See briefing on the subject published online by the Future United Nations Development System (FUNDS) project.
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.
Brussels, 2 April 2014
Worrisome signs of the (re)emergence of a cold war between the West, mainly the US and the EU, and Russia are emerging over the issue of Ukraine. Political rhetoric is being ramped up, along with sanctions gradually introduced on the part of the West, while Crimea’s incorporation into Russia is advancing. It looks increasingly difficult to return to the status quo ante and have a reasonable discussion on how to ensure the integrity, prosperity and good governance of Ukraine in the difficult buffer zone between the EU and Russia where it finds itself.
Barring a major miscalculation from Ukraine, Russia or the West, the most probable is for a new status quo that includes:
– A Crimea that is de facto part of Russia, whether internationally recognized or not;
– A Ukraine run by a pro-Western government but facing outbreaks of violence with parts of the population feeling closer to Russia and with the extreme right making strides in the other parts;
– Frosty relations between Russia and the West, with Russia facing limited sanctions and exclusion from fora like the G7/8, and Europe potentially facing counter sanctions and experiencing energy supply problems.
This may make for a somewhat unpleasant situation but nothing the key protagonists cannot live with, except perhaps Tatars, Ukrainians and other minority populations in Crimea, and Russians in the rest of Ukraine. But the main political players, international and local, can always restate their claims against each other, excite patriotic sentiments among their respective publics and allies, win elections and exercise power, without having to resort to much more than tough words. If no unpredictable factor intervenes, that is, no provocation or public uprising that might demand from politicians to prove their toughness in practice and authorize action. Such an improbable, it must be said again, turn of events that might lead to a hot incident between Russian and Western/NATO forces could have unpredictable consequences for regional and even global peace and security.
To avoid any dramatic eventuality, and to stabilize the situation as much as possible, measures like the following could be taken:
– Swift and systematic moves to establish democratic governance and respect for minority rights in Ukraine, as part of its gradual integration into the broader European space; the EU and the West should strongly discourage right-wing or other excesses, retribution among rival political forces, etc. by setting their avoidance as precondition for any deepening of integration and financial support; organizations like the UN and the OSCE could be brought in to help with or monitor actions in that regard.
– Guarantee of minority rights, assistance with family reunions across the new de facto borders etc. in Crimea too, through similar assistance or monitoring arrangements with the involvement of organizations like the UN and the OSCE.
– Continuation of mutual engagement between Russia, the US and Europe on other issues like Syria, Iran, North Korea, and avoidance of a Cold War-type split in the UN security Council; gradual reinstatement of collaboration fora like the G8.
This would be a far-from-perfect state of affairs, but could be the most viable, because it would entail a pragmatic recognition of mutual interests and might eventually draw the West and Russia closer together. This would presuppose a degree of humility, self-discipline and self-awareness from all sides, with the Russians realizing that they cannot reconstruct their empire with threats and a gradual return to centralized authoritarianism; the US and Europe admitting their hypocrisy and finally learning from the litany of failures they have created by “spreading democracy” around the world, e.g. Iraq and Libya; Europe facing head-on the major handicap of its own divisions that still allow the pursuit of narrow nationalist gains instead of working to define and implement the common European good.
20 March 2014
Summary of lecture that I gave at Queen Mary, University of London on 12 March 2014.
The recent dramatic developments in Ukraine have led to the disappearance of its dismissed President Yanukovych, but also to another very apparent disappearance, that of the European Union. The US officials who earlier used a four-letter word to describe Europe’s absence from the scene and inability to put its act together in Ukraine was obviously right. One cannot wait for the dysfunctional Union to act.
Brussels is unable to prove its relevance when it comes to big political issues, the people holding the highest offices in European institutions are mediocre and getting ready to go after the May elections, and the wish of the EU’s most powerful member states is obviously to hold on to their prerogatives; thus the Union appears as disunited and ineffective as ever. There is not even a semblance of EUness in what is happening in terms of Western intervention in Ukraine today. The monitors who will pronounce on the violence and the deaths are British and clearly say so to the press, announcing already their foregone conclusions. Even for monetary assistance, something the EU used to be good at in the past, it is the UK talking to the US and the IMF. The interface with the Russians is fragmented, with Hollande, Merkel and others making calls and sending messages to Putin, while the sad presence of Catherine Ashton moves around Meidan, trying to utter a common EU foreign policy, or is she another member of the UK delegation?
This is as disappointing as it can be, and “one of the same” too. What has changed from 100 years ago, the games of the big powers and the Great War? Very important that the war is not with us this time, but for how long, if such games continue?
For a European federalist like me this is particularly disheartening for many reasons:
- It is another proof, if one was needed, that the Union is there only for the soft issues, while it breaks up in front of big politics, big interests and big money;
- It is particularly worrying that parochial national interests and uncooperative national elites continue to play their games around Europe and beyond, competing with each other and undermining the common European project, while being unable to utter a coherent stance towards third parties like Russia or the US;
- Coming from Greece, the current holder of the EU Presidency as it happens, and the best known example of a punch bag for internal EU discipline, I am triply worried about the weak-to-non-existent role of middle and small powers within Europe, as they should be trying hard to keep the big powers within the fold and the EU institutions up to task…
Another dark day for Europe but will it prove a better day for Ukraine, no matter who has actually intervened and how? The specter of the country’s splitting in two, and of possible civil war, is hovering over it. Will the new leadership, not without a past itself, manage to keep the country together? Will it split peacefully if it does split? Will Europe offer guarantees to Western Ukraine if the split happens? What will Russia do, vis-à-vis Eastern Ukraine and the country as a whole? What a wonderful world, and the Sochi Olympics have just successfully concluded nearby…
Athens, 25 February 2014
See my piece on this subject just posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.
Can the approach successfully used to advance the Right to Food also be used to promote the future SDGs? See an analysis at http://bit.ly/1fhiHGf
(Piece posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.)
See my piece on “The UN at 68 and Sustainability” just posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.
See my piece on the subject at www.thehagueinstitute.org