Nr. 4 – Tombeur, August 2012

Tombeur replies with two Papers 4 and 5. In no. 4 he endorses the pernicious effects of the current intergovernmental operating system. More detailed than Klinkers he explains why the intergovernmental government, good to lift the European Community off the ground in the 1950s, is no longer functional for a good cooperation within Europe. He closes the Paper with hopeful signs that leading European politicians since the summer of 2012 are using words that seem to be going in the direction of a federal system for Europe.

European Federalist Papers © Leo Klinkers & Herbert Tombeur, 2012-2013


Esteemed Klinkers, your need to continue our talks on federalism and federations, corresponds to my year-long dormant plan to put something concrete on paper regarding this subject – for example, a reworking of my unpublished text about the creation of an ‘interfederation’ in Europe. I suspect that you, just as I do, view with rising frustration the inability of the EU’s political leaders to combat the current financial and economic crisis. And a crisis is the best gauge of merit.

I think federalism is the organizational form of the future, especially for public administrations. Public administrations have not yet followed the example of many internationally active companies. The ‘multinationals’, with their partly autonomous branches and the central leadership on top, have already existed for decades.

However, only a few modern States have attempted to organize themselves into a Federation. This is striking for Member States of the European Union, since federalism combines the benefits of both small and large scale. All the more so, because federal States outside of the European Union stick to that organizational form, despite crises – for example Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, the United States and Switzerland. On the other hand, we see that unitary States tend towards federalization or regionalization. It seems that the organizational model of federalism does offer a certain attraction.

I enthusiastically accept your offer of writing together on this subject, because I agree with your assertion that the European Union’s current operating system is increasingly disintegrating the Union. After three years of political improvisation as a response to the financial and economic crisis, it is high time to stand up against it publicly. A European Federation would be the appropriate response to the developments in Europe and in the rest of the world.

You taught me that every effective policy must start at the base, within society. From that basic concept we must, of course, begin to form our opinion on the situation of Europe, on the reorganization of the European institutions and on the way forward towards that goal.

Looking back initially is important because a historical consciousness contributes to our understanding of the present, and to our rational estimate of the future. I agree with you that sovereignty in the form of the Westphalia peace is already a thing of the past for over half a century. I prefer to use the term ‘independence’ in interstate relationships, because it concerns the external dimension of governance. States are indeed no longer independent. More than ever they are economically interdependent due to the explosion of international trade, led by the multinationals. They have bound each other politically to many international rules, especially in international agreements and treaties, including the power to enforce the execution of that which has been agreed upon.

I agree with what you concisely stated earlier. Their sovereignty or internal decision-making power at the highest level was increasingly limited by external factors, to which they have themselves contributed. The world has become a village. Despite this global change, beginning in 1945 and developing at an ever-increasing pace, some states doggedly stick to their existing structures and national agenda’s, while others wish to acquire ‘independence’ per se.

Globalization has indeed continued through the establishment of permanent international organizations between States. The treaties establishing them have bestowed to these international organizations a functional autonomy, with regard to policy preparation and policy implementation, but rarely having any influence on policy choice. The decision-making power of treaty-driven States belongs exclusively or predominantly to the constituent parts of the organization, the States. This reflects a Confederation of States.

Regardless of the size of their autonomous decision-making power, most international organizations are, in terms of legal basis and in institutional terms, Confederations, even though they are not labeled as such. A Treaty is the basis of a Confederation, which implies that any Member State may unilaterally annul this international contract (and leave the Confederation), and that the Member States can only change the Treaty founding the Confederation unanimously, without the need for consent by a confederal institution, should this already have been created. This proves that the sovereignty or the ultimate decision-making power lies solely with the members of a Confederation.

In a Federation none of this is the case. In a federal organization, sovereignty lies with the whole (the Federal Government) and with the parts (the Governments of the constituent parts, the federated entities or the Member States): sovereignty is both divided and shared. Moreover, the Covenant between States (Latin: ‘foedus', from which the word ‘Federation’ is derived), stipulates that a Constitution, or however that political and legal basis is named, can only be amended with the consent of all constituent parts. This applies, for example, to the redistribution of powers, the joining of a new Member to the Federation or the departure of another. Yes, we must later explain the complexity of these institutional and legal aspects of federalism.

Now I want to return to the present crisis which, I agree, has been creeping into the European institutions since 1992. This occurred tragically at the time that the nations of Central and Eastern Europe became part of the Union. Maybe we should draw the conclusion that the European Federation should have already existed before new members – boasting a national feeling that had been suppressed for decades and with underdeveloped economies – would join. If the Federation would have existed by then, they would have had the choice to decide, wholeheartedly, whether or not to become a member of a Federation. Deepening the Union at that time instead of choosing to enlarge it, had been a political option. However, it was decided otherwise. With the pernicious effects that we now know of.

We must learn from the past but we should not plainly accept the consequences, nor let our head hang down. We must fight the crisis of intergovernmental Europe. A tragic culmination of this crisis is the inflation of four presidencies, one on top of another. This way of decision-making dysfunctions in an enlarged and complex organization such as the EU. This intergovernmental decision-making cannot be effective or efficient in a group of 27 States which are so diverse, not only in the current situation, but also historically, and which are so ambitious, for example with the creation of the Euro currency.

Speaking about function and dysfunction: the evolution of the current European Union was launched by ‘functionalism’ as a technique of ‘integration’, i.e. more unity at the expense of diversity. By this I mean that the European treaties allow or even prescribe, from the beginning, that every action of a European institution with an integral effect or an integral aim, is lawful, even if this action is intervening with the policies and regulations of Member States.

In other words, any supranational action serving the purpose of integration is usually permitted. This is because there is still no strictly demarcated division of competences between the Union and its Member States, although that distribution is no longer as vague as it used to be. The Court of Justice has contributed to that expanding, and sometimes even hijacking of power, exercised by the European Community, now the European Union – with the symptomatic result of Europe’s rampant ‘regulitis’ in many policy fields on a micro-level, which increasingly frustrates citizens and businesses.

Thus, European integration amongst the populations of the Member States has received more and more the meaning of a merger of all differing aspects of life into one completely centrally imposed uniformity. This created among the population the impression of completely losing their national and regional identity and a too distant democratic participation. The Lisbon Treaty has somewhat restrained this so-called functionalism and thus barely demarcated transfer of power to the European Union, but has not entirely undone this.

I believe that this teleological paradigm of the European treaties has put the germ of Euro-skepticism into the institutions, resulting in the Union’s political inability and the widening of the fault lines between Member States. Hence, it has become even easier for national politicians to portray the European Union as a threat to their respective societies, even though they themselves have contributed to this effect of European decision-making. Apparently, the intergovernmental, if not hybrid, decision-making in the Union leads to schizophrenia in some policy makers from the Member States – as a result of which they run from one raging fire to another. Each time for short-term relief, but without a final solution.

I consider a federally organized Europe to be vital – in the interests of its inhabitants, associations, companies, national Governments and European institutions. A Federation is absolutely not the same as ‘integration’, as I outlined above. Integration calls the image of a mixture which absorbs all the constituents fully. A Federation, on the other hand, leaves the ingredients intact and creates a link between them, thus creating a new element with its own characteristics. For this reason we must principally oppose the repeated call of politicians of all kinds to increased (political) integration, since that makes the impure intergovernmentalism even more turbid.

‘Integration’ is usually a sympathetic word, but not in this context. Protecting the autonomous individuality of the constituents in a desirable cooperation cannot be realized through intergovernmentalism, but exclusively through federalism.

At the end of this Paper there is optimism. In Paper 0 we stated that European politicians seem to bypass the F-word. Well, good news. The Flemish newspaper De Tijd of 4 August 2012 published some statements made by Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner for the internal market. The heading of that article reads: "Europe will be a Federation or will not be." Otherwise, according to him, the common project no longer has any future.

Barnier states there should even be a deadline for when this should happen. In his opinion, the transformation into such a Federation should be completed by 2016. The Federation must, according to Barnier, have at least one common economic governance, with a joint budget, a bank union and an industrial policy, with a single Minister of Finance and a President of the Union, initially appointed by the European Parliament and in a later phase by all Europeans. The samely, albeit more modestly and without explanation, came from the heads of Government of four large Member States, Hollande, Merkel, Monti and Rajoy, following their meeting on 21 June 2012 on the growth pact for Europe. In their joint statement they spoke of a ‘political breakthrough’ and even ... ‘a federal leap’. Would the F-taboo finally be broken?

Probably we see here, for the first time, that leading politicians in the middle of the European centre of power, dare to say out loud (see, for example, the reports in the French newspaper Libération) that the European Union must transform into a kind of Federation of States. If this bold statement can be shared and strengthened openly by other leading politicians, then we can anticipate a lot of fun in the elections for the European Parliament in 2014.

This is where I stop – provisionally – with the explanation of the foundation of federalism. In a later paper I will elaborate on the fact that in almost every Federation this model is used differently, while always applying the same basic principle: a mutual agreement between the citizens of all the constituent parts of the Federation as well as each individual State having sovereignty on the two levels of Government.