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Federalizing the EU: Why do it?

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ATHENS, 18 – 20 MAY 2007

It is widely considered both by EU specialists and civil society that the European Union, after its enlargement has come to a standstill and that is going through another crisis as far as its integration is concerned. It seems that the vision for a “United States of Europe” is far away or needs revision. The initial concept “Federalizing the EU” is through a face of re-evaluation and perhaps skepticism, which leads to a simple question: Why do it?

The EU’s institutions and its decision-making process still are viewed as distant and intangible concepts, enhancing, thus, the democratic deficit syndrome. Autonomist movements are emerging in Europe. Multiculturalism and Enlargement set a foreground for a strong debate. Human rights of minorities are still been questioned. Is Federalism a solution to all these issues?

One of the issues put forth by Mr. P. Taylor concerns power and, in particular, the question of interstate power.

It seems that in the various ups and downs of European integration a key factor has been power. One thinks of the events of the 1980s and the 1990s, except now it’s the negative perspective rather than the positive one.

In the 1980s, the British, if they had had their way, they would have stopped anything from happening. The fact is that they were persuaded into doing it, or even compelled into making a compromise as regards the Single European Act by the fact that they were caught in a diplomatic trap. The French and Germans together persuaded them that they had better stay with the integration process or they would be outflanked, because Mitterrand in particular made it very clear that they would go ahead without the British, if necessary. And this led immediately to the old dilemma from the British perspective of the late 1950s of facing a large, more unified continental power, with Britain weaker on the margins of this power.

Possibly all of the development of the integration process is explicable in part, if not entirely, on the basis of power. The ability of one group of states to put pressure on the others, to frighten them into making whatever compromises, where necessary, in order to stay with the convoy. Of course, the British tend to be excellent diplomats. They perform well in the various councils of the European Union. Yet, it is not unreasonable to say that overall the British government has had a negative impact. And when the present government came into power, some people thought that it was going to be a period in which the British would take the lead. They were of course very quickly disappointed in that regard.

One of the conditions of the movement in the European Union, arguably a condition of the rediscovery of the project, is the re-emergence of a power combination to some point. This can never be the British. The British simply aren’t built that way. And one knows however what the potential power centre would be, that is the traditional core. Some might even describe it as the odd couple, namely France and Germany.

If they get their act together and associate themselves with a new project, things could begin to happen again. But it is necessary to find a way of putting pressure on the cautious states into accepting compromise, and to drag them along in the wake of the project, just as Ms. Thatcher was dragged along in the wake of the Single European Act, and arguably, perhaps even more so, with Major and the Maastricht Treaty.

Apparently Ms. Thatcher saw the single market basically as an area where the free market would prevail; it was an opportunity for getting rid of regulations and interventions. And she was required to make a compromise of that and to accept the packet that eventually was on the table. There were big victories that she did win, but nevertheless the broad framework was one of pressure, deliberately talked up as a matter of strategy by the French. And we remember of the situations of that, the discussion about the possibility about a new treaty, that we could start again with a new treaty, it is a favourite ploy of those who are more ambitious than the others. Establish a kind of new legal foundation for integration.

And that is a possibility that is still there. Therefore, if one can find a new core, a new power centre, probably the French and the Germans, together again, things could begin to move forward once more.

There are now storms in the wind, the head behind shaping an acceptable abbreviated constitutional treaty, the first thing that Sarkozy did was to rush off to Berlin to talk to Merkel. Some of it is in the wind, this reestablishment of the core.

The past few years there have been serious political disaffections. In France and Germany one doesn’t know how far that disaffection has been eroded and whether in fact there can be a regeneration of enthusiasm about integration.

Linked with that, and again on the optimistic side, it seems that the public is too scared, too timid about the idea of a great project

But the fact is that there has been movement in the area of a rather unlikely European army. There is now real discussion about these battle groups, 1500 in each of them on standby so that they could be moved to any part of the world, fairly quickly. A start has been made on this. It is not an impossible strategy and it does not even mean spending a lot more money. It is a matter of reshaping. It is matter of integrating and reshaping the forces that are available and doing things that are really quite manageable, like having a way of integrating the European transport system so that forces can be moved quickly to the best port from which they can be sent. There is a whole range of all the specific things that can be done and none of these of course is simple, but they are doable things.

Furthermore, one should keep in mind the Venusberg Strategy by the Bertelsmann Institute, put forth last year. The fact is that it did set out step by step things that could be done in creating an increased capacity on the part of the Europeans to be more proactive without ridiculous expense in the international society.

Unless there is a move towards some stronger idea of statehood in Europe, there is the continuing danger that the enterprise will go into reverse gear. At the same time he is not persuaded by Mark Leonard’s view that Europe is going to be the dominating entity of the 21st century. There is no need of establishing a United States of Europe. The finalite must always be unclear to us.

One has to go much further in the path of an ever closer union of peoples. It is the process that matters rather than having a specific end situation.

All the way through the history of European integration people have been saying things like: this is it, we are losing our sovereignty now, the nation-states of Europe don’t exist anymore. That is being said since 1957 by some, but all the time the states have found ways of surviving and of making the necessary compromises, which may seem entirely invisible, with the idea of sovereignty. They simply redefined what sovereignty means.

There has to be a stronger notion of the state and a better way of projecting our power. Civilian power is not enough. EU must have the capacity at the end of the day to be an effective participant in the international balance of power. It has to be able, when necessary, to stand up to the rival power. One should think particularly of the Americans of course, and reflect particularly upon the experience of the recent events involving Iraq and the British and the Americans.


There are severe doubts about whether a tandem of France and Germany can actually cope in a European Union of 27 or more.

Certainly this is something that is a vital factor in the French referendum. France actually recognises that the European Union wasn’t actually in terms of economics what it thought it was, and it didn’t like the fact that it was a neo-liberal exercise, although it has been on the cards since 1957. But more importantly France reckoned that it wasn’t actually going to be able to lead any longer in the way that it thought it had done since the beginning of the Europe Community. And it was this recognition that had as much effect. The opposition to the Polish plumber and to Turkish enlargement are in a sense symbolic of or symptomatic of this innate fear that France no longer has the same sort of power or position in the European Union that actually extends throughout Europe.

One conclusion that can be drawn is perhaps the significance of enlargement. A renewed sense of national control emerged in the aftermath of the Soviet domination. New member states looking particularly to the United States in gratitude and so on and therefore preventing the European Union from becoming a coherent international actor. And of course on the other hand there has been, especially in terms of France, a reaction to enlargement.

In one sense it is somewhat unfair on the poor old new member states, to blame them for all this, simply because there is not any lack of parochialism among the existing or older member states.

There is certainly no lack of division, if you like, over the finalite. There is no lack of division among the older member states over what attitude we should take towards the United States. There was, of course, an anti-American, anti-invasion of Iraq movement throughout Europe. But the Greeks, the French, the Germans are actually the minority in terms of governments. Most European governments were actually in favour of supporting the United States, not just the new member states, but a majority among the old member states too. There is still this division over attitudes towards the United States that may have been exacerbated by enlargement, but which certainly existed already.

And again, there is division in terms of the European Union as an international actor in relations with Russia. The Poles are not really to be blamed for creating a problem about Russia. The classic case was Mr. Putin’s visit to Berlusconi. Berlusconi took the press conference and there was a hostile question to Putin about democracy and so on. Berlusconi rushed forward and said let me be your advocate, to Putin, let me explain. If anybody saw the BBC world news the other day, there was a fascinating slip, because Putin’s spokesman gave a talk after the meeting, and he talked in terms of the future relationship between the French, Germans and Russia. But he spoke in terms of Sarkozy, Schroeder and Putin. It was a wonderful indicative slip, that Schroeder really was the classic case of one of the European leaders seeking to accommodate Russia in a way that was the envy of the French, the Italians and the British. So it is not surprising that Poles find themselves in a rather difficult position in trying to bring about a more serious common policy towards Russia.

That was one of the conclusions drawn, that we were blaming enlargement wrongly for some of the older problems.

The second point was the ambiguous role of law in the integration process. There has been a tendency to see the law as one of the federating forces within Europe.

And yet, there is a considerable degree of lack of conformity, and there are distinctions to be made, and these are reinforced, within the new member states. However, it is interesting the way in which the law works in both maintaining an integration process and retaining a sense of national allegiance, national identity. And this leads to the notion of socialisation among different elites, and especially on the part of the judges, whereby they have to become socialised, relatively quickly, at least in terms of the formal nature of law, even if they don’t actually then apply it in quite the same way.

And this degree of functional integration through the elites is associated with good old neo-functionalism. But it remains a real problem in terms of the people and the political elites to whom of course they still have to take account or be accountable to.

This question is very clear in counter-terrorism, where there is very clearly a growing or a continuing process of socialisation of particular elites. There is a socialisation process among police forces; there is a socialisation process among intelligence forces and agencies and so on. They do know who they are talking to and they are talking to them continuously. This continues among officialdom, as it where, to an extraordinary degree. EU officials spend something like seven hours a day talking to each other, either on the telephone or in meetings. It left absolutely no time of course then to talk to anybody else, which is why perhaps EU policy is less efficient than it might be. But in terms of the socialisation process, officials know what the positions are of everybody else. They might then have to go back and try and explain what they have been doing, or receive new instructions from their political masters who bear allegiance perhaps to a different constituency, but this is fascinating, this tension between different sorts of elites,

The third point is the way in which this plays into the whole issue of identities. Clearly the whole idea of multiple identities is not new. But the way in which these multiple identities actually play out in terms of support for Europe is interesting and deserves a different sort of direction, because one of the ways in which clearly identities are constructed through the media hasn’t been given the critical importance that it has.

Because very clearly we don’t have a national demos in Switzerland, we don’t have a European demos, we don’t have a public space that might lead to the creation of a European demos. On the other hand we do have overlapping public spaces. And we talk about the same sort of things.

We might all read the Financial Times, we might all read the Economist and those might be a European voice, that might be the extent of the European public space as it were, but the implications of these overlapping public spaces, where we are talking in fact about similar issues, even if the way in which they are presented by the media might be rather different.


First, it seems that there has been a consensus that we are not heading and we wouldn’t like to head towards a super-state. Nobody has defended such an idea. Yet, some papers have insisted on the respect of collective identities, or explicitly on the national identities, and maybe on the constitutional autonomy of the member states as well, whereas some other papers have rather insisted on a more citizen-based and supranational European polity.

This is possibly the main cleavage, the allegiance of the speaker, of the thinker either to the national or to the supranational.

Everybody would actually accept the term subsidiarity and the notion of subsidiarity. It is of importance for example that Jacques Delors, when subsidiarity was first introduced into the treaties, had said that he would give a prize to anybody who could actually define what subsidiarity is, because it is such a multi-signifier. And, as it has been previously mentioned, actually subsidiarity can either be used in favour of the subunits or also in the favour of the central system.

But actually subsidiarity is part of European democracy, given that it means that decisions should be taken as close to the citizens as possible.

And then there is the question about democracy. Everybody would accept that the European Union should be a democratic political entity. But then the question is which kind of democracy, or otherwise, should we judge the European Union according to how democratic it could be, or should we judge democracy on how European it could be.

In other words, should democracy be redefined or should one say that there can be no democratic European Union, because it cannot be democratic in that way that the nation state has already been?

This is also a point that comes back to the first cleavage, in other words whether we orientate ourselves and our thoughts to the national settlement or we are keen to go ahead to a more supranational arrangement.

And here again of course there is the next disagreement, concerning the identities. Well, multiple identities have been the case and the discussion and they have been discussed since many years.

I think again here, the issue of identities goes back to sentiments, as the main cleavage, the cleavage in favour of the national or the supranational, goes back to sentiments as well. It escapes the rationalistic account of whether efficiency, transparency, democracy, should be confined or can be confined in the national context. It does go back to personalities, to egos, and goes back to the way people have been raised up with certain ideas in mind and especially certain sentiments. And it is this sentiment that cannot be really rationalised and explained away: why in most cases we trust more our co-nationals rather than the others.

And this equation cannot be rationally answered. The whole discussion, as well as the cleavages, goes back to collective national identities. This is a rather post-modern account. It is a rather Rortian and post-modern account of political theories. Sigmund Freud has written in the book “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur” that what is actually the motivation is the eros, the Greek word, eros-love. And this is what leads people from small units like family to the tribe and then to the ethnical community and then to the nation and then to humanity.


Identity is an investment also. The way in which also national identity, group identity starts, it is an investment on people, which in some way have got two kinds of purposes. One is if you want a way in which you can use the group, just for protection, for solidarity, for friends, but also in the way in which you self-define yourself, in a sense.

So the point of objection is the feeling that it is not amenable to that kind of analysis, which is good. These are also rational processes which may be very often unintended, but can also explain that way.

After all, we overemphasise as part of political identity the aspect of national. I mean, political identity in very many cases, and throughout the 19th-20th century has passed through class divisions. There are investments, and when you say you feel European, you are investing that, you are investing these kinds of different things. And of course different groups and different classes invest differently.

So it seems that this kind of discourse also tries analytically to stay in between the kind of cosmopolitan and communitarian.

Although one can agree that it is very difficult to go back to the kind of Franco-German engine, this occurs for various reasons. If this happens, it may happen only to the kind of smaller Europe.

However the question of power is very important, but it is usually phrased too much in terms of state and not in terms of social power. And this poses various problems. One is from a socialisation of elites. The problem there is maybe the socialisation of officialdom and administrative elites in a European level is a part of the process of Europeanisation but it is also possible that there is a socialisation of other kind of elites, like business elites, who actually nowadays may go beyond the European level.

Maybe 20 years ago the administrative elites and the business elites were, at least in certain states in Europe, in some way aiming to the same things. So there are different kinds of power struggles happening within the states themselves.

On the final point about enlargement, the conditionality process and the way in which the enlargement was done was really done in a way in which it dampened all possible enthusiasm. So that actually created a kind of two-tiered Europe, or first-class, second-class.

The second thing, not just in terms of the Russian-American things, but more in general, what wasn’t perceived that the way in which these countries and the people in these countries joining the EU was part of the different self understanding of what Europe was about.


The most important development is the endogenous momentum of the EU from EU institutions and the Europeanisation of particular policy communities.

And there the key area is law, security and the economy. And this is going to have the biggest impact on the way in which the EU develops. How it is going to develop is not at all clear, but it will almost inevitably favour the big power brokers, economic power brokers. And that could change the character of political systems quite dramatically and the nature of the law. The law has not been particularly well studied by European political scientists. It has been left to lawyers who have a tendency to see it as the evolution of legal doctrine, as a kind of almost autonomous process.

But one is beginning to see the study of the politics of law. Who is going to court, how, what the effects are. And the Americanisation of European legal systems through the importance of European lawyers are going to be one of the major impacts.

Then one has exogenous pressures by the character, the hardest to understand, what they are going to be, what the sort of geopolitical structure is going to be.

But an issue that will have a huge impact on the EU in the long term is energy. Energy is clearly linked with what is going to happen with Russia, but also environment and energy are two major pressures on the EU.

And again, it is just so hard to guess what is going to happen because there just are so many actors. And then this all relates to legitimation processes. EU is popular because it gives people certain things that they want. Governments don’t fall or come to power as a result of do you love Mr. Sarkozy or not. They come because people are convinced the economy is going to go better, they are going to feel more secure, the bread-and-butter issues are what drive citizens. And the EU’s success, if you like, or lack of it, will depend on the degree to which it is seen as necessary to deliver these goods, or whether people feel that it is undermining both those goods.

The role of love of national identity or whatever is now much less within countries than ever before. One is noticing, if one looks at how nation states are developing in their politics, they are suffering from similar withdrawal from collective arrangements.

And a rather more individualistic view of it is some modern phenomena. From that point of view, the EU doing its business well is what it’s got to concentrate on.


Sentiments are not a general situation in the EU. There are rational acts, the states are rational, interest groups are rational and even NGOs, not the federalists, but the consumers, the Greens, these people, they have their own.

So day-to-day business, but also enlargement for that matter too has been based on some kind of rational decisions. Perhaps not power as such is a determining factor, but influence. Influence is really very important in these decisions of the member states and of course the major players.

And just an example of the way some member states were perceiving this enlargement. For France it was clearly a loss of influence, for Britain it is adding influence.


There is a problem, if the European Union is a bicycle that either moves or falls. In a different view it is instead a car. So it is a vehicle and as all cars it can move or stand, and can be improved of course. But improvement cannot make a new car or a completely different car from the existing car. So reforms, improvement, changes are very limited in nature.


One can absolutely agree that identity is an investment. Of course, there are rational arguments. People do care about what the European Union delivers. But on a second order question, why does one invest to this or that. Yet, people do give their allegiance, their love to nation states, which do not deliver.

Though people ask whether the European Union delivers, they do not ask the same thing at the same extent when it comes to nation states.

Consequentially, the ultimate, the meta-question is not possible to be answered upon the rational thinking.


What creates even more of a problem is that the dampening of enthusiasm is being met in the old member states really by surprise, as the French and Dutch show to some extent at least, a surprise about how far the European Union is actually integrated, largely because very few people are actually told about how far the European Union has integrated. There tends to be an idea that what is successful in Europe is largely the responsibility of the member states rather than the European Union. So there was this surprise that integration has actually extended that far and a shock perhaps that this doesn’t fit with previous knowledge.

Expectations possibly are much greater therefore in terms of what Europe should be doing.

On the other hand, the member states do allow people to vote on what they think might bring about change, and it is the ability to think one is actually making a difference in terms of electoral systems, which is really the distinguishing.

As for variable geometry and the possibility of power groups and core groups, again this is nothing new. There has been talking about this after all since 1975 and the first report which led to discuss differentiation.

So there is nothing new, insofar as there is of course variable geometry, in the form of the Euro group and the Schengen group.

And in terms of defence there is variable geometry. Officially speaking in terms of the Danes having an uptide, but unofficially of course so long as the big three actually agree, then there is a security and defence policy. Quite a lot can be done with battle groups of 1500, as was seen in the Congo. And in terms of counter terrorism and all the rest, there is a core group, the G6.

In that case it is big versus small perhaps. One element of this, which should be put forth, is the role of the central institutions being involved in those core groups. One cannot actually exclude. Instead, one can actually encompass core groups within the existing framework and that allows for an openness to membership for anybody else who is not quite there at the moment or who doesn’t want to be there at the moment.

On a final note, it is still pretty much within the framework of the treaties that the Court of Justice has the role of the constitutional court. So, and in addition to all the other elements, of what the court does, then there is actually a federal system.


There is a very strong argument to say that the nation state in Europe is not providing what people want. And the evidence for this is perfectly clear, in Britain in particular. There is autonomy in Wales, autonomy in Scotland, and the movement is further in that direction. There is a kind of incidental theme here, the reference several times to the wish to define Britishness. This is something that only an anglicised Scot would actually wish to pursue very strongly, because there is a particular group of Scots, who have always been strongly Anglophile. The English in the UK are particularly uncertain about who they are, about their identity. The Scots and the Welsh and the Irish are much clearer about who they are.

You can find though similar movements towards defining a stronger definition of local autonomy in quite a number of European nation states, which are looking for more to do locally.

The question is how this relates to European integration. First point to make is that possibly all of the movements, the nationalist parties in Europe, are pro-European. This is certainly true in the UK, where they are strongly pro-European.

One of the developments in Europe that will prove to be important is between the centre and the regions. This ties up with Putnam’s analysis.

But it well may be that is actually something which is to do with circumstances, a fragmentation that in fact is only possible within an aggregation. Scottish independence and Welsh autonomy have been largely facilitated by the fact of European integration. The fact is that people care less about Scottish autonomy than they would have done before the European Union.

The further point is that maybe this is a part of a process of integration at a bigger level, forming links between the centre and the units.

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