Not all European Federalists are Progressive

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The fact that the Norwegian Nobel Committee oversimplified and effectively distorted reality in order to award the European Union the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize was enough to remind us that there lately are many people who consider themselves European federalists. If we strip away the superficialities of self-admiration and cheerfulness that led many to wave the European banner and to chant paeans in the name of Europe; we shall discern a fundamental worldview which is allegedly inextricably bound up together with the idea of a Federal Europe: that of progress, of change and openness. In fact the identification between federalism and progressivism—or ‘open-mindedness’ to put it differently—has become such, that any self-centered priest of federalism is ipso facto a prudent, forward-looking and politically audacious individual willing to transcend the rigidities of the old nationalistic order of Europe. While there certainly are a few—fewer than what is commonly understood—federalists who are progressive, it is a lamentable error to consider the two as constituent parts of the same mode of political reasoning. To put it more bluntly, it is in most cases more proximate to reality to recognize that the proposition that federalists are progressive may be prevalent and valid only in fairytales.

The gradualist approach to integration which governments have adopted —and lauded— hitherto is on its own accord a form of timid or tacit conservatism, not progressivism, as it is predicated on the principle of preserving or favoring nation state sovereignty (for much more see here, here and here). Another manifestation of this age-old position is now being propounded on the grounds of some arid cost-benefit calculations which consider banking and fiscal union combined as the remedy to the financial crisis in the Euro area, suggesting that federalism is in effect nothing more than yet another neo-mercantilist edifice which needs to emerge from the now existing hypertrophic mercantile nation states, as their successor. Within this context where ideas are often inwardly perverted to the extent where their form becomes antithetical to their substance; a chorus of ignoramuses have had ample opportunities to expound to the absurdity commonly known by the fashionable motto “more Europe”.

Understanding the emptiness of “more Europe” is important in intellectually penetrating and identifying the trends within federalism, for the sake of drawing a clear distinction between federalism and progressivism/open-mindeness. The proposition for “more Europe” is, in my humble opinion, the height of fallacious and muddled aggregative thinking, or more fully the pièce de résistance of cluelessness. What can it possibly mean other than a complete absurdity? For what is Europe? What is this exalted ‘being’ or ‘thing’ that the plonky federalists wish to increase in quantity? Is it more red tape and superfluous directives from Brussels? Is it more hypocrisy and euphemisms in political palaver? Is it yet an additional layer of legal, political and economic complexity that renders genuine democracy impossible? Is it the expansion of EU bureaucracy? Is it perhaps the creation of a European army, police, impregnable external borders and other features of a sovereign and mercantile state? Is it all of these together with many others which now characterize the gross inefficiency of the EU architecture?

A list of questions like these may be enough to shake one’s faith in such naively romantic conceptualizations, yet despite the easiness with which this heap of illusions may be scattered to the winds, it still is important to stress that there is no such thing as a homogeneous, definite and specific ‘being’, ‘thing’ or even generic concept named ‘Europe’. Europe per se is, strictly and properly speaking, just a word that anyone may utilize in different conditions to describe or propose a series of valid or (usually) erroneous facts or ideas. “More Europe” is in this sense nothing more than absurdity writ large.

Confusion and mushiness of mind are therefore among the key reasons why today’s trendy federalists are not necessarily progressive. There is however another important factor which is concomitant with or strongly related to the above-mentioned tangle of misunderstandings; which is the delicate recrudescence of nationalism, mercantilism and imperialism, in the name of either “regaining the sovereignty from the markets” or “building a stronger Europe” or generally any other similar clarion call against perceived villains. In this frame of reasoning a federal Europe or rather “more Europe” is the best way to play, with efficiency, a hegemonic ‘leading’ role in the world, to counter the rise of other economies across the globe, to preserve our much-touted “achievements” and among others to supposedly put an abrupt end to the machinations of rapacious corporations, usually banks (even though such bank-bashing ignores the insight that mega-banks and established corporations are the very products of the existing corporate-capitalist system and are continuously being strengthened by red tape and state bungling as they are insulated from the regulative forces of genuine competition – see here, here and here among others).

Springing from these beliefs are such statements as a “post-national and post-sovereign Europe” which appear to be quite progressive, even radical to the inattentive listener or thinker. Yet the inferences to be drawn from these positions are quite clearly leading down the slippery path of a Europe that has certainly changed form, but which has retained its core essence in continuing to be national and sovereign. For if we are to replace the imaginary constructs of all nation states with an ever greater myth named (federal) Europe we are simply dealing with an issue of degree not principle. To construct a European nation is not progress at all, but only a mere shift in focus and scale of the same self-destructive ideas, ‘we-they’ syndromes, complexes of superiority and cultural chauvinism that have plagued this world for centuries.

Progress properly understood is not an opportunistic change of forms, nor a mere reallocation or redistribution of state supremacy, but a thoroughgoing and painstaking reformation of the entire set of ideas governing political life. The federalists who are genuinely progressive, in being unafraid to challenge the structures, fictions and figments of the previous and present eras, are indeed quite few, certainly significantly fewer than what appears to be the case in the exuberance of uninformed self-admiration that has lately been environing us. Besides with Mr Barroso, the Commission President, appearing as the latest cheerleader of ‘federalism’ it is readily apparent that the concept has been narrowed down to a technocratic affair of forging another system of governance, of bossing people around, so as to best flesh out the apocryphal caprices that our omniscient ‘leaders’ have for us.

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Protesilaos Stavrou

EU policy analyst. Philosopher. Web developer.
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