December 4, 2016
The United States of Europe is not a popular slogan these days. Nationalism is on the rise in all European countries, in many different shapes and forms. National interest and national sovereignty are enjoying a revival and find appeal among citizens disillusioned with politics and disappointed by a European Union that over-promises and under-delivers. The slogans of populist movements are filtering in mainstream political parties, often at the highest level of government, affecting the European agenda. The European Union has become everybody’s target and scapegoat. Many political leaders call for a pause in European integration, in the illusion to appease anti-European sentiment. Believers in the United States of Europe are portrayed as naïve who ignore real politics and the sentiments of the people and undermine the credibility of what are considered moderate but possible European solutions.
Reality is that nationalists and anti-Europeans prosper because of the weaknesses of today’s Europe and a weaker Europe will only magnify their appeal. The fears and disappointment of European citizens, who suffer from the economic crisis, feel the pressure of migration flows and feel threatened at their borders, mist be answered. The solutions proposed by old and new nationalists and defenders of national sovereignty are just an illusion, but they resonate emotionally with many people. Should they prevail, the result would be a Europe of small states, divided by borders and competing currencies, in permanent economic stagnation, fighting each other instead of standing united on the world stage, weak vassals of one or the other of the world’s economic and political super-powers. A Europe of narrow national interests played out in a zero-sum game. A Europe of hate and divisions, racism and xenophobia. Ultimately, a Europe of war.
At the same time, the solutions that today’s European Union can deliver are limited. The European Union has been progressively growing in size and competences, but member states still deny it the powers and resources to make an impact on the issues that today matter the most, from economic recovery to security to immigration. The result is a series of failures that is undermining the remaining consensus of citizens for European unity.
The only real alternative is for European states to pool their fading sovereignty and transform the European Union into a true federation, with a single foreign and security policy, a European economic policy, a sizeable budget and – most of all – a real Government.
First, the Eurozone needs to complement the monetary union with a fiscal union. This can’t be just a set of rules to coordinate national policies. It should bring about a European economic policy, with the power to raise own European financial resources, through general taxation and issuance of debt in the capital markets, to be used to assist member states in difficulty, support their structural reforms and fund projects of pan-European interest that can boost the single market and long-term competitiveness of the European economy.
Second, with Europe’s borders in flames and great uncertainties on Russian and US foreign policies, Europeans must take responsibility for their own security and the one of our neighbourhood. Simple cooperation won’t be sufficient: security and defence need to become a European competence. This should include sizable European military forces (progressively integrating the best parts of national forces), a European military headquarter (to run European operations independently from NATO when needed), a European Defence Fund (financed with own resources such as Defence Bonds and as well as national contributions) to finance European R&D projects and military and civilian operations.
Third, Europe needs democracy. Today citizens have little or no say on the policies of the European Union. Democracy and politics are still almost exclusively national. European political parties remain a loose collection of diverse national parties. The European Parliament has increased its powers, but in too many important fields it has little or no say, including the way the EU is financed, the governance of the Euro and foreign and security policy. Bodies like the Eurogroup take decisions affecting millions of European citizens, but they are accountable to no one. The most important decisions are still in the hands of national governments, each with its own national interest and national constituency. A collection of twenty-eight democracies does not make a European democracy. The European Union needs to become a full parliamentary democracy, where the parliament legislates on all common matters and can express a political majority and a Government following the European elections.
Last but not least, Europe needs a proper European federal government. The European Commission is far from what a Government should be. It plays little or no role in the governance of crucial sectors of the EU, from foreign and security policy to key areas of Eurozone governance. It can make proposals on how to spend the EU’s budget but not on how to finance it. It is appointed following the European elections, but its composition is independent from the result of the elections. On major issues, it takes instructions from the European Council, where the heads of state and government sit. The EU should have a real federal Government. The government and its composition should reflect the result of the European elections. It should have the means and powers, including financial, to execute its policies autonomously from member states. It should be accountable to the European Parliament and to a reformed Council transformed in a second legislative chamber.
Today these proposals find little consensus among national governments. They hope to survive with small steps rather than big transformations, voluntary cooperation rather than unity. This is doomed to fail. Despite all difficulties – almost 60 years after the Treaty of Rome that established the first European Communities – a big transformational project towards a federal Europe is really what Europe needs. Not all countries would join from the beginning, but the group of countries that still believe in an “ever closer union” has the responsibility to move Europe forward.
NOTE: This piece was originally published as contribution to the ‘Federalism Week” of the media portal EuropaUnited www.europaunited.ue