The EU has faced criticism for its slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, reinforcing debates about whether the bloc has a future. Already in previous or ongoing crises, such as the global financial crash of 2008, the debt crisis, the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, Brexit or the rise of nationalism, there has been a sense that the European integration project no longer works. European integration is a long process of developing a shared identity that started after World War 2 and now unites 27 member states in the EU as well as associated and neighbouring states.
After initial problems at the beginning of the pandemic, though, the EU has agreed major funding packages, shared procurement of healthcare supplies and is looking ahead to financial recovery.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed their commitment to the EU Recovery Fund, voicing hope that EU leaders would overcome their current differences and pull together.
Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel also signalled that their unity did not end with the joint initiative but claimed there would be new change in Europe.
According to some political analysts, the pandemic could actually prove to be an opportunity to advance integration and reinforce EU objectives.
It is no secret that Paris and Germany have long been the engines of EU integration, as for the last couple of years they have both been calling for a “real, true European army” and deeper eurozone cooperation.
According to a throwback report, Mr Macron even championed the idea of a completely new European project after the Brexit vote in 2016, which would have been subject to an EU-wide referendum.
The now French President, who at the time was Minister of the Economy, told a conference: “We’ve never had the courage to organise a true European referendum in its real sense.
“This next project must give it that strength.
“We would first build this new project with European peoples and then submit this new road map, this new project, to a referendum.”
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Mr Macron’s comments came after former President Francois Hollande said the EU needed to reinvent itself after Brexit but made no reference to a popular vote.
There has never been a referendum at European level, but France has voted on European matters in the past.
In 2005, French citizens widely rejected the EU constitution.
However, in 2009, the bloc agreed to the Lisbon Treaty with, according to analysis at the time by the London think tank Open Europe, 96 percent of the text the same as the Constitutional Treaty.
The Lisbon Treaty, which was signed in 2007 and came into force on December 1, 2009, included prominent changes, such as a more powerful European Parliament and the creation of a long-term President of the European Council.
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Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, then the leader of Ukip, famously claimed that it was Lisbon that made him an “enemy” of the EU.
Speaking on his LBC show in 2015, Mr Farage said: “In 2005, the European Union had produced its own constitution. The first proper blueprint. The first genuine admission that what they were building wasn’t a free trade zone, it was a state. And they put it to referendums.
“The French rejected it, the Dutch rejected it and many other people, had they had the chance, would have rejected it.
“And what did the EU do? Did they learn the lesson? Did they say ‘Oh well obviously people don’t want a state with a flag, an anthem and an army.’
“Did they row back?
“No, they rebranded it as the Lisbon Treaty.
“They forced it through without giving the French and Dutch another option. The Irish voted against it, but were forced to vote again.
“And from that moment, I have been an enemy of the entire project.”