A European Republic; could this be the answer to counteract the implosion of the EU?

The European Republic proposal
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The implosion of the EU, once deemed an absurd idea, is now a fearful but possible prospect. Most of us are aware of the problems the EU is facing, and many experts agree that the project might crash. What can be done to counteract a possible downfall of the European institutions and, if a change is inevitable, what direction should the EU go to then?

The European Democracy Lab (EDL), a think tank founded by Ulrike Beate Guérot who had been working 20 years for the EU, focuses on the future of European democracy and proposes the idea of a ‘European Republic.’ It implies establishing a European political entity grounded on the principle of political equality and the division of powers (Montesquieu’s principle), in which the legislative and executive powers are clearly separated. The creation of this European res publica would mean that European policy would become transnational and it is perceived as necessary in order to overcome path-dependent national policies, especially economic policies that cause these national economies to compete rather than be active in the construction of ‘European integration’. The European Republic, according to Ulrike Guerot, would consist of 50 regions surrounding clusters of metropolitan areas with an identifiable identity but shared economic and cultural interests. (1)

An often heard criticism regarding the EU is that it is a technocratic project and that it misses a certain representation or feeling towards it, “a market without a state, a European currency but no European democracy” as phrased by Ulrike Guerot. The EU is rather a ‘post-democracy’, a term introduced by the political scientist Colin Crouch, which refers to a democracy losing some of its foundations and evolving towards an aristocratic system. The main essence of this criticism is that the EU lacks a representation of its population, it has lost its essential function as a political system, namely to serve the public good. What is needed, according to the think tank EDL is a common goal, a shared vision, which provides a better unification than the often dry technical words used by the EU, such as integration, growth, competitiveness, etc.

According to Guerot, we live in a time of transition from the old EU to a new Europe. However, the old cannot vanish, and the new has yet to be created. An important reason for this, Guerot suggests, is that decisions on how to develop the European political projects are left to nation states; ant it is precisely them that cannot solve European Integration.

Instead of unification, now disunity seems to be the norm: Divisions between member states and between the elite and the population, which go against the EU’s most important principles, jeopardize the European project. Therefore, trust in the EU is disappearing both from people and the member states.

What would cause the seemingly failing integration process of the EU?

The Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, separated the state and the market, creating a system in which decisions about the currency and the economy are made at the European level, while taxation and social policy remain largely in the domain of the states. An impossible conundrum, some experts claim.

The key point is that economic integration has taken far more steps than social and political integration. The latter, by the way, should not be misinterpreted as losing the different cultures within Europe or giving more or less power to the nation states versus Europe, rather people should interpret the integration process in a horizontal manner. Moreover, we make a mistake by measuring things such as productivity and exports on a national level, which is strange within a single currency zone.

Also, an aspect of concern is that competition among member states has consequences for citizens, given that we are operating within a supply chain with unequal taxation, wages, social standards and social rights. As such, this nationalistic approach to EU politics is not working, because political entities should guarantee equal rights for their citizens.

Another problem is the growing difference between rural and urban areas, fostered by market forces and the inability of the EU and its structural reforms to decrease it. Since the EU cannot operate as a state in these policy areas, it cannot provide the necessary help or compensation, namely via loans. In short: regional differences become greater. It is perhaps not strange that populist movements and anti-EU ideas seem to be growing significantly in these rural areas.

The res publica europaea

The idea proposed by Ulrike is to create a transnational European democracy beyond nation states, the so-called European Republic. It would mean the creation of equally large autonomous regions; providing a common legal roof of political equality for all its citizens, and for the autonomous and metropolitan areas. Political equality here implies equal voting rights, equality in the taxation of citizens, and equal access to social rights. To make the EU more democratic, she pledges for a newly designed European Parliamentarian system based on the principle of the separation of powers, elected via equal suffrage and full legislative rights. (2)

It is important to take into account the cultural aspect of Europe, especially its many different cultural and linguistic aspects, something that seems to be largely ignored by the EU. Many argue that, for this reason, Europe cannot be compared to the US: different cultures, languages, and histories make it impossible to create a similar solidarity amongst diverse member states. The idea of the European Republic would be to maintain these cultural aspects, given that it is mainly the regions in Europe that have a distinct cultural heritage, which should not vanish due to the European integration process.
The idea of a European Republic is perceived by many as a utopia and infeasible due to the growing preference for sovereign states, and the improbability of this plan to be negotiated and selected as a step forwards by the EU.

In my opinion, to engage European citizens, decreasing the gap between them and the ‘European elite’ by providing a feeling of belonging to the growing amount of population who feel unrepresented would be the first step towards a more democratic European Union. Whether creating the European Republic is feasible, or even if it is the right answer to preventing an eventual implosion of the EU, is something to be discussed. Nevertheless, Ulrike’s idea could provide a new way of thinking a new direction for the EU, one that engages citizens, including those who do not feel represented by the EU, as of now.

1. European School of Governance. European-democracy-lab Idea. European School of Governance. [Online] 2017. https://www.eusg.de/en/european-democracy-lab/idea.

2. Guerot, Ulrike. Europe as a republic: the story of Europe in the twenty-first century. Open Democracy. [Online] June 2015. https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ulrike-guerot/europe-as-republic-story-of-europe-in-twenty-first-century.

3. VPRO. Tegenlicht. Europtopia. 2017. http://www.vpro.nl/programmas/tegenlicht/kijk/afleveringen/2016-2017/eurotopia.html

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Francisca De Bie

Máster en integración europea por la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Holandesa, viviendo desde Septiembre 2015 en Barcelona, actualmente trabajando de administrativa de fondos Europeos y operaciones en una pequeña empresa de alta tecnología que ofrece técnicas de dinámica molecular. Además me gusta escribir, la cinematografía, idiomas y viajar.

One thought on “A European Republic; could this be the answer to counteract the implosion of the EU?

  1. Excellent analysis. Fostering a transitional, post-national, European civil society. Yet, I am worried that such beautiful project is unlikely to happen anytime soon. I do agree with the author that the separation between the State and the market has been absurd. This has generated a persistent conflict between Politics – broadly understood as policy-making and decision-making (someone would also add “democracy”) – and the forces of money (to quote Strange) – which may be generally intended as capitalism. The current European framework is made of national and liberal democracies which, by their intrinsic historical foundation, cannot become trasnational. This is why it would require before a political shock to rebuild a new paradigm of politics.

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