The European unity project is floundering with the long established but lazy federalism movement regurgitating old ideas and providing few solutions to current problems. But should we be taking the whole idea of closer integration more slowly? Ken Sweeney says yes.
The Confederate States of Europe – that has a kind of dodgy ring to it, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose since the term “confederate” was more or less destroyed by a bunch of American slave owners back in the 1860s, and, let’s face it, now it is almost up there with the term “Nazi”, it seems that any use of it today is a bad choice. But while the term has been blackened, the concept certainly has not, and when it comes to the future of Europe, maybe it is a concept that should be looked at in more detail.
If you had asked me three or four years ago what my opinion was on how the EU should develop in the future, I would have shouted “federation” from the tree tops, but now, given the recent issues in Europe, and myself examining alternatives as a result of what I do here at Europa United, I’m looking at a more open, less constrained EU than a federalist one. Honestly speaking, I’ve been seeing it coming for a while now, as I was continuously finding that the whole federalist idea, along with the movement itself, seemed to be mostly testosterone fuelled ideals of a European army, one nation, either in or out talk, or, most recently, being a “global hyperpower” – yes, someone actually used that phrase. I mean, let’s be honest, being a superpower is so Cold War anyway, so why not take it to the next level and hyper the hell out of it, shall we?
It also seems to me that very few of the main players in the federalist movement have a realistic idea of just how the federalist proposal works. Yes, many use grandiose phrases like “European narrative” and “First Democracy”, but the important details so far have been absent. It seems to me that no one entity has been able to grasp what is required to construct a completely new state and what that state needs to address at a social and democratic level.
And as far as convincing others to join the cause, again any plan seems lost on them. Many keep going back to this Erasmus generation in the hope that they will be the missionaries of federalism – heading out to the far reaches of the EU and converting the natives to the belief system of a united states of Europe. But unfortunately, the vast majority of this Erasmus generation has no plans to be any kind of Knights Templar for European unity once their few years abroad are over. Because most of them need to join the real world and very quickly that involves somewhere to live, somewhere to work, kids, death and taxes – all things that simply drain the enthusiasm about Europe out of them. Such is life.
So despite eighty years of talk about European federalism, we still have no real plan to instigate it. Maybe we need to just drop it for now and come up with something else. A so called Euro unity lite and the idea probably already exist in the theory of confederacy.
Locking down states is a turn off
Generally by definition the difference between a confederation and a federation is that the membership of the member states in a confederation is voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not. And here I believe is the key to obtaining a more united Europe without literally dragging people kicking and screaming into this so-called hyperpower. We also cannot escape the fact that any talk on a big scale of more unity is utterly reprehensible to a substantial portion of the EU’s citizens right now. They want answers to problems that are happening on their doorstep and if we are going to be frank, problems like a more interfering Russia, while important, are not going to make them more enthusiastic about further union of the EU. In fact, it seems that problems that are on a large scale along with everyday social issues seem to be the type of worries that many European citizens want to be solved by their respective states rather than in Brussels. That may be a case of batting down the hatches in times of storm, nonetheless, the current rise in the right is thriving because of a more regional movement rather than a continental one.
And where is the federalist political movement right now? Can we name an EU member state that has a federalist party which is making the same gains as a far right one? Not that I can see and what’s worse is that what federalist movements we have are either committed to a pan-European model or to setting up underfunded local parties that have little or no knowledge of the politics in the region that they claim to be representing.
If we could win over already established local parties to the concept of further unity without a situation where the status of their state or existence in question is diminished, we may have a better chance to keep the European Union together and allow it to become more unified. Because although every federalist will tell you that each state will still be a nation, the cold hard fact is that under a federal system, it will lose independence, because, by definition, once you are in, you are in for good. So while the United Sates of Europe, or whatever it will be called, may contain states, countries, regions or nations, none of them will be independent – unless they all agree to an alternative confederation which by definition gives the Confederacy the power it needs to be a world player, but it also gives the members far more liberty than the lock down of federalism.
It is that liberty that so many citizens across Europe are determined to hold on to in this current climate. So how do we convince them that coming together in certain ways is a good idea? Well, we need to give them what they want – to be happy, be healthy and have disposable income in their bank accounts and feel safe.
If federalists want to bring Europe together then they need to stop abusing nationalism, because despite what they may say, it is not a dirty word to be banished from Europe for ever. They may say that they want it to be a thing of the past, because it causes so many problems and is apparently connected to racism, but the reality is that, like so many parts of society, it has been abused by individuals or groups with a agenda to control and influence. And if it’s not nationalism, then it will be something else like religion, education or security – all targets of tyrants. European federalism wants to banish symbols of states and create an equal utopia across the continent under one flag and one union, but are we not just substituting one form of nationalism for another? How can we claim to be against the concept of pride in nationhood when so many pro-Europeans pull out the EU flag and start signing Ode to Joy at the drop of a hat – this despite what some may claim, is still nationalism, but has just been given a course of steroids and thrown into a testosterone filled gym of Euro ego-maniacs. These same maniacs scream for joy when Europe wins the Ryder Cup, but they have no concept of how nationalism can be a positive force in everyday life, in particular sport with whom they seem to adopt only a passing attention when it suits their own ideals. I addressed the issue of sport and federalism previously and you can decide for yourself whether it is possible to go supersize in sport under a federalist system like the USA.
Citizens enjoy nationalism and trying to deny, re-brand it negatively, or worse, hijack it, is not going to make them happy. It will just cause anger and force a closing of ranks, which in turn results in protectionism, isolation and, possibly, xenophobia which is precisely what is happening across Europe now.
Confederacy allows nationalism to continue, but it can enable Europe to concentrate on one of the main worries citizens have about life in a modern society – health care. The EU already has the ability, both financially and bureaucratically, to introduce a basic form of universal health care across the member states. By examining all the current health care systems and bringing together a panel of experts from all parts of society, it is not impossible to draw up a system that works for all. A big goal should be preventative – universal vaccinations, cancer screening and regular annual free checks can save the system billions of euros per year and would set a standard across the world for reducing the risk of all the major killers, such as cancer, STDs and age related illnesses. Free health care for under seven year-olds and over sixty-fives should be considered as well. While the cost might be initially high, a system of maintenance rather than repair would quickly fall into place with those being regularly checked, screened and attended too, so their complaints or illnesses don’t escalate and cost the system billions of euros. Universal health care could also reduce waiting lists for vital operations if it was possible for patients to be able to travel to nearby member states and have vital surgery sooner. Some states already have such an agreement in place. My own state, Ireland, has an agreement with the UK region of Northern Ireland to facilitate certain procedures to take place in their jurisdiction, thus reducing costly waiting lists and improving the lives of thousands of citizens. Each member state has something to offer from their health care system and there is no reason why it could not be a runner. Eventually initial costs would be drastically reduced once the system was fully up and running, because people would be healthy more often and become less of a strain on the system.
Prevention is always better than cure and that should be the core principle of any future health system in a confederation.
Any spare change, mate?
So what should we do to give people of a future confederacy of Europe a better standard of living? Well, maybe we can look at Universal Basic Income, or UBI for short. This is a theory that has been doing the rounds for a number of years now and is designed to be able to provide every citizen of a state with an amount of money for them to live at the minimum level of basic needs. It’s not unemployment benefit, because you can still work. Some critics say that such an initiative will encourage laziness and, indeed, there may be an initial backlash, but if we encourage citizens to contribute at a civil society level, such as volunteering or going back to education, long term, we can start a society revolution that not only enables people to be more active, but also be a bulwark towards the intervention of automated systems in manufacturing and the inevitable loss of employment that will occur. Trials have taken place around the world in places such as Canada, Namibia, and most recently Finland, with mixed results. There is no doubt that this concept needs tweaking as well as commitment on large scale, but no better place for it to be put into action at such a size than in a new Confederate State of Europe. But you can make up your own mind on this, as I admit it is a contentious issue, but something that should not be ignored or excluded from the conversation.
United security not military
There is so much talk around the idea of a European Army within the federalist movement, with some jumping for joy when the issue raises its head. We don’t need an EU army at this point in time, because firstly, we are not a state, and secondly, the vast majority of Europeans do not wish to have their own nation’s army thrown together just because arms businesses like Dassault and H&K want to push out the US manufacturers. If France and Germany want to do it, let them go right ahead. And besides, do we actually understand how threatening the idea of having a big EU army as a poster boy for European federalism is? It is a complete sign of militarising the movement. Ask the average person on the street today about closer European integration and what they don’t like about it, and they will say “EU Army” and that is a very disturbing fact. The mainstream media are blatantly using it against the federalist movement and you can well bet the right wing element will, too. It’s exactly the opposite of what the federalist movement should be advertising. An army is reactionary and should not be the point where the deference of states is paramount. You want to halt threats to the EU, put the police, coast guard and security services together and introduce a Federal Bureau of Investigation for Europe to focus on more law enforcement cooperation and common border management. Russia has not got the capacity to invade the EU and besides, it is probably causing much more damage through cyber warfare and who is thwarting that? The police and security services are – not troops on the ground. Building a massive army is just putting a big red target on Europe’s back. The army is the last thing the federalists should be shouting about, and when you have a republic of Europe, then you can have your army.
Baby steps to unity
I don’t know how long I will live, but generally, let’s assume that we are talking about the next fifty years, then it is impossible for a European federal state to be incorporated – I mean that is what we are suggesting here, isn’t it? In order for something so big to happen, it would require a fundamental shift towards a minority political view which, in some cases, is seen by people as politically fundamentalist at best and treacherous at worst. We are not even close to leaving the age of European nation state building which really began around 1800 and continuing on from the congress of Vienna. Over two hundred years on and we are still running Europe along those lines – the names may have changed slightly and the regions they hold have shifted east or west depending on the circumstances, but what we have is not too far unrecognisable for any person should they be transported from 1820 to today.
So despite what we may experience in the tiny federalist bubble that exists in the likes of social media groups and in places like Brussels, Strasbourg, and some white, middle class socialites, there is no real desire for any kind of further unity, especially political unity that involves reducing the importance of nation states, regions, countries and provinces. We are indeed living in a period of political shift towards the right and like any other shift, it will have its time and it will probably cause some kind of disruption but will it destroy the EU? Absolutely not – the EU is a massive machine that no individual state or despot can challenge without dire repercussions. Ask Britain about that right now, and even though it may lose members, it will not collapse entirely.
European citizens are speaking and it’s not what the liberals or federalist want to hear, so the solution is to call them crazy nationalists and try to consolidate their own place by selling further political union. People don’t want an elite concept based on academic principles with no clear manifesto – because a few want federalism but haven’t a clue how to implement it on a daily basis – it threatens the few things that they hold dear to them – community, closeness, security and input. We can sell them the line about how federalism works at a local level, etc., but it’s too complicated at this time. Federalists need to forget about changing the colour of the bulb during the night to blue and yellow and focus on confederacy – universal health care, basic income supplement, equal education and a new form of policing. But most importantly, if federalists want to bring Europe together, then they need to stop abusing nationalism, because despite what they may say, it is not always a dirty word to be banished from Europe for ever.
The idea of bringing the member states of the EU closer together needs to be an attractive idea that is gradual and inclusive – not another project fear which not only alienates vast sums of potential voters, but looks for unnecessary conflict both inside and outside the EU. Compromise and confederation are the keys to closer unity and if the European federalist movement wants to be successful, then it needs to face reality and devise a way to work with nationalism, otherwise they will continue to be seen just as bonkers and fundamentalist as those who they claim to abhor.