BCiP Debate: For or Against a Federal Europe?

Debate motion: That the European Union should become a fully-fledged federal state.
The debate on 13th March, 2012 within a sub-group of the British Conservatives in Paris (BCiP), seemed to raise more questions than answers on what would actually constitute a federal Europe as far as British participation was concerned. The current model for the European Union (EU) projects itself weakly on the international stage, with limited perception or appreciation of its role and how it operates on the part of the British public in particular. However, is there really a choice for Britain between a federal EU and the US, with the latter indicated as perhaps preferring Britain in the EU rather than out? Is there a common enough culture between different EU member states to compare with other federations such as the US and Germany after 1871? Can the British island mentality, together with a legacy of empire building outside Europe and an increasingly multi-cultural society, allow the UK to remain the European exception? Would a federal Europe still allow opt-outs and e.g. non-membership of a common currency, the Euro-zone already forced further into fiscal consolidation to protect its weaker members?
Proposing the motion for a federal Europe, PT considered this as something big to be addressed for a country such as Britain which, having acted in the past as a beacon to the world, has the benefit of choices in its future path. One such choice is not to rule out Europe and Britain should support the rest of Europe in plans for federation. Despite some 2000 years of historical links with the European continent, there is a general lack of understanding of the role and inner workings of the EU within Britain and a reciprocal distrust of British intentions on the Continent e.g. working against European integration. That said, the Germans welcome the British as balancing French statism, while the smaller states view Britain as off-setting German predominance. Certainly, although fundamentally financially strong, the EU is perceived as politically weak and carries little weight on the international stage e.g. in Middle East negotiations. There is limited understanding of the role and functioning of the European Commission. Again, there is too much centralisation and the various European institutions in general are weak. A federal Europe including the UK would help to make the EU a stronger force in the World. Is this Utopia? Think about German reunification, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Arab spring and then do not discount a federal Europe.
Leading against the motion for a federal Europe, JS was in favor of the EU, but not a federal vision thereof. Although the definition of a federal Europe was not clear, he suggested that it ought to include the following:
1. A common budget/taxation system (Currently not working out)
2. Common currency (Essentially the Euro is the Deutschmark at root).
3. Majority decision making with no opt-outs (i.e. no French veto on the Common Agricultural Policy which consumes one third of the total EU budget; no protection for British financial services)
4. Expanded federal bureaucracy
5. Borderless Schengen zone for all federal states (no special UK controls on immigration)
6. Common defence/foreign policy (despite unlikely European defence force, special UK/US and Germany/China/Russia links)
Given these ingredients, if you are for the EU you should vote against this motion; if you are against the EU, you should also vote against this motion.
Seconding the motion for a federal Europe, SD said the UK was becoming increasingly irrelevant and out of touch in the world of today. To again exert British influence the only way forward is through Europe. The world is already divided between the US and rising major powers such as China, followed by Brazil, India etc. The credit crunch has put Europe in crisis. The Conservatives traditionally favour pragmatism over principle. There is a lack of influence on the international stage of individual European countries. The only one forward for them is via a federal Europe. A federal Europe does not mean an homogeneous Europe. We are talking about pragmatism and progression, not dependence or independence. Rather than waiting, a federal Europe offers the opportunity to catch up on the international stage.
MD, seconding against the motion, thought further integration at this point more problematic than beneficial:
1. The financial crisis had exposed the weaker peripheral member states compared with the stronger core, with subsidies to the periphery continuing while overall debt still increased.
2. On the concept of environmental determinism and in light of the financial crisis, it is useful to consider that the industrial development and spread of wealth in the EU is as it is for a reason, and perhaps should be accepted as such. By contrast, an even more integrated EU may continue to produce a geographical core subsidising the periphery.
3. It would take a cultural revolution for Britain to participate fully in a more integrated federal Europe, and Britain?s further participation would be needed.
Fundamentally, therefore, a federal Europe including the UK is unrealistic at this moment in time.
Comments which were then invited from the floor included those of:
RB ? We share the fact that we are all parliamentary democracies in the EU. However, the dominant political leaning (Left or Right) of the European Parliament has seemingly tracked the political persuasion of the then European Commission President. So yes, a federal Europe is necessary to address this democratic deficit. The environment also needs more central control as does immigration via the Schengen Agreement , or a business person will face the prospect of one Schengen zone visa and still another visa for the UK. We Europeans have more in common than our differences and need a cultural revolution in favour of federation.
PDH ? Britain and Continental Europe have for long enriched each other culturally and economically. To cite just one example, Britain was strongly influenced by the Florentine Renaissance and banking system. The EU has resulted in major benefits in trade in goods and services as well as standardisation across a huge range of activities. Peace in Europe is often claimed as an EU achievement but I would rather attribute it to Nato.
For fear of destroying past achievements, we should not now try to go too far and too fast and political federation would be premature, to say the least. The European ship is anyway grounded on the rocks of fiscal, monetary and political problems. We should certainly not listen to EU officials telling us to wait in our cabins while they decide what’s good for us. Further rapid integration could provoke disastrous reactions. Consider what happened to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and what is happening to Belgium. Britain, too, has learned from its unfortunate attempt at unity with Ireland. « Marry at haste and repent at leisure. » De Gaulle’s « Europe des Patries » is the ideal model. The pragmatic Conservative policies on Europe strike the right balance. The UK should have no complexes about its European credentials and is almost second to none in actually implementing what is agreed in Brussels.
The « Europe des Patries » was certainly invented by de Gaulle. I have found no evidence that the Telegraph played any role in developing the concept (in response to related GD comment below).
GD ? JS spoke in defence of the financial sector but this sector was responsible for the financial crisis. Application of a Tobin tax in the EU would be ok if the US takes this on as well, and it needs to do so due to its enormous debt. If the financial sector does not pay to resolve the debt, taxing the general public more heavily will only depress the economies further. On a matter of information, it was the Daily Telegraph (and not de Gaulle) which came up with the slogan Europe des patries! I would ask MD if Britain is core or peripheral to the European economy ?
PL ? We need to be in the EU in order to change it.
MlD ? The US has grown in a federal way but European countries have grown in a different way. Britain is not naturally involved in Europe and has a choice of being involved or not. If the other EU member states want a federal Europe they can go it alone without Britain.
JM ? It is difficult to see how a federal Europe can work without a common fiscal policy given the Greek situation.
JK ? We will continue to lick the boots of the US unless we go with the EU:
1. We paid a high price for US financial assistance after the War compared with Germany.
2. Germany was able to afford to rebuild its industry.
MlD ? We need to get away from this special relationship idea that while the US is always there to save us, it also treats us shabbily.
GD ? The special relationship (and le grand large) was invented by Winston Churchill to ally with the Americans, while at heart he remained a true European.
MD ? I have noted hostility to the British in France over the years, and have lost hope in a European ideal to some degree. It is unrealistic for Britain to try and integrate further in the EU at this stage.
PL ? The splendid isolation idea is not good.
PDH ? It is a pity the debate pitched the UK against (continental) Europe. There are also strong opinions against a federal Europe in Germany and Italy.
Summing up for the opposition to the motion for a federal Europe, JS had heard passion and experience expressed in favour of Europe but there would be a need to be able to opt-out to survive in a federal Europe. He was not arguing for a US-type relationship but for closer economic ties with Europe. A multi-speed Europe is the only answer with no sharing all at once. A common culture must be allowed to grow organically; it is no way to create harmony by tying together the tails of snarling dogs!
PT concluding for a federal Europe, recalled that the Lisbon Treaty already allowed for a multi-speed Europe, EMU and the Schengen Agreement. Explaining how a federal Europe could operate, he suggested that:
1. There would be an elected central executive, headed up by the chief of the European Commission, responsible to the European Parliament.
2. A second chamber would represent the national member states, similar to the current European Council.
3. Common policies would include the armed forces and health.
4. Member states would not be as neutered as those within the American model (the US is nothing like the EU).
There is an interesting parallel with the 1871 uniting of the various Germanic states, which already shared a common culture. Similarly other European states together with the UK could find a common culture to share within a federal Europe.
At the end of the debate a show of hands was called for and the motion for a federal Europe was defeated by 6 votes for and 9 votes against.

Leave a Reply