European Union 2: A Revolutionary Response to a British Coup d’état

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The antipathy towards the European Union reflected in the British Referendum of 23 June 2016 is shared by many people across the whole of Europe. As Jürgen Habermas has said: “the British vote also reflects some of the general state of crisis in the EU and its member states”. (Die Zeit, July 12, 2016.)

An unexpected moment of further European disintegration offers a unique opportunity to make the unloved EU into what it could be. The citizens of Europe should force the governments of Europe to make possible a European Union 2, an enterprise that a majority of British people might support, even if they were still not able to love it.

We are living through a time of exceptional disorder and danger throughout the world. A very bad time is a good time to plan a better future. In the dark days of the Second World War, governments were already planning new social security systems, new education systems, new public health systems, a new world financial system, and a United Nations to replace the League of Nations.

There are realistic principles underlying a project of European Union. It can be a close partnership of independent nations pursuing their unique and precious destinies, but seeking also the huge gains that come from acting together to serve a common interest. Their national interest contains also the common interest that they share.

Such a partnership is a sharing of the power of 500 million people. We have a common interest in responding effectively to a world that threatens our survival and prosperity, politically and economically and culturally, and even our physical survival.

But we also share a special responsibility to help to make the present chaotic and dangerous world into a better world. It is something that Europe owes to the world, a world that is very much the world that Europe made, for better and for worse.

The unity of Europe goes far beyond any European Union. It is an immense concentration of human energy and human potentialities developed over the course of millennia.  European Union 2 should be designed to make the most of our energy and our potentialities in the unprecedented circumstances of the new century.

Why is EU 1 unloved? In all our countries, there is a general disenchantment with politics and government. Impoverished politics, ineffective government, and economic anomie seem to be symptoms of a debilitating sickness within democracy and capitalism. A European Union cannot escape its effects. But EU 1 contains its own structural faults that weaken its response, and impede its future organic development.

EU 1 doesn’t feel like a liberal democratic society. It feels like a sophisticated machine. The citizens see it as an inter-governmental system, remote from the people, managed by civil servants and lawyers. There is a similar problem at the global level, where countless inter-governmental organisations are beyond national democratic control. New forms of despotism pose as benign agents of a common good that they themselves determine, manage, and judge.

The overwhelming structural problem of EU 1 is that there is no Europe-wide politics, in the sense of a never-ending day-to-day struggle about public policy and the use of public power – the struggle at the heart of true liberal democracy.

Liberal democracy is an amazing human invention. It is an ingenious way of turning private interests into common interest, through the medium of politics and public opinion – the common interest of a dynamic society with which the citizens identify themselves.

Politics helps to generate the self-consciousness of a society. The self-consciousness of a society makes politics possible. In EU 1 there is no self-consciousness of a European society. To create a reality of politics within a self-conscious European society-of-societies is a daunting task. But it is unavoidable if Europe is to become what it should be.

The main pillar of liberal democracy is ­representation. The citizens, through their representatives, have the first word, and the last word, on law-making and government. The citizens can call government to account for everything that it does.

In EU 2, national parliaments should be at the heart of an emerging form of all-European politics. The European Parliament might be replaced by a European Senate of 100 members, with two members from each member state, and forty-four eminent people chosen from across the whole of Europe, on grounds other than those of party politics or cronyism.

We Europeans have one very great advantage. We have unrivalled experience in creative constitutionalism. Over the course of three thousand years, Europe has spawned countless new forms of polity, permutations of the organisation and justification of public power. To talk in terms of old categories of federalism, or even of old ideas of democracy, is to constrain our imagination unnecessarily.

The revolutionary transformation of the European Union will produce an entirely new form of polity, to solve an interesting new problem. How can the fabulous success of the most advanced modern societies be expanded to the level of a society that includes those societies? EU 1 offered one solution – creating a parallel external system partially internalised in national societies – a solution that has reached the end of its usefulness.

European integration was a brilliant achievement in the 1950’s, negating the horrors of recent European history. The world has changed fundamentally. The shared strength of Europe needs a new purpose and a new form. We need a new Europe for a new world.  The young people of Europe want a Europe that is a beacon of the future, not a relic of the past. Let a great debate begin!

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Antonietta Elia says

September 8, 2016

Dear Professor, Thank you for sharing your views. I think that one of the most central problem of the present EU (or as you called EU 1) is exactly the fact that it is acting in many areas as a "partnership of independent nations" under an empty cover of a supposed "integration". In other words, I think that the future of EU (or EU 2) should be exactly the result of a process aiming to reinforce and renewing the basic of EU,the progressive integration. In my view, "partnership" is on the opposite way of integration or common interest. A partnership in fact would the return back to "Society", deleting the road towards a "Community". This is also applicable to international level. It is true, "constitutionalism" is a "European brand". But I do not believe that reducing number of representatives of the EU Parliement should be useful, nor selecting such eminent jurists to compose such Senate you suggested. This is the very relevant point. The right way should be, for example, to create a link to EU directly electing the President of EU Commission, creating a sort of European campaign where candidates present their respective programs through Europe.

Poolla R.K. Murti says

September 10, 2016

I am an INDIAN academic who spent the best part of my life, 10 Years in Europe, getting my M.B.A. from KUL (Belgium)in 1979 and was a Research Fellow/Visiting Academic at Universite Catholique de Louvain (Belgium),Ruhr University of BOCHUM, TWNTE University and the Free University of Amsterdam, WWW University of Muenster and the Bounemouth University in England. I love Europe as much as my own Country and am an eye witness to the expansion of Europe. With 27 member States and a majority-accepted common Currency,the EURO, Europe was projected as a model by me to my own students.

From this distance in India, I trust I have the advantage of a better macro view and sincerely feel that nothing has gone so much wrong with the concept and the evolution of the EU. True, with the benefit of hind sight, several Institutions can be modified to work better, in the sense that, the harmony among Nations is enhanced and the divisive feelings get diminished.

Let us never forget that the BREXIT vote itself has only a slender majority and it seems to me "passions overtook feelings". Yes, we must attempt scholarly studies on the "workable model of Europe" and certainly not throw the 'baby with the bath water'.

It seems to me, to start with, may be a loose Federation of States with minimal Monetary discipline enforced on them, may be attempted rather than the present model "with a close knit Union and a disciplined Monetary and Fiscal approach". Also, the vexing issue of the "free Migration of Labor" be left to the discretion of the concerned States.

Let me conclude, in all humility, I am not a Scholar but an ardent lover of Europe, the cradle of the modern civilization. Let us do our best to preserve the integrity of Europe, a beacon light to several developing countries like India.

Eugenio Carli says

September 15, 2016

Dear Professor, I read with much interest Your article. I'm an Italian 30-years-old post-doc student in International and EU Law.
Please let me give my quick, strictly practical, non-legal and disillused opinion: I don't think Europe can't work better than it is doing now. Sure, we Europeans always should - and actually want - that to be better, closer to the citizens, less burocratic and sophisticated, but I do believe that that is a "mission impossible."
For one very simple reason: States are sovereign creatures, they are the great, laborious and slow creation of hundreds of years and being they as such, they won't never ever be totally capable to cede what they hardly gained through the years, even for a great goal as the European Union is. There's nothing we can do about that. Europe is not a federal State, it is an international organization, albeit sui generis, which has great and broad goals but that still works - and in my opinion will always do - intergovernamentally.
What You envisage, as I see it, is a Revolution which is - regardless of whether it is rightly or wrongly-founded - very difficult to happen, besides being unnecessary in my view.
I don't agree when You say that in Europe there's no self-consciuosceness of a society. Instead, I think it exists: Europeans and non-Europeans always talk about Europe like something bigger than the single units. I personally feel part of the Euopean Union, when I travel, when I do research in one European country, when I see the news on TV, etc. It's not only (good) politics that generate the self-consciousness of a society; it is also something more primitive, a feeling, a belief in having something in common and the consciousness that someone struggled to build It, for better or for worse. I think that a great number of Europeans have this belief.
Nor I agree when You say that EU (1) doesn't feel like a liberal democratic society, or rather: I think that is an overstatement. Every Member State has a democratic Government; democracy is one of the principles on which the EU is founded; the Treaty itself contains a section dedicated to democracy; Art. 49 provides that only democratic States can accede the EU. I think that these democracies try to form a single Big Democracy, of course with all the difficulties caused by what I mentioned before. Then let's be serious: people often don't feel democratic societies in their own European countries, how can we expect that this feeling perfectly exists within EU?
You hope for an European Union 2, but You only propose to change the structure of the Parliament. I really don't think that is the solution, if we actually need one. The problems You mentioned would always be there, for the same reason. States are gelous of their politics; yes, they agreed to create the European Union to unite their strenghts after years of atrocities and troubles, but always retaining their sovereignty. Take the foreign politics as an example: the Treaty on the EU now provides for the creation of a "common defence," it's a commitment in concrete terms expressed in primary law. That is great. Nonetheless, I am (not only me) pessimistic about its implementation. But that doesn't mean that EU doesn't work. That means to me, maybe thinking ingenously, that Europe is doing as much as possible to create a common society, but it can't ignore States, which formed it and remain the "Governors" of this creation.
A few words about the Brexit. As Poolla Murti rightly noted, only a a slender majority voted to exit and You surely know the composition - especially in terms of age - of that majority. Also, I sense a sort of regret on their part, but this is only a personal opinion.
By way of conclusion, let me say this: let's maintain this Europe, always trying to improve that, but without seeking for impossible revolutions. The real Revolution was already there in 1950 when it was created, and that was a huge conquest. Now we only have to work on what we already have, with the consciousness of its inherent limits.