Managing European Confederation

Managing European Confederation

Without the essential political foundation, ever-closer union for Europe remains dead—and as Mary Shelley might have pointed out, attempts to raise the dead can have unpleasant consequences.


Since the defeat of the constitutional treaty in 2005, Euro-federalists have spent a great deal of time rethinking the process of European centralization. While some in the policy community warned about the potential of this new, "inward-looking" Europe, these fears were proven to be misplaced when transatlantic cooperation on Lebanon and Iran proceeded without significant deviation from what many would have expected otherwise.

Clearly, fears that the sky is falling in Europe are the product of a much more complicated dynamic that has always been present in this debate. As I have postulated in the past, this dynamic is the manifestation of an emotional bond to centralization rather than an objective analysis of the reality that confronts the European Union. Given the stakes, this is both understandable and predictable. In 2005, my colleague John Hulsman and I wrote in The National Interest, "It will take time for the great majority of Euro-Federalists, confronted with the death of their worldview, to go through the stages of coming to terms with its demise . . ." Less than two years later, our analysis has once again been proven prescient.


In a story that was virtually ignored by the American media, Prime Minister Blair, speaking on the future of Europe, announced that a referendum would no longer be required in the United Kingdom to pass a "scaled-down" treaty governing relations with the EU. By undercutting the previous efforts of Chancellor Merkel to push for a more robust document, Mr. Blair has effectively set the standard for another attempt at centralization-matching similar proposals from other heavyweights on the continent, most notably Nikolas Sarkozy and Romano Prodi-both of whom have advocated for a smaller, "mini-treaty."

Of course, none of this is particularly earth-shattering, especially when one recognizes the emotional desire of Mr. Blair and his friends to unite Europe, as well as the obvious obstacle to that desire-that nearly any treaty whose aim was further centralization remains a political loser in the UK. Thus, Mr. Blair's decision to ignore the polls, or rather ignore his citizenry all together, is the proper one if your sole objective is to ‘move Europe forward.'

Nevertheless, will such a strategy move Europe in the direction that federalists have been longing for? Content with focusing their efforts solely on process, supporters of a united Europe have once again missed the underlying reality masked by their emotional drive: Without the essential political foundation, ever-closer union remains dead-and as Miss Shelley might have pointed out, attempts to raise the dead can have unpleasant consequences.

While there is certainly ample evidence to demonstrate support for a Europe whole and free, the fundamental issue is not whether one believes that Europe can be whole, but rather how whole it should end up being.

In the case of the UK for example, support may exist to move forward on institutional reform or the single market-two areas that will claim limited, albeit insignificant sovereignty from Britain. This support however does not carry over to advancing more substantive and significant measures such as a common foreign and security policy or a harmonization of internal affairs.

Given the mobilization of Euro-skeptical groups such as the "No Campaign" and a renewed Conservative Party (alright . . . on the road to renewal perhaps), the chances of Mr. Blair advancing these measures through diktat, though possible, remains highly unlikely. After all, these same groups, year after year, have succeeded in lowering support for the European project-there is no reason to believe that they will not be successful in preventing any future treaty through the "back door", particularly as Mr. Blair has begun to turn the reins over to a more Euro-skeptical Gordon Brown.

And this is just in Britain. When one considers other more Euro-skeptical nations, from the Netherlands in the north to Poland in the east, the Baltics as well as Eastern Europe, we find much the same disagreement exists in other areas. Though the citizens of some of these nations may very well choose to have their respective governments make these decisions on their behalf, relying on such a modus operandi will certainly be a bit of a gamble in light of the British potentially abandoning Mr. Blair's preferred method of democracy once the process begins.

Yet, what of the more Euro-friendly nations; will they be content to once again follow their counterparts into rejecting an ever-closer union? Unlike 2005, centralization will not be a take it or leave it proposition. Indeed, Brussels a la carte may prove to be more palatable over the long term, especially if there is significant support (Germany, Italy, Spain and France) for measures such as judicial harmonization or perhaps even the ultimate prize, a common foreign and security policy.

Which brings us back to the central problem: While there may be limited agreement on what is acceptable to cede to Brussels, it is the disagreement that ultimately defines the future of Europe. Should this latest round proceed, is it more likely that we will see a Europe that is whole and free or a Europe that finds itself in legal disparity-a confederation of states perhaps? As my father often tells me, "this is what makes markets."

When the president hosts the talented Ms. Merkel and Mr. Barroso today, perhaps he should consider a new tone with respect to the European project. Rather than remaining on the sidelines, it might serve the purposes of both the United States and the European elite if the United States offers a more vocal, and official, support of the new plan on two conditions: First, that the process must be democratic-citizens of each sovereign nation must be given the opportunity to vote on any and all treaties that involve the EU. Second, that the process is transparent-in other words, that the choices presented to the public are indeed the choices that would be considered in any vote-they must not represent some underhanded attempt by Europe's elite to confuse or deceive their citizens.

Anything less than adopting these two critical measures not only betrays European democratic values, but in doing so, risks an artificial state that will more resemble the "inward-looking" Europe that was dreamed up following the first attempt to unite Europe in 2005. As Euro-federalists correctly pointed out in 2005, such a state of affairs will negatively impact the transatlantic alliance that continues to prove crucial in the areas such as Afghanistan, Iran and NATO reform.

Though the future of Europe may not bear a resemblance to what Euro-federalists had dreamed of, there is little reason to believe that an even looser confederation won't remain a reliable partner for the United States down the road.

William L. T. Schirano is the Legislative Assistant in Foreign and Defense Policy for the Honorable Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The views expressed in this piece do not represent the views of either his office or of Representative Michele Bachmann, or of the U.S. government.