Federalism is the only hope for Europe: the no man's land between confederation and federation is not sustainable any more – says Andrew Duff, British liberal and federalist politician. He has just published a book about the future of the EU – we asked him whether it is hopeless to talk about federalism after the rise of euro-scepticism at the last EP-elections. Interview.
Mr. Duff, you were member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. How do you evaluate this period from a federalist point of view?
We have made small but useful steps. But the result leaves the EU stuck in limbo between intergovernmental, confederal Europe (which is proven not to work well) and a supranational, federal Europe (which has not yet been tried).
In the UK, the Liberal Democrats, your party is the coalition partner of the Conservatives. This government is promising a referendum on leaving the EU. What do you think about the EU-policy of the Cameron-government?
Poor. Ill-thought out. Potentially disastrous.
The UK has already opted out from several EU-regulations. Does Mr. Cameron have real chance to re-negotiate the Treaty and get allowances?
The rest of the EU has to decide what price it is prepared to pay to keep the UK in. More opt-outs from basic common policies must not be contemplated.
Mr. Cameron promised the in-out referendum with the condition that his party would win the next election alone. Do you think he will succeed that? Or, can you imagine that the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition continues after the 2015 election?
I hope for a Lib Dem coalition with Labour. If the Tories win there will certainly be an unnecessary and divisive referendum in 2017 on the false premise of staying in or leaving the current unsatisfactory and unstable EU.
You have just published a book about how to change the European Union in a federalist way. Why do you think that federalism is the only hope that is left for the EU in Pandora’s Box?
Because all other solutions have already been tried and failed. Federalism is logical and democratic. The EU already has many federal elements, and their potential should now be fulfilled.
The euro-sceptical parties were the biggest winners of the 2014 EP-election. What is the reason of the rise of euro-scepticism?
The failure of national political parties and parliaments to sustain support for the European project.
How much reality does it have to speak about European federalism in a situation like that?
The mainstream majority is still ‘pro-European’. Now the battle has to be taken to the anti-Europeans. Nationalism is illiberal and dangerous.
You wrote that because of the anti-EU feelings of the people, most of the political elite became euro-sceptical for example in the UK and in the Netherlands. Isn’t it natural in a democracy that the political elite represent the public will?
No. It would be normal for the political elite to lead public opinion.
You write about the famous democratic deficit that it is not only the fault of the EU-institutions but the fault of the national parliaments too. How do you mean that?
As I told that national political parties and parliaments fail to support the European project.
You regard ‘budgetary deficit’ also as a problem.
By budgetary deficit I mean that the EU budget is too small to provide for value-added public goods at the European level.
How could the representative and legitimizing function of the EP be improved? You offer a transnational list for European parties at EP-elections. Is it realistic?
The point of pan-European parties is to compete for power with national political parties. In the end, federal logic will win because the electorate knows that national political parties have ceased to be honest and capable when they claim to be able to solve public anxieties now that the scale of the challenges have out-grown the old nation states.
Was it worth to campaign with ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ at the 2014 EP election? There were heavy debates around the person of Mr. Juncker – especially Mr. Cameron and Mr. Orbán were against his nomination.
Cameron and Orban were foolish and wrong. They also lost: the Spitzenkandidat experiment appears to have succeeded, doesn’t it?
If we imagine the Parliament and the Council as the two chamber of a federal legislator – how could a good compromise be made between the equality of voters and the equality of member states?
Hence are pan-European lists needed. Both houses of the legislature need to be a compromise between the representation of states and peoples.
You also argue that a European federation needs not only a proper Parliament but an effective executive. How could the Commission work as a government when the Commissioners are delegated by politically totally different national governments?
The Commission is not supposed to represent national governments, but the common interest of all states and citizens. It should become much smaller in order to increase efficiency and to reduce the power of national governments.
How should we imagine the Commission with effective executive power? Could it for example instruct the police or other authorities in member states?
The Commission would be the federal government, responsible to the legislature for executive decisions on federal matters.
Remaining at the EU-institutions: the European Court of Justice made an opinion in December: according to that the joining of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights was not compatible with EU-law. What is your opinion about the decision?
I have written on this on my Euractiv blog
. The Court has a point, and adjustments will have to be made to the accession agreement to ensure that the Lisbon treaty is fulfilled.
The idea of a two-speed Europe is often mentioned in the public discourse. In your book, you offer a similar model when you advise that those member states who don’t want to take part in a federation, remain ‘associate members’ of the EU. Wouldn’t that ‘half-membership’ be unfair to those states who do not agree with the idea of federalism? For example for the UK?
Why unfair? It is less fair to force the UK to be in a federation if it does not want to be. I do not speak of a two-speed Europe, by the way, but a two-tier Europe.
What would be the difference between federal citizens and associate citizens in your model?
It is to be negotiated in the Convention.
In a federal model should the EU have more exclusive competences as it has today?
The EU needs more shared competence in energy and immigration – not exclusive.
Does the Russian-Ukrainian situation require a stronger common foreign and security policy?
The Common Foreign and Security Policy needs the intervention of a stronger Commission.
Is your model of two-tier Europe necessarily connected with the Eurozone? Some member states (like Hungary) do not have a properly strong economy for that yet, but the UK never wants to introduce it, and Greece might exit…
Hungary is committed by law to meet the Maastricht criteria. In the end it will do so. It would be mad for a small central European state to exclude itself from European core integration. The UK is different. It already has an opt-out. One day it might change its mind, too.
It seems that the EU has several problems on its own now – both kind of economic and institutional challenges. What do you think about enlargement in this situation?
No further enlargement is possible before the EU becomes more federal.
It is common to set federalism against the ‘Europe of nations’. Couldn’t the EU exist between these two extremes?
No. That is where we are now. Look at the results.