United States of Europe – To be or not to be?
One of the earliest Ideas that have been floating around ever since the conception of the European Union is the United States of Europe. Samuel from Malta and Adam from the Czech Republic are here to weigh and evaluate the pros and cons of having a United States of Europe.
What would the United States of Europe look like?
Before we go into the pros and cons, let’s see at what a United States of Europe would look like. Many times the notion of a United States of Europe is compared to and based on the United States of America. This means that a USE would be a federation. What is a federation? A federation may be defined as – in our case – a group of countries who have come together to form a ‘government’. For example in the US, each state makes its own laws, but it also has to implement legislation that comes from the government – federal law – and if a state transgresses this law it faces the Supreme Court. Does this sound familiar? Hopefully yes! Why? Because the European Union works in a similar fashion.
Does this mean that the European Union is very close to becoming a European Federation? Well yes, but actually no. Presently, the EU also has qualities that are not very federative – the most obvious one being that the EU does not have one foreign policy, another one is Article 50, which gives states the possibility to leave the Union. States in a federation are, obviously in contrast, not given the option on whether or not they can leave.
Now that we have understood, more or less, what a federation is we many look at the pros and cons of a United States of Europe.
For a United States of Europe
In my personal view, the EU is in a strange position, a sui generis one. We have a ‘European level’ of legislature, some countries have common currency and open borders. Yet while we have all of this, those things are not fully developed - the European legislative process is not 100 % democratic; the management of euro lacks many important monetary tools other currencies usually have and there is a space for free movement without united control of borders of this area.
We are at crossroads. We can risk another crisis by not fully developing those systems, we can even abandon Schengen or euro and lose their benefits, or we can further integrate Europe in order to ensure that that EU can react to the crises yet to come. But that would bring us close to the edge of forming some kind of ‘European federation’. So, apart from bigger flexibility in overcoming crises, what would be other benefits of this political entity?
The United States of Europe would be a game-changer on the world stage: It could quickly emerge as a new superpower and together with the US it would ensure the dominant position of the West when China becomes the biggest country economically. Some say that the idea of a ‘European Empire’ is dangerous simply because empires are dangerous, and I agree with that. But is it better to give more space for an autocratic ‘Chinese Empire’? Wouldn’t it be better to give more power on the world stage to a democratic ‘European Empire’, which will still not be perfect in handling policy correctly, but still much better in areas such as human rights?
One does not simply have a united foreign policy without a united army. But apart from the fact that those two things are linked, a united European army would be much more cost effective than 28 smaller and less capable armies. Money saved from this could be used anywhere else needed, and I believe there are many areas where a big sum will be needed in the upcoming decades - transition towards low-carbon economy, social problems caused by automation, etc.
There is the argument that Europe cannot be a federation because it’s culturally diverse. But right now we have a ‘European level’ of legislature. And, I believe, in those fields where it operates, it hardly ever clashes with the individual national identity. In theory, we would not have to integrate areas where our national identities and individual ways of thinking are crucially important - for example education systems, most areas of tax policy or even social policy. We could just democratise the legislative process, add foreign policy, unite our armies and spice up FRONTEX and EU’s monetary tools.
Against a United States of Europe and why it’s not possible
For there to be a USE, there has to be a mind-set that is suitable. Currently we operate on a level where we see each other as Romanian, Czech, Maltese etc. and then as Europeans. For an ESC to be possible we must first see each other as European. Referring back to America, the mind-set of US citizens is that ‘I am an American from so-and-so’. In Europe we don't have this. What all this means is that a ‘European Identity’ has failed to take hold and now with governments who place an emphasis on national identity, the political climate isn't helping.
Culturally Europe is too diverse, compared to the United States of America. The United States is more culturally homogenous with an important feature being a common language. One cannot simply lump a set of different nations in together and expect them to get along perfectly. Each and every country in the EU has a vast and rich history behind it, and it is very difficult to forget.
Another problem is the lack of a common currency. While the euro does offer a remedy to this problem and is for the most part working out, the fact that it is not in use everywhere does complicate matters.
Presently, all the EU institutions are too weak to act as a Federal Government. While the solution is to give them more power, the general trend in governments right now is to take power away from the EU.
Put simply, the EU isn't connected enough. This problem is felt more in certain nations like Malta and the other island nations. The commodity of taking a train or diving to a neighbouring country is a bit new to me as a Maltese person. The fact also remains that not all nations have agreed and ratified the Schengen agreement. This means that unless all countries agree to do so we can never be properly connected as a federation.
A United States of Europe would make the continent more relevant on the world stage. Simply plopping a rich and powerful country on the map is going to send shock waves in terms of global politics. Firstly, tensions with Russia may and most probably will skyrocket. Secondly, we don't know how China and the Middle East (as a bloc) may react. It must also be noted that a move like that may also fracture the bloc we are in. Presently, ‘The West’ sits with the countries of the EU, Canada and others behind the US as a leading figure. The existence of a USE, and, the eventuality of the USE adopting stances that differ from those of the US, may cause tensions and possibly the breaking of the bloc. This in turn may isolate us, so while we will be more relevant on the world stage we'd be sitting on a bed of nails.
Having weighed the pros and cons we you now have a clearer picture as to what a United States of Europe would entail. While the article is purely speculative, would you like to build on the Federative qualities and make a United States of Europe – or even a European Republic? Or would you like to increase state sovereignty and keep the European Union as club? Or maybe would you like the EU as a whole to end? That is up to you. What you have to do is look at which of your potential MEPs has the policy you agree with and #GiveAVote in the upcoming European elections.