If the European Union was a federation…

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by Michele Ballerin |

… you could have, dear reader, everything you are asking to do to manage the health emergency, and even something more. But the European Union is not a federation. And it is not, because national governments have done everything to prevent it from becoming a federation. Consequently, the European Union does not have a government. The European Commission, which should be our federal government, is not: it is a dispenser of recommendations, that each state can accept or not, according to its real or imagined interests.

If the European Union was a federation, we would have a unique immigration policy and sufficient resources to manage the refugee crisis on the Greek border together. No member state could refuse its contribution: the directives of the Commission would be laws, and there would be a European army to guarantee their respect. European citizens would not be humiliated (once it would have been said “dishonored”) by a policy that, not deciding, decides to close the borders of the richest continent on the globe to a crowd of desperate people fleeing a ten-year war. But national governments deny the Union this power. And we – you and I – must suffer this humiliation.

If the European Union was a federation, it would have a multiannual budget capable of financing development and employment policies, a welfare to envy anyone in the world, a real influence on the international arena and a public debt at the service of strategic investments, like any other state. We would not witness the indecorous spectacle of twenty-seven governments who dispute the bone of a (ridiculous) common budget, each worried about taking home a few more crumbs and indifferent to the fate of the Europeans, to the point of provoking financial paralysis stalling 450 million citizens. National governments don’t care about the fate of Europeans. It is not their business.

If the European Union was a federation, binding directives would have already been issued to counter the spread of the pandemic. The necessary resources would have been collected and distributed in the areas most in difficulty. Nobody should have “asked for solidarity” and nobody could have denied it: a series of federal decrees would have regulated the matter without if and without buts, and the national governments would have docilely conformed to it. But national governments deny this power to the Union , and now everyone is on his way, each improvising a policy with different plans and times – while counting the few remaining masks.

If the European Union was a federation … we would have this and much more, a beautiful toolbox fully stocked and ready for any need: what we are dreaming of having on our hands. But the European Union is not a federation, because national governments don’t want it to be. And yet they do not explain to their citizens what use they think they will make of their precious power, which they keep for themselves by denying it to the Union, while asking the Union for resources and “solidarity”.

We hear more and more often that the Union must be changed. But let’s understand each other. If we really decide to change it, we must know that doing this or that reform, creating a new “agency”, bringing the budget from 1% to 1.3%, making the position of President of the Commission elective, unifying it with that of President of the Council, launching transnational lists and not even issuing some Eurobonds will not be enough. All this would serve no purpose.

Only one thing would be needed: to refound the Union, to change the structure of power within it by transforming this stammering, impotent intergovernmental Europe into a federation, a common government with the means and the competences to act in the areas that belong to it, according to the logic that rules every federation. Nothing less is needed Nothing less will suffice. Those who believe otherwise are deluded. A single policy can never arise from a crowd of national leaders. It is a pure and simple impossibility, a chimera. Governments must be prevented from boycotting common policies, and the only way to do this is to transfer power – effective power – from governments to the Union.

And it’s just a matter of political will. There are no technical obstacles. Those who say that this is an impossible undertaking project, are lying, and are an enemy of the European people. Those who say that the Union should simply cease to exist, or that their state should leave it, are just raving. A member state that loses the advantages of the single market would suffer an immediate economic meltdown, and this is not a complex or abstruse concept: it is ABC. But the single market cannot survive without a single currency and the free movement of goods, capital and workers. So not a single step can be taken backwards, but only forward, towards full economic and political integration.

Now it’s up to the citizens to have their say, to demand to the governments that the curtain falls on this farce: to denounce the scandal of a European Parliament elected by the people but without power, a Commission that mimics a government but cannot govern, of a Union that appeals to the principles of humanity, freedom and solidarity but does not know how to manage a humanitarian crisis on its own borders, while tolerating sensational violations of the rule of law within it.

I don’t know if the Conference on the future of Europe will be the right opportunity to do it, the right tool for change. I hope so. But I know for sure that European citizens must make their voices heard, and insist, insist, insist until they get the United States of Europe done.

Originally published on the Italian magazine l’Espresso (http://europeancircus.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2020/03/13/se-l%E2%80%99unione-europea-fosse-una-federazione%E2%80%A6/?fbclid=IwAR1tIPtH8X5qj-AWehX1UdD2rSQJMcETPQXeqgMCOqStqwmoDvkgdsrHY7o) and translated from Italian.


Michele Ballerin

Michele Ballerin (1972) has been Vice-Secretary of UEF-Italy (MFE). He has written several essays on European policy, like “The United States of Europe explained to everyone” (Fazi 2014, Guida 2019; translated to Spanish in 2019) and “European reformism. A political-economic perspective for the Eurozone” (Guida, 2017). On the same subjects he runs the blog “European Circus” for the Italian magazine “L’Espresso”.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Leo Klinkers

    Excellent contribution to the never lasting striving for a federal Europe.

    1. Niels

      It is time for a Confederate States of Europe, the great diversity of our many nations and cultures have to be respected and used as a strength instead of a weakness.

      Let’s have a strong confederal Europe with representation of all national minorities (Basques, Catalans, Bavarians, Saxons, Venitians, Scanians, Bretons, etc.) and respect for our many differences. But let’s have a common military and foreign affairs to better represent us in the new multipolar world.

      Let’s build a C.S.E. for our children so that Europe isn’t simply overruled and bullied by other global major powers.

  2. Alessandro

    Dear Michele, I fully agree with your article. The dream of some EU founders has been lost in the past decades….we should revamp such idea and fight for it.

  3. Bernd Kising

    I can only agree and only add the urgent need to proceed the way to a common federal state of Europe, a dream and hopefully being soon converted in reality! I am living in Europe and outside but my heart beats for this wonderful continent which is worth to be unified as a federation of countries with a central Government! This Virus Crisis shows us our weakness as a conglomeration of single independent countries trying to act effectively for the sake of its people with limited success! National animosities should be converted in a common piwerful Europe with high education and selfconfident people and my biggest dream is an European Passport! I love Europe and its multicultural Sites!

  4. Redne

    My God, what a propaganda text. We need to be able to act locally and organise ourselves locally, not to constantly centralise the power to people who use the fear of virus in order to rebuild trust in authorities. Haven’t we give up the power of local communities, we would deal much better in crisis like this. But now each region specialises in something, every country is so co-dependant and everyone is imposing the guidelines of the most corrupted and evil organisation (WHO) that probably even created the virus themselves. Orwell world under construction.

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