February 20, 2015
Federalism has become such a dirty word in EU politics, and federalists are accused of so many evils that some EU’s federalists are now hiding in the closet and will not freely admit their affiliation. The nationalists view the Federalists as the bad boys of EU politics who are trying to turn the EU into a United States of Europe while the federalists view the nationalists as a hindrance to the European project.
Federalists believe that deepening European integration is the direction to build the EU, which best benefits the citizens of Europe and gives Europe as a whole a strong voice on the world stage. The federalists are the builders of a federal united Europe and the nationalists want to tear the building down to a loose confederation. Nationalists want economic union but no coordination of any other policies.
Federalists are the mud of choice for certain experts who accuse them of being sinister, dark, faceless bureaucrats who are attempting to build a United States of Europe in violation of the citizen, democracy and the sovereignty of the nation state. They have even become fodder for conspiracy theorists. Federalists do want to build a United States of Europe because they believe that only in unity will Europe have prosperity and protection from the world’s ills. Contrary to being accused of being non-democratic, federalists want to ensure their union is democratic and for the citizen. Part of the problem is that many have failed to recognize that “democratic” just like “federalism” has come to encompass a varied interpretation in the political vernacular.
While the nationalists have their national pride, and proudly defend their nation, federalists as Andrew Duff alluded hide in the closet. Federalism is such a negative word in EU politics that leading federalists deny being federalists.
Since Federalism is both misunderstood and reviled I thought it a good idea to question the EU’s leading federalist Andrew Duff, who has come out of the closet and agreed to discuss some of these issues. Andrew Duff was director of the Federal Trust, the EU’s leading think-tank and he was president of the Union of European Federalists. If that is all not federalist enough, he helped found the Spinelli group to help ensure that the EU progress along federal lines. Hold on to your seats for what is coming next because it gets even better. Andrew Duff is the EU’s constitution specialist who helped draft several EU treaties and oversaw the drafting of the Fundamental Law to revise the Lisbon treaty. He is the EU’s James Madison and one of the chief architects of a United States of Europe. Andrew Duff is not only a federalist out of the closet, he is leader of the pack.
European federalism is misunderstood in Europe, virtually unheard of in the United States and yet federalism is the ideology that drives the European Union and many EU federalists have held and hold leading positions in the EU institutions. Why do you think that with such a sophisticated and educated group of adherents to the ideology, which includes journalists, is European federalism misunderstood within the EU nations and virtually unheard of around the world?
It’s an extremely good question and I ask myself that a lot. I think that it’s not quite fair to say that federalism has disappeared. It is there inside the atmosphere still and the British even who seem to be especially opposed to the federal idea in the EU context are responsible for promoting it in the empire: in the British Empire. After all, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Italy, India, Nigeria, are all federations and all of these bases were a gifted federalism at the end of empire, but the Brits have not ever embraced it- either internally in the UK- and as a result of that the UK is experiencing huge tensions between the component nations. [This is] despite the fact that the Brits and the Americans were responsible for imposing a federal constitution on Germany after the war.
The Brits have not ever thought of themselves as European federalists, that’s a pity. But, I still think that the logic of the EU, if you go right back to the end of the war, is as you say federalist and what we have to do is to return to the spirit and the logic of the founding fathers of the EU. I think that can be done, but it needs clear thinking and courageous leadership and unfortunately we haven’t an awful lot of all of those things.
Can you provide a one sentence definition of European Federalism?
It is about coordinate government at different levels addressing the issues of different scales of complexity, but coordinate with each other so that the center is not supreme. It’s not going to impose itself upon the provincial state levels.
I think that is misunderstood, and I thinks it’s misunderstood even in Brussels at present because at present we’re in a semi-federal pre-federal construct. The Commission is obliged to try to coordinate national policy to centralize the coordination of national policies. But, I do not think that is federal. That’s not a truly federal solution. In order for there to be one, one has to have something that approximates to a federal government. It is that we haven’t got.
Historically I think we are in a limbo, trapped in a limbo between a confederal system of governance, which we know isn’t working very well on the one hand, and a federal union between prefigured, we’ve sort of kind of seen it through the cloud, but we haven’t got the courage to progress towards it.
While others shy away and have retreated from being labeled a federalist you are smiling in a photo with a sign above you that reads, “I am a federalist,” and you look rather content in the photo. If you were in Juncker’s and Guys Verhofstadt’s shoes at the time of the elections, and running for the Commission presidency would you too have avoided being labeled a federalist or denied being one?
No, absolutely not I’ve always been prepared to come out of the closet, and indeed of course as you know I lost my seat in the last elections, and part of the reason that I lost is because I’m an outed federalist.
The nationalist and populist parties that gained in the EU elections have noted the “arch federalists” and speak of federalists as the villains in EU politics. The Bruges group alleges that Federalists are sinister as they build the EU federation into a United States of Europe. How does it feel to be cast as a sinister political villain, and see your peers avoid being labeled as federalist and deny their affiliation?
Well I think it would be sinister if there were a plot, a conspiracy to do this. But, I don’t see that, or at least if there is a conspiracy to create a federal super state in Europe then I would probably be a part of it. I would probably been told, but there isn’t. It is important that we are transparent in what we do, that we’re very democratic, that we are prepared to face up to comment, criticism, and to take on the nationalists. I think if you counter poise the nationalists and the federalists you can see more clearly the political dynamics, which move the EU, than if you only have a look into terms of left and right or poor and rich or south and north or east and west. There is lots of other ways to looking at the EU in order of its complexity. But, a key dynamic is federalist and nationalist and I’m quite happy to argue that case.
You became director of the Federal Trust in 1993, when you were about 43 years old. At the age of 32 in 1982 you were elected to the City Council in Cambridge and at the age of 34 you made your first attempt to get elected to the EU Parliament, which at the time was only a forum for debate and a consultative body. In that year Alterio Spinelli was still serving as an MEP and the Single European Act had not yet been decided. Gaston Thorn was Commission President and the single market white paper of 1985 had also not been launched. The European Community comprised of only 10 members and was still in its infancy. What started your interest in European federalism and in the European Community in those early years?
Well it’s a long time ago, but I think I started to – in fact I’m certain that I started to- be interested even before then. I think I was anxious to be a member of the European Parliament even before it had been created.
My experience as a student in 1968, I was 17 in 1968, and was just on the way from school to Cambridge. But, I spent a lot of it time in Paris at that time as well and so I had first-hand experience of the sense that things were changing fast and that politics of the post war generation were under pressure and that the dynamics were moving. It was a very turbulent time. It was a very exciting time and clearly the experience of the students in Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Amsterdam, I remember was a very post national experience. We were sharing each other’s demonstrations, manifestos, the discourse between students was very European, and I found that experience very enriching…if it could be continued, built on, that was a good thing to try to do. It wasn’t far from that to start the federal experiment or to join in the federal campaign that had always been there. I met Monet and Spinelli and that was also a great inspiration.
I read where you previously stated, “I have always wanted to be in the European Parliament, I think even before the Parliament was first thought of.” …Can we expect to see you running in the next MEP election?
I would like Parliament to carry on in the place that I left off, was forced to leave off, to try to create for a certain number of MEP’s a pan European constituency, which would elect some of them from transnational political party lists. The idea of this was approved in the Parliament in a fairly ambiguous way, but I think it’s the key to growing strong federal parties to compete with national political parties, which in the past have had sort of a monopoly on the campaigns: a grip on the election campaigns of the European Parliament. It means that those campaigns have been very national and completely isolated from one another.
I would like to think that my idea of trans-national lists for a pan European seat will in the end win through. If that happens I will certainly seek to put up for the European Parliament again, but for a national political party, no I think I’ve tried that.
You have spoken of your mission, you are obviously a man with a life mission, can you in your own words tell us your mission and why it is so important to you?
We need to create a Europe, which can punch its weight in global affairs in the interests of our values and principles that we want to project elsewhere. I would like a Europe that will be able to square up to the great challenges that we now face in climate, security, prosperity; things whose scale and complexity have transcended the scale of the nation state.
We have out grown the old classical state. We need to create an intergraded regional community that can improve upon the performance of the nation state and will provide the public with goods that it deserves and hear and respond to the anxieties and the aspirations of the citizen in a way that the old states cannot anymore.
If we’re going to do this it’s critical that the form of a government that we create at this level is federal. If it is not it will be centralized, it will be prone to presidencies– Germany becoming in charge of the EU. It has to be fundamentally and profoundly very democratic and the only way it could be that is if it’s federal.
This is the first interview in a series. The next titled, “The [EU] Constitution Belongs To The People: Interview With Andrew Duff, will deal with The Fundamental Law treaty itself and reveal glimpse of what the EU will look like moving forward as well as take you inside the mind of the man who orchestrated the writing of it.
Author : Erika Grey