January 26


Episodes of flaring up European unity in the context of Federalism: introduction

By Leo Klinkers

January 26, 2017

by Leo Klinkers (January 2017), co-founder of the Strong Learning Academy

Introduction: why this series of five book reviews?

Striving for a federal Europe is like ground fire, where tree roots ignite and burn under the ground. Sometimes they burn through the surface, burning either in low or high intensity. Ground fires are difficult to fight because their sources are continuously moving under the surface. One can dispute whether this fire – once above ground – is good or bad. In general terms, forest, heather and peat fires are not necessarily bad. Sometimes they are lit on purpose to create new fertile land. Eucalyptus trees, for instance – with their special ethereal oil – reproduce only when their seeds are heated.

Federalism is also a source of fertility. In three respects. Firstly, by the fact that it causes to disappear something that (almost) everyone loves to see disappearing, namely nationalistic-driven wars. Secondly, because it gives us back what was destroyed by the arrival of intergovernmental administrating systems after World War II, namely the countries’ sovereignty. Thirdly, federalism is the best constitutional and institutional foundation for European Citizenship and Unity, as a precondition for European welfare and safety.

I shall not elaborate on the conceptual aspects of these three characteristics of fertility that federalism brings about. Otherwise I would repeat my explanations in the series of four video courses about Federalization. So, for the sake of brevity, I’d like to refer to these four videos.

This series Episodes of flaring up European unity in the context of Federalism is building on the conceptual character of these four video courses. It contains reviews of books about striking periods when an age-old burning federal fire suddenly surfaced and created fertility.

Speaking about fertility: the creation of the federal America at the end of the 18th century served as an example to many other countries. Currently 40% of the world population live in 28 federations.

The first review deals with the birth of the federal United States of America. The baby’s ‘mother’ – so to speak – was the Convention of Philadelphia, a group of fifty-five representatives of thirteen Confederal states, who gathered from May until September 1787 in Philadelphia and who threw the Confederal Treaty of The Articles of Confederation in the wastepaper basket, designing instead a Federal Constitution. And therewith they created unity, which eventually encompassed fifty states.

The ‘father’ was the group of three authors of the famous Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. They wrote between October 1787 and May 1788 no less than eighty-five Papers to explain to the citizens of the thirteen confederal states why they should replace the confederal form of state – comparable with the present intergovernmental EU – with a federal one. Supported by a broad societal foundation – citizens thinking, discussing and writing about the Federalist Papers – a majority of the citizens accepted the federal Constitution and ratified it. That is why the United States of America is based – since 1789 – on a Constitution of only seven articles, a brilliant constituting document that over the years has been improved by twenty-seven Amendments.

In Part 3 of the aforementioned video courses, titled Why did the Americans chose for a federal state?I deal with this process of American federalization from the point of view of the Convention of Philadelphia. Now – in this essay on books concerned with flaring up European unity in the context of Federalism – I focus on the Federalist Papers. I shall stress the question how the authors of the Federalist Papers dealt with two behaviours of the Convention of Philadelphia. Behaviour 1: which unique innovation in political theory and practise did the Convention establish? Behaviour 2: what daring steps did the Convention undertake? Daring and bold in the sense of stepping out of the box.

Fundamental thinking about European federalization dates back to 1600 with the writings of Althusius. Other European philosophers like Rousseau, Montesquieu and Locke elaborated on this and improved it. The members of the Convention of Philadelphia knew the thoughts of those European philosophers. They knew their classics. The American Constitution is based – strictly speaking – on the ideas and thoughts of European philosophers. Herewith I justify that the first book review is in place in this essay even though it deals with the American process of federalization.

The second book, written by Wim de Wagt, is titled Wij Europeanen (2015). The author is an art historian, academic teacher and writer of books on architecture, art and Jewish history. De Wagt describes in detail how in the so-called Interbellum – the period between the two World Wars in the 20th century – on a very large scale discussions, writings and conferences took place about the necessity to unite Europe through federalization. In order to realize welfare and safety throughout Europe. Between 1920 and 1940 European society demonstrated a broadly supported demand to create sustainable European unity and citizenship – by transnational, cross-border constitutional and institutional measures – as a precondition for welfare and safety on a European scale.

Many renowned people, also from outside Europe, participated in those debates and writings. De Wagt names quite a few but focuses on two figures, the French statesman Aristide Briand and his German colleague Gustav Stresemann. These two politicians tried to establish a form of European, especially French-German, co-operation under the heading of federalism. However, if one understands the conceptual characteristics of federalization, one must admit that their efforts were merely attempts to seek co-operation with respect to economic policy.

Co-operation in the field of policy-making is the distinguishing mark of intergovernmental administration. And that is far from federalization. De Wagt shows detailed the rise and fall of this confederal-like striving in Europe. In reviewing his book I shall elaborate further on the widespread misconception in the Interbellum to call intergovernmental co-operation ‘federalization’. A misconception that still exists, even in ‘Brussels’. To explain the seriousness of this misconception: the statement – uttered by quite a few politicians – that a federation is a super state is of the same kind as saying that the earth is flat and that the sun is circling around planet earth.

The third book is written by Andrea Bosco, renowned author about federalism. Like Wim de Wagt he spells out the flaring up of European unity in the context of Federalism during the Interbellum. However, his approach is quite different. In his book June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union (2016) he mentions briefly the confederal characteristics of Briand’s and Stresemann’s endeavours and tells the reader how, since World War I, an almost worldwide striving for federalization appeared, impelled – notably – by Great Britain. It is remarkable that De Wagt hardly shows that in Great Britain during a lot of years many people were working industriously towards a European Federation, and that Bosco’s book mentions only briefly that Briand and Stresemann were busy with the same kind of actions on the continent.

Let me open a window to Bosco’s book. After World War I the Treaty of Versailles was so harsh for Germany that it laid the foundations for World War II. One of the Treaty’s authors – the Brit Philip Kerr, better known as Lord Lothian – understood this danger and also that the League of Nations – by its emphasis on ‘nations’ – would not be able to play down, or even eliminate, the wave of nationalistic thinking, which made the arrival of a new war predictable. Lord Lothian sowed the seed for thinking in terms of European federalization because, in his opinion, only a federation would cover the ‘anarchy’ of the domain between nation-states with democratic institutes, and therewith the guarantee of European unity.

The final sentence cannot be read often enough: from each and every side or position important people were of the opinion in the Interbellum that the – in 1648 established – Westphalian nation-states, with their frenetic holding on to untouchable borders and absolute sovereignty, proved to be the main cause for the absence of European unity and thus for the predictable arrival of a new war on a world scale. The fact that there was no cross border administration between these sovereign nation-states was called – without any hesitation – anarchy. And thus seen as the cause of recurrent wars. Anarchy in the sense of the unjust absence of constitutional and institutional measures and provisions to share common European sorrows and interests with shared common administrative structures.

This level of understanding of the necessity of a cross-border administration was reached already hundred years ago. But what do we see now, in the second decade of the 21th century? Supported by the easy success through applying populist arguments, a relative high number of nationalistic-driven persons try to hijack the democratic procedures in order to kick Europe back into the dark past of fighting nation states.

This was quite different one hundred years ago. The work by Lothian and his followers induced, in England, massive enthusiasm for European and even worldwide federalization, leading to a world government. Bosco shows that Winston Churchill – supported by Charles de Gaulle – offered the French government, at the outbreak of World War II, a Federal Union of both countries. This offer failed due to miscommunication about the moment that German troops would take Paris. The most curious aspect of this book is the fact that – of all countries – Great Britain in the Interbellum operated as the leader of establishing a foundation under European federalization, even striving for a federal unity with the United States of America.

The fourth book is titled De ziekte van Europa (2015) – recently published in English as Europe’s Last Chance – written by Guy Verhofstadt, once Prime Minister of Belgium and now chairman of the ALDE party in the European Parliament. He focuses on the many diseases of the European Union, why and how the EU-intergovernmental administrating system is the cause of this illness and why a federal Europe would not be so severely ill. It is no optimistic read. But without a thorough knowledge of this book there cannot be a learning process to stop making – repeatedly – the same mistakes and to replace (just like the Convention of Philadelphia did) the dysfunctional and undemocratic intergovernmental EU-administrating system with a democratic European Federation as the instrument for the much needed European unity and citizenship.

The fifth book is titled Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid (2015). The author is Frans Timmermans, Vice-chairman of the European Commission. This book is an emotional call to the whole of Europe to reformulate and re-anchor the foundation of European unity, fraternity and solidarity. Referring to crises within the EU, which makes it easy for populist politicians to spread fear and hate, Timmermans draws attention to the need for regaining the basic strength to promote values like liberty, equality and fraternity as the leading motives for Europeans living together. Even though he does not speak about federalism as the instrument that can serve that goal his plea for regained fraternity can easily be covered within a broader federal constitutional perspective.

This is the moment to answer the question at the beginning of this essay: Why this series of five book reviews? From these reviews follows:

a. that a broadly societal striving for (1) welfare and safety in Europe by (2) the creation of more unity and fraternity between countries and cross border citizenship, (3) to be established by covering the anarchical domain between nation-states with federal constitutional law and institutions, between World War I and II strongly flared up, but that such a European Federation has not been established yet;

b. that it is becoming clear, slowly but surely, why it is that a European Federation has not been established yet and that Europe again enters a period of disintegration;

c. that the cause has to deal with the fact that four matters – as necessary conditions for establishing a European Federation – were never present together, strongly interconnected, within the same period;

d. those matters being (1) a severe crisis that forces politicians to leave their comfort zone, (2) a broadly supported societal demand to base European fraternity, unity and citizenship on a solid form of state which guarantees the own identity, sovereignty and autonomy of each participating country, but nevertheless covers the anarchical domain between nation-states with a shared administration, (3) thorough conceptual knowledge of the constitutional and institutional elements of a federation, (4) political courage to use this knowledge as the instrument to create substantial renovations by applying out-of-the-box measures.

Only if these four conditions are present together, and strongly interconnected, within the same period – as was the case in America at the end of the 18th century – there will be sufficient energy to ‘chase the rocket of federalization through the atmosphere’ which prevents gravity to let it fall back to earth.

Let me present an example. In Wij Europeanen De Wagt describes:
a. the presence of a gigantic crisis in the Interbellum;

b. the presence of a very broad societal demand to realize European welfare, safety, unity, citizenship through cross-border federal law and organisation;

c. however, insufficient broad political support in the sense of courage to deal with this societal demand;

d. and the absence of knowledge of constitutional and institutional aspects, needed for realizing these goals with the only valid instrument, namely a European Federation.

With respect to aspect d): the small group of politicians who possessed the required political courage did not possess sufficient knowledge of the essential instrument to achieve the cross-border goals. Again and again they wanted to apply a confederal – intergovernmental – instrument, so the proper means-end relationship lacked. Each furniture maker can explain that one never must screw a wooden chair on a metal frame. The parts will come apart. This means-to-an-end relationship fails. At that time there were no people like Hamilton, Madison and Jay to explain to European citizens why a confederal form of state is a system error that will disintegrate the system, and that only a federal form of state is the instrument which guarantees to achieve those goals. Thus, their striving for federalization broke down some years before World War II. To be continued after the war by making the same mistakes, leading to the present disintegration of the European Union.

The nucleus of the mistake is: assuming that an intergovernmental administration system eventually evolves into a federal governing system. That is the same mistake as thinking that mice can evolve into elephants because they also have four legs. Again I refer to the series of four videos about Federalization in the section Strong with Europe for the foundation of the required conceptual knowledge in this respect.

There is at this moment – anno 2016/2017 – a severe crisis. Geopolitically, as well as within Europe. There is also a broad support for federalization. Thousands of Europeans deal with this in manifold organizations and institutes. However, the politicians – especially the government leaders and heads of states within the European Council – have demonstrated more than once that they do not possess the required conceptual knowledge to replace the disintegrating intergovernmental administration system of the EU with a federal system, let alone that they – under the pressure of the rising populism and nationalism – would have the courage to do so.

By reading the reviews of the five books about the highlights of flaring up European unity in the context of Federalism you will find the causal aspects which explain why a European Federation has not been established yet. I shall present these causal aspects by a scheme that shows the necessary conditions to establish a federation.

For those who like formal logics: look at that scheme as a series of necessary conditions, conditiones sine qua non. Thus to be read as: if not p, then not q. Or in logic jargon: -p > -q.

The scheme is a brief summary for answering the question that many thousands of Europeans have put forward during many years: why is a federation not established yet? After having presented the scheme on the next page I shall briefly elaborate on the numbers 1-9. Having that knowledge makes it easier to internalize the reviews of the books.

See the scheme.

If you read this scheme several times from top to bottom and the other way around, you will understand why the arrows all point upward: the lowest layer contains the necessary conditions for realizing the next level, and that level is a necessary condition to be fulfilled to reach the above level, et cetera. That is why I start my comments at the lowest level, the numbers 6-9.

Working in the discipline of public administration for forty years I have seen many (organisational) schemes filled with arrows pointing at many directions. Which is confusing. Often arrows with spikes at each end. Which is wrong. Everyone knows that an effective arrow has only one spike.

Number 6: when there are no crises, politicians do not see a reason to leave their comfort zone. The five books describe severe crises. However, only the first book, the Federalist Papers, shows why the crisis in America has led to the out-of-the-box renovation in the form of federalization. Though the other four books describe no less incisively Europe in crisis – in the Interbellum and after World War II – the present crisis seems not so severe that politicians feel the need for a drastic renovation of the administrating system. This might change if President Trump will carry out some of his campaign promises: a) less support to NATO (isolationism), b) no free-trade treaty with Europe (protectionism) and c) no longer supporting the Paris 2016 climate-agreement (nihilism).

In case of a) Europe has to establish – finally – one common defence system; b) eliminating the economical constraints that still exist within Europe and approach trading with other continents from one united European point of view; c) closing the ranks to safe the climate-agreement. Establishing a European Federation is the only instrument for achieving those goals.

Number 7: the Euro barometer shows that a majority of European citizens still support the concept of European unity and fraternity. However, many doubt (the functioning of) the European Union as the adequate instrument to realize those goals. This is, however, a silent minority. They do not excite politicians to take out-of-the-box-measures. This silent minority does not express its demands in such a way that it excites the speaking majority. Let me name some organizations within that silent minority.

Firstly, the Union of European Federalists (UEF). This Union was established in 1946. It is a renowned organization with a large international network. It influences the political and societal arena with publications, conferences and actions.

Secondly, the European Federal Party (EFP). Established in 2011, thus rather recently. Due to the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon does not allow parliamentary elections in one, European-wide constituency, the EFP has to create lists of national candidates per Member State. As far as I know this has already been carried out in ten EU-Member States.

Thirdly, the JEF-organization. JEF means: Jeune Européens Fédéralistes or Young European Federalists. It is an offspring of the UEF, starting in the 1950s, with circa 25.000 members and organized in three layers: JEF-Europe, JEF per country and JEF groups in major cities. JEF-groups are permanently busy with promoting the idea of a European Federation through publications, courses, workshops and actions.

Fourthly, the group of federalists within the European Parliament. However, their power is limited. The most important reason for this is – in my opinion – that the leading federalists in the EP are still of the opinion that the intergovernmental EU-administrating system (which they hate) can evolve eventually into a federation by changing the Lisbon Treaty. This misconception was cleverly avoided by the founding fathers of the American federation in 1787, a thrilling story that I shall dwell on in the first review after this introduction. It is the misguided assumption that mice can evolve into elephants. In other words: a wrong instrument cannot evolve into a good instrument by continuing to work with it. It is foremost this conceptual lack of knowledge that during the Interbellum – and now in the second decade of the 21st century – frustrates the striving for European-wide welfare and safety.

Furthermore, there is a vast amount of (academic) institutes, movements, study groups and action groups dealing with the striving for European unity and fraternity as preconditions for welfare and safety. However, all these organizations together do not come across as being united. They do not operate as one homogeneous movement. They demonstrate a lack of organizational skills or leadership to get their common act together, operating jointly and united in both the societal and political arena for the creation of a European Federation. There are some attempts – though – to create more togetherness. For instance, the establishment of the organization Stand Up For Europe. If this, and possibly other initiatives, will be successful, will become clear in the near future.

Number 8: the necessary conceptual knowledge of the essence of federalism, of the process of federalization in America at the end of the 18th century, of the causes of the failure to federalize Europe in the Interbellum and of the reason why the EU is disintegrating, is probably the weakest element. It is astonishing that only rarely a European politician demonstrates to possess such knowledge.

Let’s mention three persons, in the hope that I do no unjust to others. In the 1980s Jacques Delors – member of the European Parliament and Chairman of the European Commission – promoted the idea of a federal Europe according to the principles of the Americans. However, he was tackled severely by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher –by her notorious speech in the House of Commons, better known as the ‘No, no, no-speech’.

For those who would like to see this speech I refer to Part 1 of the series of four video courses.

More recently Michel Barnier has proven to be a federalist. He served as Euro Commissioner from 1999 until 2004 and was in 2016 appointed by the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the Commission the manner in which the EU should operate within the Brexit-process. Thirdly, of course, Guy Verhofstadt who, with many publications, showed his knowledge about federalism. And this brings me to number 9.

Number 9: the political courage as a necessary condition to operate in conformity with knowledge. Due to the fact that this knowledge is lacking among the majority of national and European politicians – at least in my experience through the last twenty years – the precondition of political courage to renovate the EU’s administrating system seems to be absent nowadays. However, I might be mistaken. Apart from people like Barnier and Verhofstadt some others seem to have stepped forward in the first weeks of January 2017. In the context of the campaign for the French elections in 2017, Emmanuel Macron is rising in the polls. He does not lose energy in fighting populists and nationalists, but rather stresses the importance of a united Europe by positive and constructive speeches. This appears to fall on fertile soil in French society. Alexander van der Bellen, the newly elected President of Austria, airs the same constructive attitude. In addition, within the European Commission constructive and positive sounds are heard. Vice-chairman Frans Timmermans demonstrates with his book Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid, a clear signal in favour of the usefulness and need to fight without delay for strengthening the links between and within European countries.

There are, undoubtedly, more politicians of that calibre. People who do not spend energy in useless fights against the black holes created by populists and nationalists who, like contemporary Pied Pipers of Hamelin, seek to attract people and leading them to nowhere-land. However, reality shows that the numbers 6-9 at the beginning of 2017 are not strong at all, and even not jointly together at this moment, not strongly interconnected yet. Therefore they cannot radiate enough power to fulfil the necessary conditions for realizing number 5: the creation of a uniting European Federation to replace the disintegrating intergovernmental EU. As long as this is not realized the necessary conditions 1-4 will fail as well.

I hope that you will enjoy reading the following book reviews. And that this stimulates you to take part in the striving for a European Federation.

Part 1, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist Papers
Part 2, Wim de Wagt, Wij Europeanen
Part 3, Andrea Bosco, June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union
Part 4, Guy Verhofstadt, Europe’s last chance
Part 5, Frans Timmermans, Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid

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