Finland-Helsinki – For the citizens of the European Union, Russia has turned more aggressive, China more assertive, the United States more unpredictable, NATO less reassuring, the United Kingdom more self-absorbed, Turkey more authoritarian, the Middle East and North Africa more threatening, internal trust more elusive, visions more limited, expectations more negative, leadership more scarce, solidarity more rare and the forces of darkness more menacing.
A united Europe was not achieved and we had war, said the French foreign minister Robert Schuman on the original EU Europe Day, 9 May 1950.
Schuman evoked the 5 September 1929 call by prime minister and foreign minister Aristide Briand to the Assembly of the League of Nations for some sort of federal link among the peoples of Europe and the more detailed presentation of the initiative in the 1 May 1930 Quai d’Orsay memorandum (by Alexis Leger).
The regional association with permanent institutions among the 27 European members of the League, potentially leading to a federal European union, would have prepared the institutional framework and a cooperation programme consisting of political, economic, social and other issues.
In the Briand plan brave aspirations for the European union competed with modest beginnings in contradictory wording: a federation based on the idea of union, not unification (unité), in other words flexible enough to respect the independence and national sovereignty of each state, while ensuring them all the benefits of the collective solidarity.
Under political auspices, bringing the economies closer might lead to a permanent customs agreement and the establishment of a common market, with the progressive liberalisation and easing of the movement of goods, capital and persons. – Section IV contained an imposing list of issues for further study, but the memorandum underlined the need to make a modest start.
Even these precautions were not enough. Jealous of their sovereignty, the myopic national governments effected a silent burial of the French proposal, but almost all of the states suffered torment and devastation, even annihilation, during the Second World War, many of them re-emerging from occupation and dictatorship only in the 1990’s.
In addition to the external threats and internal weaknesses already mentioned, the Eurozone remains fragile, growth prospects slack and EU countries feel overwhelmed by refugees and migrants.
The intergovernmental Euro area and the European Council demonstrate absence of vision and paucity of solutions. Without ownership or hope, disillusioned citizens turn to reactionary sirens on the Right and Left.
Exceptionalists inside member states and even some governments – able to act with impunity – have rejected the EU membership criteria, the founding values of the union and the idea of solidarity as a two way street. Outside forces try to profit by aiding the process of disintegration.
The time has come for some hard EU questions.
Is it worth bragging about the soft power of the ball kicked around by global players with hard power and by chaotic neighbours?
When intergovernmental paralysis among heads of state or government leads to growing disillusionment among citizens and continuing disintegration ensuing from even less relevant business than usual, is this worth describing as new realism, not to mention an ambitious union?
Is political Europe steering through Myopia to disaster, again?
Utopia is realism
As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the late 18th century about the US federal Constitution: Not to confer in each case a degree of power commensurate to the end, would be to violate the most obvious rules of prudence and propriety, and improvidently to trust the great interests of the nation to hands which are disabled from managing them with vigor and success.
In 21st century Europe, democracy and sufficient powers at the European level should be obvious next steps to defeat populism, exceptionalism, protectionism and secessionism, no hope and no growth.
In harmony with the prospering of our planet and humanity, the European republic should be able to ensure higher standards of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.
Instead of treaty gridlock, a state of the art Basic Law would allow future reforms of the legislature, the government and the judiciary, as well as their tasks.
Under one democratic government, foreign policy and defence would start to make sense, with a unified army. Modern trade and investment agreements could unleash prospects for jobs and growth, globally and in Europe.
A unified single market for goods, digital, financial and other services, telecommunications, energy and transport infrastructure and related services, as well as intellectual property rights and public procurement, could turn the market economy more competitive and less socially excluding than decades of piecemeal approximation.
Within the republic people would be free to study, work and settle wherever they want.
With research, higher education and qualifications, family and criminal law, immigration and citizenship legislated by the republic, the practical difficulties would diminish. Building a coherent system of social contributions and benefits could start.
The euro would finally have a sovereign, while taxation would enable the European republic to promote economic, social and territorial convergence through the budget.
Legislation and public services would be available in protected local and minority languages, but English would be taught as a bridging language from the first year in (public) daycare.
The diversity of local languages, cultures, customs and affinities would live on without interference.
A detail: We should stop talking about a United States of Europe, not because it is too audacious, but because primarily we should be uniting citizens by handing them ownership and stewardship.
The European republic must have the power to confront the big issues under democratic government, according to the direction chosen by its citizens through the elections to the European Parliament.
Given the alternatives, Utopia is the only realism for our Europe.