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The European Union and its Values – Normative Guiding Principles or Moral “Fig Leaf”? By Alexander Merkl

Alexander Merkl argues that the characterization of the European Union as a “community of values” has almost become a commonplace. He therefore offers a critical examination, in which he defines values as higher-order design principles or criteria for a specific choice of actions and decision-making. In the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union refers to fundamental principles such as respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, democracy and the rule of law. These constitute the normative guiding principles – and hence the “values” – of the EU. First and foremost, the EU has an inward obligation to safeguard these principles, since (for good historical reasons) its existence and identity are based on them.

Merkl then turns to the main criticisms of such an explicit value-orientation, from which he derives some key requirements. To rebut the accusation of empty posturing and moral superiority, it is important first of all to differentiate by context, to be specific, and to flesh out and give life to abstract terms like “justice.” Secondly, the propagated values should be manifested in the constitutional nature and actions of the EU, without pursuing all-too noble goals that could cause us to lose sight of what has already been achieved or is currently possible.

European values are often described as “Christian,” but the author believes this falls wide of the mark if it is meant exclusively. Roman and Greek heritage should not be neglected, and nor should the non-Christian become, ex definitione, non-European.

Merkl identifies peace as being possibly the central European value. More clearly than in the past, peace should be understood as a constant process of conflict resolution. This is one of the tasks for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is declared to be based on Europe’s common founding values. If the EU – as desired – is to promote and spread its own values, and uphold them in its response to specific foreign and security policy challenges, it must orient itself in its essence and in its actions to its guiding principles. This also applies in respect of a possible common army.

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