The time is ripe for federalism

Article published on Nov. 8, 2004
community published
Article published on Nov. 8, 2004

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

European politics is not working properly, despite appearances to the contrary. In the shadow of such a situation, café babel invites you to Brussels on November 10th.

Europe is sick. And all the pomp and ceremony of the signing of the Constitution held at the Campidoglio, Rome’s historic city hall, on October 29th did nothing to help matters.

The tragedy of the European Union: 12 years of stalemate

Yes, postponing the European Parliament’s vote of confidence on the Barroso Commission was a victory for the only democratically elected organ of the European Union. However, it is nonetheless important to keep sight of the truth and recognise that what happened in Strasbourg is simply the umpteenth example of stalemate for the European project which has found it difficult to move forward for a good 12 years. The roots of all the great European successes of the last few years (and in particular the euro and enlargement) lie in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty during a sadly short-lived outburst of political farsightedness. Maastricht was, in this sense, a political anomaly brought about by the end of the Cold War, which obliged Europe to come up with a new vision for itself in the changed political climate.

We always have to agree…

Après ça, le déluge!’ as the French would say. The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty was lightweight; the 2000 Nice Treaty was laboriously negotiated behind closed doors and then suddenly disowned by its own creators. The Constitutional Treaty, which has just been signed, was only brought to a successful conclusion after months of intense bargaining between member states (behind closed doors of course), but its ratification risks failure if just one state – possibly France – rejects it in a referendum.

And that’s not all. The future President of the Commission, José Barroso from Portugal, was chosen through an unnecessarily complicated, slow and entirely unclear process due to the need to find a compromise candidate. The only merit of his being chosen as the ‘lowest common denominator’ was that it brought everyone to an agreement - everyone, that is, except the European Parliament which has forced him to reshuffle his Commission. A Commission which, don’t forget, was chosen by Heads of State and Government and not by Barosso himself as would be the case in any other self-respecting democratic system.

Europe deserves better

But Europe deserves better than this. The challenges of globalisation, the Middle East crisis, and an economy which is stagnating require a far more agile, efficient and democratic European Union. In other words, a more federal Europe. Hence café babel’s decision to hold the debate: “Is European federalism dead?”. At first, putting the idea of a federal Europe at the heart of public debate appears provocative. In an era of pragmatism, a return to realpolitik and national self-interest, federalism would seem increasingly to be an unrealisable dream.

Almost 50 years have passed since the Treaty of Rome when, by paving the way towards economic European integration, full political integration of the Old Continent was predicted. The promise made in Rome was for a united Europe steeped in democracy at all levels of government. Today we are frighteningly far from those initial aims, even if economic integration is now nearly complete with the single market, the euro, freedom of movement of citizens and the commercial law which is now imposed on national legislation.

A federal Europe means first and foremost a political arena equipped with its own media, political parties, trade unions and transnational organisations. This is why we have brought together political leaders, such as the former Polish dissident Bronislaw Geremek; journalists, like Michel Theys; protagonists of federalism, like Spinelli’s old right-hand-man Virgilio Dastoli; researchers and businessmen, like Bruno Bondulle. In the debate, they will be addressing the thorny question of the construction of a transnational democracy: no taboos, no entrenched positions.

The time is ripe for federalism. See you in Brussels on November 10th.