European Republic Needed


Brexit happened, but Brussels seems to be unwilling to face the tough questions. No compromise, no pick and choose for the UK, and no need to reform. The EU stays as it is and anyone who does not accept this is wrong and thrown out. It’s a huge blow for people like the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, who seem to be the only ones passionately defending the European project.

The downgrading of Sturgeon’s attempt to engage negotiations with the EU to an internal “British issue” — Donald Tusk and most heads of states refused to talk to her — is the best example of how deeply the EU’s representatives overlooked the key message of the Brexit vote: that the citizens, and not nation states, are sovereign. The framing of Brexit as a British problem is misleading. The idea of the European Union’s founding fathers was to build a democracy beyond nations.

The Scottish case proves what the French sociologist Pierre Rosanvallon last April dubbed “the lie on which the European Union was built”. Speaking in Warsaw, he argued that we are all paying a high price for that founding lie, anchored in the treaty of Maastricht, that the EU is a union of states and of citizens. Citizens do not have much say in the EU, despite the fact that — no matter how often states claim otherwise — citizens are sovereign. There is no state-independent citizenship of the EU — not for Englanders, not for Scots, not for anybody: the union of citizens is a fallacy. As a result, British voters were hostages of the British government and the Tories’ Eurosceptic wing. Now that the UK is leaving, Brits will lose their citizenship of the EU. The result is not national pride, but a rush for Irish passports.

Brexit is just another example of today’s Animal Farm EU, where some citizens are more equal than others, above all Germans, who have benefited most from the single market and the euro without sharing. Or even the Dutch, who believe they alone have the right to vote over the EU’s Ukraine policy. A political project can never function like this and politics is what Europe lacks most.

The treaties of the Levellers and the Putney Debates of 1647 elaborated on this concept of equal liberty, insisting that, within a political entity, all citizens must be treated equally in front of the law. The EU does not offer this.

The next European project must make a compelling offer to all European citizens, one that goes beyond nation-state affiliation. It must be based on the principle that all European citizens have political equality: in elections, before the law and in taxes. Cicero called this ius aequum. A government for the people and by the people. A nation state is not the only frame for a democracy.

It is what the EU’s founding fathers had in mind in postwar Europe: a real post-national democracy, with the autochthon, or tribal, European regions — Catalonia, Scotland, Moravia, Bavaria, Auvergne, Silesia or Brabant — as constitutional holders, to prevent the big nation states dominating the others, as Walter Hallstein, the first European president of the European commission, said in his inaugural speech in Rome in 1964.

The challenge is to define this European democracy and its parliamentary institutions, which, in contrast to the current trilogy of European council, commission and parliament, must be built on a real division of power: a legislative body that controls an executive body.

That such ideas sound like heresy in Brussels indicates just how far the EU has strayed from English political thinkers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke or Adam Smith. All were masterminds of modern parliamentary liberalism, and none could have imagined what appears self-evident in today’s EU: that a people can be governed by a single market, that deregulation is the goal and that anyone who proposes social controls of markets is a dangerous Marxist radical.

The question now is how to organise a Schumpeterian “constructive destruction” of the EU. Whenever in history sovereign citizens have embarked together on a political project, they have founded a republic based on that principle of political equality. This should be the vision and mission for Europe in the 21st century: The European Republic.

Ulrike Guérot | Photo: C. Butzmann

Dr. Ulrike Guérot is Professor at the Donau University Krems and head of the department for European Policy and the Study of Democracy. She is founder and director of the Berlin-based European Democracy Lab (EDL) at the European School of Governance (eusg) and is advocating for a brighter, more democratic vision of Europe —

Her new book “Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! Eine politische Utopie” (Why Europe Needs to Become a Republic! A Political Utopia) was published in April.

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