Thursday 6 May 2010

My Europe Week: Why not the United States of Europe?

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are landmarks in human history. They attest to the continental vision and the political will of the Founding Fathers.

Still in the 21st century, Europeans cannot escape the example set by the innovative Americans at the end of the 18th century. For some visionaries the USA has been an inspiration. For others, tribal instincts are paramount, and they vehemently reject everything beyond classic international cooperation, even when sovereignty is turning into an empty shell.

When Jean Monnet became a free citizen in 1955, he named his NGO the Action Committee for the United States of Europe.

Why not USE?

Despite the inspirational value of the Founding Fathers and the subsequent development of the USA into the leading world power, it would be wrong to call the future European federation the United States of Europe.


The existing European Union is a treaty based international organisation. The EU has member states.

The coming European federation would be based on its citizens, with a democratic system of government.

Thus, the new union would primarily unite people, not states. This should be reflected in the name.

The distinction is not a new one. For instance, Umberto Campagnolo writing Repubblica Federale Europea in 1945 (new edition Rubettino, 2004; page 68) argued that the name United States of Europe would be wrong from a theoretical, historical and political viewpoint.

A federal Europe is based on representative democracy and an appropriate division of powers, based on a simple formula: How are the security and prosperity of its citizens best enhanced?

The USA became something of a melting pot of nations, but the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe is based on existing states and linguistic communities. This is something the federation needs to serve and protect.

With regard to the daily lives of citizens, a federal system based on private initiative and complemented by local, regional and national democratic decision making would not be especially intrusive.

On the other hand, there is a need for more Europe. In fundamental policy areas our interests as citizens are best served by establishing sufficient powers at the European level according to a written Constitution, based on a principle of solidarity:

• Foreign policy, including defence
• Freedoms, justice and security
• Economic and monetary policy
• External and internal trade
• Research, communications, energy and the environment

It goes without saying that these powers require a real federal budget and that they have to be exercised through free and fair elections to the European Parliament, leading to accountable government.

If this vision seems too audacious, we can continue on the path towards decline and oblivion.

Ahead of Europe Day, your vision is welcome on My Europe Week. Share your Europe.

Ralf Grahn


  1. As an American living and working in the EU with European Law, for several years before the Treaty of Lisbon finally went through, I thought - why bother with this total reorganisation of the pillar structure if the point is to make the EU more accessible to its citizens? Why not just adopt a Bill of Rights, because after all, the EU is something akin to the US and the Bill of Rights is very easily accessible and comprehendable. Your comment that the EU is a union of people and not states, to me, underlines this even further. Unite the people not with a 300 page document, but with a simple listing of their fundamental rights that is inclusive of the basic principles of the Union (don't even get me started on the Charter). Or was Lisbon not actually 'for the people by the people'?

  2. Justine,

    There are too many suppositions and questions in your comment to make a short reply possible.

    Just two points:

    1) The US Constitution and the Bill of Rights were really innovative and revolutionary at the time, but the European Convention and the EU Charter are more modern and comprehensive.

    In my view, the EU has a better Bill of Rights, but lacks full political rights for citizens.

    2) A federal system is never easy, or free from tensions, but a future European Constitution could be shorter and clearer than the existing treaties.

    Actually, if you take away the foreign policy and defence policy Title from the Treaty on European Union, it becomes almost tolerable.

    On the other hand, sweeping language at the constitutional level makes for secondary legislation and/or judge made law.

  3. What do you think about economy of a possible European federation and economic problems of individual member states in such federation? Do you think that a crisis like the present one in Greece is possible in the federation?

  4. citizen of Europe,

    A federal system as such does not necessarily prevent mismanagement of public finances in individual states.

    We can think about a rich economic area like California, where the political atmosphere combined with referendums have practically led to bankruptcy.

    However, this does not directly threaten the dollar.

    In the USA, the financial and economic crisis led to devastation and enormous injections of public money to alleviate the situation.

    In Europe, Greece cheated in the entry exam and kept cheating during the annual exams.

    All EU members were hit by the global financial and economic crisis, but some had aggravated the problems by property bubbles, lax public finances and a failure to make structural reforms.

    The rules for the eurozone build on assumptions of "good faith" and loyal cooperation.

    This has been found wanting. Monitoring could be more effective at federal level.

    A federal system could also offer more robust decision making to solve a crisis (majority decisions, a federal budget allowing taxation and bonds).

    In the present situation, the eurozone operates intergovernmentally, which means that all members have to agree and then to assume their share of the burden.

    This makes the salvage a risky operation, which can unravel if one or more countries desert the others.

    In general terms, I think that a federal system would be better equipped to prevent and to handle a severe crisis, but we should never forget the ability of political systems to build in such amounts of checks and balances that they become paralysed.

  5. Part One


    Your conclusions are utterly logical and rational - unfortunately logic and reason rarely intrude on to the political landscape!

    Even if this were to happen, there is a rather large obstacle blocking moves towards this radical realignment of political power and influence - Member States!

    Let's hypothesise (more like fantasise actually) for a moment and imagine a scenario in which your concept gains wider acceptance.

    For smaller less influential entities within the European political firmament, such as Lietuva, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovensko, Latvija, this idea makes perfect sense.

    A two tier federal structure functioning on a defined constitutional basis, each level of accountable governance boasting competency over clearly established policy fields and managing its affairs accordingly; eg. Macroeconomic strategy (which must include the €uro currency) quite obviously falls within the remit of the Federal tier, Education Policy on the other hand remains on more immediate geographic basis.

    However, now consider the scenario in larger more influential Member States; France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and not forgetting of course, dear old Grande Bretagne!

    Many of these Member States harbour domestic audiences holding deeply entrenched beliefs well above their current status - that such notions defy the logic of present day realpolitik is irrelevant because the political elites leading these distinct political communities are still accountable to individual electorates infused with this warped worldview perspective.

    To demonstrate the tension here, just try suggesting in Britain for example, the concept of a European Army and unified European Foreign Policy manifested by, for example, France and UK unilaterally opting to cede their seats of the permanent UN Council in favour of an EU seat and merging their collective Nuclear Arsenals under a Common European Defence Strategy.

    Cue: Hysterical headlines in large sections of the right wing (viscerally EU hostile) UK press.

    The fact that this entirely logical conclusion would save trillions (of £ or €) over the coming decades; rather handy in the current financially constrained circumstances, would be drowned out in the “Tsunami” of populist rhetoric and bluster.

    Result - No political leader of standing in any on the leading Member States I’ve outlined above will go near such ideas for fear of negative public reaction and consequent domestic electoral damage.

  6. Part 2

    Where does this harsh reality leave us?

    With the unmistakable conclusion that the mere existence of large Member States and the concept of exclusively European political discourse are simply incompatible - they cannot co-exist on a mutually beneficial basis in the same universe, let alone the European arena!

    No, Europe needs another way and it is a long-term (by that I mean 50 years +) future in which the existing array of large member states withers on a vine of functional efficacy.

    This strategy might be summed up as the "Europe of Regions" doctrine, in which smaller geo-political building blocs emerge over time, slowly but inexorably supplanting the dominant role currently played by large, dominant Member States.

    The most credible model for these smaller more relevant and geographically immediate entities, forming the constitutional matter for a more flexible yet unified European political entity, are the current sub-national tiers of accountable governance already well established and functional across much of Europe; Bayern, Lombardia, Catalunya, Ile De France, Scotland, Mazowieckie et al.

    The pathway to this new paradigm of political realism is of course long and arduous but there is nothing to suggest that the foundations cannot be laid in our lifetimes; For example, a Senate (or democratically accountable upper chamber) based around this idea could assimilate the roles played by the currently unaccountable EESC & CoR. This would provide a welcome boost to the EU's democratic credentials, whilst simultaneously providing a vital mouthpiece for the political aspirations of sub-national tiers of accountable governance - of course this concept would require official acknowledgement of some rather obvious realities - the smaller member states would assume equal status with newly empowered Regional entities?

    Despite this critique, I am generally in agreement with your ideas about the way forward for European integration – I look forward to your comments

  7. Peter Davidson,

    National politicians are seldom the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to questioning the suboptimal effectiveness of their preferred playground.

    Thus, they leave it to independent persons to try to look at how things are and could potentially be.

  8. Ralph

    How true but unfortunately in today's European Union, predicated as it is on a "Europe of Nations" geo-political orthodoxy, they still call the shots - hence the primacy of the European Council, which continues to dictate the pace and direction of European integration.

    If I dare to elaborate upon this outline concept, people usually look at me askance - you can tell they're thinking; "this guy's a nutter!"

  9. Peter Davidson,

    Regarding Part 2, I am perhaps a bit more cautious than you. In a stronger federal Europe autonomous or independent regions would be more viable in the international arena (foreign policy, defence, trade) through European value added.

    At the same time the breakup of existing "nation" states would be less dramatic than the perception today, because future European rules would guarantee free movement of persons, goods, services and capital more effectively than now.

    What I mean is that I assume that EU rules and practices are going to develop in the meantime.

    Naturally, decisions about new states have to be taken peacefully and based on popular will (referendum).

    One notable question is that the over-representation for small "member states" (degressive proportionality) would have to be corrected (at least in a first chamber).

    One person, one vote with (roughly) equal weight would have to prevail.

  10. Peter Davidson,

    At least in Britain the mildest supporters of some sort of European integration are often branded as "Euro fanatics", so I don't wonder.

    The USA was constructed as a federal system in the late 18th century, practically without precedents.

    But Europe had its share of political innovation at about the same time:

    The French Revolution introduced the Declaration on Citizens and the new state legitimacy based on the citizen, even if the Monarchs of Europe succeeded in quashing it for about a century (in many places for much longer).

    Since the principle of citizens as the fountain of power has European (one would hope universal) validity, the coming federal Europe has to achieve much less than these earlier innovations:

    Introduce federal democracy at the European level.

    Today, the EU would not qualify for EU membership, which is a constant sore.


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