O.M-R. – Within the context of the upcoming European elections and the debate about the future of the EU, I interview Mauro Casarotto, secreatry of the Promoting Committee of the Federal Alliance of European Federalists (FAEF). Born in 1981 in Italy, he graduated in political sciences and international relations at Padova University, and has a long experience in non-profit organizations. In 2014 he published Krisis. Che cosa nasconde la più grande crisi del mondo occidentale (Armando Editore), where he explores some of the causes and possible solutions to the crisis of the Western world, which, he claims, is first and foremost a social and cultural one. A convinced European, he decided to involve himself in the adventure of ‘federating the federalists’ under a common umbrella in the face of mounting nationalism and populism in Europe. As part of FAEF, Casarotto is determined to defend the legacy of years of painful European construction as well as contribute to turning Europe into a veritable federation, working from the bottom and up.
I ask him about federalism, why it is often presented as a more democratic political structure, but also why it seems so hard to trigger a proper debate on federalism in Europe and what can be done to catch more attention from the media and public opinion.
Could you explain in a few words the difference between the current structure of the EU and the kind of federal Europe that FAEF promotes?
In a federation you have a federal body and several sovereign member states. The member states share their sovereignty with the federal body, asking that body to take care of a limited set of specific powers (for instance defence and foreign policy, intelligence, general civil rights legislation, environmental protection, currency, etc.). All the other areas remain in the hands of the members states. The federation takes care only of the common interests of all member states; interests and problems that can no longer be solved by the individual states. The actual EU is not a federation, it is instead an ‘intergovernmental system’. It is not based on a constitution but on treaties or agreements on specific policy areas. If the governments reach an agreement, they can take any decision within the Council, without any limitations, because, unlike a federal system, you don’t have a constitution clearly defining the limits of the powers of federal governance.
Is a federal structure more democratic? Why?
Because, even if we have a European Parliament whose members are elected by the European citizens, all the important decisions are taken by the heads of government in the Council, in closed-door meetings. Sometimes they take decisions that erode individual countries’ sovereignty, including fields where this is not necessary and then you have lack of democracy. And if they don’t agree on anything, they can’t take decisions and you have the current paralysis. This has led to Brexit and disaffection towards the EU.
Why is it difficult for people to understand what federalism is?
Because nobody explains it to them! And it is a shame, a lack of constitutional, political and sociological knowledge if you consider that federalism is already part of the philosophical heritage of Europe and that, for instance, it was developed in the United States of America more than two centuries ago based on the thought of European philosophers like Kant, Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, Althusius and others.
Who wants a federal Europe today?
If you think that there are issues for which the power and capacity for action of our small, individual European states is not sufficient anymore, you are probably in favour of a strong, fair cooperation among them. This must indeed include an administrative and governing body that takes care of these common interests with a real democratic checks-and-balances system in place. Do you agree with this? Probably, yes. At the same time, it is likely you believe that each country should maintain its autonomy, preserve its peculiarities, culture, institutions, language, which is all quite reasonable. Then you are a federalist, and you are in favour of the federalization of Europe.
Would a federal structure in Europe help addressing pressing public policy areas such as climate change and migration?
I reverse the question. Is it possible to solve the migration and climate change crises if states deal with them by their own, without any coordination or with different, maybe even conflicting approaches? Nobody can be so foolish to think so. Only a federal Europe will developing enough critical mass and coordination to develop fair agreements on such fundamental questions together with the other main global actors. If a player is small and divided it will have no power in the future global structure.
Many people think that a federal Europe means countries lose their specificities and blend into a homogenous political entity. Is this the case?
No, a federation is not a super-state which abolishes the peculiarities of all the individual states because, if the federal constitution is built the right way, there is a barrier between the limited set of powers that the member states share with the federal body and the powers that remain with the member states. The federal government cannot trespass this barrier because the constitution does not allow it. While, unfortunately, this is possible under article 352 of the intergovernmental Treaty of Lisbon currently in place: the governments can come up with a new treaty or agreement any time and regulate any aspect of the life of each of our countries. We don’t have this barrier, and the weak control of the European Parliament is insufficient to prevent abuses.
If a federal Europe would benefit ordinary Europeans while allowing them to preserve their national identities, why is it so challenging to make both the idea and the discussion attractive to a majority of people?
Again, because of the extensive lack of knowledge, considering that even a lot of politicians do not have a clear idea of what federalism really is and they confuse it with more ‘intergovernmentalism’. 99 per cent of politicians do not know enough about federalism, and some of the few who know are discouraged. They consider it a pornographic word given that the political discussion around them is corrupted by lack of knowledge and the need to drug electoral campaigns with the lure of quick, simplistic and immediate promises in order to be elected. This is populism, after all.
What is the role of FAEF in this sense?
To explain federalism and the potential of its accurate application to the European citizens. We also need to create a federation that includes all the organisations that are in favour of a more united and stronger Europe, so that we can put together our forces, and show in practice what federalism is in theory. After all, if the federalists are not able to federate themselves, how can they preach to countries to federalize?
In particular, how do you think that younger generations can be reached and involved in the debate about federalism?
By honestly speaking to them, answering their questions, involving them through both traditional methods such as schools, lectures, books, and new ones such as social media. Federalism is not rocket science, just the right application of a few logic key concepts, which are already part of European cultural heritage.
One of your members, Catherine Guibourg, suggests that literature and drama are among the most powerful means to explore Europe, its challenges and possibilities. Do you have any ideas or projects in this regard?
Yes, Catherine has written a theatrical play Nous, le peuple européen: six personnages en quête d’Europe (We the European people: six characters in search of Europe) that is currently performing very well in France. This is a different approach to engage people, discuss with them about Europe and federalism as a possible solution. We need a frank discussion, involving not only the establishment but the whole of civil society.
Many people fear the result of the upcoming European elections – specifically, the consolidation of a powerful alliance of the extreme right in the European Parliament. How does FAEF approach the elections and what do you expect from them?
We are not a party. We don’t run for elections or make electoral campaigns. The nature of FAEF is to involve all the movements that are in favour of a more united Europe. They can come from the left, the centre or the right, be progressive, conservative, liberal, provided they are democratic and accountable, and agree on the goal of creating a European Federation. As sovereign forces, they are free to participate in elections or support electoral campaigns. Meanwhile, we play a different role.
Europe, the first world economy, is actually like a Ferrari with a 70-year old engine inside it which simply cannot work in a modern luxury car. This old engine is the intergovernmental system. We need to change it before it is too late.
Interview by Olivia Muñoz-Rojas
The Spanish translation of this interview was published in El Huffington Post on 18 May 2019.