The Curse Of Intergovernmentalist System Errors

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by Leo Klinkers |

In my article Anarchy + Anarchy = Strong Man in Europe-Today Magazine of 8 April, 2020 I mentioned six system errors of the EU operating system. There are many more, but I refer to other publications like the European Federalist Papers and Sovereignty, Security and Solidarity. In this article, I will limit myself to a brief explanation of the term ‘system error’. This makes clear why the large number of system errors in the Lisbon Treaty works as dissolution of the EU, instead of being a binding force.

‘System errors’ are different from ‘ordinary errors’; for example, saying that Christmas falls on 29 December. System errors are so serious that they lead to the destruction of the system itself. Either exploding suddenly or slowly imploding. Either way the destruction of the system.

An example of an exploding system due to a system error is the space shuttle Challenger. About seventy seconds after its launch on 28 January 1986, with seven astronauts on board, the shuttle exploded. Research showed that a part of the rocket was measured on the drawing board in inches but carried out in centimeters. That part could not handle the pressure, burst and triggered the explosion with a chain reaction.

The intergovernmental control system of the European Union is an example of a slow but unavoidable imploding system. Once again, I will not go into detail about the number and nature of those system faults. You can read that in other literature. On an abstract level, these are the following meta-system errors, each of which acts as triggers of chain reactions of new system errors:

  • The Treaty is an intergovernmental alliance, but it is used to govern the European Union as a state.
  • The Treaty is not based on a comprehensive, holistic vision of common European interests, but on the sum of national and nationalistic interests of Member States.
  • The Treaty gives the central decision-making power to administrators (the European Council), who a) are not politically accountable for the exercise of that power to a fully transnational elected European Parliament, who b) operate on the basis of a double mandate and are therefore operating on the basis of l’incompatibilité des charges publique, and who c) use the veto right (as element of deciding by unanimity) to exchange national interests: quid pro quo, wheeling and dealing.
  • The Treaty is based on a number of generally binding rules that a) collide, and b) are dismantled by exceptions to those generally binding rules.
  • The Treaty recognises the principle of subsidiarity, which states that the Union should leave to the Member States what the Member States are best placed to do themselves, but as a poignant example of colliding rules, the Treaty also confers on the European Council the power to take any decision that, in the Council’s view, serves the Union’s objectives.

These meta-system errors are causing the Lisbon Treaty, designed to bind Member States, to work in practice as an increasingly powerful instrument of dissolution. We see this through symptoms such as: Greece had to be destroyed in order to save Greece, agreements on joint action in difficult dossiers (immigration, climate) are ignored with impunity, the United Kingdom has left, principles about the foundations of democratic government of member states are carelessly set aside (Hungary, and perhaps also the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland), finding a joint plan in the event of a sudden crisis (Covid-19) encounters complete chaos of government leaders and finance ministers.

These are a few signs of implosion of the EU system which has been going on for many years and now seems to be gaining momentum. The question is: how do system errors work? In systems theory, this falls under the heading of positive feedback. Note that this has nothing to do with ‘positive’ in the sense of ‘fine’. It is an abstract concept that is also known by the words ‘forward coupling’. And that indicates a chain reaction.

An example. On the top of a snow-covered slope, a little bit of snow starts to move, that slides down and then causes two new things: a) the downward movement accelerates and b) takes more and more snow with it. The avalanche sweeps everything away and only stops when no downward movement is possible anymore. Or only stops when the downward movement is blocked with a force that can withstand the force of the avalanche. For example, a high strong embankment.

Another example. Where the sun shines on snow and ice, the sun’s rays bounce back. Our behaviour has led to the melting of the edges of the ice. In those places, there is no ice, but water. It’s not white, it’s black. The sun’s rays don’t bounce back but can penetrate that water and warm the edges of the ice. It melts. The black surface is getting bigger and bigger. More water gets warmer; more ice melts faster. That doesn’t stop, unless it’s interrupted by a force that is greater, for example the unconditional reduction of CO2 throughout the world. A force that must be greater than all climate agreements put together.

With these two examples I want to make clear that a positive feedback process manifests itself as a process that accelerates and broadens all the time. Compare it with the arithmetic exponential series 2-4-8-16-32 … If one tries to repair a system error, one essentially creates two new ones, four new ones, eight new ones and so on.

Example. Tackling the bankruptcy of Greece – a bankruptcy that was a systemic error due to the intergovernmental operating system – has put pressure not only on Greece, but also on Italy, Spain and Portugal. This led to at least two new systemic failures: a) they developed as opponents of the EU’s financial and economic system and b) provoked counterforces – led by the notorious anti-Europe policy of the Netherlands – that refused to lay a common foundation under the Eurozone. And that now culminates in the chaos of rash and half-baked solutions by heads of government and finance ministers to help the states that are suffering most from the virus crisis. There will of course be a solution, but this in turn is the beginning of a new chain reaction of systemic errors that accelerates and broadens the process of dissolution of the EU. Populist nationalist politicians are happy to lend a hand.

The political life cycle of the EU is at stake. Not only because of the EU’s self-inflicted combination of autocracy in eastern member states, but also because of the humiliation of southern member states. These are dissolving forces from within. But also, by decomposing forces from outside. Because of the system errors of intergovernmentalism as an accumulation of national interests, the EU has never been able to acquire a geopolitical position. With a mentally ill president in America, a president-usurper in Russia and a cunning president in China, the European Union is – as they say in Belgium – a bird for the cat.

There is now only one question: what can stop the process of positive feedback and unite the countries of Europe with such force that the dissolution ends? This can only be done by finally making a federal Europe, based on a correct federal constitution, with federal institutions and procedures, after two hundred years of intergovernmentalist tampering. The politicians who are now fighting each other in the discussion about the solution of the failure of Covid-19 can and will only make matters worse. They will continue to think and act on the basis of the intergovernmental system and will once again try to close the holes that have been drawn by systemic errors with arrays of new systemic errors.

It is therefore out of the question that they would be able to stop their amateurism and start a process to exchange the intergovernmental system for a federal Europe. They cannot do so because each system attracts its own kind of officials. They are in that system because they belong to that system. In the EU-system, federalists would be ‘Fremdkörper’ (Editor’s note: a foreign body, If something is put in your body that does not belong there, the body expels it. If you are alien in an organization, the organization pushes you out). So, they don’t get in or they get ‘kaltgestellt’ (ed. made powerless; put out of order) after a while, to put it in clear German. And, opportunistic as they are, they stay put and mess around with it. Supported by federalists who still think that system errors of intergovernmentalism can be repaired by changing the treaty basis once again so that it evolves eventually into a federation. As if you could turn a rotting coconut into a powerful elephant by sticking a trunk to it.

Some will ask, what then? If the political leaders of the EU are unable to exchange the pernicious intergovernmental system for a federation because they are part and parcel of that system, what does the Federal Alliance of European Federalists (FAEF) have to offer? Well, we have:

  • Knowledge instead of opinions.
  • Knowledge of the causes of the failure, since 1800, to create a united Europe with a federal state.
  • Knowledge of the system errors that destroy the European Union.
  • Knowledge of standards of federal state formation.
  • Knowledge of a strong federal constitution that does not encroach on the sovereignty of the member states and with a federal body that takes care of the interests of the member states that they cannot take care of themselves.
  • Knowledge of the process of citizen involvement in order to a) improve a draft of our federal constitution and b) subsequently ratify that constitution in accordance with the adage: ‘All sovereignty rests with the people’.

And, you may ask, does this federal constitution offer a solution to a serious system error of the intergovernmental system, namely the financial-economic system as a source of relentless and ever more and ever-fiercer conflicts? Answer: yes, it does. Of course we do have that solution. It is embedded in the draft of our federal constitution, taken from one of Alexander Hamilton’s genius discoveries during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, the founding fathers of the federal constitution in the United States of America. That solution is the legal expression of what my FAEF colleague Mauro Casarotto wrote in an internal email on April 8, 2020, after the quarrelling finance ministers had once again failed to find a solution to the financial problems caused by Covid-19: “… we will have, sooner or later, to pay all of this”.

Hamilton came up with the idea: if we want to convince the thirteen confederal states that life in a federal state form is better, then the federation must take over the state debts of those thirteen states. And that’s how it happened. That is the strength we must muster to stop destructive intergovernmentalism: a federal state that takes over the national debt of acceding states so that each member state with a positive balance can continue to develop. Then, with a normal fiscal union, the financial-economic relationship between the sovereign Member States and the federal body will be kept in balance.

This is laid down in the text of the tenth and last article of our federal constitution:

“Article X

  1. All debts entered, and engagement contracted by States before the ratification of this Constitution, will remain valid within the European Federation.
  2. The ratification by a simple majority of the Citizens of nine States of the Eurozone will be sufficient for this Constitution of the European Federation to come into force.

Don’t say that’s not possible. Fundamental reforms of financial systems have taken place before. The problem is not the money, but the absence of statesmen/women who can make such a process possible without tampering with counterproductive intergovernmentalism that inevitably will result in an extension of the ‘Verelendung’ (ed. deterioration) of intergovernmental governance. High standard politicians, who let experts do the work, together with the European citizens. We as FAEF not only make available a draft of a ten-article federal constitution, but also a roadmap of a process in which a perfect federation can be made from the bottom up in European society: all sovereignty rests with the people.

Do you know such statesmen or women?


Leo Klinkers – Editor



Leo Klinkers graduated in 1968 from the Faculty of Law at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. After a few years working in local government, he became responsible for research and education in public administration at the Law Faculty of Utrecht from 1971 until 1983. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis in 1974 on open access to Government documents.
Between 1971 and 1983 Leo Klinkers developed a method for interactive bottom-up policymaking. This methodology has been published in a number of books and articles and applied in many projects in the Netherlands and abroad.
Since 1983 he has worked as an independent consultant in public administration in several countries, as well as for the EU and the UN. In 2013 he was co-author of the ‘European Federalist Papers’ with Herbert Tombeur.
He recently finished his last book ‘Sovereignty, Security and Solidarity, arguing why and how the present intergovernmental administrating system of the EU should be replaced by a federal system and thus creating The United States of Europe, making America Europe’s little brother.
He is actually a co-founder and member of the Promoting Committee of FAEF (Federal Alliance of European Federalists)

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