Welcome to our second-ever book of the month! Each month, we put forward a book for our Book Club, collecting your questions and comments and taking them to the author for their response. In May, it is the turn of Professor Ulrike Guérot and her book “Why Europe Must Become a Republic“.
Ulrike Guérot is the founder of the European Democracy Lab, and we asked you to send us in questions for her back in March. The central thesis of her book is that “reform” and tinkering around the edges of the EU is no longer sufficient. Instead, she believes we need a fresh start with a new, more democratic blueprint.
The new “European republic” would comprise of:
- Civil equality before the law
- Political equality in the form of universal suffrage
- Shared mechanisms to promote the common good
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Klaus, who is convinced of the benefits of European federalism, because he thinks individual European nationstates cannot stand alone against “global players” such as the US and Russia. Would Ulrike Guérot agree? Is this also part of the motivation for writing her book?
I deliberately chose the term ‘republic’ because it carries very different connotations than ‘federation’. For 70 years we have been discussing European integration through the lens of federalism, even though the word ‘federation’ has different meanings in different European languages. In France, for example, we mean ‘centralisation’, in Germany, on the other hand, we mean the federation [of government] downwards, in terms of countries and municipalities, etc.
At heart, it’s probably the same concept, but according to my way of thinking we’re talking about a republic. I mean that in the sense of the ‘res publica’ and the common good, with the citizens as sovereign within the political system. This is certainly a different motivation than starting a federation of nation-states because one feels they are too small to compete on the world stage. Because the concept of the republic is aimed at the citizen. As Jean Monnet once said: ‘Europe does not mean to integrate states, but to unite citizens’.
Next up, we had a comment from @Me2birdie sent to us via Twitter, asking what happens if the majority of Hungarians or Danes simply do not want to be part of a European Republic. Will these countries be thrown out of the EU?
Thank you for this crucial question! The classic question of political science is always who decides on political questions? That is not clear in the European Union today. In Max Weber’s terms, the EU’s political system lacks the legitimate monopoly of force. In the example of Hungary, we see when it comes to the refugee question that we are, in fact, unable to implement our own case law. No one will push the 963 refugees Hungary is required to take across the border in a bus. Who can decide these things: the EU or the nation state?
Neither of them! In the end, neither the EU nor the nation state can decide, only the sovereign citizens can make this kind of political decision. Following this line of thinking, it is no longer about ‘the Hungarians’, but about all of us as 510 million European citizens, who together decide whether we want a European democracy (republic) based on the general political principle of equality. Then together we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the EU.
Finally, we had a comment from Robin, who wanted to know whether the idea of a European Republic is really a realistic prospect. Are we getting closer to achieving it, or is the idea further away than ever?
Things have changed a lot in the last two years. I do not think we are in a process of ‘re-nationalisation’. Rather, we are in a process of splitting nations and citizens into pro-European and counter-European camps. We see this with Brexit in Britain, where half of the population voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum, the other half ‘Remain’ . Incidentally, we also have a divided France, something which became clear in the  presidential elections between Macron and Le Pen; and we also see it in Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, and virtually everywhere. Half of the population wants to be with the EU, the others do not. This also means that “the British” or “the French” no longer exist in the sense of a demos. Citizens’ political position on Europe is becoming increasingly more important than their national background. That is something that has changed!
As Stefan Zweig would have argued: we cannot understand the historical epoch we live in, because the final outcome of our era is still open. We know very clearly today that the Weimar epoch was 1918-1933. Today, however, we only know that everything started with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992; when or how this epoch ends, we do not know yet. Nations are divided over the European question. I think it’s really taken off … maybe it’s because of my own bubble of perception, but there has never been so much discussion about Europe. Never before has there been so much civil society engagement … [Look at] Debating Europe! We are talking about Europe with the help of the latest technology!
People are really talking and asking questions about Europe, and that has changed, even if we do not always have the answers. Incidentally, that also means the ‘opposite side’ [e.g. nationalism, euroscepticism] is also being discussed more, and there is disagreement, and that is good. Because we argue and disagree, but it has little to do with your nationality. Your political position is more and more determined by your age or place of residence. I think these new discourses coming from young people are great! It is more and more about European democracy, rather than European integration. That’s a good paradigm shift. We have to win this discussion, which certainly will not be a cakewalk, but we can all do our part!
Would you like the EU to become a ‘European Republic’? Should citizens, rather than nationstates, be the political foundation of the EU? Is this a realistic prospect, or just a pipedream? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!