A Super State or an Alliance of Sovereign States?
When it comes to the future of the European Union, two sharply different approaches have taken shape. According to one side, let us call them “Federalists”, the best response to the crisis is “ever more Europe”. In other words this is the idea to build a Federation that resembles the United States of America in many ways, which is why the plan was given the name “the United States of Europe”. The other side, the “Sovereignists”, do not see the conditions for the creation of a central government or a federal center in the European Union and thus for the so called unification of nations – as the nation states are unwilling to surrender their centuries old independence, the spiritual, cultural and societal prerequisites of a federal union are absent. The EU becomes strong if the nations preserve their traditions, their unique ability, creativity, customs and their particular approaches to problem solving, – these “skill sets” make Europe truly formidable.
We are convinced that the Union and Europe will only be saved by the sovereignist approach. But if that is so, why is it so and what specific institutional reform of the European Union is necessary in order to create a Europe of nations? We shall answer below.
I. The Crisis of the European Union and a Possible Future
One thing that the opposing political circles largely agree on is that the European Union is in a crisis and that it is at a crossroads where a decision on which way to go forward must be made. Not least because if things do not change the political quagmire might lead to the dissolution of the European project.
Two mutually exclusive possible directions.
In recent years, two basic approaches towards the future of the European Union have crystalized. According to one side, let us call them “Federalists”, the best response to the crisis is “ever more Europe”. In other words this is the idea to build a Federation that resembles the United States of America in many ways, which is why the plan was given the name “the United States of Europe”. The core idea of this concept is that the European Union should become a real state; in other words a central authority or government must come to be which has much wider ranging competences in “common matters” than the current EU political structure provides for. This would be similar to the United States of America where the federal government in Washington DC has the power to legislate for all states in the fields of economy, taxation, finance, social benefits, national defense and border protection, trade, environmental and consumer protection, etc – although, of course, the individual states retain some competences (ie. criminal law). According to the federalists, the 28 (or 27) Member States with strong, diverging political opinions leading the EU in concert would actually inhibit the Union, which will only become strong if there is a central government which through greatly limiting national sovereignty, creating standardized, uniform rules concerning the economy, budgets, border protection, migration, taxation and many other fields, “unifies” the potential of the Member States and thus transforms the European Union into an efficient actor in geopolitics and world trade.
The other side, the “Sovereignists”, do not see the conditions for the creation of a central government or a federal center in the European Union and thus for the so called unification of nations – as the nation states are unwilling to surrender their centuries old independence; the spiritual, cultural and societal prerequisites of a federal union are absent. According to this view the European Union becomes strong if the nations preserve their traditions, their unique ability, creativity, customs and their particular approaches to problem solving, – these “skill sets” make Europe truly formidable. European states need not be streamlined or unified, but on the contrary their unique and specific abilities and talents must be coordinated preserving their separate identities – and thanks to such a coordination of various talents and skills a new quality might arise in Europe which will empower the European Union on the world stage and in world trade.
Where are we now?
The current state of the European Union is that of a mule. It combines elements of the federal, imperial approaches with elements based on the concept of national sovereignty and independence of Member States. It is a supranational cooperation unlike any other: with ties that bind both tightly and loosely at the same time, but with an observable tendency towards federalism. It is evident that the current leadership and elites of the European Union as well as the leaders of the great European powers along with outside global centers of gravity guide, even force, the European Union towards greater federalism while the political camp of those who would protect national sovereignty and independence grows by the day – think especially of the Visegrad group of countries and Italy.
It is clear, therefore, that there is a clash between two diametrically opposite points of view, worldviews and directions. The question is: what could decide between the two or in other words, who is right? A cynical answer presents itself: the balance of power will decide which way the European Union moves forward. And, of course, there is much truth in that, but for us, here it makes sense to answer the question along real arguments.
In our opinion, given in advance as a summary on page one, the “ever closer Union”, or in other words the plan of super federalism despite being present from the outset is unfounded and unfeasible while an EU based on national sovereignty and independence is feasible and the only way to save the European Union. This is so for two fundamental reasons: on one hand the history or traditions of the Union and the entirety of Europe and on the other a total lack of shared identity, a “we-ness”, which is a prerequisite of a federal state.
Top-down federalism is unworkable.
Let us start with the historical heritage. There are fundamental differences between the histories of Europe and the United States of America. America is a society organized from the bottom-up whose foundation was created by a single people – the “WASPs” who came from a single cultural and religious medium. Although they had their separate states, they won sovereignty together in their war of independence. Sovereignty in the United States of America is one and indivisible and the states are and have been part of the greater union the federal United States of America, from their inception. Although the states do have some autonomy, sovereignty is not found at their level – it manifests at the level of the federal government and binds together the inhabitants of the entire polity.
Conversely, Europe consist of nations which were created through many centuries, sovereignty was always carried by the nation states, never by the temporary alliances of European states (although, from Immanuel Kant through Victor Hugo all the way to Winston Churchill and many others dreamt of a united Europe). Contrary to America, Europe was never a people of common root broken up into states who then created a natural federation – Europe is several peoples creating several nations – especially in the 18th-19th centuries, which as separate entities interact with each other (often throughout history not very cordially)
It is, nevertheless, a fact that at the foundation of the precursors to the European Union, immediately following the Second World War the “founding fathers” did set their gaze on an ever closer integration and a “United States of Europe”. (This is especially true for one of the most prominent “founding fathers”, the cosmopolitan Jean Monnet, who thought beyond a united Europe and envisioned a global government and a global society.) It was in this spirit that they launched the process with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951: their aim was for the originally economic cooperation to take on, through the years, the character of an ever-closer political, societal and cultural, etc. union
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The problem was that the members of the globalist-European elites wanted to force this on the European states from outside and above. While the United States of America was created bottom-up in a natural, organic way (Alexis de Tocqueville wrote extensively on the subject), the “United States of Europe” was meant to be created not merely ignoring the wishes of the people, but also disregarding the nation-states. In a few years, the infeasibility of the plan struck home: by the mid-1950s the most prominent countries abandoned the project and created instead the European Economic Community in 1957, which meant that having left behind the idea of political integration they returned to the framework of economic cooperation.
The belief in an “ever closer Union” was, of course, not lost and after the end of the Cold War, but especially after the 2015 mass migration crisis directed at Europe, it increasingly took center stage. This new development is supported by the same global centers of gravity that supported the previous incarnation of the idea; they feel that the time has arrived for a super-federal EU and just as with Jean Monnet in the period following the Second World War, they lend their support to people within the Union and Europe who fervently support this concept –Juncker, Timmermans, Merkel.
However, the modern history of Europe is about nations living side-by-side, it is not about the union. Even when imperial aspirations did manage to create such unions, all empires fell in the end which in turn prompted a triumphal return to national identity. This is why the idea of a “United States of Europe” goes against tradition and history, why it is unnatural and ultimately aggressive.
The greatest problem with forced uniformization: the lack of a common identity.
On the flip side of the coin, the creation of a tight federation necessitates a common identity a “we-ness”. Is this identity there? The answer is an unequivocal “no”.
This is so regardless of existing ties that bind together the peoples of Europe: a shared civilizational foundation, Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian religions and values. These are cultural starting points that indeed represent a cohesive force and are enough to distinguish and protect European civilization when necessary from intrusion by outside civilizations and cultures. It is, however, clear that today these threads of values that connect Western Europe to Central and Eastern Europe have grown thin, almost raising an old-new iron curtain separating the two halves of the continent. On the other hand these fading shared values are not the same as identity: a vast majority of Europeans identify with their nation, their “we-ness” ties them to the nation, not Europe.
All this is clearly identifiable in the polls which show that Europeans attribute a great importance to the European Union, as it makes their lives easier, more comfortable; but they distrust the European institutions, the EU’s leaders and the Brussels elite. This is no coincidence: support for the European Union is primarily support for higher living standards and the economic advantages; a common identity, “we-ness”, would manifest in support for the central institutions of the EU like the Commission and their leaders – but there is no such support to be found. There is no EU identity and it is impossible to base a super-federal state and governance on such a foundation. Or if it is possible, it is through coercion, against the will of the people – especially the peoples and nations of Central Europe.
But then that is no longer democracy, while according to the often-quoted sentiment: the European Union must be founded on shared values among which democracy is first.
The dead-end of the European Superstate.
To sum it up: if we answer the substantive question pertaining to the future of the European Union, we can clearly state that attempts at transforming the EU into a superstate lead to a dead-end, because neither historical/political (national sovereignty) nor human/societal (“EU identity”) conditions can be met. Conversely, the concept basing the future of Europe on sovereign nations, nation states has natural foundations and traditional support.
What follows is that instead of an “ever closer Union” a better solution would be “ever less Union” – a Union which is as little as possible but as good as possible. This doesn’t mean a gradual dissembling of the European Union and eventual extinction. What it means is – contrary to the elitist expectations of Jean Monnet – that the political cooperation must be loosened and made more democratic (underlining the equal rights of the Member States) and the model of economic cooperation based on the independence of the participating states provided by the Common Marker (EEC) should be brought to center stage; with a lot less intrusion into each other’s political and economic systems’ inner workings. (At the same time, tight foreign policy and cultural cooperation should be pushed back – these could be returned to the level of interstate cooperation). Instead of pushing common values, the accent should be on common interests: free market, no tariffs, free movement of people, services, capital and goods are such prominent shared interests. That is to say: as many objectives should be reached as possible, and nobody should wish for more than what is necessary. This is the central commonsensical idea of “less but better Union”. Globalist utopias, much like Communism was earlier should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
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II. Institutional and Legal Reform in the European Union
The EU is in crisis, and the road out of this crisis does not lead through a super-federal United States of Europe; it leads towards a loose alliance of sovereign nation states. This alliance would be founded on equal rights for the Member States, including equal voting rights and the right of veto. The obstacle to this is that an increasingly greater portion of the decisions are made in the central, bureaucratic institution called the Commission. This institution was supposed to be the initiator and guardian of EU laws, but it has long since overstepped its bounds and usurped power within the European Union.
There is a need for a radical reform of institutions
The EU in its current state is a centralized organization led from above which has little to do with real democracy. Therefore, today, the problem isn’t so much a “deficit of democracy” within the European Union but that in many ways its operation has an undemocratic character. All this fundamentally inhibits the prospect of creating an organization based on Member State equality and sovereignty.
For this reason, there is a need for radical reform regarding EU institutions.
As a starting point, we must observe that the differences between the approaches advocating federalism and an organization based on national sovereignty are especially pronounced in two fields. First, whether it should be the European Council or the European Commission which plays a leading role in the European Union; second, whether the majority principle or consensus should guide the decision-making process. Both these have symbolic as well as practical dimensions.
First, the Commission (which got its name in 1957) is an institution of the European Union that represents the totality of the Member States, or in other words symbolizes the cohesion of the Union. An entity which embodies supranationalism and federalism. Its decisions manifest as the common decisions of the Union where the will of individual Member States have already been dissolved. Therefore the more influence the Commission obtains over decision-making in practice, the more decisive its voice is in ever more fields, the stronger the supranational and federal character of the Union becomes.
All this was well known to the federalist “founding fathers”, especially Jean Monnet: when the predecessor of the European Commission, the High Authority, was created in 1951 within the framework of the European Coal and Steel Community he became its first president and he expressed his opinion on several occasions that the High Authority should become a sort of central government (therefore assuming supranational authority for the institution). During his leadership (he left office in 1954) he led in this spirit not merely the High Authority but the totality of the new Community.
Conversely, in the early days, the predecessor of the Council of the European Union (“the Council” for short), the Special Council of Ministers, embodied the national sovereignty of the participating states and beginning with the ‘60s attempted to resist the federalizing tendencies of the Commission, with more or less success. This institution, comprised of the ministers of governments that were elected indirectly by the people, to this day symbolically represents national sovereignty and is the fountainhead of professional decision-making. Parallelly, in theory the European Council of the heads of state and government, which is grounded in national sovereignty, is the central political decision-making body of the European Union and is supposed to define its general political direction; however, one way that the crisis manifests itself is through the Commission taking more and more decisions in an ever wider field and, supported by the European Court of Justice, it promotes the primacy of EU law over the Member State law in increasingly many fields, thus preparing the ground for the creation of a superstate.
On the other hand, the equal standing of the Member States and democracy within the European Union is safeguarded by the fact that within the European Council, and to a large extent within the councils of ministers, decisions are taken on a consensual basis, therefore no single Member State need suffer a decision, decree or European law disadvantageous or perceived to be disadvantageous to its core interests. In other words the Member States have effective veto power, and this represents the fact that the Member States are sovereign, the European Union isn’t federalist in nature, that it is an alliance of independent nation states.
Well, the federalist elites have been opposed to the principle of consensus since the inception of the European cooperation. The so called “Luxemburg Compromise” in 1966, however, maintained the right of veto for the Member States, albeit as a tool of last resort, and this, much like the sword of Damocles, held the federalists’ hand. This changed in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty: this treaty contained an extension to the majority principle and later treaties (Amsterdam 1997, Nizza 2001, Lisbon 2007-2009) promoted the majority principle even further until it became a significant element of the decision-making process. Today, particularly post-2015, and especially with regard to migrant-friendly decisions pertaining to processes regulating migration, majority decision-making is increasingly widespread. In addition, the Commission often quotes the otherwise undefined catalog of “European values” enumerated in Article 2 of the EU Treaty in order to interfere with Member State competences never conferred upon the Union. A proposition that falls in line with the above trend is the one advocating for majority decision-making in the field of foreign policy, and otherwise to transfer jurisdiction away from the European Council to the Brussels bureaucracy in more and more cases; all of this indicates an intent to move towards super federalism
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The source of decision-making isn’t the bureaucracy, but people’s sovereignty.
Based on the above, the European Union should approximate the democratic model operating within the Member States, or in other words, the nation states which adhere to the principle that the source of decision-making isn’t the bureaucracy but the decisions taken by citizens in elections, also known as people’s sovereignty. The Union must return to the principle of subsidiarity, always upheld in the Treaties but lately often disowned, which brings the decision-making process as close as possible to European citizens and the bodies directly elected by them.
The central sticking point is the role of the European Commission, which has long overstepped its original functions, whose leaders are selected in political and economic backroom deals, who do not take decisions in order to serve the European citizens but in order to appeal to the global economic and financial interests that hold them enthralled. Consequently, the European Commission must be cut down to size; it must cease being a decision-making, politicking organ and once more become what it was intended to be: a managerial body that executes the political directions set out by the European Council, is indeed the “guardian of the Treaties”, executes law and isn’t a political institution.
This would mean that the real governing functions of the European Union would reside with the European Council and the Council of Ministers, which are comprised of the heads of state and government and ministers of the Member States, which after all have democratic legitimacy. The Commission could become the managerial, bureaucratic apparatus of the European Council which would deal with the practical implementation of political decisions taken by the latter. (It would be better to call it an “Authority” instead of “Commission”.) It is important that the Commission should not be empowered to initiate procedures that could lead to limiting the rights of Member States – such as the Article 7 procedure, which could ultimately lead to the suspension of voting rights. Such procedures should only ever come from the European Council, based on a consensual decision.
On the other hand, in order to increase democratic control the European Parliament as an elected body (whose size should be reduced to facilitate professionalism and work ethic) should be more efficient in controlling and overseeing the work done by the Commission (Authority).
Last but not least, – and this is very important! – the operation of the European Union should be made transparent. What does this mean? Political decision-making is done through both formal and informal channels; this is so in the EU as well. The formal decision-making process that goes through the Commission, the Council and the Parliament is akin to a cooking show on TV, designer politics of a sort, while the real and substantial questions are decided behind-the-scenes through informal channels. These informal channels are an international network that permeates the European Union and the participants take extra care to hide the connection points from the European citizens.
The EU’s deep state: NGOs
A good example of the above is the network of Open Society whose agents of influence are found among members of the European Parliament, among the lobbyists swarming around the Commission, in the think tanks, NGOs and other organizations or within the lesser known “roundtable groups” that represent the interests of the global financial elite and the multinational corporations. It is worthwhile to draw attention to the European Council on Foreign Relations, which was founded in 2007 by entities tied to the Open Society network. The ECFR has among its members present and former EU Commissioners, members of the European Parliament, leaders of multinational corporations and media companies, etc. What we see here, unfortunately, is a duplicate power structure: the elites of the European Union are found in the organizations that adhere to the ideology of Open Society; there is little further need to explain the power and influence the politically motivated NGOs have over the EU’s decision making. This network functions as a European “Deep State” within, above and parallel to the formal decision-making channels of the European Union.
Everything points to the possibility that the EU has found itself under the informal control of the global elite and the network operated by them; and thus one of the most important questions regarding the Union’s radical reform is to identify, map, publicize this network and to bring it under control.
The will of the citizens must become the political compass
Let us add: if we move in the direction of the reforms described above and the will of the European nation-states and the European citizens become defining when it comes to the answers given to the challenges faced by European Union, there will be a lot better chance for the community to regard migration not as an “opportunity” but as a source of danger, for the EU to stop organizing and managing migration; instead it would move to stop it and to protect its outside borders.
Much is at stake: the European Parliament elections were a single but important battleground in this long-lasting civilizational struggle; the debate surrounding the reform of and changes to the EU Treaties and the institutions is part of this struggle. Every interested party understands that the current undefined operational structure of the European Union is unsustainable, but the perspectives are highly divergent. Certainly the 2019 European Parliament elections are behind us, but the most difficult political debates and battles are yet to be fought. The legal outcome of this struggle will be fixed in the way the current EU Treaties are amended
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