Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Federal Europe – enhanced European governance to face global challenges

Last weekend, I attended the Annual Meeting of the ‘Union of European Federalists’ (UEF), the organization is the umbrella of 20 European Organizations which are united to achieve a more democratic and federal Europe.

The ‘Union of European Federalists’ “was founded shortly after the World War II with the belief that only a European Federation, based on the idea of unity in diversity, could overcome the division of the European continent that caused the suffering and destruction of the two World Wars.” (1)

50 years later, Europe is facing several global challenges including migration; climate change; world poverty; security; energy and recently the financial crisis. The idea to enhance common decision-making by creating a federal government is more pressing than ever before.

Virgilio Dastoli (Director of the EU Commission’s Representation in Italy), pointed out that the global dimension of the challenges excludes unilateral solutions. The choice is not anymore between national or European sovereignty but between European sovereignty and no sovereignty at all.

Taking the example of immigration, Dastoli criticized that the issue is mainly seen through a security lens while it is in fact a question of integration, considering the demand of workers in the light of upcoming demographic changes.

Philipp Agathonos, Delegate to the EU Civilian Crisis Management Committee at the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, pointed out that immigration pressure on Europe will increase from the Asian continent, he predicted dramatic migration caused by climate change. In this case, no sea - as there is now between Europe and Africa - will stop the population flow, thus a European approach to integrate immigrants into Europe is urgently needed.

Several resolutions concerning a Common European Foreign Policy were discussed and adopted during the UEF Meeting, among them a resolution dealing with the current food crisis and world poverty.

The resolution underlines the importance of a global right to food in the fight to alleviate world poverty. To achieve a stronger European commitment to global institutions, specifically the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is essential. A world authority dealing with food production, buffer stocks, agricultural trade, research and innovation, health and environmental protection related to food production is needed.

Furthermore the UEF promotes regional integration initiatives which can lead to a stronger coordination among its members, a stronger voice of marginalized regions in the developing world and in the long-run to a world federal government.

Admittedly, federalist ideas are rather visionary, some might even say utopian. The European Union is in a state of institutional deadlock after both a constitutional treaty and the modified Lisbon Treaty failed in national referenda and it shows no signs of a quick recovery. Currently the chances for a second referendum in Ireland are low, so is the possibility that such a poll will bring more favorable results. Furthermore one should not forget, that other rather Euro-skeptic member states, like the Czech Republic, the UK and apparently Austria still need to ratify.

Consequently one should look for alternative ways to save the core institutional changes of Lisbon which are so important for effective European governance and its enhanced role to tackle world problems.

Taking into account that common European action and a single European voice are indispensable preconditions to deal with the global challenges we are facing today, it is necessary to save the treaty innovations regarding a common European foreign policy no matter if the Lisbon treaty succeeds in the nearer future.

One proposition might be to draft separate treaties which include the crucial areas of cooperation, which than could be signed by the willing member states. Taking into consideration that most EU members ratified Lisbon, such a step would only exclude few countries, i.e. Ireland, which should have the option to participate whenever it is willing to do so. This way all the others might move forward to closer cooperation.

It is important to communicate such an option publicly. The recent referenda did not offer any real alternative to a ‘yes’ vote which was a huge democratic deficit. Thus the proposition of an alternative way of progress would also show respect towards the European citizenry which needs to see that their vote can make a difference.

It remains doubtful that Europe will hold its influential position in the world governance system if it cannot show its ability for common foreign policy decision-making and speak with a single voice. Other emerging countries are already waiting in the pipeline to take over if the European Union cannot bring its act together towards a more democratic and federal union.

by Martin Behrens