Monday, March 9, 2015

Pandora, Penelope and Sisyphus

So I read Mr. Duff's latest book Pandora, Penelope, Polity: How to Change the European Union in a hope to find a well-reasoned answer to my curious question: "Why the author thinks that federal Europe can be achieved by a treaty change." My findings below might be of sensitive nature to some, but I consider it necessary as writing down what one really thinks is the only way to have a reasonable debate, or actually any debate at all, about federalism among those who like to use that word. The first action in the attempt to unite the federalists should be to agree on the basic terms and definitions, otherwise we will get forever lost in the Babylonian maze of speculations of what the words of others could possibly mean. Reaching that agreement should not be that difficult though, because the definition of a federation is not an open-ended question and the answer to it is not arbitrary. The requisite features of federal systems have been identified and described by several distinguished political scientists in several writings.

Sisyphus (1548–49) by Titian
The book itself does a pretty good job in explaining the complexities of the institutional system of the European Union, including several attempts - past and suggested - to improve it by a treaty change. Unfortunately, the book does not say why we should stick with the system of treaties in the first place and not aim for something better, it only keeps on repeating the mantra that a treaty change is necessary. It simply puts it as a given fact and does not consider, let alone mention other possibilities with successful precedents in the past, like having a classical bottom-up federation founded by the citizens. For a book about the federal future of the European Union, this omission or avoidance must be seen as a major issue.

According to the author, the outcome of the next treaty change should be a democratic federation, composed of states and citizens. But paradoxically this Duffian federation has the form of an international treaty, is founded by the states and operates mostly on the states. States can unilaterally secede from it, so in fact it is not a federation at all and strongly contrasts with the idea of a federal republic created by the people. With all respect, I have no idea why Mr. Duff associates the adjective federal with it. If someone knows better and spots an error on my side, I'd love to be educated by them in this matter. If I may, for the time being, I'd also like to suggest a more fitting adjective that would have raised no eyebrows: confederal.

If one takes an intergovernmental treaty and applies some heavy lifting, streamlining, renaming and tinkering to it, but does not change the confederal substance, he will not arrive at a federation, but at a more integrated intergovernmental treaty. Calling things federal when they aren't does not make them any more federal. It's like if Mr. Duff could not liberate himself in his writing from the confines of what he knows best: the institutional order of the present European Union.

Proponents of this idea are therefore sometimes reminiscent of little industrious creatures that live in a one-dimensional world, honest in their intentions and sincere in their efforts, but nevertheless completely ignorant of the other dimensions. They can move in either direction on the axis also known as the European integration, so they move forward, hoping to find the European political sweetspot in front of them. Interestingly enough, the Eurosceptics are the same kind of creatures, only moving in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, neither of them is able to find the sweetspot, because it is not situated on the axis. In order to reach that point, they need to become aware of the other dimensions and take a bold, discrete step aside. A step towards thinking from the citizens and a real federal organization.