While Brain Milne sets out to expose some of the myths about European concepts of federalism, he is not here to beat it up – quite the contrary actually because Brian is hoping that modern federalists will carve out their own form of unity and not rerun the same old theories over and over again.
Is my title cheeky or not? I say not. Some of the approaches I have seen to describing a future federal Europe align with belief in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy or the bogeyman who lurks in the shadows. I mean no disrespect, I believe in federalism, but see far too many fantasies projected. What appears to be worse is that I get the feeling that as they appear, members of one group read each other’s newest offering then write something else to publish on their site then spread around social media to show which has the latest and cleverest innovators as contributors. Sorry folk, but I understand morphology and see an ever expanding theme using the same morphological structures but elaborating on fine detail, so that the three little pigs now seem to live in a bastion of apparent security but the big bad wolf, who we might call Vladimir, is using unseen methods to destroy their foundations to try to knock their fortress down. Meanwhile, our little pigs live in a make believe of all pigs being equal and democratic, growing ever closer together although enclosed in their high castle resources to satisfy their egalitarianism are so unequal they ultimately flounder. Vladimir has the last laugh. So, instead of the preferred fairy tale happy ending, not all do end happily, the big bad wolf laughs all the way to the ruins to enjoy the devastation.
I am increasing amused when I see use of the term United States of Europe, or USE for short and I am of course, quite aware of Winston Churchill’s use of the expression. I have something of a schizophrenic relationship with Churchill. On the one hand I see the unpleasant human being he was, he despised the ‘lower classes’, was a snob and despot among his own class, a depressive who drank far too much and was often not fit for the high office he assumed but in reality acted out very well and certainly maintained the importance of the UK and its already dwindling empire on the world stage. On the other hand he was visionary in how he saw Europe’s future. When he first referred to a united Europe it was in the USA’s Saturday Evening Post on 15 February 1930, in which he wrote ‘We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.’ That is probably the most quoted, or should I say misquoted, expression of a future as a union that Eurosceptics use to say he was against the UK being involved. However, toward the end of his life, his last Private Secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Brown, tells us that in August 1961, Churchill wrote a letter to his constituency chairman saying: ‘I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community.’. In that same letter, cited in Sir Anthony’s book, ‘Long Sunset’ (pages 273-274), Churchill supported the ‘welding’ of West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg into ‘an organic whole’, which he described as a ‘happy outcome’ of the European Economic Community. He added, ‘We might well play a great part in these developments to the profit of not only ourselves, but of our European friends also.’ Sir Anthony also confirmed that in 1963, just two years before Churchill died, he wrote in a private letter: ‘The future of Europe if Britain were to be excluded is black indeed.’ So much for Churchill, since this is not about the UK and Brexit, but about the notion of a federal Europe, except to say that when he gave what is probably his best known and most quoted speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946. He called on European countries, including Germany, to form a regional organisation for security and cooperation on the continent. Part of what he wanted to say only a year and half after the defeat of Germany included these words: ‘The ancient States and principalities of Germany, freely joined for mutual convenience in a federal system, might take their individual places among the United States of Europe.’ A few lines of the transcript later we find: ‘But I must give you warning, time may be short. At present there is a breathing space. The cannons have ceased firing. The fighting has stopped. But the dangers have not stopped. If we are to form a United States of Europe, or whatever name it may take, we must begin now.’ A little further on we also find: ‘I now sum up the propositions which are before you. Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join a union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and every land from war and servitude must be established on solid foundations, and must be created by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than to submit to tyranny. In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America – and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live. Therefore I say to you “Let Europe arise!”’
My point is not that Churchill said those things, but that he also said them at other times, moreover in the wake of WW2 as one of the leaders who was looking at Europe as a union in which even the bad guys of recent times had to be included. The Council of Europe happened, in 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community was found by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and began to unite European countries economically and politically with the priority to secure lasting peace. That period was dominated by the so-called Cold War between east and west and fear of nuclear war. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC), sometimes still called the ‘Common Market’. However, it was not the first attempt to unite Europe.
Europe and older empires
Before the 1950s new attempt, Europe been united by empires built on force. The Roman Empire did it first, Byzantine also known as the Eastern Roman Empire continued to attempt to hold together the eastern side of the Roman Empire when that collapsed in the fifth century CE. It lasted almost ten centuries. The Frankish Empire consolidated parts of what remained of the Western Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century became the Holly Roman Empire and later Carolingian Empire that was divided three ways in 843. Then there came the First French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte that was short lived from its peak in 1812 until its first defeat in 1814. Then 1939 until 1945 Nazi Third Reich was the immediate predecessor of the present union. There had also been peaceful degree of consolidation in Europe under dynastic unions such as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were even propositions not entirely unlike what we have today including at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1818, the Russian Tsar Alexander I, considered to be the most advanced internationalist of that period, suggested a kind of permanent European union with an international military force to protect recognised states against changes by violence such as the recent Napoleonic Wars. Churchill was, among other things, a historian so almost certainly knew all of that. He had a foundation for his vision.
The Ventotene Manifesto
There is also a somewhat less well known history. In June 1941 Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi who had been imprisoned by Mussolini wrote the Ventotene Manifesto, eventually entitled Per un’Europa libera e unita (For a Free and United Europe) which stated that, if the fight against the fascist powers succeeded, the re-establishment of the old European order of sovereign nation states in ever changing alliances would inevitably lead to war again. They stated the case for the establishment of a European federation by the democratic powers after the war. Spinelli was an Italian communist politician, political theorist and European federalist. Rossi was to play a lesser role in the development of Europe after the war, thus it is Spinelli alone who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the European Union. He was a founder of the European federalist movement, had strong influence on the first few decades of post-war European integration and later played a key role in relaunching the integration process during the 1980s. By the time of his death in 1986, he had been a member of the European Commission for six years, a member of the European Parliament for ten years. The main federalist group is now known as the Spinelli Group.
It occasionally annoys people when they realise that the real brains behind the EU was a communist, except that he was never a Stalinist and had, like other Italian communists such as Antonio Gramsci who attempted to break from the economic determinism of ‘traditional’ Marxist thought, thus is considered a key neo-Marxist, in effect moved ideologically closer to an older style of socialism than the rigid structures put in place by Lenin then refined into a dictatorship by Stalin. It always allows people to take flight into calling the EU the EUSSR, thus attempting to make it appear like a reconstructed Soviet Union. Nothing could be more absurd in what is very patently a free market, capitalism based union. Although he remained a socialist until the end of his life, Spinelli never advocated it becoming a monopoly state as the USSR had been. It adds to the fairy tales though.
I am an admirer of Spinelli, I share a similar kind of socialist vision. What people often do not want to hear or see is that the most fundamental principle of socialism is internationalism. That has nothing to do with an uncompromising merger of all countries into one, but the establishment of peaceful coexistence in which the nature and integrity of each state is respected. Thus, it proposes a union of nations that can even be worldwide, are equal or at least share and redistribute assets and resources to ensure equality and where democracy and freedom are the right of all people. It seems like a rather idealised world, perhaps so, but it is one of the most basic tenets of human rights laid out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are anti-democratic forces that reject the UDHR but there are also few nations that openly denounce it. The UN may be in an untenable state, but should it fall apart we should hope that the UDHR is retained and maintained as a universal standard for the world to aim to achieve. Too few would be federalists think that far. They are happier keeping it in a nice tidy, little box.
The Swiss proposition
If anything, Switzerland seems to be one of their most frequently named inspirations. Some people seem to believe Harry Lime’s words in the 1949 The Third Man film based on Graham Greene’s book of the same name: “… in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” That monologue is not in the book, Orson Welles allegedly made it up spontaneously to add strength to the script when Harry Lime was trying to persuade his friend Holly Martins to join in his criminal activities in post WW2 Vienna. It has been said many times, the cuckoo clock was never Swiss. It was invented and originally made in the Black Forest in what is now Germany. The modern federal state of Switzerland was founded in 1848. Yes, the Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden is where it started and the ‘Long Diet’ of 1814 to 1815 laid the foundations of confederation after the Napoleonic occupation ended, but at that stage not all cantons had as yet joined Switzerland. So Harry Lime’s 500 years cannot be calculated out of anything, although 101 years would have made his speech that bit better. Out of such details our fairy tales are built. Apart from that, it is a country of four languages. One has been suppressed to the point of almost disappearing and has only relatively recently been acknowledged and added to official documents and so on. Of the other three, many attempts have been made to diminish its value and discourage use in German language cantons to the point that Italian is treated as a minority language of little importance. The fourth language is not known in most of the world and comes as a surprise to people when one tells them. Romansh (also spelled Romansch, Rumantsch, Romanche, Rumàntsch, Romauntsch or Romontsch, depending on who is saying it and then with five or seven dialects depending on who says what and an ‘official’ version Rumantsch Grischun, that is controversial and unpopular among those who speak the language, since 1982) was recognised as a national language in 1938. Under Swiss language law the Confederation is obliged to support measures adopted by cantons Graubünden and Ticino to promote Romansh and Italian.
Although larger, the German speaking Swiss tolerate French speakers in their own parts of the country. Dual language places like the city of Fribourg/Freiburg have a seesaw battle for dominance that is incessant. The two larger languages dominate; so that Romansh and Italian speakers tend to have at least one second language but considerably smaller proportions of the dominant language groups, in fact a small minority, speak either.
Women and Swiss democracy
Then there is the position of women in Swiss history. The first actual constitution was written in the Helvetic Republic during 1798 under Napoleonic occupation, later the 1848 Federal Constitution was promulgated, but both used the word ‘citizen’ that was interpreted to only mean men and was too ambiguous about the inclusion of women too that a long time thereafter it was generally accepted that that tradition could be changed only after an unequivocal majority through a referendum. That was only men, of course. When the majority of cantons introduced women’s right to vote before the confederation did in 1971, two conservative half-cantons in eastern Switzerland, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden refused to do so for a long time.
By the 1980s the pressure of public opinion had increased, therefore the men of Appenzell Ausserrhoden reconsidered and relented to give women the vote in 1989; however they held fast. A number of women filed legal suits for their right to vote and succeeded. At the end of 1990 the Federal Supreme Court decided that the introduction of women’s right to vote in the half-canton would not necessitate a change of the cantonal constitution. The court declared that it would be sufficient to interpret the existing constitution in such a way that women were included in the term ‘citizens’ by referring its resolution to article 8 of the Constitution amended by a 1981 national referendum so that it granted equal rights to all citizens as in the 1848 version, revised to mean men and women.
Was it as democratic as some people might claim?
Much is said about how decisions are made by popular vote, but this was the Supreme Court supported by the Federal Council acting against the vote of those entitled to choose through referendum. Although the 1971 referendum gave women the right to vote in federal elections, it was by a 66% national majority, with seven of the 26 cantons in central and eastern Switzerland without a majority in favour, it was effectively imposed federally. Four cantons, Aargau, Fribourg, Schaffhausen and Zug held referendums on women’s right to vote in cantonal and local elections at the same time. Thus, in 1991 after the 1990 decision by the Supreme Court, Appenzell Innerrhoden became the last Swiss canton to grant women the vote on local issues. The first woman elected to be a member of the government had only been in 1984. There are still parts of some more conservative cantons where local votes are still done by show of hands rather than ballot boxes. In some of those the women are still discouraged by their husbands, fathers and other men not to vote, thus some remoter and stolidly traditional communes have still never had women councillors. Steps were big, but very slow. Not everything was ultimately achieved directly by the people, but by the state through its legal institutions.
So how democratic is democracy?
Look closer and see that democracy is not quite as democratic as it seems for many other reasons. However, there is an illusion created by the fact that since Napoleon they have not fought in any war, their neutrality veils a past in which they had a vast number of national socialists who appeared to be prepared to defend their nation against Hitler’s predation, but would have laid down their weapons and greeted their invader with open arms had it ever come to that. Of course, it may be reasonably questioned what any of that has to do with 2018? The point here is that the illusion that a country is the epitome of some kind of universal values that have existed for hundreds of years is popular mythology. Scratch the surface of most democracies then see similarly disillusioning pictures emerge. The USA’s anthem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ has a closing line at the end of each stanza ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ that under the Trump presidency is beginning to look rather more of an oxymoron since it has become rhetorical device that uses a very clear self-contradiction to reveal the paradox that this presidency has unleashed. Thus we have the country that has a constitution, a bill of rights and numerous other instruments that ostensibly end inequalities, protect minorities and promote their cultural and creative heritage. The intent may be there but ask many Afro-Americans or Hispanics for their perspective, speak to indigenous people, look at the oppression of the diversity of cultures in the search for some homogeneous that is better controlled, suppression of creativity that does not conform to those who attempt to dictate what is good and bad, right or wrong then take note of religious intolerance often driven by evangelical creationist Christians who lead the hatred expressed again Muslims and increasingly again Jews and other beliefs. That is no model Europe needs, but many people still graphically describe something very ‘American’ whilst sidestepping actually saying that is their inspiration. That is purely federalism based on a myth.
It often amuses me when I see blame laid on blaming a financial crisis that began in the USA, they who are both the malign force and ideal according to what one picks and chooses; the challenge of mass migration that is laid at the feet of everybody who needs a reason to look inward thus turn to a nationalist ideal or laying the blame on globalisation because of societal change sit has brought about. New technologies seem to be in the firing line at present, somehow nostalgia for more naive times when we knew less are added to the murmurings of federalists who believe they are undermining the confidence of European citizens in the creation of an ever closer union in which some kind of fraternity will grow between nations and the people in them.
Naive visions of a continent at one with itself
I am often amused by the blind innocence of those who call for European patriotism that is not based on unjust notions of ethnicity and sanguinity, but on shared values of solidarity in which democracy, economic, social and environmental models that it is imagined we have inherited from a shared past play a key role. That naivety then proclaims the diversity of languages, origins, cultures, religious and secular perspectives, will contribute to that patriotism as a new form of internationalism. There are 24 ‘official’ languages used by the EU, but in fact at least 122 languages used by enough people to qualify, as many as 30 languages that face almost immediate extinction but may be revived (for instance, Kernow or Cornish in English) and then hundreds of dialects that are distinct enough to warrant classification as actual living languages. Languages carry culture goods, can be localised and create sometimes insurmountable divisions between communities, let alone nations. The origins of Europeans were always diverse unless the super idealistic want to impress a common origin in Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, itself a theory gradually losing efficacy, or the creation story that the majority religions commonly include in their dogma. Therewith we have the many religions present in Europe, some carried on to the continent by successive waves of migrants of whom many have been here for several generations and are integrated nationals of member states of the EU. Secularity may indeed be a common denominator at a political level, but at grassroots that is very often not at all true, so those perspectives are mainly idealised rather than practicable. They would instil resistance into any attempt to enforce a secular ideal that draws all religions and their adherents together, so ancient and ingrained are some beliefs. Thus it is absurd to imagine any nature of internationalism that overrides those denominators. But still the fairy tale notion persists without proper examination of the barriers that lock geopolitical tooth fairies out.
Just over sixty years in and interpretation of the Treaty of Rome often seems to be predominantly done by people who have neither read entirely nor thoroughly understood it and then done a complete audit of Europe as it was in the wake of two devastating continental wars that affect the entire world to one degree or another. The federalist idealists look far too hard at the opening paragraph of the preamble then push for the ‘ever closer union’ without accounting for that being written when the first six countries that formed what was an economic, industrial union were recovering from the second of those wars. Conditions changed as each decade rolled past, even countries changed or separated to become two or more new states that eventually joined the union. Consideration of the reasons for those divisions is too often overlooked when taking a sprinkling of ingredients from Switzerland and the USA to cook the harmonious European cake in which all ingredients blend. In truth, if our believers in internationalism à la carte were to look, many of the reasons for separations still stand, thus coexistence is possible but their dreamed of integration probably so unlikely and potentially volatile that they would be lighting the fuse that would see new conflicts explode. Peace has been an objective and is unquestionably one of the greatest achievements. Now we must keep it that way.
So are there fairies at the bottom of the European garden?
I have said early on that I am a federalist, I am also an internationalist but beyond that a pragmatist. At present we have a union that is tolerably united, but has cracks in it, some more serious than others. We cannot wish them away by proposing new manifestos for a federation that is a state that may be called the United States of Europe one day. The basic proposition itself is sound but the means and methods by which that may one day achieved do not yet exist. Nor do the basic conditions that draw nations together. It is far too easy to blame the present waves of populism and nationalism or external influences such as Russia and the USA. They will pass, history gives us good example of how epochs come and go, as too ‘empires’ and there in the choice of a word, without an emperor, we have unions of nations that came and went to remind us how fickle humanity is. Look closely and in each of the empires, beyond the conquest by what came to be the ruling country, there was always an element of security and stability. Yet individual nations resisted and empires fell apart, often to disappear into history books rather than leaving any real traces. We should not expect people to be different today.
So, when we stop looking for federal fairies at the bottom of the garden perhaps we should get back to the real task which is to look at how to keep what we have together then create a realistic framework that accommodates the many differences that exist not just across our continent but within nation states. A single political state is far too ambitious an ideal and there the most careful reading of the Treaty of Rome or its predecessor and inspiration the Ventotene Manifesto do not specify that as an absolute but perhaps at most as an aspiration. Thus, sometimes when I read new federalist manifestos by groups of people recycling an old, many times discarded, proposition that they sprinkle a few new spicy ideas into, I smile and wonder if they still write lists to Santa Claus each year. As for fairies, I sometimes look. I see nothing but am persuaded I hear gentle laughter occasionally, a kind of cynical laugh at that.