(This article is also available in French, on the website: http://www.generation112.eu/index.php)
In recent times there has been a rather surprising resurgence in federalist sentiments in the pronouncements of several European leaders. Since the financial crisis took hold in 2008, several European leaders have bellowed for “more Europe”. Their actions however have often moved in the opposite direction. This was never clearer than when several member states openly challenged the Schengen agreement and reactivated border controls. Such “national retrenchment” proved popular among Europe-fatigued electorates.
So what has led the resurgence of federalism (in words a least) among European leaders? Observers are unsure. It may be the growing fear that Europe is entering an economic abyss or it could be due to pressure from worried stakeholders, such as the United States? Either way, despite choppy financial waters, the European project has gained a new lease of life in the proposals of several national and EU leaders.
Barroso: A converted man, apparently
The most striking example has come from José-Manuel Barroso. This year’s “State of the Union” speech was drenched in federalist language and called for, amongst other things, the establishment of a financial transactions tax, and new far-reaching powers for the Commission. Noting that there can be no union if citizens are ignored and condemning interference against the free movement of people across Europe, Barroso delivered a riposte to federalist enthusiasts who argued that he had been found wanting since the financial crisis took hold.
And Barroso is not the only one showing a new lease of life. The European Parliament, following the initiative of the MEP Andrew Duff , is looking at creating transnational lists for its next election. The French, German and Italian governments (forgetting the ills caused by Lisbon) have backed calls for a new EU treaty “that can lay the foundations for a new prosperous and politically robust Europe”. Barroso seems ready to accept this, even though he has continued to stress that a lot can be achieved within the current institutional framework.
So does this really herald the beginning of a new chapter for European federalism? Caution is advised. Most EU observers have been around too long to be excited by promises and rhetoric alone. With the Euro’s problems showing no sign of abating, national governments continue to be prisoners of their own immediate interests and those of their increasingly euro-sceptic electorates. With this in mind, member states must surely learn how to avoid the misunderstandings and apathy caused by the Lisbon treaty, before a new treaty cannot be seriously considered.
On this there remains much to be done. Recent rhetoric has returned to familiar buzzwords and objectives such as “solidarity”, “growth” , “discipline” and “green economy” while remaining worryingly short on policy detail. Federalists, for their part, are demanding that the EU become more than a mere marketplace and instead adopt a new social element, if member states are serious about creating a more federal union.
This is the challenge that awaits. To make a decisive step it is crucial that national and European parties, civil society and citizens take up this debate. Upcoming elections in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and those for the new Parliament in 2014 provide an ample opportunity. As Barroso recently commented, it will soon be a full century since the outbreak of World War I. This provides a perfect opportunity to promote the kind of deep integration that was originally designed to forestall such conflict. If electorates can be brought on board, then an opportunity for decisive action beckons.