Vice-President of the European Commission
Why we need a United States of Europe now
Centrum für Europarecht an der University Passau / Passau
8 November 2012
“If you really want sound budgetary policies over the long term, you need a European finance minister answerable to the European Parliament and with clear rights to intervene vis-à-vis the Member States. The vagaries of the ratings agencies cannot be a substitute!”
“At Maastricht people wanted to have us believe that we could irreversibly establish a monetary union and a new world currency without creating a United States of Europe at the same time. That was a mistake, and now that mistake needs to be corrected if we want to continue to live in a stable, economically prosperous Europe.”
“The main danger I see today is that both the ESM and the fiscal compact are improvised constructions outside the European Treaties. Given the crisis, I suppose there was no other way, as swift action was needed. But from a democratic parliamentary point of view this cannot and must not be a long‑term solution.”
“For this kind of decision at European level, democratic control must also be at European level. That is why I would argue that in the medium term both the fiscal compact and the ESM should be incorporated into the European Treaties and so made subject to control by the European Parliament.”
“I think it would be a good thing if it became the rule for Commissioners to have first been elected to the European Parliament. That would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the European Government.”
“Upon mature reflection I think the term ‘United States of Europe’ is most apt to find broad acceptance and best reflects the ultimate destination of the European Union.”
“We need a two-chamber system for Europe, as in the USA. One day, perhaps, we ought to have a directly elected President of the European Commission.”
“I believe a United States of Europe is the right vision to surmount the current crisis, but above all to overcome the failings of the Maastricht Treaty. Ultimately, as a European Christian Democrat, I cannot allow my vision of the future to be dictated by British Eurosceptics.”
Dear students of Passau University,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to be with you today, here at Passau University. This is the first time I’ve been in Passau and I must say I’m impressed: a modern University, right by the banks of the river Inn, looking directly across to Austria, lots of beer gardens nearby, and quite close to the Czech Republic too – with all of that, I wish I could be a student again!
I can also see now why we have so many graduates from Passau University working as lawyers or economists in Brussels, engaged with drive and energy in the continued construction of Europe. After all, here in the Passau region, where three borders meet, you hardly have any choice but to be a European! As a Luxembourger I can well understand that. In my home country, borders are an everyday experience. So we Luxembourgers are in live contact with Europe practically every day. It was no accident that the 1985 Schengen Agreement on free movement in Europe was signed in Luxembourg, on a boat on the Moselle, right on der Luxembourg-French-German border. So here in your beautiful city of Passau, with its three rivers, I feel rather at home.
That I am here in Passau today is firstly thanks to an invitation from MEP Manfred Weber, with whom I work closely in Brussels and Strasbourg on European justice and home affairs policy. In the past few months we have both been working together to enhance the Europe-wide freedom of movement that was established under the Schengen Agreement. For 48% of European citizens the right to travel freely and to choose where to live in the EU is the most important civil liberty. We must therefore resist any populist attempt to re-introduce barriers at the borders in Europe in times of crisis!
I should also like to thank the Centrum für Europarecht at Passau University, the ‘CEP’, which has helped to organise today’s event. Since, as EU Commissioner for Justice, my responsibilities include Union citizenship, I would especially like to congratulate the Centrum für Europarecht on running a “Union citizens’ centre” here for more than ten years. The citizens’ centre is often the place that people in the area go to when they encounter day-to-day cross-border problems. Can a dentist from Passau open a practice on the Austrian side of the Inn? Is a Hungarian worker living in Lower Bavaria entitled to German unemployment benefit? Can a German student at Passau University who lives on the Austrian side of the Inn vote in the European election there? All these are questions on which people can get initial free legal advice at the CEP. That is a very practical contribution to Europe and it enhances the good name of Passau University – above all, when the experience gained from working in close contact with citizens then flows directly into academic teaching and research, as happens at the University here in such an exemplary manner.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A United States of Europe is the subject of my talk today. A United States of Europe – a powerful, ambitious, and probably controversial vision of the future of our continent. I am sure that we will have a lively argument about my postulate afterwards: namely that to find its way out of the current financial and debt crises, we must now embark on the road to a United States of Europe. I look forward to debating this with you. Because in these days of crisis I think it is more important than ever for us to have an open and honest exchange about the alternatives facing Europe today. Yes there are always alternatives, and it is the responsibility of democratically elected politicians to spell out and explain these alternatives clearly. So that people have a clear choice. In national elections. In local elections. And in the European elections in 2014.
I would like to explain first, where the notion of a United States of Europe comes from and what it means. I would then like to show why politicians have shied away from this concept over the past 20 years, almost as fearfully as the devil at the sight of holy water. And lastly I will explain why it is that a United States of Europe is now suddenly back on the political agenda again.
First, then: Where does it come from, this vision of a United States of Europe, and was does it mean?
In the course of history many famous people have spoken or dreamt of a United States of Europe, ranging from George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Giuseppe Mazzini to Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. But probably the clearest, most concrete vision was articulated by the French writer Victor Hugo.
This vision can only be understood against the background of the historic upheavals in nineteenth-century Europe that Victor Hugo experienced at first hand: several wars between France and Germany, Victor Hugo’s enforced exile in the Channel Islands because of his opposition to Napoleon III, the traumatic annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany after the war of 1870/71, and lastly his involvement in the laborious birth of the Third Republic in France. Understandably Victor Hugo yearned then for peace and democracy on the Continent. And at the Paris Peace Congress in the middle of the 19th century he couched his vision of a United States of Europe in the following terms:
“ A day will come when your arms will fall from your hands! A day will come when war will seem as absurd between Paris and London, between Petersburg and Berlin, between Vienna and Turin, as it would today between Rouen and Amiens or between Boston and Philadelphia. A day will come when you — France, Russia, Italy, England, Germany — all you nations of the continent will merge, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, in a close and higher unity to form a European brotherhood …
A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when bullets and bombs will be replaced by votes, by universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, […] what the Legislative Assembly is to France. A day will come when we will display cannon in museums just as we display instruments of torture today, amazed that such things could ever have been. […]
A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius […] And to bring about that day will not take another 400 years, for we are living in a fast-moving age.”
Clearly Victor Hugo’s vision of a United States of Europe was primarily a vision of peace. But it was also a democratic vision, as his early reference to universal suffrage and a great parliament for Europe shows. Lastly he specifically mentions a fundamental concern rooted deep in European history, one that colours every debate about closer integration in Europe and one that is especially close to my heart: he wanted the nations of Europe to come together in a higher community, a great brotherhood, without losing their distinct qualities and their glorious individuality. “United in diversity” – the European motto, explicitly incorporated in the 2003 Constitutional Treaty for Europe, can be traced back to Victor Hugo.
That Victor Hugo wanted a constitutional structure for Europe similar to what existed on the other side of the Atlantic is all too understandable. For in the mid-19th century the United States of America, alongside Switzerland, was the only country in the world that had grown from a confederal and to a federal union – a union of originally sovereign and very different individual states stretching from Maine and Louisiana. Furthermore the United States, together with Switzerland, was the only established democracy in the world. So in the eyes of a democratic pacifist like Victor Hugo the United States of America was the ideal model for his utopian vision of a future united Europe.
Hugo’s original pacifist and democratic motivation explains why his idea of a United States of Europe found widespread political resonance after Europe’s terrible experience in the First World War, and even more so after the European disaster of the Second World War.
Is it really any surprise that as early as 1942, in his Ventotene manifesto, the Italian resistance fighter Altierio Spinelli – later one of the founding fathers of the European Communities – set against the experience of war and totalitarianism, the vision of a democratic United States of Europe, one that would even include – remarkably for 1942! – a democratic, de-Nazified Germany? Is it so surprising that, after the experience of war, Nazi dictatorship, and a Gestapo prison, the German Christian Democrat Konrad Adenauer openly pursued the goal of bringing the young Federal Republic Germany into a United States of Europe, something which he described in his memoirs as “the best and most lasting guarantee for Germany’s western neighbours”? Or that the Luxembourger Joseph Bech, who from 1940 to 1945 was Foreign Minister in the government in exile while the Grand-Duchy was under Nazi occupation, drew his view of Europe direct from the vision of a United States of Europe, as he emphasised in his address on receiving the Karlspreis in 1960?
Particularly noteworthy, however, was the famous speech given by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in Zurich. Speaking at the University of Zurich in 1946 Churchill was brutally frank about the state of Europe at the time: the continent lay in ruins after yet another murderous civil war and now there was only one way to bring its citizens peace, security, freedom and prosperity: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe”, was Churchill’s appeal to the governments of Europe. According to Churchill, this United States of Europe had to be founded on the principle that the smaller nations should carry just as much weight as the larger ones – for once a point on which I, as a Luxembourger, can wholeheartedly agree with a British vision of Europe. The first, indispensable step for reconciliation within the European family, as Churchill rightly saw, was a partnership between France and Germany. Britain itself would not be a part of the United States of Europe. After all, Britain still had its own Commonwealth stretching across the globe. Churchill closed his Zurich speech with the burning appeal: “Let Europe arise!”.
Now you might say: Well, all that was the immediate post-war generation. But wasn’t that generation soon forced to realise that a United States of Europe would never come about? Surely by 30 August 1954, at the very latest, the most enthusiastic European federalists must have seen that? That was when the French National Assembly rejected the Treaty for a European Defence Community. This meant that it was no longer possible to ratify the Treaty on a European Political Community that had been negotiated in parallel – a first draft constitution for a politically united Europe, and one that is well worth reading. So by then, you would think, the generation of post-war politicians would have buried their high-flying dreams of a United States of Europe.
But that is not what happened. Just a few years later, in 1957, a new attempt was made. The Treaties of Rome established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Of course, at the time it all looked at first like purely economic and technical cooperation, like a „special‑purpose association for functional integration”, as the German lawyer Hans Peter Ipsen called it. Cooperation on more political issues was deliberately left out after the unhappy experience of 1954. Nevertheless there was a firm will among the founding countries of the EEC gradually to generate such strong de facto cohesion through merging their economies in a common market that this initially limited integration would inevitably lead to wider political integration. And this spillover would then – so the founding fathers of the Treaties of Rome thought – lead directly to a federal form of government and eventually to a United States of Europe.
That, for example, is how Walter Hallstein, the first Commission President, saw it when he described his view of the state of the European Communities in his book with the telling title “The uncompleted federation”. That is also how the two major German political parties saw it. Until 1992 the goal of a “United States of Europe” was explicitly part of the CDU’s manifesto, while as early as 1925 the SPD had included it in their Heidelberg Programme, which remained in force until 1959.
So the vision remained popular among European parties. Jacques Santer, Christian Democratic Prime Minister of Luxembourg and former Chairman of the European People’s Party, said on 8 November 1988:
“We Christian Democrats in the European People’s Party want the European Community to become a United States of Europe.”
Besides the Luxembourg Christian Democrats, the strongest advocate of this vision was without doubt the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Hans-Peter Schwarz graphically describes in his biography of Kohl, which came out a few weeks ago, how determined Kohl was on this issue. For him the negotiations on the Treaty of Maastricht were all about a United States of Europe. While most politicians focused solely on the Intergovernmental Conference on economic and monetary union and the status of the European Central Bank, Kohl repeatedly pressed for ambitious progress at the parallel Intergovernmental Conference on political union. For Kohl both Intergovernmental Conferences were equally important. Monetary union and political union were for him two sides of the same coin.
Shortly after the Maastricht Treaty was signed, speaking before the CDU national executive on 31 May 1991 Kohl proclaimed a “United States of Europe” as an irreversible goal – although in the end the new Treaty had only achieved monetary union and not political union, as Kohl had hoped. On 3 April 1992 Kohl even spoke of the Maastricht Treaty as follows (I quote):
“In Maastricht we have laid the foundation for completion of the European Union. The Treaty on European Union marks a new, decisive step in the process of European integration that in a few years will lead to the creation of what the founding fathers of modern Europe dreamt of after the last war: a United States of Europe.”
It couldn’t be spelled out more clearly: Maastricht was a major step towards a common European currency. The logical next step was just round the corner: a political union that would lead to a United States of Europe.
But that didn’t happen. Shortly afterwards the dream of a United States of Europe vanished from the agenda. After 1993 the idea was hardly ever mentioned. Not even by Helmut Kohl.
How did this turnaround come about? The main reason was the special compromise that the Member States agreed in Maastricht in 1991 for the architecture of the monetary union. In the end they had agreed to establish monetary union without a parallel political union. This can be seen as a failure of Helmut Kohl’s great aim, though it was one shared by many European politicians, especially from the Benelux countries, who had striven for a parallel political union. In Maastricht a different approach won the day. An independent European Central Bank was created – but no European economic government. No European Finance Minister was installed alongside the powerful ECB President. Instead there were the 17 national finance ministers. There was a common European currency, but no sizeable common European budget that could be used effectively to pursue economic policy goals.
The asymmetrical architecture of Maastricht was the result of a historic coming together of two political trends. One was neoliberalism, in vogue worldwide in the early 1990s and embraced by many European heads of state and government. To the neoliberal mind, the asymmetrical construction of Maastricht was ideal. Because it gave power to the markets rather than to politicians. The single currency would be kept stable simply through the market discipline laid down in the Treaty. In neoliberal eyes, interference in economic or financial policy at European level could only have caused harmful market distortions. The fact that the Member States would continue to pursue their own, differing national economic, budgetary, tax, and social policies was not a weakness, according to the neoliberals, but one of the great achievements of Maastricht. Because in these policy areas decisions would have to be taken in a “competition of systems” between the different countries.
At Maastricht the predominant neoliberal thinking of the time met up with the ideas of those who were fundamentally sceptical about transferring sovereign powers within a monetary union and who in any case wished to retain as much national sovereignty as possible. Thus the British delegation in Maastricht insisted that the word “federal” be deleted from the draft Treaty provisions on political union. For the advocates of a United States of Europe this was a bitter blow.
So because of the historic coming together of neoliberalism and the desire to preserve national sovereignty, Maastricht failed to create a United States of Europe, giving birth only to an incomplete Union. In Germany the Maastricht ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1993 marked the final chapter in this process. Because the Court made it very clear that following the Maastricht Treaty the Member States would remain “masters of the Treaties” and that Germany could even leave the monetary union if necessary. For both neoliberals and the defenders of national sovereignty this was a triumph. “The end of the superstate. There will be no United States of Europe”, was how the liberal-conservative German philosopher Herrmann Lübbe summed up his view of the Maastricht Treaty in a monograph in 1994.
Helmut Kohl is said to have watched all this with great sadness. According to his biographer, Hans-Peter Schwarz, Kohl never again mentioned the idea of a United States of Europe in public after the Constitutional Court’s ruling. At a CDU national executive meeting in 1994, though, he apparently remarked again that it had been his great “love” for decades.
I myself felt this atmosphere of gloom in the European People’s Party, the European grouping of Christian Democratic parties. Roughly at the same time as the negotiations for the Maastricht Treaty talks had begun on whether to include the Italian right‑wing conservatives of “Forza Italia” and the British Tories in the EPP. That would have made the EPP the largest grouping in the European Parliament for many years. But there was a heavy price to pay: the EPP had to agree to delete from the party statutes the goal of a federal Europe underpinned by Christian values and the vision of a United States of Europe. I clearly remember those discussions and the conflict between basic Christian Democrat beliefs and the demands of power politics. Together with a group of Christian Democrats from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg I voted against the reorientation of the EPP. Together with like-minded colleagues we drafted the Christian Democratic declaration of Athens. But we had to admit defeat. Power politics carried greater weight than the ideas of the founding fathers of European integration.
So the experience of Maastricht explains why most of those involved – and they still make up a considerable proportion of active politicians – describe their vision of the future of Europe today rather resignedly in the following terms: “As a young person I dreamt of a United States of Europe. Today I know better, it’s simply not possible, we have to be realistic.” This attitude of resignation was reinforced when the Constitutional Treaty for Europe – the latest attempt to transform the European Union of Maastricht at least partly into a political union – was rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005, even though 18 states had ratified Treaty, two of them – Luxembourg and Spain – also through referendums. “Maastricht should have been our constitution”, sighed our Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker in 2001, on the tenth anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty.
When people ask politicians today “What will become of Europe?” or “Where is European integration heading?”, we usually give an evasive answer. “We don’t want a super state” that is generally the first thing we say, for fear we might be misunderstood by neoliberals, the defenders of national sovereignty, or the German Constitutional Court. And then usually: “You know, the EU is a sui generis construction”. “We don’t want a European federation, but instead a confederal or federal construct” or a “confederacy of nation states”.
After my many years of experience I can well understand this kind of verbal gymnastics, even if it makes constitutional experts’ hair stand on end. I must admit that I have in the past often resorted to this kind of thing myself. But recently I have found that people are increasingly critical, regarding it as beating about the bush, and they remain unconvinced. For instance someone sent me an e-mail after a town-hall meeting in Austria: “How are we, as citizens, to identify with this European project that you extol so highly, if no one tells us honestly where it will lead? If you continue to define Europe in such technocratic and complicated terms, you should not be surprised that we regard you as technocrats!” The writer has a point, ladies and gentlemen. Indeed he is quite right.
And so, despite the trauma of Maastricht, now is the time to revive the goal of a United States of Europe. For some months now, the idea has been enjoying something of a renaissance. Faced with the crisis, many leading politicians of all political persuasions are suddenly coming out strongly in favour of a United States of Europe, ranging from Christian Democrats like the Minister of Labour, Ursula von der Leyen, and my fellow Commissioner Günter Oettinger, Social Democrats like the former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Liberals such as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, to Daniel Cohn‑Bendit, the voluble leader of the European Greens. Last year the French employers’ federation MEDEF even launched a genuine campaign for a United States of Europe. And as you probably know, I too have come out clearly in favour of a federal vision of a United States of Europe in a number of speeches and newspaper articles since the beginning of the year. Of course, initiatives like this do not always pass unopposed. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, and Volker Kauder, chairman of the CDU parliamentary party, for instance, have publicly warned against proclaiming a United States of Europe as a political goal, given the bad experiences of the past. That is a legitimate concern. But it doesn’t alter the fact that the idea, and discussion of it, is back on the agenda now. And that is a good thing.
The reason, of course, is the current crisis surrounding the financial markets and government debt. But Europe has always found the strength to move integration forward in time of crisis. I am convinced that this will be the case again and that Europe can emerge stronger from the current crisis. That crisis is especially significant for the shape of a federal Europe. For it clearly shows that the asymmetric architecture of monetary union created in Maastricht under the influence of neoliberals and the staunch defenders of national sovereignty is not viable in the long term.
Ladies and gentlemen,
How can anyone continue to believe that market discipline and rules alone will produce sound public budgets – when we have seen for 20 years that neither the market nor the strictest rules can effectively prevent policies that lead to excessive government debt in all the Member States – and I regret to say, Germany set a very poor example in that respect for many years? If you really want sound budgetary policies over the long term, you need a European finance minister answerable to the European Parliament and with clear rights to intervene vis-à-vis the Member States. The vagaries of the ratings agencies cannot be a substitute!
How can anyone seriously believe that we can pursue a growth-oriented economic policy in Europe if the European Union does not really have the wherewithal? Fierce argument is raging about whether the funding given to the Brussels budget should be 1% or 1.05% of Europe’s gross domestic product – and then we wonder why it is harder to boost growth here than the USA. In Washington, the USA has a federal budget that amounts to about 35% of American gross domestic product!
Ladies and gentlemen,
Is it really so surprising that there is no crisis of confidence in the US dollar, even though the USA has a higher level of debt than most countries in Europe and a far higher budget deficit than the Euro countries, and despite the fact that several US regions have had to sue for bankruptcy in recent years? No it isn’t. Because unlike in Europe, in the USA no one questions whether the US federation will survive all the economic and fiscal difficulties. No one has any doubt that Minnesota will remain part of the USA – even though it had to declare itself insolvent in July 2011. The dollar exchange rate did not fluctuate one iota at the news – although Minnesota carries about the same economic weight in the USA as Greece in the European Union.
At Maastricht people wanted to have us believe that we could irreversibly establish a monetary union and a new world currency without creating a United States of Europe at the same time. That was a mistake, and now that mistake needs to be corrected if we want to continue to live in a stable, economically prosperous Europe. And fortunately the Heads of State and Government in most Member States have realised that it was a mistake. Since 2010 a process has begun that will result in a fundamental restructuring of European monetary union. On the basis of a report by the Presidents of the EU institutions, the European Council is currently working on four new stages of integration:
This process offers great opportunities, but it also involves risks. There is no doubt about it, we now have the chance to make good the opportunity that was lost in 1991 at Maastricht, in other words to complete the unfinished Union by adding the political dimension. But at the same time there is a danger that we might confine ourselves to a few economic and fiscal policy reforms, again giving too little weight to the broader whole, to a credible, strong, democratic political union. It seems to me that the current leanings in some capitals give grounds for serious concern.
Let me put it quite clearly: much has been done over the past three years to stabilise our monetary union. The new European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which can activate up to 500 billion euro to bolster eurozone countries if necessary, is a historic achievement. The same is true of the European fiscal compact, under which 25 European countries have made a credible commitment to maintain sound public finances and rein in their debt. The measures taken by the European Central Bank are also of immense value in ensuring that our European currency remains stable. But let’s be honest: while these are all major steps in combating the crisis, and while they may buy some time, they are no substitute for a lasting solution to stabilise the rickety construction of Maastricht.
The main danger I see today is that both the ESM and the fiscal compact are improvised constructions outside the European Treaties. Given the crisis, I suppose there was no other way, as swift action was needed. But from a democratic, parliamentary point of view this cannot and must not be the long-term solution. There are soon going to be fundamental decisions at European level about the direction of economic, financial, and social policy in the euro countries. These decisions call for effective day-to-day democratic control. And I do not believe that can be achieved in intergovernmental gatherings of national ministers and state secretaries who are only subject to limited control by their 17 national parliaments. For this kind of decision at European level, democratic control must also be at European level. That is why I would argue that in the medium term both the fiscal compact and the ESM should be incorporated into the European Treaties and so made subject to control by the European Parliament.
“No taxation without representation”: so runs a key democratic principle. We must take that principle very seriously as we go about shaping the future of Europe. Closer European integration within a genuine economic and monetary union will in future call for very sensitive decisions to be taken at European level. Those decisions must not simply be left to troikas of independent financial experts! If Ireland is to be told to charge people for their water for the first time in its history, because of the urgent need to consolidate its public finances, not only should that decision be objectively correct, it should also be given democratic legitimacy through the European Parliament. The same is true of instructions from Brussels on privatisation in Greece, on index-linking of wages in Luxembourg, or on joint taxation of couple’s incomes in Germany, as was the subject of the European semester this year. Whether such instructions are right or wrong must, I believe, be debated responsibly and in full public view in the European Parliament.
All this requires reforms to European Union that go far beyond the functioning of monetary union. What we need is a thorough political and democratic deepening of the current European Union. In the discussion papers currently circulating in the capitals of Europe, this issue is unfortunately still being addressed only very hesitantly, sometimes under the heading “political union”. I believe we must be much more ambitious if we want to avoid repeating the mistakes of Maastricht. We need a clear, ambitious vision for the future of our continent, for a strong democratic Europe that is much, much more than just a large single market and a stable currency.
In his State of the Union address in September, Commission President Barroso urged us not to be afraid of words and ideas in the debate on the political future of Europe, but to articulate our vision clearly and boldly. I think plain speaking is vitally important if we want to gain popular acceptance for this vision.
Let me take just one example: you are all well aware that the executive in Brussels is called the ‘European Commission’. But just think for a moment what that sounds like to the man in the street? Commissioners in Brussels take decisions – from the very outset that sounds awfully like technocratic bureaucracy, not like democratic decision-making. Should it surprise us if a Bavarian mayor finds it hard to swallow decisions taken by this “competition commission” in Brussels? Early this year Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the European Commission to be transformed into a European Government. This is the right thing, I think; indeed it is long overdue. The European Commission has long ceased to be a body of unelected experts and technocrats. Every five years it is chosen by the directly elected members of the European Parliament in the light of the results of the European elections. Before a Commissioner is appointed, he has to get through a three-hour ‘grilling’ by the European Parliament committee responsible for the subject area of his portfolio. So you are subjected to a thorough examination, not only of your specialist knowledge but also your values and political leanings. And if a prospective Commissioner does not come up to scratch, the European Parliament does not hesitate to throw them out without further ado, as Manfred Weber can confirm. Compared with similar national procedures, the members of the European Commission have to undergo a much more democratic procedure to gain office than any minister in Germany’s Federal or Land governments, who are all appointed without any parliamentary involvement at all. Furthermore, many Commissioners have been elected members of the European Parliament before they take up office. I myself was elected to the European Parliament by the people of Luxembourg five times in a row. And I think it would be a good thing if it were to become the rule for Commissioners to have first been elected to the European Parliament. That would further enhance the democratic legitimacy of the European Government.
Let’s be as bold as the German Chancellor in describing the shape of the politically united Europe we are striving for. A federal Europe – it could be termed a European Switzerland, the Federal Republic of Europe, or the United States of Europe. Upon mature reflection I think the last of these is most apt to gain broad acceptance and best reflects the ultimate destination of the European Union.
A “European Switzerland” as a vision of the future – despite my own great liking for the rich traditions of the Alpine republic, this is not a good simile for a united Europe. Because the united Europe will definitely not be a neutral “niche state”; it will be a global political actor, a world power. Nor should we forget that in its official title Switzerland is still a confederation, “Confoederatio” – although in fact it has long been a federal state. So a Swiss vision of our future Europe would probably fuel greater constitutional confusion than clarity.
“Federal Republic of Europe” – I can understand that here in Germany some people might be quite keen on this. Certainly the future federal Europe can and should learn much from the success of German federalism. But if you will permit me one word of warning, as a Luxembourg neighbour: Anyone giving the impression that the German spirit will once again restore the world to health (‘am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen’), even if only in constitutional terms, is not going to win many friends in the other countries of the EU.
So all that is left is the “United States of Europe”. Back to Victor Hugo, then.
“United States of Europe” – the goal of unification contained here reflects the ideal of peace in the tradition of Victor Hugo, a goal that continues to underpin European integration, as exemplified by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union a few days ago. Our continent does well never to forget the lessons of its terrible past.
“United States of Europe” – the plural is a clearly expression of the fact that it is not a unitary state or a super state, but a federal entity, in which many individual states have entered into a new kind of association and where the diversity and individuality of each state is consciously preserved, as Victor Hugo rightly emphasised.
And lastly: “United States of Europe” – which makes it very clear that although we are aiming for the same sort of democratic federal constitutional form as in the USA, we intend to do so in the specific context of European history, our values, and the unique diversity of our continent. Yes, we need a two-chamber system for Europe, as in the USA. One day, perhaps, we ought even to have a directly elected President of the European Commission, as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has suggested and as the European People’s Party recently stated in its political manifesto. Over the last few weeks the American presidential campaign has once again given a striking demonstration of the energising effect that electing someone for a whole continent can have. However, it means that politicians have to be ready and able engage in a dialogue with people in a town hall in the backwoods of Ohio. In Europe only multilingual candidates will stand a chance in an election campaign of that kind.
The United States of Europe – that will also allow us Europeans to highlight very clearly those aspects that distinguish us from the USA; and why we in Europe want to adopt the constitutional structure, but not every aspect of the constitutional reality of the USA. Owing to our history, we in Europe often have a different sense of values and fundamental rights than the USA, as evidenced above all by our rejection of the death penalty and the importance attached to data protection in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. We in Europe also have a different view of the relationship between the market and the State. Our goal in Europe is not a pure market economy, but a social market economy – even if the USA under Obama is moving in a European direction in the field of health care at least. And in Europe, of course, our history is very different, with our many cultures and languages – though we shouldn’t forget that 16% of the population in the USA today speak Spanish as their mother tongue, and the figure is still rising.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This brings me to the end. Yes, I believe a United States of Europe is the right vision to surmount the current crisis, and above all to overcome the failings of the Maastricht Treaty. When it comes down to it, as a European Christian Democrat, I cannot allow my vision of the future to be dictated by British Eurosceptics! I have also noted with interest that according to a survey by the newspaper “Die Welt”, 43% of people in Germany are in favour of a United States of Europe – and that is before the debate has even really begun. Which really is quite a good start.
Of course, I know that we will not bring about a United States of Europe from one day to the next. We will need new Treaties and probably also amendment of the Basic Law in Germany – we can be sure the Constitutional Court will see to that! We will also have to answer the question as to whether all the countries of the EU or only the euro countries will be bold enough to embark on the road to a future federal Europe. The position of the United Kingdom will play a strategically decisive role, even if Winston Churchill made clear in 1946 in his Zurich speech the British position on a United States of Europe. „We will be for, but not with it”, that is how the UK’s position can still be summed up today.
But I do not believe we will have to wait, as Victor Hugo said, 400 years for the United States of Europe. Two world wars, 60 years of experience with European integration, and not least the current crisis have greatly speeded things up. Based on a detailed analysis of financial crises over the past eight centuries, the economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart even predict in their book “This time is different” that:
“the pressure of the crisis may unleash a dynamism that we cannot imagine in our wildest dreams. In the end the United States of Europe may come about much faster than most people think”.
I am sure, ladies and gentlemen, that at least the students here today have a good chance of seeing the United States of Europe.
Thank you for your attention and I now look forward to a lively discussion with you.