"All the political parties involved have trouble articulating a vision on Europe, and on making alliances to achieve their vision."
It annoys me that not only is the EU political universe centred on the Franco-German engine, but that politically, this is simply accepted. The economic crisis has made this alliance - the erstwhile "Merkozy" - even more influential than ever in recent years, and is justifiably a cause for concern in smaller states to see the EU institutions sidelined and the direction of the EU set via summitry. I'm not so well placed to talk about other small states, but in Ireland there seems to be a certain fatalism on the part of both the government and the opposition: the government never seems to think much about forming alliances or advocating at least a general vision for the EU that it wants to see, and the opposition, which often point to the similarities of self-interest between Ireland and the rest of the EU Member States/Irish people and the ordinary people of Europe, never outline a realistic political strategy for building an alliance/coalition around their ideas. (Indeed, it seems that the Governor of the Central Bank in Ireland is the only one advocating a vision of European Union - yesterday he proposed a "Banking Union").
There is an informal grouping of states called the Visegrád group - made up of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It may not be as visible or as influential as the Franco-German alliance, but it does have some cohesiveness on the EU stage (such as its own Battlegroup). So why, now that there are so many small states, given the number of small states and the increasing political weight of the big states?
A grouping of small states could give them a bigger voice on key issues and help ensure that the institutional balance is fair to states of all sizes. Static groupings of states might only be suitable for certain basic positions such as state equality - it would be hard to maintain coherent political positions between small states such as Finland and Portugal on the way forward in the Eurozone, for instance - but it would be a good step in securing the place of smaller countries in the political life of the Union. While Hollande's comments rejecting the Franco-German duopoly probably indicate a willingness to lead an occasional counter-German alliance rather than a complete break from the alliance, smaller Member States should be making the most of the opening to see how far a new fluidity in the politics of the Council will go.
For Ireland especially this could prove a good starting point: it's time to start thinking not just about what kind of EU we want, but how we need to work with others to achieve it. We need to have a more pro-active approach.