A vision for Europe

We often talk about a united Europe, as an ideal, without fully knowing what that would entail. There are many technical studies that expand on the details, but they cannot be easily understood and cannot inspire the imagination of the average citizen. We need a compelling story, a narrative that brings Europe from the realm of ideas to something closer to everyday life. Only that way can Europe attract broad attention, inspire action, and become a reality that we can all identify with and benefit from.

Europe as a community of spirit and object of patriotism

The giant with the glass legs that we now call Europe seems to lack soul and spirit. It is a big machinery that produces regulations, directives and decisions but has no real authority and legitimacy beyond what its member states want to confer to it. Clearly, those member states and their governments don’t like competition. So they keep Europe tied up, like Cinderella doing the dirty work in the background, while they abuse and complain about it. It is about time to change this and release the potential that Europe has, even if the current political, civil service and business elites may lose their national comfort zones and privileges. Not doing that will endanger the whole European project that started from the determination to end deadly confrontations, like the two World Wars, which started on our continent.

A history of wars and linguistic fragmentation do not help bring Europe together. The lack of pan-European media and even the lack of pan-European debates on issues that concern all Europeans are a major handicap. This could though change, and should change soon. We do have a common language that we basically all use in addition to our mother tongues, and that is English. We can and we are using it increasingly to make business deals, study abroad and exchange views; let’s do it more systematically. And we do have a largely shared approach to the value of each person and the role of the state and the economy, a shared appreciation for individual and collective rights, a common view of the challenges that face our continent and the world, the society, economy and the environment. All this could give rise to a European patriotism that is not exclusive or chauvinistic but does show pride in our common origin from this continent of palaces and cathedrals, philosophers and scientists, poets, human rights activists, adventurers and business people.

What is sorely missing, of course, is leadership that transcends national borders, leadership that can talk to each individual and community, that can articulate, for instance, a common European industrial and agricultural policy that is equally beneficial for people in the North and the South, the East and the West of the continent. Some symbolic initiatives would help generate more of a sense of togetherness, like a couple of pan-European holidays, more publicity for European mega-projects in the sciences and space exploration, more joint cinema productions, key IT and social innovations. And of course a pan-European political discourse that goes beyond the ritual of European Parliament elections that are usually polling tests for national governments…

Europe as a political entity

Democratic processes are well established in the individual states of contemporary Europe, although some extreme tendencies also exist in terms of resurgent nationalism and xenophobia. More clarity on the role of the central European institutions, their competencies and functioning, is necessary to establish the democratic legitimacy that is now missing from the pan-European/”federal” level. Can this diverse community of currently 28 countries and some 507 million citizens, the first economy and trading power in the world, stick together and become a coherent whole? The challenge is to show that is possible, without losing the richness of individual countries and regions, nor their self-government, but rather complementing the national and local level with something at the centre of it all.

To that end, a realignment of institutions would have to take place, including:

A Chief Executive or Federal President, elected directly by the people or through the bicameral parliament (see below) every five years. This position would be an evolution of the current Commission President and Council President positions that would be merged. The Chief Executive would be the head of a unified federal government, an evolution of the current Commission and the European External Action Service combined. The latter would be the Foreign Affairs Department of the federation. There would also be a federal Defence Department. Senior positions would no longer be allocated on the basis of nationality but of merit, and the officials would not have diplomatic status but would belong to the federal civil service.

The bicameral Parliament would consist of today’s European Parliament, as the lower House/Chamber where representation is according to population size; and the Upper House/Chamber or Senate, where representation is by country. The latter will be an evolution of the current European Council, with its specialized committees evolving from the various Councils of Ministers. Neither chamber would have executive powers, only shared legislative and budgetary powers, with possibly the authority to ratify treaties and confirm Ambassadors reserved for the European Council/Senate.

Consultative bodies, which can also initiate legislation that has to go through the two chambers would include: the Committee of the Regions, bringing together subnational units, including region and city representatives; and the Economic and Social Committee, bringing together a broad range of stakeholders, including social, economic and environmental partners, through representatives from pan-European associations and not on a national basis.

The European Court of Justice would have to open lower-level Chambers of first instance and first degree of appeal in each country and in groups of countries (e.g. Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Northern Europe, Central Europe) respectively.

One European Foreign Service and unified European Armed Forces should be created over a transitional period of a few years, leading to one federal embassy in each foreign country and unified armed forces on the borders of the federation with adequate support structures. A European Federal Police and Crime Prevention Service, including economic crime prevention among its tasks, would also be established.

The gradual absorption of Foreign and Defence budgets by the federal level would lead to increase in the federal budget to several percentage points above the current 1 per cent of EU collective GDP. This would include foreign development aid and humanitarian assistance, and can be increased further through cross-border corporate taxation (without increasing the total tax burden) on big companies, and VAT and other transfers, up to a level of 10 or 15 per cent (federal government spending is over 20 per cent in the USA).

In general, competences and resources should be distributed according to the principle of subsidiarity, which means that functions should be performed at the level closest to the citizens. In this light, the federal level would deal with the big issues that concern the whole of the federation, all its constituent units, enabling internal trade, communications and movement according to common standards, and protecting externally the common interest, common currency and security, without micromanaging the individual constituent units.

Europe in the world

A united Europe, speaking with one voice towards other global powers, bilaterally and in international organizations, would carry a lot more weight than its individual states do today. Joining together the more than one European seats on the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the IMF etc., as well as on the current G7/8, G20 groups (whose name should be changed accordingly), would be a major advancement from the polyphony/often cacophony that exists today. This would be good for Europe and the broader world. Moreover, merging the armed forces of EU states, with a joint external border protection service, eventual joint nuclear weapons control, and a unified participation in NATO and UN peacekeeping forces would demonstrate the collective strength and would increase the effectiveness of Europe as a global actor.

A lot of the above does not really need major treaty amendments to start getting implemented. For example, election of one Federal President by merging the posts of Commission and Council President can be done by the European Parliament and the European Council acting as two chambers of a bicameral parliament. It is a broad understanding and transparent practices that need to be introduced, and of course inspiring leadership and inclusive vision to win over the hearts and souls of citizens around the continent for a legitimate Europe that we all want.

Georgios Kostakos

Brussels, 2 April 2014

About Georgios Kostakos

Georgios Kostakos is Executive Director of the Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability (FOGGS) and an independent consultant on global challenges and sustainability, governance and UN affairs based in Brussels, Belgium. He holds an MA and a PhD in International Relations from the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK), and a Mechanical Engineering degree from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. He served on the secretariat of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) as Senior Adviser and Acting Deputy Executive Secretary, and on many other positions at UN Headquarters in New York, UN field missions, the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and the University of Athens. He is passionate about Europe and the World, and strives for human well-being in peace, prosperity and justice.
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