Europe’s only hope: the Federation Light

A piece by Asger Aamund, Chairman of Bavarian Nordic A/S and ECFR Council Member, on the need for a new European vision

The political history of the EU has been an endless chain of failures and humiliations: the war in Yugoslavia, which resulted in 200,000 lives lost due to the EU's indecisiveness and reluctance to use military pressure on the combatants; the farce of the boycott of Austria in which EU heads of government decided to isolate Austria economically and politically after the lawful and constitutional parliamentary election that led to a new coalition government that included the Freedom Party; and during the Danish cartoon crisis, the EU showed a total lack of democratic solidarity and moral determination. Considering that the EU is a resource-rich society of more than 400 million people, it is discouraging to see the EU demonstrate a paralysis and complete lack of responsibility in relation to all the geopolitical hot spots: the Iraq wars, the battle against terror, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the key issue these days of Russia's future position in the European and global power grid. The constant discreet distance a politically impotent EU maintains to the United States is a defeatist stance in which the fear of defeat constantly conquers the will to succeed.

The bottom line is that we now have a political Europe that used to be ready to fight and die for freedom, but which is now prepared to give up everything just to be able to live in peace, no matter what the cost and consequences.

If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there – or no road at all. So where do we want to go with the EU? Where is the European vision? Where is the shared master plan drafted by courageous and far-seeing statesmen that leads us towards ambitious goals, towards progress, towards confidence in a common cultural and political set of values?

There are no long-term plans for EU goals and development strategies, nor is there a common vision, not even a qualified proposal from individual member states for a planned future. None whatsoever.

Is there an actual politically constructive, forward-looking solution that can take us away from the EU's heap of political rubble? Yes, there is, but, first and foremost, it requires us to recognise the fact that, now that the constitutional treaty in several different disguises has been knocked down three times so far – first by the French and the Dutch and then by the Irish – it will do no good to send it back-stage for yet another makeover and then present it again.

Twenty years ago, the Lisbon treaty would have been up to date and could have served as the foundation for the development of a democratic – rather than a bureaucratic – EU. Today, the future of the treaty has already become the past due to Europe's growing regionalisation, due to the accelerating integration of the business economy, and especially due to the steadily growing extent to which EU citizens seek freedom for themselves as individuals.

A political integration that does not accommodate this trend is doomed to fail.

It is incredible that European politicians are so far away from their voters that they do not understand that the modern anti-authoritarian, freedom-seeking citizens of the EU will never accept centrally adopted political guidelines in areas such as taxation, welfare, education, culture or the labour market. On the other hand, the voters will widely understand that some tasks should be centralised because they cannot be decentralised. There are certain political top priority issues which can only be handled as a joint effort. For this reason, voters will understand that a European government should have a shared federal responsibility for developing a military defence to protect the EU's democratic structures and economic values. They will understand the necessity of a joint responsibility for combating terrorism and for common policies in the fields of foreign affairs and foreign aid. A continued federal finance policy, a breakdown of the remaining obstacles to trade and a strengthening of the EU's competition rules are also areas that would probably meet with broad popular support. The obvious solution is the EU as a European “Federation Light”, i.e. a version of a federation in which we only centralise what cannot be decentralised. A Federation Light is a political community of free citizens, regions and nations bound together by strong but narrow ties at the top.

We should not demand more from political collaboration within the EU than we demand as citizens from our own countries. Irrespective of our different political attitudes, we are already demanding of ourselves and our politicians that we work together to ensure our freedom, safety, security, prosperity and welfare. If we want an EU that works, the demands must be the same – no more, no less.

Asger Aamund is President and CEO of A. J. Aamund A/S, Chairman of Bavarian Nordic A/S and a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

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