Nr. 11 – Klinkers, September 2012

Before going further with the nuts and bolts of federalization Klinkers deems it wise to establish why the many attempts to turn the European Union into a Federation have failed thus far. He  takes the reader to the multidisciplinary domain of the science of public administration in order to illuminate – on the basis of concepts drawing from cybernetics and system theory – the systemic errors of the intergovernmental system, as a result of which this system is already clinically dead. He also explains why any attempt to create a federal concept stemming from the intergovernmental system is also bound to fail.

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


I sincerely hope that the soul and the superiority of federal governance has been elaborated sufficiently. Now we are obliged to clarify how the present European Union would ensure its freedom, security and happiness (every citizen’s right to pursue his or her own happiness – key words fundamental to the basis of the US Federalist Papers) through a federal form of organizing. The central question becomes as follows: how could federal European governance be established? Followed by: what should this federal governance look like in political/legal (constitutional) terms as well as organizationally (institutionally)?

In order to answer the central question, we should first analyze why all attempts have failed. Luuk van Middelaar describes in great detail – as mentioned before – the reasons for the many failures to federalize. From the angle of the concept of subsidiarity – which will be dealt with in a future Paper – the aforementioned Éva Bóka has also summed up the failures and their backgrounds. Both authors indicate the obstacles to federalization. When looking in more detail at exactly this subject, i.e. when an attempt failed, why and who was responsible for this failing, one notices that all failures stem from the same source: all attempts to federalize Europe originate from the intergovernmental system itself. They emanate from a system that is weak in itself, ill and dying.

This explains a lot about the causal background of the continuously failing attempts at federalizing the Union. It is impossible that a governing system aimed at European cohesion and cooperation but actually operating on the basis of national interests, thus in reality operating on the basis of division/apartheid, would be able to create power. That is not feasible. And that has been exactly the reason why Hamilton, Madison and Jay turned the 1787 Convention of Philadelphia into the direction of drafting a Federal Constitution rather than adjusting the Confederal Treaty: despite their sometimes conflicting personal opinions, they understood perfectly well that a regular gathering of representatives of States – within the EU these are the European Council and the Ministerial Councils – would not create a cooperative decision-making model, unless there would be an element above them with a specific decision-making mandate of its own, not operating hierarchically top-down, nor competing or colliding with the mandates of the Member States.

If a model of governance, a) is continuously striving to become another, better model, because one observes that it is not performing well enough, and b) time and again fails in those attempts, then sooner or later one should recognize that the system itself is deficient. Which implies that one should stop trying to find a federal model of governance stemming from the intergovernmental system. You will never find it. Because you do not possess the correct navigation instruments for that. The instrumental toolkit that has been used to build and direct the European Union as a Confederal system, is of a different kind than the instrumental toolkit needed to create a Federation and to maintain that form of governance.

As is the case with any system, the intergovernmental system attracts its own people. Who do we see acting as the dominant people on the European stage? Lawyers and political scientists. They manoeuvre the intergovernmental structure and its procedures. Economists also play a role but are more content-oriented, dealing with monetary and financial-economic matters. Not concerning themselves much with subjects of stately design.

I do not oppose the validity of the presence of lawyers and political scientists on that stage. The legal domain is richly variegated, containing many different fields. And due to the fact that law, justice and legitimacy are conditions sine qua non for freedom, security and happiness (just like Clinton Rossiter, editor of the 1961 edition of The Federalist papers already mentioned) lawyers have all the rights to be present on that stage. The same applies to political scientists, although, in my view, to a lesser extent. They do not cover such a rich variety of fields as those in the legal domain. And they tend, in my view, to draw too quickly superficial explanations of political behavior by explaining political decision-making as merely the exertion of power – to then use that explanation as an excuse when the decision-making does goes wrong. As if this is all there is to holding a political office. Isn’t there more, such as knowledge, science, expertise, ratio, conviction, reasoning, advice, good governance and, let’s not forget, the rule of law? Notions of that kind of decision-steering aspects are not often to be found in political science. But let me put this aside.

Who do we not notice on the intergovernmental stage, at least not in a dominant role? Professionals in the science of public administration. Other than lawyers and political scientists they do not deal with a monodiscipline, but rather look at the structure and functioning of an administration from an amalgam of academic disciplines, including constitutional law, political science, management science, communication theory, cybernetics, system theory, science methodology, philosophy, social psychology. I may be wrong but this kind of academics is hardly to be seen in authoritative positions in the intergovernmental house. That is why in the literature explaining the failed attempts to federalize the EU we mainly find legal or power-oriented explanations. No multidisciplinary interpretations of the background of those failures.

Professionals in the science of public administration – especially those who really practice their academic knowledge within the offices of any public administration – look at administrative matters from a different perspective. They analyze the dysfunction of the intergovernmental body primarily with concepts from cybernetics and system theory. The first thing to be done then is to search for systemic errors. These are errors that are so severe that they bring the system to a collapse. They are not reparable. It is even worse: any attempt to repair a systemic error aggravates the defective character of the system. In the beginning there is some relief, but soon it is revealed that the repair has only a short-term effect, after which the misery spreads – accelerated and multiplied. To finally conclude that the system has died. Or, in our case, is clinically dead.

What systemic errors are we talking about? Let me confine myself to some, interwoven defects of the intergovernmental system, looked at from the angle of the science of public administration. The overall dominating systemic error is the fact – it has been mentioned before and The Federalist Papers already pointed at that – that the intergovernmental system is trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. It is trying to find in the structure and procedures of common decision-making a common interest, but while doing so, it is using the instrument of the exchange of national interests of the participating members. This always produces, by definition, winners and losers, if not only losers. Because they have agreed that the result of their decision-making should be executed uniformly in each Member State, an increasing aversion against this type of decision-making arises in the losing Member States. This aversion works like poison: it settles itself in the vital organs of the national systems, then in the moods and minds of the people, after which its destructive work brings the intergovernmental system itself down.

This poison is accumulating since a Member State does not only loose once, but regularly. This type of decision-making is dominated by power and interests, opportunities and threats, giving and taking. Everybody is allowed to win, once in a while, but should accept losing as well. Threatened, in the background, by ‘don’t rock the boat because otherwise we all get wet’. That is why the intergovernmental system can never boast the saying that it is more than the sum of the parts. On the contrary. It is not even a marriage – a metaphor used before to indicate the confederal nature of the European Union – that allows a member to step out of the union should always losing no longer be sustainable. Though legally possible – article 50, section 1 of the Treaty of Lisbon allows Member States to leave the Union – this has become too difficult, due to practical reasons.

It is, at the most, a LAT-relation (living apart together) which is reluctantly sustained by many of the partners, since going alone is even more unappealing. Public administrators who approach this matter from the principles of social psychology can explain very well where the mutual distrust, the tricks, the miscommunication and the back-room deals come from. And therefore the increasing aversion of the people of the Member States, often stimulated by Europe-skeptic politicians.

The wish to reconcile the irreconcilable has led to an organizational construction of a system-destructing nature. Four officials possess, within the same system, a mandate of their own to speak on behalf of Europe: the chairman of the European Parliament, the chairman of the European Commission, the chairman of the half-yearly rotating EU and – since the Treaty of Lisbon – the chairman of the European Council. No organization can survive having no less than four chairmen who, each on the basis of their own – legally legitimate – mandate is allowed to speak about the European Union. It is even worse. The Heads of the Governments of France and Germany are the ones who take the actual decisions, though without a legal mandate to do so. Seen from the angle of organization theory we are talking about a ‘capital crime’: four captains who each on a different part of the same boat are allowed to take decisions, or make comments, about the course the boat should take. In addition there is the question of whether their respective powers correlate correctly with their accountabilities.

On the operational side of the system the dominating systemic error manifests itself in the accumulation of repairing policies and legislation. Each time they conclude that everybody is unsatisfied with the way in which business is being done, new measures are taken – policy-oriented as well as legislative – to produce a smile on each other’s faces. Until the next blow.

To prove again and again the statement by journalist and author Jochen Bittner in his book ‘So nicht Europa’ (Not this way Europe): the European Union regulates the small things too big and the big things too small, the soft too hard and the hard too soft and she moves at the top too quickly and too slow at the bottom. Professor emeritus Larry Siedentop, a British-American historian and philosopher, holds the same opinion; in an interview with Knack at the end of 2011 he said: “The EU struggles with a systemic crisis, politically as well as economical. Europe evolves towards bureaucratic forms of governance, on the European level as well as on the national.” Though both are right as far as the operating of the intergovernmental system is concerned, they do not go beyond the States and their revolting regions. They do not descend to the street level, the level of the European citizens. These are not customers but shareholders.

Characteristic of the continued propagation of patching up was the State of the Union Address delivered by the chairman of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, on September 12, 2012. Notably on the same day the German Constitutional Court decided that the European Stabilizing Mechanism (ESM) was not contrary to the German Constitution and was allowed to be executed under certain conditions. Barroso called for more integration by creating a ‘federation of nation-states’. No super state. But what is a Federation of nation states other than a confederation? Fortunately he was contradicted the same day by Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament, who stated: “We do not need a Federation of States, but a Federation of European citizens.” With this observation he referred implicitly to the US Federation, established by the citizens of the thirteen confederal Sates, not by the Governments of those States.

With these words Verhofstadt shows to be a true follower of Jean Monnet who wrote in his memoires: “Nous ne coalisons pas des Etats, nous unissons les homes (We are not building coalitions of States, we unite the people”).

The authors of The Federalist Papers would turn in their graves if they knew that the European Union has a Parliament that is as close to the European citizens as Mars is to Earth. A representative body unsupported by a direct mandate of the people is, in their eyes, a horror story. The correctness of this assumption can be concluded from the endless debates about the yearly remittance to the Union: a kind of taxation without representation. In 18th century North America this was provocation enough to engage in a war of secession. The reverse, however, is also applicable to Europe: representation without taxation. The European government does not gather financial means itself, resulting in it being subordinate to the Member States.

These kinds of negative effects, as a result of the dominating systemic error which attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable can be explained further through some principles of system theory. In the context of that discipline we have the two concepts, negative and positive feedback. Within the discipline of system theory these concepts are neutral, without any emotional value. However, once applied within the functioning of Governments, which want to achieve goals, these concepts gain a qualifying connotation.

Negative feedback within public administration is, as within any goal-oriented human behavior, the most beautiful thing on earth. For every living creature everywhere. Formulated simply it means that at the moment of assessing a deviation of a charted course (= assessing an error) an analysis plus the elimination of the cause of the error will lead to the correction of the deviation, thus returning to charted course, through which the goal will be achieved. Negative feedback is the universal goal-achievement mechanism: if one sets a goal, starts going into the direction of that goal, detects a deviation of the course and continuously corrects that deviation by eliminating the cause of the deviation, then ultimately the goal will be reached. Thus, ‘negative’ in negative feedback does not refer to the error, but is rather derived from the Latin ‘negare’: denying, undoing. In algebra it is indicated by the minus sign. A simple example of this we see when someone tries to ride a bike straight on a one hundred meters white line. That is impossible. He will always veer a bit to the left and then a bit to the right of that line. By continuously correcting the deviations he will eventually reach the goal and the end of the line, unless something unforeseeable happens. That is why governing is always a matter of dealing with uncertainty, in which those governing should only focus on assessing the causes of problems in order to eliminate them. This is the universal principle of any human goal finding.

This system-theoretical concept is balanced in the methodology of science, worded by Karl Popper in the 1930s as follows: “Trial motivation and error elimination”, normally shortened to ‘trial and error’. This principle is the basis of successful evolution or scientific progress.

But what then is positive feedback? Well, if negative feedback is the most beautiful thing on earth – because it enables people to reach their goals – then positive feedback is the worst thing to encounter. It means that at the moment of assessing an error the reparative measure does not eliminate that error but rather deteriorates it: a strengthening of the deviation, further and further veering off the charted course. Not linear but progressively. Thus not in the order of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …., but via 2, 4, 8, 16 and so forth. That is why, as I have already mentioned: at first one is relieved, but soon it appears that the repair only has a short-term effect, after which the misery spreads in an accelerated and accumulating way.

Positive feedback becomes visible through the acceleration and accumulation of the error. Here is an example, outside the domain of the European Union. The ice of the North Pole is white. Thus sunlight is reflected. The sunlight does not penetrate the ice and therefore does not warm up the water. But now? Through exogenous causes the ice is melting. Where this occurs the water is black. The sunbeams penetrate and warm the ice, which causes more melting ice as well as quicker melting. That is why now, at the end of the Summer of 2012, the volume of the North Pole ice is smaller than ever.

The horror of positive feedback lies in the irreversible. Once in motion it cannot be stopped. Like an avalanche: it begins with a small bit of snow, to accumulate and accelerate, only to come to a halt at the end of the mountain. Nobody can stop that thing half-way the mountain. The same occurs at the melt-down of a nuclear reactor: as soon as that begins, one has to hurry away as quickly and as far as possible.

The statement is now: if one wants to explain why the intergovernmental European governing system is deterioriating, the answer is to be found in the mechanism of positive feedback. At an ever-increasing pace it produces more and more systemic aberrations due to the loss of too much energy in fruitless repairs of previous fruitless repairs. The system finds itself a) in increasing acceleration b) further off the charted course, and therefore looses more and more its ability to react adequately to external threats such as the economic crisis and the banking crisis. Its immune system weakens progressively. This explains why leading European politicians now start to feel that reparative policies and legislation (in the words of David Marquand ‘low politics’) are no longer the right response. Reluctantly, they speak – in the Summer of 2012 – of the necessity to intervene thoroughly in the system. At the time of writing the German magazine Der Spiegel already announced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is contemplating the design of a completely new EU-treaty.

Here we see the way in which the mechanism of positive feedback works: within three years of signing the Treaty of Lisbon – a treaty that nobody wanted – a new one is being prepared. How many treaties did we get since 1950? We have lost count. It is even worse. In the second half of September 2012 the newspapers report more initiatives: Commission Chairman José Manuel Barroso announces that he will produce proposals, before the 2014 European elections, for a Federation of States. Chairman of the European Council Herman van Rompuy is to produce new ideas in October 2012 regarding a more elaborated Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The European Commission is working towards a more robust Eurozone. The ‘Future of Europe group’, eleven Ministers of Foreign Affairs, chaired by the German Minister Guido Westerwelle, presented the European Parliament on 24 September 2012 with a report on the federalization of Europe. All diverse initiatives, but all starting from exactly the same premise: the umpteenth adaptation of the present intergovernmental system.

Let’s go back to the aforementioned lawyers and political scientists. I can be brief: they are part of the problem. The question, however, is if they can also be part of the solution. In essence the accelerating decay of the intergovernmental system can be traced back to the fact that all attempts to change it drastically came from within the system itself. If we were to ask those lawyers and political scientists to build a Federation, it would fail again. The officials at present operating within the system are in the right place, because the system has attracted them. They feel at home. But the federal stage is not their habitat. In a federal system they do not know their way because their personal DNA is intergovernmentally charged.

I understand the possible reproach that I harshly underestimate the will and the ability of intergovernmental officials to establish a Federation. I also accept the criticism that I implicitly seem to state that only professionals in the science of public administration – not contaminated with the poison of intergovernmentalism – would be able to achieve such a performance. The only thing I want to emphasize is that first and for all we have to look in a completely different way if we are to establish a Federation. In that context I pose the question: are the people who organize and run the present Union the right ones to manage this transition?

David Marquand supports the correctness of this question in his book ‘The End of the West’. In harsher words than mine he is explaining that the kind of people that started the European cooperation never worked on the level of ‘high politics’ (dealing as statesmen with common interests), but always stuck on the level of ‘low politics’. That is the level of sectorial and subsector policymaking. Strongly technocratically controlled by politicians whose thinking is filled with agricultural subsidies, regional aid, free trade and harmonization. Thereby exclusively leaning on diplomats, lobbyists and public officials, never on European citizens. That is why he concludes: “Not surprisingly, the Brussels Commission has attracted technocrats as jam pots attract wasps.” As an inevitable negative effect of ‘low politics’ in the hands of predominantly technocrats that kind of people always invents new measures to compensate States which lost some of their interests in the process of wheeling and dealing. To be followed, each budgetary year, by discussions about other or readjusted compensation measures.

The urge for European federalization, which became manifest as of 1950, but which has been handled time and again wrongly, should be placed in a historical perspective. From 1648 Westphalen until the establishment of the United Nations following World War II, we lived in the era of sovereign nation states. As of 1945 those approximately 190 nation states were overtaken, on the left and on the right, by the creation of dozens of intergovernmental systems – indicating a second era of up-scaling. Now a third era of up-scaling seems to be emerging: the creation of a handful of federal organizations, together covering the world. In the words of Guy Verhofstadt: the birth of a New Age of Empires. Thus indicating the development that the world is about to divide itself into a dozen regional centers of power, as an obvious and logical finalizing of governmental up-scaling since the previous century. An up-scaling that we have seen growing since the Middle Ages. Whether or not Europe will become a Federation is no longer the question. The question is: who wants and who can take the lead in establishing that Federation?

For those who doubt Verhofstadt’s prediction of the coming of a new age with a handful of federations throughout the world, I recommend reading Éva Bóka’s article ‘Rethinking the role of the federalist ideas in the construction of Europe’. The coming of a peaceful world federation is the nucleus of that paper.