A European Federation can never be established if one makes the same systemic error found in the Schuman plan of May 1950: handing over the decision-making power to the States. This will inevitably lead to the conclusion that a Federation can never emerge from the intergovernmental system and should be established completely separately from that system. Moreover, the approach and ambition of this Federation should resemble the way the founding fathers created the federal US constitution, as well as the approach of the Benelux founders in 1944. Some aspects of the Schuman Plan are important too.
European Federalist Papers © Leo Klinkers & Herbert Tombeur, 2012-2013
If it is correct to conclude that striving for a federal Europe will fail by definition if an attempt is made to initiate it from the intergovernmental system, then there is only one option: stepping out of that intergovernmental box. Instead, we should follow – without being contaminated with the poison of systemic errors – the course of cooperative organizations that did not go under because of in-built systemic errors.
This is not to say that the European Union is a complete failure. But now, with the necessity of absorbing an external threat such as the present economic crisis, ensuing from the US banking crisis, chances are 50/50 that the Union will survive. The strength of this European partnership cannot be measured through its economic successes of earlier years, but through its ability to cope with severe blows when they arrive, and through the use of the energy that was gained as a result, in order to strengthen its existence. We do not see any of this. Dancing on the feeble intergovernmental cord, time and again the Union produces only fruitless efforts to strengthen the present, moribund system rather than granting it a loving euthanasia and creating a sparkling and vivid federal organization that, like the American one, has a lifespan of centuries – and like, it should be repeated, the strong German Federation.
During the Convention of Philadelphia in 1787 the authors of The Federalist Papers discovered very quickly that it would be useless to try solving the crisis of that time by tinkering with the confederal treaty. They decided to leave it behind – completely – in order to create something new: a Federation. A home offering shelter, step by step, to the major part of North America. The Federation bought during the 19th century from France, Spain and Russia the rest of the country that is now its western and southern part, or they took it by force.
This calls for an analogy. What do we do with crumbling old apartment buildings that can no longer justify the never-ending repair bills? We tear them down and replace them with contemporary living spaces. As with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), an organization built by the confederal cooperation of six States, it did indeed have a whiff of federalism. However, that whiff has lost its functionality after decades of the system being tinkered with. It cannot offer adequate housing to 27 Member States. There is an urgent need to build a new system.
In building that new system we should learn from best practices, thus creating a European Federation, next to the existence of intergovernmental Europe. Two organizations side by side, for a while; one wrong and weak, one good and strong. 18th century American history teaches us that the members of the intergovernmental system will incrementally accede to the federal system. The intergovernmental system will evaporate as soon as its final Member State has entered the Federation.
This construction resembles Guy Verhofstadt’s idea, as stated in several books: he envisages two concentric circles. The inner circle is the political core of the countries of the Eurozone, cooperating as the United States of Europe (USE) on a certain number of policy domains. The outer circle is the Confederation of States called Organization of European States. Even in his vision the confederal circle will eventually disappear, as it is absorbed by the federal one.
It seems complicated to have, for a while, two European systems next to each other, but that is not necessarily the case. Like children play computer games with amazing ease – whereas the older generation gets stuck within seconds – so will the younger generation of politicians and officials easily cope with the complexity of two European governing systems. Especially if the federal construction starts in the same spot where the first attempt to federalize led to taking the wrong exit. By this I mean the following.
Where did the European Community take the wrong exit (at that time the desired federal highway), to wander around for decades – through fertile land that could fill Europe’s granaries – at present to arrive on the fringe of the political desert? While in exile in London, the heads of state of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg established the Benelux. Cautiously begun as a customs union (1948), the Benelux evolved within a few years into an economic partnership without import and export duties and with an overarching body in 1958. The pace and intensity of this cooperation represented a stimulus for six European countries, headed by France and Germany, to broaden their European Coal and Steel Community (established in 1950) through to the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Not just the first years of the Benelux set the trend for structured European cooperation. The birth certificate itself of this larger European project – the 1950 Schuman Plan – should be regarded as a major incentive for a European bond. The idea came from the French businessman and government advisor in economic affairs Jean Monnet, and was pronounced by Robert Schuman, French Minister of Foreign Affairs. The text of this plan is brief and contains two conflicting matters to which I like to draw the reader’s attention. Look at the bold and underlined words, compare them and produce a smile by recognizing the original systemic error, the wrong exit.
It has been the explicit goal to create a European Federation. That this has never come about is due to the mistake of leaving the responsibility of building this federation to the Member States and to leave it to the Governments to appoint the personnel for the High Authority, the executive organ of the ECSC, of which Jean Monnet became the first chairman. That is where the search for common interests began. However, from the beginning, driven by national interests. This is the location of the wrong exit.
That it is impossible to start a Federation in this manner was already understood by the authors of The Federalist Papers. That is why they refused to have the federal Constitution established by the States. They chose to found the Federation through the people themselves – through a system of electors, but anyhow built from the bottom-up. The fact that any legal form of European cooperation has been undertaken by the States from the beginning, therefore by their Governments – later on culminating in a European Council taking all principal decisions, hierarchically pushed downwards in the context of centrally imposed uniformity – has prevented through the years the creation of a Federation. The original intention was correct, but its execution was wrong, from the very start.
If we intend to establish a European Federation – starting small, elaborating it over the years besides the present intergovernmental system – then we have to internalize and follow the atmosphere and passion of the early years of the Benelux, and of the federal ambitions of the Schuman Plan; without granting the governments of the States any decision-making role in this. How could we achieve that?
Let me respond to that question with two sub-questions: what do you need to establish a system such as this and how should we go about it? Needed, initially, is a problem. Well, a problem we have, since we are facing such a huge threat that one may doubt if the Union will survive. And as you, Tombeur, have argued convincingly in Paper no. 9 that this threat not only consists of an economic and a banking crisis, but in essence the important changes in global power relations, in our trade relations and the emergence of new powerful States, it would be wise for Europe to bundle its strengths into a robust system, a Federation. Thus, as far as threats are concerned, our situation at present corresponds completely with the crisis that gave way to the Federal Constitution of America in 1789.
What else do we need? Some people who think that federal cooperation is obvious. This reminds me of the three people pleading in The Federalist Papers, with passion and arguments, for the American federal Constitution. But also of the kind of people who established the Benelux in 1944. Thirdly we need something resembling the Schuman Plan: a vision, unpolished, sober but convincingly aiming at centripetal solidarity. Finally, we need people of several countries who would love to embrace such an approach.
In short, we need a problem, some fearless pioneers, someone writing a vision making people aware and people agreeing with that vision. Thus, once again: no formal endeavor emanating from States, Governments, Heads of States or Government Leaders. They may take part in this project, but not in function of their office and related mandates. Because then we would once again make the same systemic error that is preventing the creation of a real Federation.
Now the question remains: how do we build a Federation on the basis of these ingredients?
Two things should happen at the same time: 1st the recognition by some people that their country is ready for the centripetal desire for more unity without losing its sovereign identity; and 2nd a person like Schuman who is able to articulate this in a vision. History seems to teach us that we should look for those people – as in 1944 – in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg: firm people who come together, look at each other and say: “Shall we do it?” What was possible in 1944 is also possible now. These people are among us, I do not mention any names. Nor shall I put forward a suggestion for someone who could play Schuman’s role and write the short, convincing and centripetal vision. Such a person is undoubtedly amongst us. But let the natural process determine who will stand up to play the historical role that is needed now.
In this manner a fruitful basis might be laid for the people of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to agree on a federal organization. A Federation of three countries as a first step towards a complete European Federation. Beginning quietly: “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister”. Limited both constitutionally and institutionally. I will come back to that later. These three countries withdraw individually from the intergovernmental system – thus leaving as Member States the Treaty of Lisbon on the basis of article 50, section 1 – in order to enter the Treaty again in the form of a Federation of three States. Other Member States of the European Union are subsequently able to follow suit.
As stated above, two things must occur. However, if we want to learn as much as possible from historical best practices I must enquire as to whether we need a third element.
Jean Monnet was a visionary go-getter but we should not forget that he was working, during World War II, in the company of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, preceded by the US President Woodrow Wilson, founder of the League of Nations. This will have played a role, undoubtedly, in his conceptual thinking of European cooperation. Following World War II Monnet was familiar with the Marshall Plan of 1947, the first attempt to revitalize Europe in such a way that it could act as a countervailing power to the increasing influence of Russia in the western direction. However, the attempt to create this did not go fast enough in the eyes of the Americans. This led Dwight Eisenhower, in 1951 NATO’s first chief commander, to state – derived from Bas Kromhouts’ article ‘Hoe de Amerikanen de Europese Unie pushten’ (‘How the Americans pushed the European Union’): “There is no real solution for the European problem before the United States of Europe are definitely established.”
Due to financial considerations America wanted to withdraw its troops from Europe, but did not dare to do so before a federal Europe, with one European defense force, was established, as a countervailing power against Russia. To push this concept, America forced countries wanting Marshall Aid to become members of the Organization of European Economic Cooperation, which began with the elimination of trade barriers. However, the United States of Europe, with its European defense organization, has not yet been established.
Therefore I put forward the question if we do not need a third element to make the creation of a federal Europe feasible: a new push from the United States of America towards the European Union – no soft diplomacy but conscious pushing, with money to help Europe solve its present crisis: a new ‘Marshall Plan’? Or this time a supporting technological plan for the European Union’s military power to finally create a federal bond?
Esteemed Tombeur, since we follow the American federalization at the end of the 18th century as a best practice, it seems good to also look at the origin and operating system of the Benelux as a guiding factor. The power of both historical initiatives may function as a foundation for the creation of a European Federation. Guest author Fernand Jadoul will illustrate this in Paper no. 13.If some want to reproach us in the sense that following the examples of the United States and of the Benelux do not do justice to the European reality of today, we have to refer to them “Met de kennis van toen. Actuele problemen in het licht van de geschiedenis’ (‘With the knowledge of earlier times. Actual problems in the light of history’), a book in which Rutger Bregman explains that history is full of valuable lessons.