Towards a federal Union: reflections on a roadmap

A proposal for a new European federalist flag (Wikimedia Commons / Aloysiusthebear)

A proposal for a new European federalist flag (Wikimedia Commons / Aloysiusthebear)

Dear federalist friends, dear supporters of the European integration process, dear readers,

Since the failure of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TECE) to pass the French and Dutch referendums in 2005, we keep on repeating that Europe is in crisis and requires a deep institutional reform that the Lisbon Treaty failed to provide. Therefore, many among us consider 2014 as the ideal occasion, or even the last opportunity to renew the integration process and achieve a federal Europe. While I share the objective of a federal union provided with a “Constitution”, I wish to express serious doubts regarding the tight schedule we would like to set. This article will discuss only the organisational aspect and will not enter into the debates about the content of a potential reform; this will be the topic of future articles, in due time.

I/ The risks of fixing ourselves on a 2014 target

I have read claims of some federalist colleagues stating that 2014 would be the year of a “historic turning point” offering the choice between a quasi-definitive choice between carrying on the integration process and, on the contrary, limiting ourselves to inter-State cooperation. I have read their criticism towards “long-termists” who would “block any reformer impulse […] in the name of a short-sighted realism”. I have read their proposal of uniting pro-European parties for the European elections taking place next year, the true stake of which would allegedly be an opposition between “supporters of a nationalist retreat on one side and supporters of European unity and solidarity on the other side”. Finally, I noted with great interest the focus on the symbolic character of 2014: “200th anniversary of the opening of the Wien Congress”, “100th anniversary of the start of the first great European civil war” (i.e., World War I), and other events as well, which will not have a round number anniversary in 2014. The document I am referring to is accessible here (in French). It contains a number of very interesting proposals which are not discussed in this article, but I cannot endorse its conclusion.

It may be true that the “good moment” rarely appears; however, this does not mean that the “wrong moment” does not exist! The European Union is stuck in its deepest economic crisis since World War II, and the citizens’ interest in politics and trust in institutions is particularly low. How can we imagine that citizens will focus on institutional or even constitutional issues while their first concern is to have a job and a decent earning to support their families? It is true that by doing one’s civic duties, one can influence the choice of the policy which seems best suited for improving the situation, but this regards the content of policies, not the political and institutional organisation.

This leads me to my second point: let us be mistaken about the true issue! The European elections are an opportunity to influence the content of European policies, they are the moment when candidates for MEPs must offer solutions to Europe’s and to their constituents’ problems; they do not represent the ideal opportunity for an institutional debate. By the way, if we want that a convention be in charge of elaborating a “European Constitution” for a federal union, then I do not really see why MEPs, who will not be in charge of writing the text, should be elected on the basis of their proposals for institutional reforms. Correspondingly, a “union of pro-Europeans” would be a mistake. The issues that should dominate the electoral debates (economic policy, cohesion policy, etc.) are far more complex than an alternative between pro- and anti-EU. The latter would actually favour the simplistic approach promoted by political extremes and opponents to the EU (whose sole common platform is precisely their opposition to the integration process). A union of pro-European parties could be considered during a referendum campaign on the federal Constitution, but would not meet the citizens’ expectations in the European elections’ campaign.

Our work, as federalists, is therefore not so much setting up of a pro-European alliance, but rather mobilising citizens to have them voting. This requires a political explanation of the EU’s role in their daily life and active use of various media – e.g., this Facebook page –, preferably appealing to the citizens’ intelligence (rather than showing Monica Bellucci with a half-naked breast, which will surely catch the eye but not incentivise anyone to participate in the election…). Furthermore, directing the campaign towards European issues comes without our remit; indeed, we should try to avoid that, once more, national politics become the main issue of the European elections.

To sum up about 2014, I am convinced that it is too early for the “great federalist leap”. Furthermore, by sticking to that deadline, we face the risk of excessive rushing and a possible failure would kill our project for many years. In my opinion, the campaign for European elections rather opens a “window of opportunity” to mediatise our organisations and our objectives, with the prospect of a future debate on institutional reforms.

II/ For a convention in 2016 or 2017

I hope that by 2016 or 2017 Europe will have overcome its economic vows. If the economic situation has indeed improved, then we may try to mobilise citizens around a major political and institutional project. I insist on the necessity to mobilise citizens, and not only “civil society”, which does not (or so little…) represent the majority of the public.

We support the idea of a convention. Several issues will need to be determined: the designation mode of its members (by the competent European institutions and/or the Member States), the best manner of involving external people (not only law experts…) and the best way of mediatising the work of this convention in order to familiarise citizens with the project and convince them of its necessity. We would be involved in the latter task.

Another advantage of 2016 or 2017 would be the possibility to coincide with the promise of a referendum in the UK. We would have negotiated, all together, a new “European Constitution” and the British voters, like their counterparts in the 27 other Member States, could then directly decide upon whether they support the project or not. I won’t enter here into the details of what could happen if voters from some Member States reject the project; we could imagine that those approving it would form a federal union that would substitute the federated Member States in the current European bodies for the issues falling within the federation’s remit.

For those who care a lot about symbols, 2016 would mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Verdun, the 70th one of Churchill’s Fulton speech and the 30th one of the Single European Act. As to 2017, it would be the year of the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the 60th one of the Rome Treaties and the 10th one of Romanian and Bulgarian membership.

Finally, I wish to insist on a fact that we must be aware of: we, pro-Europeans and/or federalists, will all share some ideas (a deepening of the European integration, leading to a federal union enabling, e.g., the emergence of a true European economic government, etc.), but we will not necessarily agree on what should be a common policy (because of different beliefs as to what should fall within the scope of public action), let alone the content of these federal common policies (knowing that a constitutional text is anyway not the place to determine policy content).

III/ Our role until then

This last part is mainly for my federalist friends, but can contribute to the mobilisation of all readers willing to partner with us with the aim of bringing forward the integration process in an orderly manner and on the basis of concrete proposals. So, don’t hesitate to join the Young European Federalists (JEF), the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and the European International Movement (EMI).

It follows from the elements presented above that we need to elaborate a strategy over 3-4 years. If we want to reach our goals, we also need to act more like a lobby, rather than a political movement.

We will need to lobby the national political parties and their elects. An idea would be to get pro-Europeans (or even federalists) occupying the position of “person in charge of European and international affairs” within national political parties and their youth sections and becoming members of national Parliaments’ “European affairs” committees. National political parties must become places where our political agenda is discussed and promoted, rather than the opposite (i.e., that national sections of JEF be an instrument of promotion of the European policy of such-and-such national party). As to the elects, we will need to show them the advantages of a federal union both for them, political actors, and for their electors.

Our communication effort towards citizens will also require a significant amplification. This means, e.g., a steadier presence in media with a wide audience. Indeed, having our own media (webzine, blogs…) is a good initiative, but their audience outside from federalist circles remains pretty insufficient to lead a major campaign, e.g., in favour of a European federal Constitution. Therefore, we should do some networking with media, so as to encourage journalists to invite us more often to talk about European issues. It would be a “win-win” situation, because journalists would a priori have a pool of voluntary competent speakers to participate in their broadcasts.

Finally, we would need to ensure support (included financially) from the world of business, thanks to communication towards businesses showing them how a federal union would be beneficial for their development. The business community is no stranger to the European integration process; the existence of the ERT (European Round Table of Industrialists), which spurred behind the scenes the process leading to the Single Market, proves it.

To sum up, we can succeed and progress towards a federal union. But this requires a thorough and adequate planning before starting a long-term campaign; setting the deadline in 2014 seems unrealistic and it would be better to envisage an action plan over 3-4 years.

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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