See my piece under this title posted on the webpage of The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 16 May 2014.
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
There is increasing evidence of a German takeover of EU policy making, not least through measures introduced — and imposed — in response to the financial problems of Eurozone states in the European South. There is also increasing sense that central EU institutions are sidelined by new structures put in place by and run under predominantly German influence. While this may be justified on the basis of Germany’s relative weight and actual monetary contributions, as well as the country’s constitutional approval processes, its generalization would not bode well either for Europe or for Germany.
The modern history of Europe has been marked by major wars between Germany, on the one hand, and Britain and France on the other, with the rest of Europe and the world eventually drawn in on one side or the other. After a second devastating defeat in the Second World War, the German miracle of discipline and systematic work has again brought the country to the top. The European Union has served as a more benign and consensual “Lebensraum” that guarantees a minimum market for German industrial products, under rules and monetary policies that suit Europe’s industrialized North. In contrast, one sees a lack of organization and propensity towards the good life, deserved or not, in the European South, and thus a North-South split within the EU, which is becoming increasingly pronounced.
German- and North-led policies and structural arrangements may have contributed to the bad state of the South, but a big part of the blame lies undoubtedly with the South itself. Some examples from my Greek experience: Loads of EU subsidies have often been used unproductively, in infrastructure and other projects and training not connected to the local economy’s comparative advantages and strengths. The state machinery has been populated by an excessive number of people often selected not on the basis of merit but after the intervention of politicians wanting to secure individual and family votes. A resulting low productivity and low or non-existent sense of responsibility by civil servants and workers in the broader public sector, including utilities. Widespread tax evasion, while benefits are milked out of state coffers for undeserved, occasionally criminally forged reasons. While similar incidents occur in all countries, their frequency and extent clearly increase the further South one goes in the European Union.
Is the imposition of German discipline on others the way to deal with this? Is it a German Europe that is the only solution, or there are alternatives? Before attempting to answer this rather specific question let’s go back to the realm of ideas. The source of a lot of the European Union’s troubles can be traced in the inability to articulate a narrative of Europe that is inclusive of and goes beyond its individual national parts, be they strong or weak, productive or rotten. Different histories, often of wars, languages and cultures seem to make European unification a pipe dream. The alternative way of functional integration has apparently reached its limits, occasionally descending to extremes of standardization, which further increase the democracy gap that exists between the peoples of the EU and its central structures, notably the Commission, without delivering real and lasting unity. This year’s first-ever EU budget to be passed with reductions compared to previous budgets can be seen not only as an expression of empathy with the Union’s governments and peoples going through austerity, but also as the beginning of the reversal of unification, towards re-nationalization.
In light of Germany’s being the undisputed engine of growth and basis of stability for the EU and the Eurozone, what could be an alternative scenario to uniformly “Germanizing” Europe? What could balance out German influence while preserving Germany’s positive contributions? Such a European “third way” should rely on some basic understandings:
— That Europe is diverse and cannot be dominated or represented by a single nation, no matter how strong or virtuous it may be;
— That Europe is rich in culture and languages, but it now de facto has a lingua franca, which is English that can be used for official business at least, containing the current Babel and allowing to have one discussion without extinguishing the national and local languages;
— That Europe has a model of social free market that has worked in the past and can work again, if both its public and private sectors do their job properly;
— That Europe needs to be united because divided it will fall, as it is falling, next to giants like the US and China;
— That Europe has technologies to reduce its energy dependence on outside powers like Russia, if only it makes good of its own talk about green economics and sustainability;
— That Europe can come up with policies that serve both the interests of its North and of its South, if only both are properly represented and empowered in the discussions, and if decision-makers at the EU level, including the European Central Bank, try to think of Europe as a whole rather than the nations they originate from.
The above principles can be developed further and can lead to concrete guidance for action. For that, a proper panEuropean debate is needed, across borders, cultures, languages and regions, bringing the peoples together to contemplate their common future. Such a debate should take place in the lead-up to the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament and should be decisive in allowing panEuropean thinkers and leaders to emerge. Beyond the new Parliament and Commission, this could also lead to new EU institutional arrangements, be they in the form of an EU Constitution or otherwise.
One could easily see, for example, a move towards a more federal centre, with a bicameral assembly, one of elected representatives as is the case now, and one of national and regional authorities, that would replace the European Council. The EU Executive, with one President and unitary structure, should be accountable to these two chambers for its actions according to the competencies attributed to the panEuropean/federal level of government. The system of national representation on political and bureaucratic posts in the central EU institutions should be discontinued and merit should be established as the main consideration instead. And there should be plenty of light shed on the proceedings at the European level for Europe’s peoples to see and understand what is going on.
Some final thoughts on our question about the desirability, feasibility and irreplaceability of a German Europe: Such a Europe would have balanced budgets, trade surpluses and a well-oiled industrial base producing the latest in engineering. Could this model be extended to the European South too? I doubt that it could be adopted in Cyprus, Sicily, Portugal or the south of France. The oranges and the olive oil that they produce is another kind of treasure that industrious Germans want to introduce into their diet for better health and mood. The warm beaches of the Mediterranean should be enjoyed for what they are, plus as a source of powerful solar energy, but not much more than that. The tourism industry of the European South can get better organized but taking away the relaxed feeling of the summer would defeat the purpose and undermine the interests of even the visitors from the North.
European unity will not come with enforced homogenization and extreme discipline that foresees only penalties without forgiveness or growth. It will come when the Spaniards and the Greeks appreciate the Germans for what they do well and what they bring to the table, which cannot be only money, and the other way around. And a well-run Union will be one that balances its peoples strengths and interests, and provides through its monetary, investment, and other policies the framework for all to thrive, in a complementary and mutually supportive way, with unity in diversity.
Brussels, 15 April 2013
The 10 December celebrations in Oslo for the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union were grand and moving. They felt like confirmation of success of a bold experiment that started in Europe in the 1950s, under the then still fresh memories of the Second World War.
A lot of progress has indeed been made over the last 60 years on the European continent towards peaceful coexistence, cooperation and development. So there are certainly good reasons to celebrate. This is not the end of the road, however, and success is in no way absolute, nor should it be taken for granted. The European Union of now 27 and soon-to-be 28 member states has been peaceful and quite prosperous within itself. But its role vis-à-vis the rest of the European continent, notably the start and escalation of the wars in former Yugoslavia, needs to be more honestly discussed for lessons to be learned. Also its record on prosperity seems to be compromised by the current serious problems in the European South and beyond.
In this piece I do not discuss specific problems and concerns in both the peace and prosperity areas, but rather focus on the big picture, what for me is the core reason for which Europe seems to be wobbly and even failing: the lack of “soul”, of European identity among citizens and leaders alike, the lack of a common concept of what is Europe and where it is going.*
The frequent EU ministerial councils and leaders’ summits show in their bickering and horse-trading the fragmentation of the project and the lack of a common vision, beyond reacting to the markets and other external factors that batter the Union. The solutions that are devised only add to the complexity of an already very complex machinery, and seem even more detached from the average citizen, who can neither understand nor practically influence any of this. So in the end it is more nationalism that comes out of this experiment, as Europe is in a way used to impose tough choices on reluctant publics by leaders who cannot lead, realize that they have to act together, but want to keep their national turfs and cannot rise up to the continental challenges.
Does anybody think of the European Union as a whole, a potential polity of some 500 million people, bigger than the US in population and in aggregate the biggest economy in the world, above the US and China? Does anybody worry about imbalances within the Union, how to secure a decent leaving for workers and farmers both in the North and the South of the EU? Does anybody run the institutions that have been created, notably the European Central Bank, with that common good in mind? I doubt it, and if it is the case it does not show these days.
One could of course rightly point to the European Commission and the Parliament as close to having such a pan-EU picture. And it may well be the case, to some extent. But you can also see the fragmentation there, with political parties in the European Parliament just being associations of sovereign national parties, while the Commission is unable to inspire and gain legitimacy among EU nation state citizens beyond its technical role.
It is about time that leaders emerge and institutions behave in a way that really thinks and speaks of the EU/”Europe” as a whole. If that has to start from the Eurozone, which is more closely interconnected, so be it. The broadening of the Union has been at a serious cost to its deepening. Real deepening would mean a common political discourse and common economic, social, foreign and defence policies, with sovereignty basically transferred to the corporate entity from all constituent states, unlike the current sense of domination by a few strong powers. It would thus get down through direct links to the individual citizen, which is where sovereignty really lies. With English as the common language, even if the UK did not participate, such an entity would balance a common core identity of democratic governance, well-being and solidarity, with a wide variety of linguistic and historical backgrounds, in an inclusive and mutually enriching way, rather than an endless fight of competing nationalisms.
If the Eurozone were to really integrate, it could become the “federation of nation states” that Mr. Barroso talked about in his last State of the Union address in September. This potential federal or confederal entity would have a population of about 330 million people, which is slightly bigger than the population of the US. It would have about two-thirds of the GDP of the US and would rank third, after the US and just after China, in the ranking of world economies. It could also have a single, strong voice (not the current collage of voices) at the United Nations, and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, through the current French seat. Moreover, it could have unitary representation and significant weight in other multilateral institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. This entity would not be against anybody but for its own citizens, and it would have a positive influence on broader global stability, by offering a solid pole along with those of the US, China, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil and other established and emerging polities and economies.
If all started to work towards it – leaders, civil society, academics, the press, the private sector and individual European citizens – this could soon become a reality. The 2014 elections for the European Parliament offer a good opportunity to publicly debate, if not start to implement, such a project. Irrespective of the outcome, a public debate would create awareness and would build up the legitimacy of whatever project ended up being implemented. Arrangements to separate the institutions and competencies of an eventual political union (“Eurozone”/”Europa”/”European (Con)Federation”?) from the rest of the EU would be complicated and messy, but solutions would be found. Technical arrangements are a minor problem once Europe has found its vision and soul.
Ixelles, 13 December 2012
*Apologies here to those who would rightly argue against the interchangeability of the terms “Europe” and “European Union”. Strictly speaking using “Europe” to refer to the EU is as incorrect as using the term “America” to refer to the USA. In the case of Europe as a continent, the appropriation of the term “Europe” by the EU disenfranchises all those countries that belong geographically to the continent and politically are members of the Council of Europe, but are not members of the EU. At the same time, like “America”, the idea of “Europe” is a rallying term mostly used by the one entity that goes beyond individual nation states and represents a good part of the continent, aspiring to include even more. So apologies for this methodological looseness but this is more of an aspirational piece and political commentary than an academic essay.
It was the first “State of the Union” that I followed at the European level, and I was not even aware that there was such an annual event. From my current base in Brussels I caught Commission President Barroso’s speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on brief broadcasts on BBC World and Euronews. Not exactly the pomp and serenade surrounding the US President’s annual State of the Union address that I used to watch while in New York. That takes place in late January, starts at 9 pm EST if I remember correctly, and is broadcast live in its entirety to all American homes on all major media. Some way to go still for Europe, even in terms of symbolism, I thought.
I am not familiar with the content of the previous two such speeches that Mr. Barroso gave, in 2010 and 2011 respectively. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard in this one. Some real thinking and proposals for the future of Europe – how the EU can meet its internal challenges and the challenges of globalization, which are of course interconnected. Among the points that I noticed:
- A bold reassertion of the centrality of the European Social Model, which is not dead, although it needs modernization;
- A call for reform addressed to those countries in debt and low productivity, but also those who are strong and need to see the whole picture and show solidarity;
- An emphasis on sustainable growth for the EU with innovation and job creation, especially for young people;
- A move to closer banking and fiscal union, accompanied by the necessary institutional steps;
- And a call for real political union through the establishment of a “Federation of nation states”, although not a unitary state.
I hope that this is not just rhetoric but a commitment to acting on all points raised. Thankfully there was quite a bit of specificity in terms of concrete measures and a timeline for their introduction.
I very much liked the elevation of the mid-2014 European Parliament elections to a milestone of European democratic participation. During the period from now to that date we should all help create the common European space, vision and soul, the sense of “Europeanness” that the EU still rather misses. Because more than another treaty and new regulations, what the EU needs is to become a joint venture of real citizens, out in the streets and in the coffee shops, in universities and work places, in the news and in the arts; a common endeavour rather than an elitist experiment. There is still a lot of good will among citizens, as the triumph of pro-European parties in the Dutch elections held on the same day showed. And institutional adjustments can be made within existing frameworks without hampering progress, as the ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court on the ESM rescue fund, also issued on the same day, indicated.
I would like to close on a personal note. My enthusiasm about Europe does not contradict or replace my commitment to the United Nations and the World. For me these identities, along with those of being Greek and coming from Sparta, are fully compatible and happily co-existing in my self. A strong Europe with a central social identity, based on broad popular participation, with a thriving and sustainable economy and a clear voice can contribute much more to the world than a problematic, crisis-ridden, cacophonous and introvert group of small and medium states quarreling with each other.
Ixelles, 13 September 2012