forces and act as one.

the loudest voice speaks the truth?

In a group, there are leaders and followers. In fact, that’s the essence of democracy itself: the followers (in this case citizens) choose their leaders (politicians). The smaller the community is, the easier it is to maintain the relationship between the two groups. When you are talking about a territory that covers over 4 million square kilometres, with an annual GDP bigger than that of the United States (€12,268,387 million in 2010), and a population of 495 million inhabitants, these rules of leadership become tricky. Citizens can vote to choose their representatives at a European level. Yet realistically, it's difficult for these leaders to implement policies and reach an understanding at parliamentary level because of the vastness of the European Parliament.

European countries have different cultures, political traditions and ways of understanding politics. When differences in these areas arise, especially in a tough economic climate, cracks appear. France and Germany have stepped up as the "saviours: of the EU, and when they say "white," no one is allowed to say "black."

EU President Van Rompuy declared in November 2011: "We cannot have a common currency, common monetary policy, while leaving the rest to the states concerned. Yet that's what we have experienced. We need consistency in policies and institutions at the European level." Following this statement, Belgian newspaper Le Soir featured a cartoon in which Merkel and Sarkozy walked Van Rompuy as if he was a dog. This reflects Europe's reality: it has a President de iure but, de facto, Merkel and Sarkozy are the decision makers.

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Photo: Bozilla (CC) 
How can the European Union lead when it has lost its sense of direction for the future?

The Eurozone crisis has revealed the true colours of its most powerful members. The nickname "PIGS" (referring to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) reflects a sort of underlying division within Europe: rich and poor; powerful and submissive; main characters and supporting actors.

If Europe aspires to act as a powerful, united group, it needs more than a common currency. EU policies need to be the result of a consensus within the countries; they need to serve the common good; they need to be based on solidarity and protection to its members, and, above all, they need to be useful in practice.

Can the EU be more than a Utopia?

European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, once asked, "where is the implementation of these long-standing decisions?" If the European Parliament issues laws, but they can't be enforced because they clash with local regulations, what is the point? American news outlet The Wall Street Journal wrote in November: "One thing is certain: The euro cannot survive without a major change in the governance structure of the euro zone."

And WSJ is not alone. The Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007 and designed to bring stability to the European Union, is now "outdated" in the opinion of El País, which believes that it's no longer useful "to solve its [Europe's] immediate needs." But if we take into account that this treaty was supposed to fill in the gap left by the unsuccessful European Constitution (which was never fully approved), what has gone wrong? Who is responsible for the lack of a functional structure in the EU?

Europe lives in a permanent teenagehood and its "incomplete architecture" is an obstacle to its development into a reasonable, well-behaved adult.

Last November an article by German newspaper Der Spiegel, reported on philosopher Jürgen Habermas' intention of saving the EU by appealing to European citizens directly: "The citizens of each individual country, who until now have had to accept how responsibilities have been reassigned across sovereign borders, could, as European citizens, bring their democratic influence to bear on the governments that are currently acting within a constitutional grey area."

Another article at Der Spiegel claim that "all of Europe is stuck in a crisis of legitimacy. The democratic credibility of the European project was intact as long as it was successful, and as long as citizens could marvel at - or, like the Spaniards, benefit from - the added value of the decisions being made above their heads."

Europe lives in a permanent teenagehood, and its "incomplete architecture" (as WSJ puts it) is an obstacle to its development into a reasonable, well-behaved adult. Until this happens, the European Union as a concept will continue to be a utopia.

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