The first test for the European Union was a real success. However, when we had only few states in the economic alliance, we could not talk about European Union, but just of European Economic Community (EEC): a regional organization which aimed to bring economic integration among its 6 founding members. At that time, after that accomplishment, no one could have known that the foundation stone was laid. Then, soon it was time to give another face to EEC by bringing political and cultural integration with an own EU anthem, and then with social rights as a flag of a new era for Europe. All these efforts were made to move toward a federal State, a federal Europe. Nevertheless, there is not a unite consensus, among the states, about which steps European Union should make. If for some, a federation is a natural development after all those years, for instance the German position is quite clear on that; for some others, integration should be viewed with caution in favor of a confederation, or rather, an intergovernmental EU, as Britain claimed before Brexit turned the tables.
But, first, what is a federation and what confederation? And why federation seems today a proper path for the future of the European Union, to the point where “the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, has called for EU member states to commit to a United States of Europe [expression invented by Winston Churchill in his speech at Zurich University] by 2025, setting out an ambitious European reform agenda”?
In the “Treccani” encyclopedia, a federation is a “union of states featured by conferring international legal personality to the union, and recognizing judicial, legislative and executive powers to the Federal States within the limits set by Federal Constitution”. Therefore, a federation is “a system of government in which significant governmental powers are divided and shared between the central government and small sub national units,” based on a division of powers laid out in a constitution.
On the other hand, confederation is an “alliance among neighboring states with common goals, especially on the international landscape, thanks to proper institutions, but in the same time remaining perfectly independent and sovereign on their own territory. The Treaty establishing different shared bodies with specific competences usually regarding security, defense and foreign policy”. It involves a top-down, loose system of administration and the key difference between a confederation and a federation is “is the inability of a confederation to exercise power over citizens of member states”.
In the beginning, the EU seemed to move toward a confederal system. However, in the recent period we can say with certainty that this trend has not completely developed, having instead, as only common identity achieved of a federal system, the existing a common currency, the Euro (apart from Sweden, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). Leaving then, the European Union stalled between the idea of a moderate integration and the ambitious of a strength confederation like federation of states. Unfortunately, because of the EU’s curse, linked by the fact of being always on the half way between both systems, our community all the defects of those systems. Indeed, there is not a proper balance between the push for standardizing all Member States under a common culture, shared goals and common policies, like in a federation, and on the other hand, it is typical of a confederation leaving to the Member State too much liberty on decision-making about topic that would be better to tackle at Community level.
Nevertheless, in a time where the awakening of nationalisms is overshadowing the culture of democracy, for instance the rise of anti-Semites parties like “Alternativ für Deutschland”, where the austerity policies are still a yardstick put in place to regulate, where the “rates of long-term unemployment and youth unemployment are still high while poverty, social exclusion and inequality remain a serious concern in several Member States” and last where “the periphery of the European Union is pulling away from the center”, European Union must be stronger than ever. When everyone is doubting about European Union, the time to show strength, unity, security, values useful to build a real home, has come. And United States of Europe seems to be the right answer to make Europe great again. However, which are the results of such proposal?
European Federalist Party, for instance, made a Manifesto defining the hypothetical features of USE. “The USE will have a European president elected directly by the European citizens, one single army with a single central command, one single diplomatic corps, representing a common European foreign policy”. According to that, the system would be “more democratic, accountable and transparent than the EU. No more bureaucrats electing other bureaucrats electing other bureaucrats. Only a strong, united European army can have a chance against a big threat. A united army is better for taxpayers too – no need to duplicate the same things 28 times and also, an accountable and strong European foreign minister to effectively protect interests of Europeans in the world”.
But is this possible and especially desired by European citizens? It has been shown that EU’s chief dream of a United States of Europe collapsed at pools revealing that none of the major countries support the proposal. Only in Germany and France, opponents and supports are almost equals, but North Member States has demonstrated a clear opposition with a 52 % on average against the 12,5% in favor of the USE. So, such numbers reveal a great fracture and a lot of questions not answered about the Europe’s future. This begs the question on what is really going on and if, maybe, it would not be better finding again the own Europe spirit instead of replicating something which is historically and culturally different from our own.
By: Deborah Ceccarello