Are some Europeans more equal than others?
“The Great Compromise”: Towards a Political Federal Europe
The EU, until recently synonymous with efficiency and innovation appears to have been caught off-guard during the current crisis; giving the impression of an ambivalent organisation making it up as it goes along. However, what if Europe didn’t have to make “it” up? What if the EU strategically planned not only to bolster Europe’s economic security, but also to shore up the long-term future of Europe’s political and human security as well? What if the EU endeavoured to move beyond the troika’s current ground-hog day/road-to-nowhere austerity ‘tonic’ and address some of its own internal contradictions? Could the answer to “it” therefore be a move towards political federalism?
In many ways the very proposition of deeper integration towards a fully-fledged federalised Europe seems impossible, particularly now at such a volatile time in the EU’s history. Even if one puts the current Euro-zone crisis aside for the moment and acknowledges Europe’s efforts as the continent that both formalised the concept of the modern nation-state, as well as the continent that has come closest to discarding this idea, in favour of a truly post-modern alternative. Even then, a federal Europe is still hard to imagine. One need only reflect on Europe’s strained history to understand why.
Teetering under Europe’s surface has always been a deep culturally entrenched concern over the issue of sovereignty, in the very broadest sense of the word. Europeans throughout the ages have grappled and at times often quite viciously, with issues regarding dominion over specific areas, the extent of jurisdictions, degrees of power, types of rule, methods of control, not to mention bitter and often brutal struggles for independence, autonomy and self-government. Europe boasts an endless catalogue of commemorative monuments that stand testament to a very bloody and divided history, a physical and permanent reminder that at the heart of Europe: North/South, East/West, rich/poor lays a complex and multilayered tribalism yet to be extinguished.
With this tribalism in mind, perhaps the crucial question should not be whether Europe is capable of redrawing its own map? But rather, whether Europeans themselves are actually willing to go down the path of political supra-nationhood? And if so, who ultimately will be charged with making such a momentous decision? The EU stands at a fork in the road. If Federalism is to be genuinely considered as an avenue to try and get Europe out of its current malaise will it be an organic process from below, a democratic call from Europe’s many; or one imposed from above, a technocratic decree from Europe’s few?
An organic move from below conjures up utopian images of a United States of Europe; whilst an imposed edict from above invokes more cynical visions of Empire. In either case, the one certainty is that Europe can no longer afford to ignore the hard questions linked to its political status. Simply put, any addressing of Europe’s economic woes, must also simultaneously readdress the political relationship EU members have to one another and the overall philosophy that underpins the EU and binds these members together.
With all this in mind, before proceeding any further to examine where the EU is possibly going, perhaps here is a good time to pause and reflect on where the EU actually currently is. At present, the EU finds itself in an unworkable situation, the impasse largely due to an inherent flaw. At its core structural level the EU suffers a defect, conceived at its inception when economic union was implemented without political union. The question naturally begs, how is it possible to sustain economic integration and yet still maintain independent political sovereignty? Answer – you can’t! Proof – the current EU crisis!
Furthermore, the EU also appears to find itself unable to accept its own predicament. The current EU crisis has always been a multifaceted problem, however, for too long now, the problem has gone misdiagnosed by many, solely as an economic one. As already mentioned, the EU crisis is in fact also a deeper philosophical puzzle, at the heart of which lays a crucial question about social responsibility, namely do societies exist to serve the global economy, or does the global economy exist to serve our societies? Likewise, the EU crisis is also a political conundrum revolving around the complex relationships its members have with one other, namely can democratisation ever trump realpolitik?
In turn, if the answers to these questions are indeed political Federalism, then three further fundamental questions also emerge: (1) what could a political federalised Europe look like? (2) How would a political federalised Europe work? And (3) why should a political federalised Europe even exist?
What could a federalised Europe actually look like?
For some realists and pessimists (in many cases, often one and the same) a politically federalised Europe, if not discarded outright as too utopian, might only be comprehended in terms of material power. This model envisages any future EU as an imperial dystopia. Here Europe would morph into a grand alliance, although more ancient Athenian Empire and less Delian League in nature, with Germany more than likely as the hegemon or at the very least, a dual-monarch in a power sharing arrangement between the ‘Royal Houses of Berlin and Paris’. Other realist interpretations may foresee potential to experiment with more ethereal hegemonic stability theories. Here the model would still remain imperial. The slight difference though would be that under this model, Germany or a Berlin/Paris Pact would be elevated to a more benevolent authority in order to fulfill the role of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathian.
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