Europe 2050 – a union of European regions

Dinner- Speech anlässlich des Seminars “That´s just not possible” des Club of Florence in Luxemburg am 27. Oktober 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

it is a great joy and honor for me to be a guest in your circle tonight and to present my views on the Europe of today and my expectations for the Europe of tomorrow.

I have been asked to speak about Europe in 2050. This is a great challenge because we talk about a time that is still quite distant. On the other hand, I can easily face this challenge because I am pretty sure you can not hold me to account if I ate false expectations today and do not make my predictions. I will probably not be there at this time.  And if it were otherwise, I would quote the famous saying of the American author Mark Twain: The art of prophecy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future.

Why Europe in 2050 and not Europe in 2030 or Europe in 2040, may you have asked yourself.

The answer is simple:

On 9 May 2050 it will be exactly 100 years since the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, opened a new chapter in the history of Europe with his proposal to combine the coal and steel production of the former enemies under a European umbrella and to subordinate the political responsibility and administration of common European institutions. This suggestion marked a turning point in and for Europe only 5 years after the apocalypse of the Second World War. The 9th of May, 1950, is the birth of the Europe in which we live today. If you would like to know more about this 9th May 1950, the protagonists and the consequences, I recommend the book „9. Mai 1950- Die Geburtsstunde Europas”. I know the author very well.

The European Coal and Steel Community laid the foundations for a European federation. The „Fathers of Europe“, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Jean Monnet are in agreement. Jean Monnet, the real author of the Schuman Plan, is convinced that peace, freedom and prosperity for European peoples are only possible if Europeans form a federation. Even the ancient Greeks who invented the principle of federalism knew the usefulness of this political and social model for common interests and the resolution of conflicts.

The Czech philosopher and politician Tómas Masaryk at the end of the 19th century phrased it simply as: „When the federal system is introduced, there are no wars between the peoples.“

For Jean Monnet it is also clear that Europe should not aim for a coalition of states but a united people. His creed is: Europe must be a union of citizens and not just a community of states. This „Union of Citizens“ became the general principle for European integration and is written down in the Preamble of all European Treaties, beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community and now in the treaty of the European Union. Whether the political decision makers are always consistent with this principle can be doubted. But that’s another topic.

So we are in the Europe of our day, the European Union of 2017. My appraisal will perhaps surprise you now. It has nothing to do with financial issues or the refugee crisis.

The vision of the “Fathers of Europe” is today, in many aspects, the viability of 500 million Europeans.

With the European Union, a political community has emerged that unites 500 million people of different nationalities into a community of equal citizens of the Union.

This is made possible by the fact that the European Union is a legal community. The unity of Europe is founded on the strength of law and not on the law of the strongest!

 Freedom and equality, combined with solidarity, are the spiritual, moral and political pillars on which this community is built.

Freedom requires equality before the law, for equality before law is the only kind of equality that guarantees freedom.

Therefore The European Union is a house of freedom. All of us, regardless of which of the 28 citizenships we hold, are equal as citizens of the Union; we all have the same rights.

The freedom founded with the Union citizenship gives us a unique freedom in our way of life in the world; a world that goes far beyond the borders of the nation state. With the European Union the principals of exclusion and demarcation, on which a national state ist build, has been overcome. That is the revolutionary factor in European integration. No EU citizen is a foreigner within the Union.  The frequently heard word of the „EU foreigner“ is simply nonsense. There is no such thing.

The European Union is a federal community with three levels of policy-making, Union, state, and regional. It fulfills the essential basic principles of federalism. That is why it can be called a federation. It is not relevant that that the European Union is not a state in the traditional sense. It is an international legal personality, and has legal personality.

Europe experts prefer to describe the European Union as a „multi- level governance system”. This may sound more modern, but it means the same thing. The problem is a „multi-level governance system“, is difficult to imagine for the ordinary citizen, whereas he does understand a federation. But maybe one wants it to be so.

Europe, the European Union, is not primarily the politicians and the officials in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. The European Union are 500 million citizens, 28 different states and a multiplicity of regions, cities and communities. All this includes the European Union. Also that means „unity in diversity“.

The result of this „unity in diversity“ is 70 years of peace, freedom and prosperity for the Europeans. There has never occurred in the long history of the continent.

Mission accomplished? No, you cannot really say that. The foundation of the European House of Peace and Freedom has been cracked. Cracks that result from the fact that the majority of people do not identify with this Europe. They are not aware of their Europeanism. Still the intellectual horizon of most remains rather local. As Jaques Delors said: We have not yet managed to give Europe a soul!

So what must be done so that the Europeans on 9 May 2050 with inner conviction say: We are Europe!

What must be done to ensure that Europe is still a place of peace and freedom on 9 May 2050?

“People can only endure supranational organizational units such as the EU, if they emotionally feel at home in their regions.” This sentence does not come from me, but from the political scientist Winfried Böttcher from Aachen. But it could be from me.

Just like this sentence of the German philosopher Friedrich von Schelling: „Europe will become a nation of European peoples, either regionally or federally – or it will be nothing „. As recent as this sentence may sound, it comes from the middle of the 19th century; a time when the European nation was hardly even a seed.

The key concepts for the future of Europe are federal and regional.

„The future of Europe is in the regions“ is the title of a chapter in the book, which is currently being written by the President of the EU Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, and myself.

Why is Europe’s future in the regions?

To answer this, you only have to consider recent events. In Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and many other parts of the European Union, the political order of the nation states, which has prevailed since the nineteenth century, has been experiencing a twilight. This cannot be surprising. The nation state was never a natural order. It is a human invention. In the emergence of a nation state, the welfare of the people has rarely been the focus. Not infrequently, the states were the result of armed conflicts or political upheavals. Nation states were never a constant in Europe, either geographically or politically.

It is also a myth that the nation state represents a natural symbiosis of the political institutional state and a nation, understood as a collective of people with common language and cultural traditions. Most states are „multinational“, which is a major potential for conflict. I live in Belgium and know what I’m talking about.

And last but not least: the nation state is also not the answer to the political, economic, or social challenges of the 21st century. The British will recognize this very quickly after Brexit.

In short, the classical nation state is an end-of-life model in the political order of Europe.

The situation is quite different with the regions. They already existed when there were no nation states in Europe. We are now ignoring the regions that have recently been conceived in some Eastern European countries in order to reach European funding programs. Regions were shaped by geography and their history. Throughout the centuries, languages ​​and cultural traditions have evolved. Europe’s diversity is demonstrated by its regions.

This leaves its marks on the people who live there. The region is the place where man can find and preserve his cultural orientation and identity. The regional identity creates the feeling of community participation and belonging. In times of globalization man is always looking for clarity. This is not the nation state, nor is it Europe. The region is a different reference framework than the nation state.

This is the breeding ground for regionalism, which we are increasingly observing in Europe. This efforts  of the regions for more autonomy, for more political self-management is the expression of a civil society organizing itself. This suggests that the state is no longer able to provide satisfactory solutions to their challenges.

An interesting aspect is: this regionalism is expressed in most cases in a pro-European and not a nationalist way. Look at Catalonia and Scotland. In both cases, they want to gain independence from the nation state, but remain in the European Union.

These autonomous efforts must not necessarily result in a secession of the region, as is to be feared in the case of Catalonia. Regionalism and separatism are not necessarily two sides of a coin. Regionalism and federalism, on the other hand, are. The effort of regional autonomy leads to conflicts between the centre and the region. In order to defuse these conflicts, but also to ensure the cohesion of the state, the transformation of a central state into a federal state is a good thing. As I said, I live in Belgium. Belgium is an excellent example of how the transformation of a central state into a federal state can prevent the break-up.

One thing the supporters of the centralist state system should not have any illusions about: the trend towards regionalization and thus also the federalization of the state is irreversible. In fact, this trend will increase in the future. The European Union also contributes to this. The EU has created a common legal and policy environment that provides a reference framework for the people that not only replaces, but actually expands on, what has been offered by the central state. This promotes regionalism.

And this brings us to the relationship between the EU and the region. It is an interchange.

The consequence of regionalism is not just a federalization of the central state. Within the political community of the European Union, the regions emerge from the shadows of the nation states and become themselves a political actor. This is not a new phenomenon. The establishment of the Committee of the Regions of the EU testifies to the importance of the regions. Above all, the constitutional anchoring of the subsidiarity principle in the EU Treaty shows that the regional level is a fixed factor in the federal construct of the EU.

Europe is in the regions. Here people are experiencing Europe every day. This is where the fate of the European Union is decided. But, only when the local people understand Europe as a union of citizens does this Europe have a chance to reach 2050.

However, the people will only understand and accept Europe as „their“ Europe if the regional level is not just a subordinate and a spectator in the preparation and implementation of European policy. For this reason, the regional level needs to be integrated into the political decision-making process at the European level in the future. Only when people feel that their concerns are heard at a European level and are involved in the decision-making process does European policy-making have prospects for success and acceptance.

The following are necessary for the political community of the European Union:

1. The Member States must agree on whether they want to create a community, that is, to develop the European Union into a truly coherent, federally structured European community. There we are, by the way, with the keyword „Europe of two speeds“. Of course it can be helpful if you move at different speeds. But one has to agree on the common goal. And this common goal is not yet agreed in the capitals of Europe.

2. If the first condition is met, the European, national and regional levels must be reconciled. That means, the power structure must be adjusted anew.

In the current form, I have described the nation-state as a fading model. However, I do not believe that it can be completely dispensed with. It makes no sense to divide the tasks between the regions and the European level alone. To this extent, the state level will have a sort of stapling function in the future.

In either case, the states, as well as the regions, must be an integral part of a common model. The goals and functions of the resulting community must be transparent and comprehensible to the common people. Whatever you call it in the end, the European Union, the European Republic, or something different, will not really matter. One thing is certain: the “United States of Europe” it is not.

I think it should be left with the name „European Union“. No one has invented anything better.

One more remark: The task of our generation is now to develop a new vision for Europe. Otherwise, we leave a generation without a perspective. Otherwise a Europe 2050 will not exist for our children and grandchildren!

Thank you for your attention!