How happy are you with the EU? Do you think you are democratically represented through the institutional set-up consisting of the European Parliament, the Commission and Council of Europe represents? Professor Ulrike Guérot, influential publicist and political scientist from Germany, does not think so. It is hard for those critical of the EU to not be lumped together with its most vocal sceptics of today: the rightist populists. Professor Guérot also stresses this repeatedly. She does not align herself with Eurosceptics per se, although she lances hefty attacks against the Union’s structure. Instead, it seemed to me listening to her Studium Generale talk on March 13, that a there is a deep, profound urgency she feels for an integrated Europe – and for integration beyond any current levels, too!
In her influential book ‘Why Europe Must Become a Republic’ (‘Red Europa’ in the Dutch translation), she details her ambitious, almost utopian plan for Europe’s future. According to her, where most of the EU’s problems stem from, is a democratic deficit the citizens’ representation suffers from. How come that labour, goods, capital and transport are equal before European Law – but people are not? How come European citizens of all EU members vote for a European Parliament, but for one that does not determine a proper government, entails, therefore, no opposition and, in practice, would not even dismiss the Commission? Why isn’t the President of the Commission, the epicentre of the EU executive, directly elected by the people? Why is it that we do not hold the EU to the same democratic standards of the separation of powers that we apply to national states? + Professor Guérot’s argument is mainly a legal one. She calls for European citizenship, where Poles, Spaniards, Luxembourgers, Lithuanians and Germans are equal before EU law and thus have the same political weight in elections. Ideally, all Europeans would elect a proper European Parliament, which checks a directly-elected European President, and which is backed up by a European Lower Chamber. This is nothing else than an ancient, tried-and-tested political idea as old as ancient Greece: a republic. In a republic, all sovereignty rests within the people and it is their choice who to give part of their individual sovereignty to. The Enlightenment thinkers polished this idea and Montesquieu came up with the idea of separation of powers. All European democracies adhere to this formula. Guérot argues that an institution as powerful as the EU should, too. Afterall, the Commission’s or Council’s decisions profoundly affect the citizens’ lives.
Now, her model of a European Lower Chamber is where her ideas become the most utopian. Professor Guérot proposes a federal model that does not consist of today’s nation-states, but instead of regions, each consisting of approximately eight to ten billion people. So imagine, if thus Bavaria, Catalonia, Bretagne and Tuscany were the units of the European project – not Germany, Spain, France and Italy. All in all, the model of economic integration that the EU has pursued has been a regionalist approach. Guérot cites studies that show that citizens feel the most democratically-legitimately represented in communities of such size. Therefore, she argues, a true European Union must move beyond nationalities and embrace a true regionalism. In her eyes, this is also truer to the Union’s motto “Unity in Diversity”. The Union in its current form favours those with a larger population and economic weight, so mainly Macron and Merkel. A federacy based on more or less equally big regions would disperse representation fairly. When I listened to Guérot’s talk, I was surprised by how strongly she condemned the European Union’s system to the point of hostility. She argued that the Union is too complex, too opaque and too immobile for effective reform. Even Macron and Merkel were not able to redefine and indeed save the EU, in her eyes. This was probably a bit of a publicity move for her thesis. Professor Guérot had in her earlier career worked very tightly within the Union as an insider. Her hefty critique now probably serves to sway opinions of those who are unapologetically anti-EU. Nevertheless, she articulated her ideas for reform and solutions on the democratic deficits in an irritatingly clear and sound argument, leaving little room for doubt that she polished her thesis to be completely water-proof. One can disagree with leaving behind the nation-state as a political concept. But few could argue that Guérot’s argument is naïve or ignorant of some of the EU’s features and attributes. It is precisely the author’s background and unquestionable expertise that makes her idea of a European Republic so attractive.
If this short blog post made you curious, check out this link: https://europeandemocracylab.org/en/#visions.