Democracy in the EU Needs Federalism

Article published on May 14, 2004
community published
Article published on May 14, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The EU has never run such a great risk of losing its ambition for political integration as it does today. The Convention is not enough. More is required.

A few weeks before the elections, the European Parliament’s officials need some reassurance. So, the international institutions in Europe will never die out; they will survive by recycling their bureaucracies far from events and history. That was what happened to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) which, born under the banner of appeasement during the Cold War, has specialised in electoral monitoring. It was the fate of the Council of Europe which changed its own post-war ambitions of ever closer political union between European states to the general promotion of human rights, from the Caucasus to the Mediterranean.

Monet’s tools are rusty

As for the EU, the European Community (first) and the European Union (later on) laid the foundations for the longest truce in the history of war between European powers. They introduced constant and balanced economic growth throughout the continent. They agreed to develop the poorest regions, and to catch up with and at times overtake the richest regions. They removed the weapon of xenophobia, which was making other Europeans foreign more than foreigners, from the United Nations.

Today, however, Jean Monet’s tools, which had been so effective in the integration of carbon and steel, have not only been rusty for decades. They are simply inadequate for the new challenges and opportunities of European integration. It is a substantially consensual system, with a parliament relegated to a subordinate position, constrained to work between Brussels and Strasbourg without real political parties. It is a system deprived of any real executive decision-making centre and allergic to transparency. It is a system which can work in order to avoid a new war on the Rhine. It can act as a very good replacement to a Maginot line. It can also serve to find money to subsidise some powerful friends. But it will never be able to solve the problems of our time.

Nation States out of time

The ‘Convention’ Europe will not be able to make bad decisions on the next war, the next referendum in Cyprus, the next terrorist attack, the next taxes to pay, and the next devaluation of the euro. It will not be able to make any decisions, prisoner as it is of a system which is truly indecisive. It is a system which risks compromising every possible federal evolution of the European Union. The European Union has never before run so great a risk of ending up like other institutional inventions which populate and repopulate a few beautiful cities in continental Europe. The constitutional treaty, signed by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, is a snap shot of a Europe which is outliving itself and its own constitutional traditions which lie outside history.

No wonder the Byzantium escape has already begun. Possibly the best of those who have experienced the giddy heights of this Europe in the last few years are now deciding or have already decided to give in to the call of the homeland. Before the end of their mandate, Michel Barnier is returning to Paris, Ana Diamantopoulou to Athens, Pedro Solbes to Madrid, Erkki Liikanen to Helsinki, Philippe Busquin to the Belgian capital, Marto Wallstrom to Stockholm and President Prodi – without resigning – has been living for months with one eye and one ear on Rome’s television stations and velvet chairs. It is the epiphany of the decadence of a Europe which puts the best of its men and women in a position to choose the carcasses of old-fashioned, out of tune Nation-States. Professor Marco Arnone clearly shows that, in a world where Europe’s relations with the new big world players (China, India, Japan and the US naturally) will be increasingly decisive, the Union will no longer be able to be give in to the interests of this or that little national power with farming subsidies instead of lifting an embargo on selling weapons to Communist China. Even Jean Monnet’s tools are worth nothing today. However, the new member states from Central and Eastern Europe will never accept a Union which is blinded by Old Europe’s nationalist revivals and its cross-pollinated and encrusted interests. They will never lessen their tireless social and economic development just to sing the Ode to Joy, as held up in this issue by Piotr Maciej Kaczynski.

Democracy + federalism = a United States of Europe

To respond to these big challenges – which are part of our present, not just our future – Europeans don’t need this Convention. They don’t even need the leaders who are literally ‘irresponsible’. Europeans – not just Europe – need a directly elected parliament with substantial decision-making powers which can act as a counterbalance to a Council which represents the interests of the States. They need a government with real tools to direct policy whose president is in some way responsible before the citizens. They need transnational parties who come together fairly to form stable majorities to take decisions in any situation – even if the Minister for Defence in Luxembourg has a cold. Europeans are dying to laugh at their governments, are dying to judge them thanks to investigations by journalists, conducted by a European media independent of political powers. Europe needs the democracy it anticipated during the two useless years of the Convention and which it continues to anticipate – even if it is being increasingly ignored in every corner of the world. Before Monnet began to think about coal and steel, Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni called this European democracy ‘a United States of Europe’.

Let’s leave the Council of Europe to Strasbourg and human rights. Let’s leave the grey skies of Brussels to those who love this impossible Europe. Let’s leave the decadent Byzantium to people like Valery Giscard d’Estaing who dislike Turkey. Let’s give European democracy and European federalism a chance, everywhere. Let this European Union die…or live.

On November 10th in Brussels, café babel, an arena for open and unpartisan debate, will organise: ‘Federalism: the last chance for an enlarged Europe?’, a conference which will bring together players in the political, intellectual and financial worlds. For more information, contact Alexandre Heully at