United States of Europe
Spiegel Online, November 2011
Edited by Andy Ross
Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer wants eurozone countries to
form a powerful block in the European Union as an "avant-garde of the United
States of Europe."
The financial crisis is the turning point in the
history of European unification. The bureaucracy in Brussels has failed.
National governments are dismantling the old Europe. German chancellor
Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy forced change in Greece
and put Italy under guard. Old Europe no longer exists.
the Europeans pull together, just as the new American states did in 1787 for
their constitutional convention? The East Coast states were jostling for
power and money, but they constituted themselves under the motto "We the
People" into a powerful, democratic, federal state.
founder of the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank, envisions a
democratically united Europe in which member state citizens vote directly
for their European commissioners. The EU president then selects the 10 best
of the 27 winners, with the remaining 17 becoming deputies. This concept
would produce a strong and democratic European government.
of a single, robust Brussels government for all EU countries or for the
eurozone is discussed in the European Parliament. Most agree that citizens
in any future United States of Europe must have a stronger voice and
Brussels have greater powers, which means a transfer of sovereignty from
individual countries to the European Union.
Habermas says the difference between domestic and foreign is beginning to
blur and that international law and domestic law are starting to resemble
one another. On issues from finance to climate, energy and immigration, he
finds it "simply foolish to assume that Europe's voice will still count if
it doesn't learn to speak with one voice."
Joschka Fischer: "Those
who want Europe should finally say where they want to go." Europe cannot
"continue to be something diffuse, abstract, some sort of legal entity. What
we're talking about is the realization of the United States of Europe."
A European federal state would go far beyond the Europe of the Lisbon
Treaty. The Brussels technocracy would be replaced by political institutions
with the power to shape economic and social policy for all of Europe. This
can only work if what happens at the European level is both fair and
Fischer supports a de facto communitization of national
policy at the European level. Instead of engaging in lengthy treaty
negotiations, European leaders should just go ahead and coordinate their
policies. Fischer sees how the 17 leaders of the eurozone countries can move
forward. When they gather in Brussels, majority leaders and opposition
leaders from national parliaments would come along too.
gathering would have great parliamentary power and its results would likely
be accepted by domestic parliamentarians. It would be a kind of parallel
democracy. Such a core Europe could at least work until a more permanent
structure were established. The European Council, Commission, and Parliament
would be out of it.
Fischer: "When the others see how successfully
the avant-garde operates, many will want to participate." It would be a
major step toward the United States of Europe.
The Merkel Method
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was wrong to tell the
European Parliament that his commission was the economic government of the
union. Europe is running increasingly without Barroso. The most important
decisions on rescuing the euro were hammered out by national leaders. The
Berlin-Paris axis presented the Brussels machine with a fait accompli.
The national heads of state and government reign supreme in Europe. Key
European decisions, like the Greek bailout, are negotiated by individual
potentates in back rooms. In this European democracy, those with the money
call the shots.
The drawback of the intergovernmental method is that
decisions among the participating countries can only be reached unanimously.
The Merkel method is unsustainable in the long term. Barroso: "Any idiot can
The Merkel method also lacks transparency. Jürgen
Habermas warns against the decline of democratic culture in Europe. He sees
the Merkel method as "a disenfranchisement of European citizens" that puts a
"gray veil" over the national parliaments.
The bailout fund for
insolvent euro countries, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF),
and its permanent successor, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), were
built using the Merkel method. But they may lead to new institutions at the
European level, even to changes in the Lisbon Treaty.
constitutional judge Sabino Cassese says the financial crisis has given the
entire European Union a big push: "The new agencies to control and supervise
the financial markets have expanded the efficiency of the community."
The German Federal Constitutional Court says the German constitution sets
limits to the transfer of sovereignty to Brussels. But the high court
justices know they cannot block a European solution to global problems by
citing their interpretation of the German postwar constitution. Provision
146 of the German constitution states that the German people, "of its own
free will," is entitled to give itself a new constitution. Germany could
reinvent itself for a United States of Europe.
Wolfgang Schäuble anticipated Fischer's avant-garde idea in a 1994 paper
with CDU foreign policy expert Karl Lamers: "The key issue is that it should
not be possible for countries that are more willing and able than others to
take cooperation and integration a step further to be blocked by the veto
power of other members."
Long ago, German chancellor Helmut Kohl felt
that the idea of a European "solid core" that became more and more solid
over time was an "academic concept." Now there are many in Berlin who hope
that the idea of a "core Europe" will bring about accelerated integration
and simplified intergovernmental cooperation. Everyone agrees that the idea
But the Germans have a problem with an exclusive club.
What about Poland? Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called separate
agreements within the Euro Group insulting to neighboring countries. The
Poles like Europe. They feel threatened by plans to tighten the economic
criteria for joining the eurozone before they join. Poland has so far been
firmly on Merkel's side in the euro crisis.
Jean-Louis Bourlanges chaired the Budgetary Control Committee and the
Judicial Committee of the European Parliament and was involved in drafting
the European constitution. He proposes a new committee to monitor joint
budgetary targets and sanctions for violations. It would include the chairs
of the national budget committees. This committee would reach decisions by a
qualified majority of the eurozone countries.
Hubert Védrine is a
former French foreign minister who finds a United States of Europe and a
comparison with the United States of America absurd. He says French voters
are in favor of Europe, but only as a means of boosting French pride. He
advocates strategic alliances without loss of sovereignty. Euro bonds should
be introduced under strict conditions set by the German paymasters.
Countries should voluntarily agree to clean up their budgets and stimulate
Jean-Dominique Giuliani is head of a Paris think tank and
hopes the German-French axis will rebuild Europe. If Germany and France move
forward with integration, others will follow. He says Britain and others are
blocking the path toward federalism. He thinks the Germans and the French
deserve more respect.
Europa is the name of the new European Council building in Brussels. It will
cost €300 million and may be ready by 2014. At the euro rescue summit in
June, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy put brochures for the
futuristic building on the desks of European leaders, but British Prime
Minister David Cameron said it was a waste of money. So Europa will not be
mentioned for the time being.
Saving the euro comes first. The
European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) building in Luxembourg is the
focus of the action. Member of the European Parliament for the German Free
Democratic Party (FDP) Alexander Graf Lambsdorff: "Something is going to go
European citizens are already outraged over politicians
who seem unable to resolve the financial crisis. European policy is being
shaped over their heads in closed-door meetings between German Chancellor
Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and then executed in the
EFSF data center.
Lambsdorff says the "threads of legitimacy of
political decisions" in Europe are pulled "tightly enough to break, and
things are squeaking and crunching everywhere." Philosopher Jürgen Habermas
warns of a "disenfranchisement of European citizens."
But many see
the crisis as an opportunity. Former NATO secretary general and subsequent
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says it is a chance to make a great
leap forward to more democracy for Europe in an approach he calls
"legitimacy through action."
Europe is stuck in a crisis of
legitimacy. The democratic credibility of the European project was intact as
long as it was successful. But now hardship prevails. Flensburg professor of
sociology Hauke Brunkhorst: "The checks made out for integration,
solidarity, and democracy by the political ruling class were only backed by
output legitimacy." Without that backing, those checks "will invariably
bounce with a large bang."
Solana: "If we are not intelligent enough
to complete this integration, there will be a privileged economic
relationship between the United States and China, and we'll be out."
As long as Europe is being run by national leaders, no citizen will
understand that we are all citizens of Europe. The dream of a united Europe
will remain vague as long as European governments try to promote integration
by way of intergovernmental agreements. National leaders will always focus
on their voters at home.
Constitutional and European law expert
Christian Calliess believes that many elected officials are out of their
depth on complicated European issues: "Europe is simply hard to understand."
Often, party politicians who are no longer much use in domestic
elections are sent to the European Parliament. Florence professor of
European law Mario Chiti: "Europe is governed by many small men and women
with small visions."
European Commission President José Manuel Durão
Barroso acts to benefit his own power rather than the future of Europe. The
European Commission is the executive arm of the European Union.
Headquartered in the Berlaymont building in Brussels, it comprises 26
commissioners and the president. Plans to restrict its membership to 20
commissioners were thwarted in 2008 when the Irish rejected the Lisbon
European Commission commissioner Michel Barnier gave a speech
about the future of Europe at Humboldt University in Berlin last May. He
wants to see:
— A European president
— A European finance minister
— A European foreign ministry
— A European defense policy
— A European immigration policy
The Crocodile Club
The Crocodile Club is named after the Strasbourg restaurant where Italian
politician Altiero Spinelli and others once hatched lofty plans for a united
Europe. Spinelli died in 1986 but his heirs are still at work. The group
includes former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and former European
Commission President Jacques Delors. The main goal of the Crocodile Club is
to create the foundation for a United States of Europe.
Club driving force and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt: "Look at
California, the biggest economy in the United States. It has enormous
problems, and it can't even pay its civil servants. And why doesn't this put
the dollar under pressure? Because California is part of the political union
of the United States."
Implementing the United States
A United States of Europe organized could be organized along the lines of
the Federal Republic of Germany. An executive government in Brussels, the
European Commission, with members elected by the European Parliament, would
be backed up by the European Council as a legislative body.
would prefer to emulate the United States of America and replace the
European Council with a senate. As in Washington, the emissaries from the
individual states would not simply be members of the government but would be
elected representatives of their respective states.
constitutional court at the head of the USE, modeled on Germany's Federal
Constitutional Court, would contain and correct the power held in Brussels.
To minimize objections from national constitutional courts, the higher
Brussels court would consist of judges appointed by the member states.
Forming a European Identity
Philosopher Jürgen Habermas: "Territorial growth and numerical expansion of
the population already changes the complexity of the process of formation of
public opinion and the political will." He says the cooperation of the
citizens of all the countries involved requires a functioning deliberation
process and a widened public sphere offering inclusion for everyone in a
society of Europeans.
Habermas: "The claim that there is no European
nation contradicts the systemic convergence of multicultural global
society." Many agree that the world's societies of the 21st century will be
completely mixed up, and while traditional identities will remain in place,
they will lose their influence.
Frankfurt constitutional law expert
Erhard Denninger says a shared European identity will develop in tandem with
national identity. Even today, he notes, there is a "consensus on basic
British political consultant Robert Cooper: "The
ethical exclusivity that characterizes a nation state is no longer
appropriate in an era of no borders." Cooper now feels that eurocrats are
"more patriotic" than his fellow Britons.
The patriotism of global
citizens who are concerned about human rights is based on their shared
political values rather than a shared ethnic identity or language. It is
also on an international consensus that has produced such institutions as
the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
With this much
commonality, cultural differences are no bar to a shared society. Germany's
pluralistic federal society has experienced this first hand. The global
community on the Internet already shapes the hearts and minds of younger
European citizens more decisively than the traditions of the family home or
the local pub.
Switzerland shows that democratic discourse functions
across language barriers. Such discourse works best when led by charismatic
leaders. Only then will the national media do the job that Habermas calls
their "responsibility for the success of Europe."
MEP Alexander Graf
Lambsdorff says most of the people sent to Brussels are too boring and the
stories they tell are too complicated. Politics in Brussels is boring and
complicated because the participants are not forged in the fire of
democratic elections. And Europe is increasingly being led not in Brussels
but by agreements between national leaders. The process of delegitimization
continues. Elections to the European Parliament are now little more than a
tedious chore for national parties.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: "I would like to see the direct
election of a European president. Then we will already have a much stronger
European consciousness by the time of the first reelection." He sees a
president for Europe who would head the European Council and Commission and
have real power. A European public space would emerge in the fight for the
Lambsdorff wants to divide the European Council into two parts.
One would be a legislative body that would debate in public and make
decisions by a majority vote, like the Bundesrat. The second body would
handle the "daily operational business of government agreements."
present there is no European public sphere. Parties in the European
Parliament still lack a common platform. As a result, coalitions are as
vague as the concept of a Europe of citizens. Voters cannot become members
of these coalitions, and no group offers transnational lists of candidates
for European elections.
To break up the provincialism of the parties,
the Reflection Group, an international organization of European thinkers led
by former Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González, proposes that
each EU citizen should be permitted to vote in the national elections of any
EU country, provided he or she has a fixed residence and pays taxes in that
The result could be a beneficial shake-up of national
politics. German politicians would suddenly find themselves confronted with
the issue of foreigners living in Germany, a group that has largely been
ignored in the past.*
The next step,
according to the Reflection Group, would be for the parties to establish
cross-border lists for the election of members of the European Parliament.
Many members of the European Parliament show that it is possible to practice
democracy at such a high level yet stay in touch with national voters.
European law professor Christian Calliess: "The European Parliament must
be given the rights to elect and supervise a European government that
answers to it." The parliament in Strasbourg is a veto parliament that can
only accept or reject proposals by the Commission.
If a parliament
wishes to become the representative of the people, it must seize those
rights. Professor Stefan Collignon: "The members of parliament must withdraw
their approval of the Council and Commission until their role is
Tax and Money
The unifying effect of a direct EU tax would be overwhelming. Every citizen
would be paying directly for Europe. A one percent surcharge on VAT plus a
tax on pollution could finance the EU budget of about €130 billion a year.
The central government's legitimacy increases with its right to collect its
Perhaps Europe is too big and too diverse to form a nation
like the United States. To do so anyway, the Monnet method foresees a chain
reaction of practical constraints that each step toward integration triggers
when problems that are created in the process are solved with another
integration step. It's the principle of suck it and see.
method was applied to create the euro. From the start, it was clear that
this could not happen all at once, and that the common currency would expose
the need to build a political union.
Lambsdorff poses the fundamental question for the EU: "What exactly do we
Germans, want a problem-solving EU, one that guarantees
security, a good life, clean air, and a functioning market. Others such as
Great Britain want "the union as a geopolitical stabilizer with as many
members as possible" to create a global power that can export peace and
freedom around the world.
Two Europes are needed: one for the world
and one for Europe. The geostrategic Europe is oriented toward expansion,
while its continental version is oriented toward further integration.
Lambsdorff speaks of a "differentiated integration" with a fixed core,
which can be achieved if the core sacrifices sovereignty for strong European
government. Backed by the will of a majority of European citizens, it could
pursue climate protection programs and a common energy policy on a massive
scale, and it could organize the economy and even national budgets. Such a
government would the power and the legitimacy to mandate financial transfers
between rich and poor member states.
The Germans have two problems
with this, in the shape of the Federal Constitutional Court and the German
voters. In their decision on the Treaty of Lisbon, the judges on the
Constitutional Court ruled that the German state must retain a core area of
national sovereignty. This sovereignty core would be affected if the Germans
were deprived of "their ability to influence their living conditions in a
responsible political and social manner."
University of Cologne
political scientist Wolfgang Wessels: "You have to ask yourself whether
national sovereignty actually exists anymore. The individual countries
haven't been in control of events for a long time."
says countries like Italy or Germany were not even intended as classic
nation-states but instead as "transnational" entities from the very
beginning. He cites the preamble to German constitution: "Inspired by the
determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united
Historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler says Germans are awaiting "with
bated breath" the Karlsruhe judges' "interpretive feat" of reversing the
strict provisions of the Lisbon verdict in their next decision. German
sovereignty was not being protected for its own sake, but merely so that the
rights of citizens to participate in politics were not eroded. To the extent
that decisions in Brussels are better legitimized by the people, Karlsruhe
can accommodate a transfer of competencies.
German lawmakers are
considering an amendment to the constitution to allow the transfer of
competency to Brussels on fiscal issues. Article 79, the "eternity clause,"
prohibits any change that affects the more clearly defined foundations of
German constitutional law. But Article 146 provides that an entirely new
constitution may be "freely adopted by the German people," and even the
eternity clause cannot prevent them.
Habermas says Europeans have
never been asked their opinion about Europe under fair conditions. Who knows
what they think? They don't even know themselves.
AR Long live the United States of Europe!
* The disenfranchisement affects me.