Pro-European, but Anti-Federalist

by Elias Blum

One of the unfortunate things about the EU referendum debate is that it’s hard to carve out a position that is pro-European and yet anti-Federalist: an internationalist position that wants continued Europe-wide co-operation, peace, trade and friendship, but also a democratic position that wants accessible, responsible, democratically accountable government, on a human scale.

The EU has done much good. The advantages of co-operation are many. The individual nation-states as they currently exist seem too small to do without it. They cannot hope to be self-contained or self-sufficient, and so are forced into sharing powers and having open borders if they are to thrive. Unlike Euro-Sceptics, I don’t want to retreat into a closed, backward looking Britain-vs-The Rest enclave that looks accusingly across the channel with disdain at ‘those garlic munching foreigners’, who are simultaneously ‘stealing our jobs’ while ‘sitting around on benefits’.

But unlike Euro-Federalists, I don’t want an EU superstate blindly marching towards ‘ever closer Union’ in every area of life. Sometimes I wonder if ‘Europe’ – the 28 member EU – is too big, too diverse, too divided, too disparate, to ever function as one coherent bloc. How can democracy work, how can sensible and viable policies ever be constructed, how can resources be pooled and managed, across such a wide expanse of territory, history and culture? It seems to me an impossible and pointless task.

I don’t see leaving the EU as a viable option. I fear it would send the UK on a regressive and inward-looking course, and would serve only to weaken the various worker and consumer protections that exist in EU law.

But I do think that the EU needs fundamental restructuring, and the the aim of this restructuring should be to devolve power downwards, so that EU-wide institutions do less.

My idea is that the EU-wide institutions should exist only to ensure the peace and security of the European territory, and to encourage trade (with due protection for labour standards, health and safety etc), and to facilitate voluntary co-operation. Maybe the EU-level would be more like the Council of Europe, mixed with a sort of Euro-NATO. I don’t see a need for a European Parliament or a European Commission. A six-monthly meeting of Heads of Government, a Council of Permanent Representatives and a small Secretariate should do it. One working language (English).

The other powers of the EU would not be returned to nation-states, but would instead be devolved down to ‘sub-EU’ institutions. These would be based on blocs of neighbouring countries that are culturally and historically more similar, that have more values and interests in common, and are at broadly similar levels of economic development.

I propose six such blocs:

1. Holy Roman Empire Bloc: Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria;

2. Visegrad Bloc: Poland, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Baltic States;

3. Nordic Bloc: Denmark, Sweden, Finland (and I bet Norway and Iceland would join);

4. Insular Bloc: Ireland, England-Wales-Northern Ireland, Scotland;

5. Latin Bloc: France, Spain, Catalonia, Italy, Portugal, Malta;

6. Orthodox Bloc: Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus.

Each of these blocs would have its own Commission, Council of Ministers, Parliament etc. They would share powers over a range of policy areas, like the EU does. They might have their own common currencies, mini-schengens, etc.

This would offer a lot of the advantages of the EU, but without the massive democratic deficits, the tower of babel, and the horrible thought that the EU syphons money from poor people in rich countries (as taxes) to give to rich people in poor countries (as pork).

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