More Europe… or less? The current Eurozone crisis has observers worrying that Europe either needs deeper political and fiscal integration, or the single currency (and possibly European integration itself) will have to be abandoned altogether. Can Europe keep muddling through with the status quo intact? On Twitter, James Tinman is hopeful that some sort of deeper fiscal integration is on its way.
But what does “deeper fiscal integration” actually mean? Are we headed for a United States of Europe with an elected president? EU blogger Craig Wiley seems to think it’s possible (at least, the part about an EU president). He quotes Michel Barnier, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, as arguing that the positions of President of the European Council (currently held by Herman Van Rompuy) and President of the European Commission (currently held by José Manuel Barroso) should be merged into a single office, to be directly elected by the people of Europe. Craig fully supports such a move.
Others are more sceptical, including one of the current holders of a post Craig thinks ought to be merged. Council President Herman Van Rompuy, as part of his Ask the President initiative, is quick to argue that Europe is nothing like the United States.
A few, however, are much more enthusiastic. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal grouping within the European Parliament, is an unabashed champion of a United Status of Europe (he has even published a book bearing the title). Isn’t it strange for a liberal to be arguing for a U.S.E? Don’t liberals believe in more freedom for the individual and smaller government? A United States of Europe would naturally be a socialist project, surely? Indeed, socialists such as George Orwell were historically enthusiastic in their support for a United States of Europe.
Debating Europe spoke to Herman De Croo, a former Belgian minister and member of the same Flemish liberal party as Guy Verhofstadt. We asked him about the “United States of Europe”, his thoughts on an elected EU president and whether supranational government conflicted with liberalism as an ideology.
De Croo’s answers are well worth listening to. He argues that the United States is culturally and linguistically a very diverse place, stressing that any further political integration in Europe should learn the lessons of the United States and not seek to “kill the little places” (i.e. stamp out a sense of identity and history). Having said that, De Croo seems to be more in favour of strengthening and legitimising the European Parliament than creating a new presidential system.
What you need is a strong European parliament, elected, which has a democratic justification, [so] people can call upon the attitudes taken by parties, by groups, by personalities. Do you need an elected President [to] exercise so-called executive power? I’m not sure. It could be a kind of Swiss system, where the Swiss government is composed by all the parties [in] a kind of proportional situation, with the head of state moving each year.
However, De Croo is also unambiguous that we need a United States of Europe to confront the issues of the 21st Century. Without further integration, he believes Europe will be “little liliputians, disputing amongst ourselves” as global financial markets and emerging superpowers dictate the course of events. He also argues that Western liberalism as an ideology risks becoming less attractive to developing countries unless Europe and the US can start setting a better example. Countries in Africa and Latin America might start to “prefer the Chinese path, and not the European path”.
Of course, there are many other competing visions for Europe. Mr De Croo and Mr Verhofstadt espouse a liberal vision of a United States of Europe, but there are also socialist and conservative visions of Europe’s future – either with or without deeper European integration. We hope to speak to more political representatives over the coming months and find out what they think.