Last Sunday, Declan Ganley, the opposer-in-chief of the Treaty of Lisbon, and founder of the now defunct Libertas political party in the Irish Republic, penned a commentary in the Daily Business Post with Brendan Simms, a professor of the history of European international relations at the University of Cambridge, advocating that the peoples of Europe should renew their support for the principle of European integration – albeit in a radically different form. Quoting Edmund Burke – ‘Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government’ – they assert that the ‘Monnet method’ (that is, (neo-) functionalism), cannot take Europeans any further without damaging their constitutional democracy; or, indeed, even the economic growth on which all Europeans depend. In this sense, they are right: even the most committed pro-Europeans would find it hard to disagree that the European Union is currently in a quagmire, pressed down under the deadweight of intergovernmental procedures, outdated assumptions, and poor political leadership.
Developing their argument, Ganley and Simms assert:
Today, as we observe the now bizarre ritual of failed European summitry, the uninspiring posturing of Europe’s ‘leaders’, the short-term political risk aversion, leading to chronic errors and splits with potentially dangerous long-term consequences, one cannot but wonder to what extent these politicians grasp the magnitude of what they are putting at risk by their petty politicking. It is therefore necessary to draw greater attention to the sucking wound that is really eating away at Europe’s vitality.
That wound is the chronic lack of democracy, accountability and transparency now rupturing the heart of the European project and manifesting itself in everything from the machinations of the [European] Commission and the European Council’s Committee of Permanent Representatives, to the board room of the European Central Bank, to the back rooms of Europe’s newest self-styled elite, the so-called ‘Frankfurt Club’ whose policies, though not formed with malign intent, would still de facto turn the eurozone into what effectively would be a collection of vassal states.
This line of reasoning goes against the grain of almost every traditional pro-European assumption, which, in any case, are often rather schizophrenic. Indeed, I have often suspected that many on the pro-European side are simply delusional: they do not seem to have an endpoint in mind for European integration; they misunderstand the importance of nationalism; and fail to recognise the primacy of geopolitics. Schooled in the tenets of (neo-) functionalist logic, or dreary theories such as ‘liberal intergovernmentalism’, they seem to believe that a ‘post-modern’, (quasi-) ‘post-sovereign’ community of Member States can muster the means to uphold the common good, irrespective of what happens beyond the European Union’s borders. For these people, geopolitics is dead.
In this sense, Ganley and Simms throw down the gauntlet, and in two ways. Firstly, they claim – rightly in my view – that a ‘post-modern’ Europe is a quaint fantasy, a fictional product from a bygone age (in the form of the immediate post-Cold War era). This was a period when the United States, Britain and France were in a position of strategic primacy, and other Europeans could shelter safely under their wings. There were no emerging great powers to harm Europeans back then; and the Western economies were growing so fast that any form of financial crisis seemed very unlikely. Yet that world has long gone. Today, not only are Europeans faced by mounting external threats – ‘the return of geopolitics’ – as emerging great powers, which appear rather indifferent to European views, assert their own interests, but also by deep internal challenges: lagging economies, bad demography, and a resurgence of intergovernmentalism, particularly as a new ‘Group of Two’, comprising Britain and Germany, further splinters an already divided and poorly led European Union.
Secondly, Ganley and Simms have set the ‘my-little-democracy’ fantasists squarely in their sights. These people, such as the ‘Little Englanders’ in the United Kingdom, frequently assert that the European Union is an unaccountable and proto-imperial system, dominated by unelected elites. There is some truth in this: but in response, the ‘Little Englanders’ (or ‘Little Polanders’, ‘Little Francers’, ‘Little Hungarians’, ‘Little Czechs’, ‘Little Greeks’, and so on) offer nothing coherent and sink back into their pre-existing nationalisms, which often deteriorate into reactive and unthinking parochialism. Thus, these anti-Europeans fail to deal with the issues the pro-Europeans are trying to overcome (i.e. maintaining security within the internal European space and constituting an aggregated European Union to take on outside threats). In response, Ganley and Simms simply throw the ‘my-little-democracy’ fantasists’ accusations back at them: they argue that if this group is so worried about the loss of constitutional democracy, then why don’t they seek the European Union’s reformation – in a new, radical and democratic form?
All of this may come as a bit of a shock to many, and on all sides of the debate: after all, Ganley, unlike the pro-European Simms, led the assault against the Treaty of Lisbon, pouring money into supporting a referendum campaign in the Irish Republic that sought to stop the treaty in its tracks. Many have subsequently asked how such a – for want of a better term – ‘Little Irelander’, could then do a volte-face and support the construction of a popular, democratic and federalised European state. The answer is very simple: Ganley was never an anti-European in the first place! Rather, he merely opposes the form the European Union has taken – and is taking – not the concept of European integration itself. Instead of a weak and intergovernmental European Union, Ganley and Simms want a powerful Democratic Union, founded on a strong executive and popular sovereignty, electrified by a deeply embedded constitutional democracy, which has the power to protect all Europeans from internal challenges and growing outside threats during the twenty-first century. As examples of where small, disparate and ailing political communities grouped together in a quest for power, security and prosperity, they point to the grand unions of the United Kingdom, formed by the integration of England, Wales and Scotland throughout the seventeenth century and formalised in the Acts of Union in 1707, and the United States, forged during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by the Thirteen Colonies.
So what do Ganley and Simms propose in order to refound European integration? In their words:
1. The position of president of the European Commission and president of the European Council should be merged into one office-holder and should be made subject of a popular democratic election to be held not later than December 2013. Voters should be weighted in an ‘electoral college’ type format so that smaller Member States voters are not made irrelevant. This president would serve for one six-year term only and would be chief executive in the same manner as the president of the United States. An accommodation could be made to remaining European monarchies in respect of their historic traditions, to allow for some ceremonial roles.
2. The [European] Commission should become the servant of the executive arm and be filled by the nomination of the democratically elected president, and the ratification of a newly created upper house of the European Parliament.
3. An upper house or senate should be created, with four representatives of each Member State each holding equal voting power. That is to say, Ireland will have four senators, as will Germany and other states. This upper house will be given the co-right to initiate legislation along with the lower house, the current European Parliament.
4. The European Parliament should be reformed to give greater balance for population (which would favour larger Member States) and should be given the power (along with its upper house) to initiate legislation.
5. All lobbying of the executive and legislative branch must be registered and transparent.
6. A full insolvency purge of all European financial institutions should be immediately undertaken. A liquidation and asset sale of all unhealthy institutions should take place forthwith. A writedown of significant size, together with a Hamiltonian scale re-negotiation should take place on all distressed Member State debts. The federalising of all remaining state debt should immediately follow, backed by the issue of union bonds backed by the entire tax revenue of the eurozone.
7. The union civil service should be kept small and highly efficient; this should be enshrined in Europe’s new constitutional arrangement. A debt ceiling will also be set constitutionally.
8. The union should have monopoly of external action both in soft and hard power.
9. The European Central Bank should be guaranteed full independence and a low inflation policy be pursued.
10. The official language of the union should be English. We understand the major sensitivities involved, but it is necessary to have one official language amongst so many, so as to remove any scope for ambiguity in laws and regulations or their interpretations.
11. The automatic right of secession for any Member State should be provided for with a two-thirds majority of the acceding polity.
These proposals are certainly timely, and – if implemented – could transform the European Union into a mighty democratic federation in the twenty-first century, like the British and American unions in the past. The key question is whether Europeans and their leaders have the vision to make it happen, or whether petty interests and insularity will get in the way. Perhaps as important, is whether Europe’s shrivelled civil society is up to the challenge, or whether it will continue to cling to ‘post-sovereign’ mishmash? Whatever happens, the visions articulated and the decisions taken over the next few years will have an impact well beyond their time.
Image credit: Indymedia Ireland.