The Future. Europe and Liberalism Beyond the Cliches: Follow Up Post 12

12. The nature of EU federalism is clearly shaped by German experience in the federal republic, which itself draws on Weimar federalism, which evolved out of the federal aspects of Bismarckian Germany, itself developing of of the proto-federal nature of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation,a nature which it had acquire by early modern times. We can also see precedents in the unification of Italy (Mazzini was an enthusiast for European Federation) and the federal nature of the Netherlands going back to the formation of the Dutch Republic, itself an important precedent for the American Republic.
13. The EU also draws on the precedent of the Concert of Nations that emerged from the Congress of Vienna and which led to intervention in national affairs by the major powers claiming to act on behalf of Europe. It can also look back to the transnational legal and political role of the Medieval Catholic Church, a legacy of the the Roman Empire which itself provides an important precedent for ideas of pan-European law and sovereignty.

 Continuing posts which expand on points in a post of 1st June, which argues that some are seeing issues around European integration through a one sided reading of Hayek.  The points above really refer to what I covered in follow up post 11, so that suggests and end to the series.  A few things to wrap up.

The European Union project draws on a history of federalism in Germany, going back to the point in the Middle Ages when the Holy Roman Empire centred on German lands lost substantial sovereignty, so that the Emperor was left with real power over hereditary Hapsburg lands inside and outside the Empire.  Authority became very limited to the multitude of states of very different size, and form of government, in the Empire outside the Hapsburg lands, but the Empire continued to be a recognisable political unit.  

The Holy Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in the early sixteenth century, when religious divisions between Protestant and Catholic state confirmed the limited sovereignty of the Emperor.  The Empire lasted until the time of Napoleon, who abolished the Empire, gave the Hapsburgs the title of Emperor of Austria, and imposed a Rhineland confederation.  The end of the Napoleonic Wars led to the creation of a German Confederation until 1848, when a North German Confederation emerged.  Germany was unified without the Hapsburg lands in 1870, under Prussian hegemony, as a German Empire.  The Empire itself had a federal structure of a rather asymmetrical kind, in which Prussia continued as a kingdom taking up about half of the Empire.  The Weimar Republic of 1919 to 1933 had a federal structure of a more consistent kind than under the Empire, but Prussia became even more dominant, because of loss of German territory at the end of the First World War.  

The Federal Republic was established in 1949, and looks like a model of successful federalism.  The formation of the European Union can be considered an expansion of the idea of democracy and rights through dividing power between different regions of a state, as it appeared in the Federal Republic of Germany.  

European integration has reached a very difficult point with the Euro crisis.  I’m not making any predictions, but there is without doubt a possibility that the Euro currency will collapse, either through complete disintegration, or through the expulsion of those countries who have had problems maintaining the credibility of sovereign debt, and which have economies more handicapped by market rigidities, corrupt and inefficient state institutions, weak rule of law, and short term politics.  The European Union will continue to exist and will probably seek to relaunch the Euro project, even if the present Eurozone completely disintegrates.

A reformed, or relaunched, Euro currency will be embedded in a fiscal union, with Europe wide bonds, to finance pooled debt, bail out provisions,  and strict enforcement debt limits, along with economic and administrative reforms. On the political side, the unpopularity of the Commission in European public opinion, and the lack of public interest in the European Parliament, means that the intergovernmental aspect of the European Union, in the Council of Ministers, will continue to gain in importance, as it already has in the Lisbon Treaty.  The role of President of the European Council will be down played, if not completely abolished.  It is a failed attempt to add a Union element to the intergovernmental nature of the Council.  The Commission should really be abolished and replaced with a civil service clearly responsible to a politically convincing executive body.  That is a European government responsible to the European Parliament.  The phrase European government will draw horror from some quarters, but even after a Eurozone collapse, the European Union will have enough competences to make this a matter of labelling. A  government could be formed by  consensus between the political blocs in the Parliament, which should have more rights in initiating legislation, and controlling the legislative process.  There could also be a directly elected President, which might stimulate further interest in European politics.  More powers can be returned to national parliaments while strengthening European capacities to deal with core areas for any viable European government, such as the internal market, world trade negotiations, defence and diplomatic matters.  One area that should be regarded as a deep concern of the European Union, is complete passport union through the Schengen area.  All states should be in the Schengen agreement, there should be complete freedom of movement within the European Union, with no need for visas, and passports only for checking identity.  The U opt out of the Schengen agreement is the single most shameful moment in its history of European Union membership, negating what should be regard as a a very basic and un-revisable purpose of the EU: free movement across borders.  

A reformed European Union will need to accommodate both stricter enforcement of rules in the areas in which it has full competence, to avoid the nonsense of France and Germany early on breaking the Eurozone rules referring to deficit financing.  It also needs to accommodate joint action by member states which is not fully part of EU structures.  We are a very long way from Ireland, Austria or Finland giving up neutralism in foreign policy for participation in out of area armed actions, such as assistance to rebels against despotic governments in the north Africa and the Middle East.  France and Britain were able to co-operate on assistance to Libyan rebels, but this is not likely to be always possible for France and Britain, before even thinking about all 27 member states.  There is already some recognition for the idea that various forms of military co-operation can take place between member states using an EU framework, but not including all states.  This principle could apply to a reform Euro currency, or later version of that project if the Eurozone does collapse.  The Euro itself excluded countries which had negotiated an opt out, or were new members unready to meet the entry criteria.  More experimentation in co-operation  within the EU between a limited number of state, and more of an emphasis on opt in to new schemes, would be appropriate.  This could be an appropriate way to deal with infrastructure projects, environmental activities, educational exchange and co-operation, cross-border policing and so on.  

The mix should be very strict enforcement of agreed basics, emphasis on opt ins and flexible co-operation on the less basic areas of transnational concern, and a convincing political leadership for the Union, which is visibly connected with public opinion in Europe, rather than slipping through maximum integration through Commission directives and projects like the Euro which aim to foster political union, while pretending to be bases on a purely economic logic (if such a thing exists).  The current crisis has I hope brought that kind of strategy to an end, a strategy known as ‘institutionalisation’ based on Jean Monnet’s belief that political integration would follow on from politically uncontroversial technocratic economic cooperation.  The European public must be able to easily see where decisions are made and who to hold accountable.  There must also be a strong role for inter-governmentalism as it exists in the European Council and the Council of the European Union/Council of Ministers.  These two bodies should be merged for a start.  The existence of both is confusing and only adds to the opacity of the European Union.  The question arises of what relations a unified Council would have with meetings between heads of government, which have proved very important during the Euro crisis.  Those summits will be continue to be important, and will continue to be dominated by Germany for the foreseeable future.  This reality must exist in conjunction with a clearly defined role for the Council. That roe should most obviously senatorial, a house of revision and consideration, with regard to legislation largely originating in a chamber of legislative initiative, in this case the European Parliament.  The best model for a European government is the Federal Council in Switzerland, elected in a consensual cross-party way by the Federal Assembly.  On the Swiss model, the government council would also act as a collective head of state.  However, since creating a genuine European political space is a major issue, a directly elected President might work with that council. Another possibility for the European Council is that it might be elected by national parliaments, though perhaps that could be considered a matter for member states.  

A directly elected president is important because elections to the European Parliament are entirely national in practice even if MEPs belong to European political blocs.  There cannot be a political union without some element of the governmental structure that is connected with a unified European political decision of some kind.  The President could have power with regard to vetoes, chairing meetings of the governmental body, representing the European Union externally, directing the European civil service, co-ordinating institutions, and resolving conflicts between them.  Another possible way to create a European political will which is being promoted, is to have some part of the European Parliament filled by candidates on Europe wide lists, rather than standing for constituencies.  That seems a very partial gesture though, which is maybe more of a supplement to a directly elected president than an alternative.  

The above suggestions are not likely to be what happens in the future evolution of the EU, but I think represent a reasonable set of points with regard to what principles of reform will be necessary for improved, efficient, and legitimate EU institutions.  

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s