Year XLVIII, 2006, Number 3, Page 179



The Feasibility of a United States of Europe in an Enlarged European Union

I. The Crisis of Europe as a Political Project.

In ancient Rome, it was often remarked that it was just a stone’s throw from the Capitoline, from where Rome was governed, to the Tarpeian Rock, from which traitors were hurled to their deaths; in fact, the Rock formed the western part of Capitol Hill, and so it was, indeed, just a short walk from power to death. Apparently, then, the Romans already knew the truth of what has since become a general observation: that success and failure live side by side. And this observation now holds true for the European Union as well. Europe is a success story that is unparalleled in history: states that had fought bitter wars against each other joined forces to create a community of peace and prosperity. War between them has become inconceivable, and the Common Market thus created has ensured a continuous rise in their standard of living. Not surprisingly, this successful project, almost from its beginnings, exerted a strong force of attraction on its neighbours, and the steady growth of the European Communities, and later of the Union, was thus a natural development. The unification of Europe that this development entailed neared completion when ten new member states, no longer shackled to the Communist bloc, entered the Union in 2004. And the force of attraction exerted by this Union with regard to outside states seems unbroken, as the numerous remaining applications for membership show — Turkey’s being only the most prominent example.
Yet, while the European Union clearly remains attractive to outsiders, the same cannot be said of its relationship with its own citizens. As the constitutional referenda in France and the Netherlands have made clear, internal support for the EU is threatening to fade. The explanations offered for this phenomenon are manifold. However, as the Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has pointed out, they all boil down to a fundamental insecurity, characterized by feelings of fear and doubt that have become widespread among the peoples of many of the “old” member states.[1]In Germany, for instance, the “Polish plumber” has come to symbolise the fear that cheap labour from the “newcomer” states could take away jobs. The state of our social security systems, belying their name, tends to fuel this insecurity (although this is certainly not the fault of Europe). And so, too, does the growth of organised crime, because people correctly realise that the open borders from which we all benefit also facilitate cross-border criminal activities. And finally, one should not underestimate the fact that large sections of the different European peoples are afraid of losing what they consider their “identity”.[2]
Thus, as in so many other historical constellations, the biggest successes often already contain the seeds of their own failure, to quote the German equivalent of the Roman proverb mentioned above. In this case, the tremendous enlargement of the European Union, driven by its unparalleled success, is precisely the thing that is now endangering its original ideal, namely, the creation of a unified political entity. Again, the possible accession of Turkey is just the culmination of this development: if Turkey is accepted — and in the long run this seems to be the most likely outcome —, there will be no keeping the successor states of the former Yugoslavia and even the Ukraine out of the Union either. Thus, it is probably realistic to predict that ten years from now the member states of the European Union will be almost exactly the same as those making up the Council of Europe. That would not, in itself, be a bad thing — indeed, the creation of a free trade zone and ultimately a common market that reaches from Greenland to Anatolia could give the European economies in general a remarkable boost, thereby enabling Europe to hold its own in the competitive global economy, especially in relation to the other big players on the world market, such as the United States, China and India.[3]
But as a political unit, this European Union will not work. A political unit in this context must be capable of acting jointly in pursuance of a common interest, even if, in specific cases, this may go against the national interests of certain members, and this capability presupposes that the members can agree on a common interest and are willing to submit to the formation of a general will. It is thus a clear source of tensions, which will become more difficult to withstand the more members are involved. In a Union numbering, in a not too distant future, perhaps 35 or 40 members, it is hard to imagine how this problem could be handled in a convincing manner. As far as the idea of political unification is concerned, the Union is therefore destined to fall prey to what has been termed “strategic overstretch”.[4]
This analysis underlines what has to be the basis of any attempt to start the European project anew, in order to get back to the original idea of a politically unified entity somewhere within the European continent. Since the European Union in its current form will not be able to develop into such a unified political entity, new models of integration are needed to pursue this goal. And leaving aside the question of whether it will really take a new state to achieve this — this question triggers so many spontaneous and strong, albeit rationally unfounded, reactions that I shall avoid it here — it seems pretty clear that all of these models must eventually produce federalised structures of some kind, however they may be organised. Creating these structures will serve a twofold purpose: first, it will make Europe capable of unified political action as described above. And second, as a consequence of this, the European citizens — it can be hoped — will lose their feelings of fear and doubt upon observing that Europe can indeed provide answers to what they perceive as threats: in particular, the loss of jobs and of social security, and the rise of organised crime. Of course, if this Europe is to be created, the citizens will first have to be convinced of the need to support this project, which is already a challenge in itself and raises the problem of their involvement in any kind of political building process. Finally, it seems unavoidable that this united Europe, or “United States of Europe”, as it shall be labelled here for want of a more suitable term, will certainly encompass fewer than the current member states of the Union, which brings up the question of its relationship with the remaining ones.

II. Challenges for a United States of Europe. 

What are the policy areas in which a “federalisation” of this kind is needed most? A brief glance at the structure of the European Union immediately reveals that the lack of political coherence is most apparent in the second and third pillars, namely, in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and in the Common Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. By contrast, in the first pillar, i.e. that of the European Communities, this deficiency is less obvious. The so-called community method, which embodies the unique European concept of supranationality, already contains many federal elements.[5] The Community enjoys broad competences with regard to the realisation of the Common Market and almost exclusive ones in relation to the agricultural sector and the common trade policy.[6] Most of its decisions in this area can be taken by a qualified majority, which prevents any single member state from having any real power of veto, and it is generally capable of promulgating laws that are directly applicable in the member states and thus do not need further measures for their implementation. All these features are not so far away from those of a federal state, and the success story of the Community in precisely these areas amply proves that its mechanisms have, so far, worked.
However, even within the first pillar considerable problems remain. The pivotal one is probably the discrepancy between monetary unification on the one hand and diverging national economic and social policies on the other — a conflict that will reappear in any attempt to create a “United States of Europe” unless the territory of this new entity coincides exactly with that of the eurozone, an aspect that I will return to at the end of this analysis.[7]For the moment, it may suffice to note that the introduction of a common European currency — certainly the most tangible and far-reaching element of European integration since the original Treaties of Rome — has not been accompanied by the establishment of a corresponding economic and social policy at Community level. The economic policy of the Community, if one leaves aside the so-called Stability Pact, relevant solely to the monetary union, is limited to a few directives and the legally non-binding method of “open coordination”.[8] And the same is basically true of European social policy, which is largely restricted to establishing minimum working conditions and ensuring safe workplaces.[9]
From the outset, this discrepancy aroused harsh criticism, and many economists, in particular, have considered the euro doomed because a monetary union without a sound economic and social policy at its basis seems bound to fail.[10] Fortunately, the story of the euro so far has belied these gloomy forecasts, but this should not lead us to discard them too easily: for if the economic and social situations of the participating member states become too different, the European Central Bank will no longer be able to devise a monetary policy that meets the needs of all of them. Some first signs of this dilemma can already be seen: while the biggest European economy, i.e. Germany, has now been sluggish for years and really needs low interest rates to remain in place for some time to come, the Central Bank must also take into account the fact that some of the smaller member states’ economies are already “overheated” and need to be slowed down.
The problem described here is exacerbated by the fact that economic and social policy are precisely the areas in which the current performance of Europe in general is not at all satisfactory.[11] To be sure, the creation of a unified European policy in these areas alone is no guarantee that this performance will improve; on the contrary, the implementation of a bad common policy, from which the member states could no longer even deviate, would place the whole “United States of Europe” in great danger. However, once the fundamental decision in favour of a monetary union has been implemented, it simply makes sense to introduce, alongside it, a coherent economic and social policy as well. This must not be considered the same as harmonisation or as an attempt to merge the incompatible national social security systems. But the “United States of Europe” will, at least, need a common economic strategy that ensures a certain convergence of the economic development of its member states. And it is important to note in this context that the European Union as it is now simply lacks the competences needed to pursue this goal.[12] It may take further measures to complete the Common Market and to remedy the deficiencies it still presents; but as the example of the endless and futile efforts to develop a common scheme for levying value-added taxes shows, this empowerment reaches its limits long before what would be necessary for a convergence of national economic policies.
In the other pillars of the Union, the result is even more obvious because in these areas, in addition to the factors just highlighted, the typical features of supranationality, which are at least present in the European Community, are entirely lacking. In other words, the legal instruments employed within these two pillars normally do not enjoy direct applicability in the member states, and moreover, the corresponding decisions are all subject to the requirement of unanimity, which in a Union of 25 or more member states renders common action almost impossible or at least reduces it to the lowest common denominator. Certainly, the Treaty of Amsterdam has allowed some progress in this respect, bringing within the sphere of the European Community considerable areas of regulation that used to belong to that of the old “Cooperation in the Field of Justice and Home Affairs”. Moreover, the framework decision on the European Arrest Warrant and its domestic implementation shows, in spite of the failure of the first attempt at this domestic implementation in Germany,[13] that “Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters”, as the third pillar is now called, is indeed improving. But there is still a long way to go before the envisaged “area of freedom, security and justice” can be realised and, above all, without the transfer of further competences to European level it seems impossible, for instance, that an effective investigation service, as well as a coordinated public prosecution or a common immigration regime, can be created.
The same is true for the CFSP. The Balkan wars have demonstrated how powerless the European Union can be; the Iraq war has provided a clear example of how Europe is simply not listened to if it does not speak with one voice. If this situation is to change, a united Europe will need a foreign minister of its own — and this must be somebody who is empowered to do something, not just to assess a situation and to formulate recommendations —; it must strive for a common diplomatic service and, at the end of the day, also for a common defence structure, i.e. a European army or at least something like the European Defence Community which failed in 1954. Again, many useful steps have been taken in this regard, especially the introduction of a European Security and Defence Policy, including the setting up of a “rapid reaction force”. But within the current structure of the CFSP and, in particular, in view of the requirement of unanimity among the member states, it is practically impossible to imagine how this process could be completed.
To sum up, a real political unification of Europe faces a lot of pivotal challenges, and the meeting of these challenges — provided, of course, that one accepts this unification as a desirable goal — will necessitate a considerable number of institutional and legal adjustments. In this regard, two lessons must be borne in mind: first, as already noted, it will not be possible to perform these adjustments simultaneously with 25, 30 or 35 member states. Whatever new structure is envisaged for a future “United States of Europe”, these adjustments can be implemented only within a smaller group of member states. Second, the Constitutional Treaty recently rejected in France and the Netherlands could not really contribute to solving the problems mentioned above, because it would not produce any fundamental changes with regard to the corresponding competences of the Union.[14] Thus, the seemingly simple recommendation that member states that would like to forge ahead with European integration should accept this Treaty as binding among themselves is not an option to bring about a real political unification.

III. “Enhanced Cooperation” in the Existing Treaties.

There is, however, an option for further integration that is already contained in the existing Treaties: the mechanisms of “enhanced cooperation” that were introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam and slightly modified at Nice.[15] The general idea behind these mechanisms is not new: it is now almost three decades since considerations of this kind first began to be advanced, prompted by the entry of Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark into the Community.[16] Moreover, the situation back in the ’70s is somehow comparable: at that time, qualified majority voting was not at all accepted as a standard decision-making mechanism, and the unanimity requirement that existed was, in fact, already proving to be a problem with just nine member states. One of the biggest and most stunning achievements of the subsequent development of European integration was the overcoming of this obstacle in central areas of the economic and monetary union envisioned within the first pillar of the Union, even within a further expanding circle of members. But despite this impressive achievement, the hope for a similar leap forward by 25 or more member states together, to reach a coherent economic and social policy, a real Common Foreign and Security Policy and the establishment of common police and judicial services, is probably bound to be disappointed.
Against this background, we have to come to the sobering conclusion that, although this problem has accompanied the integration process almost from its beginning, not only has it taken an extremely long time formally to introduce mechanisms of “enhanced cooperation”, but also — and this is perhaps even more significant — these mechanisms are simply not utilized, at least not for creating formal empowerments as envisaged by Art. 43 TEU. Enhanced cooperation, thus far, has come about on an informal basis only and been limited to the implementation of certain ideas specifically accepted by the other member states. There are many explanations of why the formal activation of enhanced cooperation encounters so much reluctance within the Union: the procedure is complicated, the concrete conditions listed in Art. 43 TEU are too numerous and at the same time too vague; the fact that enhanced co-operation is expressly declared a means of “last resort” only (Art. 43a TEU) has a deterring effect; the openness to all member states demanded by Art. 43b TEU is not realistic; the procedural thresholds, i.e. that at least eight member states must participate and a qualified majority must approve this, are too high, and so forth.[17]
But the most important reason for the non-utilisation of this instrument is a lack of political will, caused by the general fear of seeing Europe fractured. In this context, it is emphasised that the European Union was founded on, and still needs, consensus, and that enhanced cooperation could turn out to be the first crack in its whole structure. Another criticism is that it could be used to blackmail countries that would otherwise use their power of veto to block common policies. But if it is accepted that these common policies are needed and that it would be illusory to wait for all member states to agree to them, then this danger cannot be avoided. It is, then, probably better to establish these policies within a separate and transparent institutional setting instead of using mechanisms that apparently do not work. However, the Constitutional Treaty would, again, be unable to fulfil this task. It might relax, a little, the conditions of enhanced cooperation, especially in the CFSP field, but it would not bring about a major overhaul of the relative mechanisms.[18] Thus, the earlier affirmation that simply recommending its entry into force between consenting member states is not a viable option still holds true. A new institutional arrangement within a “United States of Europe” will require a new legal instrument.[19]
Before this is addressed in detail, however, it is important to note that the decision to establish closer cooperation between selected member states, beyond the procedures laid down in the Treaty, is not at all uncommon within the development of European integration. On the contrary, some of the most important integrative steps have been taken by only a small number of the member states. This has generally come about in two different ways: either the member states willing to cooperate simply concluded a separate treaty under public international law, or “opt-out” clauses were inserted into the European Treaties themselves. Important examples are the Schengen regime, the monetary union, and the European Security and Defence Policy already mentioned; but one could also cite Great Britain’s refusal to participate in the common social policy. So far, none of these exceptions, in which enhanced cooperation was accepted, have endangered the existence of the Union as a whole; on the contrary, Schengen, the euro and even the ESDP developed such a force of attraction that member states from outside the original circle soon joined the fray. However, as a standard practice this is probably not recommendable, because it exacerbates the lack of transparency from which the European structures generally suffer. Again, the better solution would be to create a separate and transparent institutional setting that can accommodate the desire of certain member states to cooperate more closely and that, at the same time, establishes a clearly defined relationship with the others — and this is what the project of a “United States of Europe” should aim at. But the positive lesson to be learned from Schengen, the ESDP and the euro is that the establishment of closer institutional links between a few member states does not necessarily endanger the cohesion of the Union as a whole.

IV. Theoretical Concepts of Deepened Integration.

With this lesson in mind, we can now turn to the question of how these institutional links might be built and thus a “United States of Europe” organised. There are two levels on which to approach this question: first, there is the more theoretical problem of the general model to be chosen, and second, the practical difficulty of how this new entity can be fitted into the existing structures. Both of these aspects are dealt with in turn.
The idea of a differentiated integration dates all the way back to the mid-’70s, when first the former German chancellor Willy Brandt and then the Belgian prime minister Leo Tindemans submitted initial proposals for such a differentiation.[20] Since then, an impressive number of varied suggestions has been developed.[21]Without claiming to be exhaustive, seven of them shall be briefly considered here.
First, there is the concept of a “Europe à la carte”, which is linked with the name of Ralf Dahrendorf, who first presented it in 1979. Dahrendorf defined it as “common policies where there are common interests without any constraint on those who cannot, at a given point of time, join them”.[22] This concept foregoes a common goal set for all member states and instead trusts in a multitude of functionally limited arrangements among varying groups of member states. Its idea is, ultimately, to create a “market of possibilities”, from which each member state may pick and choose until, by a process of “trial and error”, the most appropriate arrangements for everybody have been found. However, this model is probably the one farthest away from the idea of a politically united Europe. That said, it provides an interesting lesson, for it demonstrates the danger that would lurk in extensive employment of the Schengen, ESDP and euro strategy: one must be careful with the creation of separate cooperation mechanisms outside the Treaties, because the introduction of too many of this kind would, in fact, result in a “Europe à la carte.[23]
A somehow softened version of this model is that of “Europe à géometrie variable.[24] This concept does not allow all the single member states to pick and choose freely, but instead already wants to differentiate them into groups. It is, however, related to the “à la carte” idea insofar as the composition of these groups may vary from sector to sector. Member states that go forward in certain areas of integration need not necessarily be front runners in other areas as well, and different groups may have the same members. This would result in the definition of more and less progressive groups of member states for each sector of integration and the possibility, for the states, to choose which of the respective groups to join. Again, neither of these results can be expected to advance the idea of political unity.
A third model could be called “integration in layers”. This concept does at least remain faithful to the idea of establishing common goals to be pursued by all the member states, which naturally implies consensus among them with regard to the further, general development of integration. It then allows some member states to forge ahead and to create a separate “layer” of deepened integration, at the same time keeping open, for the others, the possibility of their “opting in”. The monetary union, with its establishment of certain criteria as prerequisites for participation, is the most prominent example of this strategy in practice.
The fourth concept — that of a “Europe of different speeds”— is very similar to this model, but more demanding. Not only does it call upon all member states to share the same common goals, it also rests on the assumption that all the member states continue to pursue these goals in all policy areas, albeit, as its name indicates, at different speeds. Thus, it essentially boils down to the granting of temporary exceptions to certain member states. It allows them to “opt out”, but only for a limited period of time, its final idea being that eventually all the member states will once again find themselves, together, on the same level of integration. Although it is true that this concept also allows an indefinite delaying of the ultimate goal, it is important not to be taken in by the illusion that in a Europe of 35 or 40 member states all of them will, in the end, achieve an identical depth of integration in all policy areas.
The fifth model — “core Europe” — comes closer to the goal of creating a politically unified entity. Essentially a geographical partitioning of Europe, it aims, within a limited regional framework, to establish new fields of gravitation. The idea is that a small group of member states — not necessarily the six founding ones, although these are the ones with which the model is usually associated — should reach, on its own, a much deeper level of integration, while the others would remain on the periphery. However, if, as is hoped, the latter find themselves attracted to the core group, they could join it later, providing they fulfil the requirements of deepened integration.
The idea of a “core Europe” is developed further in the sixth concept, “Europe of concentric circles”, in which Europe is again partitioned along geographical lines. In this case, however, the division is more complex than in the above model, which simply has a “core” and a “periphery”. The idea, instead, is that of several groups or “rings” of member states around the core, with the degree of integration decreasing progressively from ring to ring the further away from the core one moves. This concept resembles the “integration in layers” idea; it just adopts a slightly different perspective by placing the member states that are not in the core group in different orbits around the core.
Finally, seventh, there is the idea of a European federal state. Ever since the empire of Charlemagne fell apart more than one thousand years ago, many philosophers and political visionaries have dreamt of its resurrection, and a federal state is probably the modern formula that corresponds most closely to this vision. But even the most ardent European “integrationist” has to admit that the prospect of eventually establishing a European state seems rather dim. Did not the Constitutional Treaty fail, in the end, because of its name, which reminded many European citizens too much of their own state structures, and made them want to ensure that these were not replicated at European level? Coming back to the challenges explained at the beginning, though, one important point has to be emphasised again: to make Europe capable of political action as a unified entity there will have to be not only the development of new structures, but primarily support for this development on the part of the citizens. Therefore, if it is indeed true that too many of these citizens are somehow afraid of the terms “constitution” and “state” in the context of European integration, then these terms would be better avoided.
But is it possible to do this without giving up the final goal of creating a truly politically unified Europe? This depends on what is in fact needed to achieve this goal, and what is needed are federalised structures of some kind to meet the challenges of the future. Such structures cannot be established with the participation of 25 or more member states. Consequently, there is a need for a federalised core within the current European Union. But this core does not have to take the form of a state. It could also be developed through one of the other models, excluding, of course, the “Europe à la carte” or “à géometrie variable” models, and thinking not of a “Europe of different speeds”, but rather of the “integration in layers” or the “Europe of concentric circles” models. If using these terms can further efforts to achieve the pivotal goal of making Europe strong and capable of dealing with the big tasks outlined above, then there is no need to cling to names. Names, in the end, do not matter; they are, as a German saying has it, nothing but noise and smoke. For this reason, the crucial question to be asked in this context is the following: How can a core Europe with federalised structures — a “United States of Europe” as envisaged here — be established within the existing European Union? Any attempt to answer this question will have to take the following issues into account.

V. Practical Problems in Creating a “United States of Europe”.


1. The Participation of the Citizens.

The first issue is directly related to the problem of winning the support of the citizens, and it concerns the procedure by which such a new entity may be founded and especially the extent to which the citizens should participate. In general, there are two ways of handling this process: referendum and ratification.
Ratification means concluding a treaty among the member states that are willing to take part and having this treaty ratified through the national parliaments. This method was the original choice for the establishment of the European Communities as well as for the foundation of the Union; it is, in public international law, the traditional means of formalising cooperation between states and, as regards the possibility of opposition on the part of the citizens, it is certainly the least problematical method. Bearing in mind the negative experiences with the referenda on the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands,[25] it would hardly be surprising to see European integrationists, in particular, resisting further referenda and calling for a return to the traditional treaty-making process.
However, in the context of a serious attempt to win popular support for an invention as momentous as a new “United States of Europe” — and as stated above, winning this support is probably indispensable for the success of the whole project —, the referendum challenge cannot be avoided, and perhaps need not even be feared. Moreover, there is one way of making this process a truly European one, thereby increasing, crucially, public awareness of the importance of the step and reducing the risk of a result determined more by national party politics than by the matter to be voted upon: there should not be separate referenda in each of the possible member states, as in the case of the Constitutional Treaty, but rather one referendum held on the same day in all the member states that are considering taking part. The votes may, of course, be counted separately to determine the will of each individual people, since none of the European peoples can be forced into a “United States of Europe” against their will, but it is vitally important that they be cast together.


2. Defining the Federation’s Relationship with the Existing Union.

Supposing that the support of the citizens can be won in enough member states to start this project — with the question of necessary and possible participants to be addressed in a moment —, the next urgent problem would be how to reconcile this new entity with the structures of the European Union. Put this way of course, this question rests on a basic assumption: that the continued existence of the Union as such is desirable as a means of keeping the rest of Europe together and closely linked with whatever will emerge as its new core — in other words, that it is necessary to avoid any solution that would cause the existing Union to fall apart. Acceptance of this assumption, however, rules out the possibility of the “core states” simply leaving the Union and creating, totally anew, something different. Thus, for the future, the “United States of Europe” and the European Union must be considered as separate but intertwined entities.
A second assumption, while not really dependent on the first, seems equally inevitable. It concerns the acquis communautaire, i.e. the whole set of principles and rules, regulations and directives, primary and secondary law that has so far developed within the European Union. If a new “United States of Europe” were to try to change this by itself or to establish different legal frameworks in areas which are already encompassed by Community or Union policies — let’s say the “core states” would like to establish a different competition regime or change the rules regarding state aid to enterprises —, then it is hard to imagine how this might be negotiated amicably with the remaining member states of the Union. But, in fact, deviations of this kind would not be really necessary. Because, as indicated at the beginning, the main problem with regard to the current state of the Union is not that the Union would pursue the wrong policies, but rather that, in too many areas, it is not sufficiently capable of conducting a coherent policy of its own. This has been demonstrated in relation to practically all the fundamental challenges it faces: economic and social issues as well as its foreign policy and defence structures, and even the fighting of criminal and terrorist activities. Therefore, a new “United States of Europe” should accept the acquis communautaire and continue to participate in the policies of the Union insofar as the Union is still able to exercise its competences.
If, however, as its central differentiating feature, a “United States of Europe” were enabled to formulate and conduct common policies in areas in which the Union for legal or political reasons cannot act, then this new entity could relatively easily find its place within the Union. This hypothetical situation is perhaps best illustrated by the status the European Union currently enjoys within the World Trade Organisation. In the WTO, the Union is a member in its own right, as are its single member states, but it is generally accepted that because of its internal distribution of competences many trade policy issues are negotiated at Union level only. When it comes to voting, on issues for which it can claim exclusive competence, the Union votes en bloc, and its vote counts as the collective vote of all its member states. In the same way, a new “United States of Europe” could formally be integrated into the current European treaties as a new member and simply replace its member states in the Union’s various decision-making procedures, its vote being counted as the sum of all the weighted votes of its member states.
Of course, the remaining member states of the Union would have to accept this, not only as a matter of comity, but as a legal requirement since the existing treaties would have to be modified accordingly. But it would indeed only be a modification and not a full overhaul of the treaties, because the acquis communautaire would remain intact and the competences of the Union in the various policy areas would not be touched either. All that would be required to accommodate a “United States of Europe” within the Union would be a formal extension of membership to the new entity and some institutional and procedural adjustments. And since the necessary changes could be limited to this, there is also a realistic hope that the rest of the Union would not stand in the way of this new entity, because there is no reason why the Union should not be able to preserve what it has already achieved. We would then end up with a federalised European core in the midst of a big common market extending at least from Greenland to Anatolia — and perhaps even further.

3. A Special Problem: the Eurozone.

However, defining the relationship between a “United States of Europe” and the European Union will not be the only reconciling that will have to be done. Since a coherent economic and social policy would be inextricably intertwined with monetary issues,[26] it is also necessary to consider the relationship between this new entity and the eurozone, unless of course the member states of both were identical, which is hardly likely. Moreover, this is a more complicated matter than integrating the “United States of Europe” into the Union, because the question of whether political and monetary unification can be realised separately or must go hand in hand touches upon some of the most fundamental economic beliefs.
There are basically two lines of economic theory in this respect, albeit with many variations deserving names of their own: according to the “crowning” theory, a political union is the necessary prerequisite of any monetary union.[27] And the term is used literally: the political union first has to exist, so that it can subsequently be crowned by monetary unification. A slightly mitigated version of this theory allows political and monetary union to be realised simultaneously, but in both cases, a monetary union without political unification is considered doomed from the outset.
The opposite line does not see a compulsory link between political and monetary union. In its basic form, it sees political and monetary integration as two separate issues that can each exist independently.[28] The more optimistic version, which is usually given promising-sounding names like “engine” or “foundation stone” theory, even regards monetary unification as a possible means of achieving higher degrees of political unification later on.
Historical experience seems to support the first line more than the second one, as most currency unions that never received a political underpinning eventually failed.[29] The advocates of the “separation” theory in its several variations, however, argue that the European monetary union is something peculiar and — just like the European Union itself — historically unprecedented. This is certainly correct, insofar as the European model is characterised by specific features which, as a whole, have never existed anywhere else to date: a completely unified currency under the control of an independent central bank, a “no-bailout clause” to preserve the accountability of the participating states, a stability pact — although its reliability has become questionable —, and a Common Market founded on a unified legal framework for competition.[30]
But it would be pointless to try to resolve this fundamental dispute here, because the political development — be it, in the end, for good or for worse — has already circumvented it. The basic decision to run the risk of a separate monetary union was made at Maastricht almost fifteen years ago. When the European monetary union in its current shape was created, the decision was taken, at the same time, to try out a single currency in the absence of a corresponding political backbone. Unless the whole attempt breaks down, it is impossible to step back from this decision, and the creation of a “United States of Europe” will not fundamentally alter the situation as it already exists. The eurozone will remain a separate group of states for the foreseeable future: it can be neither expanded to include the whole European Union nor shrunk to encompass only the states of a newly founded “core Europe”.
Therefore, either the “crowning” theory is correct and thus the euro will fail anyway, regardless of what happens in the core, or the advocates of “separation” will be proved right, in which case there is no reason why the success of the monetary union should be endangered by the creation of a new political entity within it. So the “United States of Europe” will be related to the eurozone in very much the same way as the eurozone is related to the Union as a whole, and it will share its fate.[31]

4. Determining the Participants.

And so we come to the last question: who will be the possible participants in the project envisioned here? First of all, there is no kind of natural limitation as regards the “core” of Europe and, respecting the will of the peoples involved, it does not seem appropriate to define, round a table, who may and who may not become part of a “United States of Europe”. However, it is possible to see an outline emerging:
a) The founding members of this new entity should already share the experience of monetary unification and thus come from the eurozone.[32]
b) Having stated that the “United States of Europe” need not be identical with the eurozone, it seems advisable to start with a smaller number of member states, although in the long run the new entity should at least be open to the rest of the monetary union and not a “closed shop” from the outset.
c) At least two of the bigger European states must be among the founding members, because otherwise the project would either be seen as an attempt by one big state to set up a new sphere of influence, or not be taken seriously at all.
In short, this brings us back to the original core of European integration: the six founding states, at least two of whose larger members must participate, but preferably all three and, it is to be hoped, some of the smaller states as well. Although it seems feasible to start a “United States of Europe” with just two of the big countries, any project of this kind that could not include the “Six” would be dogged by uncertainty from the outset. Beyond this group, however, it is not hard to imagine more states joining: not only some from the “old” group of 25, but perhaps the most advanced of the ten new member states at some point as well. If the support of the citizens in these core states can be won, then a new milestone in the process of European integration might indeed be set.

[1] Guy Verhofstadt, Die Vereinigten Staaten von Europa, 2005, pp. 7-10.
[2] For further reasons, see also Joachim Wuermeling, Die Tragische: Zum weiteren Schicksal der EU-Verfassung, Zeitschrift für Rechtspolitik 2005, pp. 149-153, 150.
[3] This hope was already expressed in: Ralph Alexander Lorz, “Zurück in die Zukunft”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 24 November 2004, p.7.
[4] See, for instance: Erich Reiter, Die Situation der EU in ihrer geplanten strategischen Überdehnung, Arbeitspapier des Österreichischen Instituts für Europäische Sicherheitspolitik, December 2004; a very useful analysis can also be found in: The EU’s Search for a Strategic Role, edited by Esther Brimmer.
[5] For a more in-depth study of the federal elements and the corresponding experience within the EU, see David McKay, Designing Europe, 2001, p. 8 onwards; as well as Stephan Mazan, Das föderative Prinzip in der Europäischen Union, 1996, passim.
[6] Rudolf Geiger, EUV/EGV, Kommentar, 4th ed., 2004, Art. 37 no. 2 onwards; Gereon Thiele, in: Christian Calliess - Matthias Ruffert (eds.), Kommentar zu EG-Vertrag und EU-Vertrag, 2nd ed., 2002, Art. 133 no. 5 onwards; ECJ, Judgment of 13 March 1984, Case 16/83, Rec. 1984, p. 1299 (Prantl).
[7] See under V. 3.
[8] See, for instance: Rudolf Streinz, Europarecht, 7th ed., 2005, no. 1043 onwards.
[9] Sharing this view: Thomas Oppermann, Europarecht, 3rd ed., 2005, no. 1641.
[10] For this position, see the detailed explanations by Wilhelm Hankel et al., Die Euro-Klage. Warum die Währungsunion scheitern muss, 1998, passim.
[11] Verhofstadt op. cit. (note 1), p. 22.
[12] Among many noting this deficit: Bernhard Kempen, in: Rudolf Streinz (ed.), EUV/EGV-Kommentar, 2003, Art. 98 no. 3.
[13] German Federal Constitutional Court, 2 BvR 2236/04, Judgment of 18 July 2005.
[14] See Daniel Thym, United in Diversity – The Integration of Enhanced Cooperation into the European Constitutional Order”, 6 German Law Journal, no. 11 (2005), p. 1746; Marcus Höreth/Cordula Janowski/Ludger Kühnhardt, Die Europäische Verfassung, 2005, p. 96.
[15] The new provisions have somehow facilitated enhanced cooperation, as regards the reasons for it, the determination of the minimum number of participants (eight), and the exercise of powers of veto, but they have also built up some new barriers. For an analysis compare Claus Giering/Josef Janning, “Flexibilität als Katalysator der Finalität? Die Gestaltungskraft der ‘Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit’ nach Nizza”, integration 2/2001, pp. 146-155; less critical towards the modifications is Klaus Hänsch, “Maximum des Erreichbaren – Minimum des Notwendigen? Die Ergebnisse von Nizza”, integration 2/2001, pp. 94-101.
[16] Katrin Langner, Verstärkte Zusammenarbeit in der Europäischen Union, 2004, p. 19 onwards.
[17] For an overview of the benefits and feasibility of enhanced cooperation see Christian Deubner, “Verstärkte Zusammenarbeit in der verfassten Europäischen Union”, integration 4/2004, pp. 274-287. An interesting array of possible fields of enhanced cooperation has been compiled by the Commissariat Général du Plan: Perspectives de la coopération renforcée dans l’Union européenne, 2004, 7e Partie : Une liste des thèmes potentiels pour les coopérations renforcées, p. 243. Thus, the currently limited practical impact of enhanced cooperation should not be misinterpreted as the absence of any potential.
[18] Deubner op. cit. (note 17), p. 285.
[19] Thomas Jaeger, “Enhanced Cooperation in the Treaty of Nice and Flexibility in the Common Foreign and Security Policy”, European Foreign Affairs Review 7 (2002), pp. 297-316, 316, therefore speaks of “enhanced integration” rather than enhanced cooperation as the overall goal.
[20] Report of prime minister Leo Tindemans on the European Union, published in, for example: Deutscher Bundestag, 7. Wahlperiode, Drucksache 7/4969 of 3 April 1976, p. 17.
[21] For an overview of the manifold terms which are used in English alone see Alexander Stubb, “A Categorization of Differentiated Integration”, Journal of Common Market Studies 34 (1996), pp. 283-295, 285; a detailed summary is also provided by Claus Giering, “Vertiefung durch Differenzierung – Flexibilisierungskonzepte in der aktuellen Reformdebatte”, integration 2/97, pp. 72-83.
[22] Ralf Dahrendorf, A Third Europe?, Third Jean Monnet Lecture, Florence, 26 November 1979, p. 20.
[23] Compare Josef Janning, “Europa braucht verschiedene Geschwindigkeiten”, Europa-Archiv 1994, p. 533; and Bernd Langeheine, “Rechtliche und institutionelle Probleme einer abgestuften Integration in der Europäischen Gemeinschaft”, in: Eberhard Grabitz (ed.), Abgestufte Integration, 1984, p. 51.
[24] See, for instance: Commissariat Général du Plan d’Equipement et de la Productivité, L’Europe les vingt prochaines années, Rapport d’un groupe de prospective à long terme animé par Jaques Pelletier et Gérard Tardy, 1980, p. 211 onwards.
[25] A typical commentary with regard to this might be the one issued in a newspaper article by Georg Escher: “Now that the citizens have got that Europe, they voted against it”, Nürnberger Nachrichten of 31 May 2005.
[26] See Verhofstadt (note 1), p. 22; and Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, Welchen Weg geht Europa?, in: Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde (ed.), Staat, Nation, Europa, 1999, pp. 77 onwards.
[27] See, for instance: Wolfgang Wessels, “Die Wirtschafts- und Währungsunion. Krönung der Politischen Union?”, in: Rolf Caesar/Hans-Eckart Scharrer (eds.), Maastricht. Königsweg oder Irrweg zur Wirtschafts- und Währungsunion?, 1994, p. 112.
[28] Ibid.
[29] The usual examples cited in this context are the German-Austrian Currency Union (from 1857 to 1867), the Latin Currency Union (from 1865 to 1927) and the Scandinavian Currency Union.
[30] This is, for example, emphasised by Markus Reupke, Die Wirtschafts- und Währungsunion, 2000, p. 79 onwards.
[31] The critical points in this regard are already showing within the EU’s relationship with the eurozone; for instance, Sweden has recently made the criticism that the Council of the Ministers of Finance of the Union is rapidly losing ground compared with the more informal meetings of the ministers of finance of the eurozone. Cf. “Schweden moniert Einflußverlust der EU-Finanzminister”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 25 January 2006, p. 13.
[32] The old idea that equality facilitates unity and therefore must be part of the rationale behind the European integration has already been stated by Walter Hallstein, Der unvollendete Bundesstaat: europäische Erkenntnisse und Erfahrungen, 1969, p. 33.


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