Europe's summer of argument

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (May 8 2013) Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Barroso said more Europe did not mean "more Brussels"

There is a ferment of debate in Europe. A summer of argument. It has broken out at almost every level and in every country. It is testament to the depth of a crisis which continues to defy solution.

What is interesting is that it no longer reflects the simplistic divide between doubters and believers.

No-one following events could avoid the depth of unease at the heart of Europe. Only this week Joseph H.H. Weiler, president-elect of the European University Institute, said "the crisis really threatens the European way of life; it is not less serious than Europe emerging in the late 1940s".

The new Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino - a believer in a United States of Europe - said "with every passing day, the founding fathers' dream of peace and freedom, a dream that had become a reality for my generation seems to be turning into a nightmare for many".

The UK MEP Andrew Duff spoke of "a critical year to save the EU".

So, on Europe Day, it was interesting to listen to the tone of the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

In the past he has assumed the role of chief cheerleader but he chose to point out that "more Europe" does not mean "more Brussels".

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Media captionMr Gove is the most senior Conservative to speak publicly of Britain's exit from the EU

He insisted that deeper economic integration was necessary for the success of a common currency. That, of course, raises questions about democratic accountability but Mr Barroso's approach was less about belief and more about what might work.

Some of this is mirrored in the British debate which is now in full flow. On Sunday, Education Secretary Michael Gove said that Britain leaving the EU would be "perfectly tolerable". His position later won the support of Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

But, at a lecture at the LSE earlier this week, Sir Malcolm Rifkind argued that it was "overwhelmingly in Britain's interest to remain a full participant in the biggest single market in the world, with the ability to shape the rules".

But the former UK foreign secretary believes in an EU with different tiers of membership. He believes it exists already and will be the reality of the future. It remains to be seen, however, whether the UK government can significantly renegotiate the terms of its membership. There will be resistance to what will be seen as "Europe a la carte".

There are others apart from the British who insist the project needs far-reaching reform.

In France and Germany there is deep-rooted opposition to further integration apart from what is necessary to save the single currency.

In France polling suggests growing doubts about the European project. In Germany the new and yet still small Alternative for Germany party not only claims that the euro is dividing Europe but wants some legislative powers repatriated from Brussels.

What all of this indicates is a wider appetite for reform.

Part of what is driving this are the levels of youth unemployment and the question of whether Europe is working. As the former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, "the antidote to European scepticism is founded on youth delivery".

And, increasingly, there is recognition that the question is not either "ever closer union" or not.

It is: "Can the EU and its structures and institutions deliver for a new generation?"

The question may open the door to greater flexibility and reform. The debate in Europe is fundamental and just getting started.

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