Questions about a federal Europe

Each answer on this page is the personal opinion of the author named and not necessarily of Federal Union.

1. Would you please be able to tell me any statistics concerning the number of people or the percentage of people in the UK who are for a federal union, a United States of Europe?

These questions were asked in the Autumn 2001 Eurobarometer, the regular measurement of public opinion by the European Commission. The answers for the UK and for the EU as a whole were as follows:

Membership a good thing
Benefit from membership
Trust in the European Commission
Support for the euro
Support for a common foreign policy
Support for a common defence/security policy
Support for enlargement
Support for EU constitution

The UK figures are consistently lower than those of the EU as a whole but the pattern is identical. There is more support for an EU constitution than there is for the EU as it is now. The public concern about the EU is because it is not democratic enough. Note also that the percentages in favour of common foreign and defence policies are greater than those in favour of the EU as it is now. It is a myth that the British people are fundamentally opposed to a federal Europe: it is also a myth that it will be easy to convince them to vote for one. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

Eurobarometer – public opinion in the EU

2. Why do you think that a federal union is evolving?

Because it is increasingly apparent that there are political issues that need to be dealt with at the European level and that the collaboration of national governments is neither effective nor democratic enough. The factors that drive this are economic, technological, environmental, social, all kinds.

A further point is that not only is it necessary but also it is possible. The old system of national sovereign states relied for its legitimacy not only the sense that it worked but also that it was the only option. Political power had to be vested somewhere out of reach of the ordinary citizen in order to sustain the myth of nationhood: real people don’t divide up neatly into nations. One of the consequences of the rise of democratic ideas has been the realisation that power does not have to be out of reach of the citizen, in fact quite the opposite. The readiness to challenge traditional ideas of sovereignty and hierarchy in society has also been an important factor.

Let me add a third point: our European federation is not evolving, it is developing. Evolution is a random process. The development of the European Union is not random, it is guided. It has happened because far-sighted and energetic politicians have understood the increasing failure of the national state and have also understood how to build something better. Jean Monnet described the task as being “to make a breach in the ramparts of national sovereignty which will be narrow enough to secure consent, but deep enough to open the way towards the unity that is essential to peace.”

It is not a matter of chance that we live in an era of unprecedented political freedom in Europe, it is a matter of Monnet and Spinelli (and many others). (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

Federalism and national identity – Richard Laming

The history of Federal Union

Friends of Jean Monnet Association

3. When do you see there being an actual United States of Europe: 10 years, 50 years, 100 years?

What do you mean by an “actual United States of Europe”? With that name? Never. With a democratic federal government both authorised to act and limited in its powers by a written constitution? Let’s wait and see what the convention proposes. If the crucial test is that of a monopoly of the use of force, then your question is really asking when there might be a European army worth the name. The development of a European army needs two things: the initial impulse to get the process started, and the realisation that it is indeed a process and not a simple task. I think the Iraq crisis may turn out to be the first of those things. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

Time to choose – European Foreign and Security Policy – Timothy Garden

4. What will be the benefits of such a union?

A meeting of the Council of Federal Union on 4 October 1939 agreed a set of aims, such that federalism would lead to “the prevention of war, the creation of prosperity and the preservation and promotion of individual liberty”. I am not sure I have anything to add to that. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

Aims of Federal Union – 1939

5. Why in your view is the British government so set against a federal union?

Let me suggest two reasons: our history, and our political practice. The two are obviously linked, but they need to be considered separately.

The British do not have the same conception of invasion and occupation as many other European countries. (We have in fact been invaded and occupied more times than most history books present – by the Dutch in 1688 for example – but as long as nobody knows about it, it does not matter.) We industrialised earlier, and pioneered many of the inventions of the modern world. We feel different But the political point is that it does not matter now, of course. The point of a federal Europe is to make for a better future, not to preserve the past, and from now on the needs of the UK are the same as the rest of Europe. The fact that our history is different may make it harder to persuade public opinion, but it does not make British membership of a federal Europe any less necessary.

Secondly, there is our political practice. Parliament is sovereign. We are told this solemnly by people such as Tony Benn, as if we should be pleased about it. In the seventeenth century, at the time of the civil war, the sovereignty of parliament was certainly an improvement on the sovereignty of the monarch: we were one of the first countries in the world to adopt this idea. But since then, political thought has moved on. The idea of popular sovereignty – that the citizens are sovereign – has taken root (read the American Declaration of Independence) around the world, except in the UK. For us, parliament is still sovereign. That has given us a centralised domestic constitution, the royal prerogative, and too much reluctance in the face of European federalism. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

The United States Declaration of Independence

Building a constitution: the British experience – John Parry

6. What will be the impact on such a union if the current war continues, especially as the relationship between the UK and the EU is diminishing every day – especially with France – whilst the UK’s relationship with the US is increasing?

Don’t get too hung up on the current war: it is coming to end on my TV as I write this. There is a profound problem, though, to the extent that the UK sees its interests as linked with the Americans rather than the Europeans. To some extent, we do not need to choose: we share the same values. But the principles we seek to apply in the world are different, I think. Go back to the Declaration of Independence: is that the way the US government views the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto treaty? No, the Americans have become wrapped up in an idea of national sovereignty – what started out as federalism has turned into nationalism with a federal system of domestic government. The Europeans, and especially the British, need to think whether another country’s nationalism is their own best policy.

Another factor to consider is the impact that enlargement might have on the foreign policy of the European Union. Many of the new member states due to join in 2004 have shown rather more sympathy with American policies than the existing ones, and are increasingly confident about expressing this fact. (Jacques Chirac’s criticism of thisThe foreign policy divide between the UK and the rest of the EU might narrow because the EU moves towards the UK, not the other way round. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

Common Foreign and Security Policy: pipedream or urgent necessity? – report from the AGM, 22 March 2003

EU points the way forward – John Stevens

Europe’s divisions laid bare – on the BBC website

7. Is it possible that a United States of Europe will form without the UK involved?

It could happen. Now is perhaps the wrong moment to have to write a dissertation on the subject, with the European Constitutional Convention due to report in three months’ time, but I do not know how happy your professors will be with such an answer. The other member states of the EU would certainly prefer the UK to be a full partner in the process of European integration and the development of a federal Europe, but the British people would be fooling themselves if they thought that this amounted to a veto. It has been proven before that the rest of Europe can create something worthwhile even without the participation of the British: they will be ready to do so again. Whether it will be necessary for them to do so remains to be seen: perhaps the British can bring themselves to accept the proposals from the Convention. Whether or not they can is probably the next big fight for the pro-European political movement in Britain. Whether or not New Labour is part of that movement is a question still to be answered. Peter Hain has declared so many proposals to be anathema that he may have difficulty in supporting the final outcome. Let us hope he can swallow his pride. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

The European Convention: work in progress – Brendan Donnelly

Correspondence with Peter Hain, UK government representative in the European Constitutional Convention

8. If there is a United States of Europe without Britain, what form will take? Will it be like the US model, the Russian, or the German? Or will there be a completely new model of the type yet to been seen?

A European federation will certainly be unlike anything seen before. As society changes, political institutions must also change, so there is no possibility of replicating precisely any existing federal system. Nevertheless there are ideas and examples that can be taken from the diverse experience of federal government around the world and I suspect that, of the three examples you have quoted, we will end up with something more similar to the German model that to either of the other two. The basic principles of democracy and subsidiarity will live on, but the feature that distinguishes the German system is the role of political parties. In Russia and the United States, these have a very different function. In Europe, however, they are much more solidly entrenched than in Russia, are much more ideological than in the United States, and are linked from one country to another. There is such a thing as the Party of European Socialists, the European People’s Party, the European Liberal Democratic Reform party, etc. They are the basis on which the European Parliament functions today.

The system is not perfect – it does not link up every party in every member state – nor does it yet matter enough in the overall process of European politics – party labels need to count for more in the choice of the president of the European Commission. Nevertheless, that is the direction in which the EU is going. (Richard Laming, 11/04/03)

Useful links:

A Parliament to be proud of – Richard Corbett MEP

Europe needs an democratic and effective legislative process – Federal Union paper for the European Constitutional Convention

Europe needs an accountable president – Federal Union paper for the European Constitutional Convention

Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament

Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) in the European Parliament

European Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament

European Greens in the European Parliament

More information

Some frequently-asked questions about federalism

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