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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Is Europe heading for a super-state?
Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has put forward plans for a radical shake-up of the European Union, including the formation of a European government.
Mr Schroeder's ideas were set out in a draft policy document for a meeting of Germany's governing Social Democratic Party.
The draft suggests turning the European Commission into a European government.
The German press has welcomed the initiative, but in Britain the opposition Conservative Party has called the proposals "damaging" and the Liberal Democrats say they go "too far".
The International Herald Tribune says that in the eyes of some, the proposals lay the foundations for "an eventual United States of Europe."
Do you think such plans would be a step too far? Are we heading for a super-state? Should Europe ever be run by one central government?
To discuss whether this blueprint is a feasible one for the European Union, Mark Reid brought together French academic Jacques Reland of Guildhall University and German constitutional expert Klaus Goetz of the London School of Economics.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It's a good idea and it makes me sad and angry to see how the UK tries to block and damage Schröeder's plan.
Why are you always against German suggestions? Are you doing that as a matter of principle???
This whole debate is riddled with daft contradictions. Schroeder proposes a European government modelled on the German constitution, which in turn was inspired by the British after the last war, to avoid Germany ever becoming an over-centralised 'super-state'. It has worked rather well. Let's have Germany's decentralisation and separation of powers, by all means. But let's also ditch the Commission and Council of Ministers, with their secretive, incestuous bureaucracy. No European government will be credible until it is formed by two elected houses. Then it would have some authority!
Peter Devenish, UK
I agree with Simon Williams, I am 18 and the coming election will be my first chance to vote.
Nearly everyone I know of my own age is far more anti EU than their parents.
It shouldn't really be surprising. The EU is a 50's idea from a time when people thought big government was good for us.
Now is a time when government should be getting smaller and less intrusive. Of course there are those old fashioned pensioners who don't believe this, but "the next generation" which Europhiles always claim to be on their side is very definitely not!
Of course we need a strong central European government. Who else would employ our failed and faded politicians when their UK tenure is ended? Only the EU gravy train.
If one looks at history in the last 2000 years, the UK has always been involved in European politics. The cloth of gold, the wars with France. Where did these Saxons, Celts, Jutes come from originally? Europeans should stop arguing with each other, co-operate and produce a single country where each state has power.
As for losing our sovereignty, what does that mean? I currently have 1 vote in 50 or so million, hardly much of a say. What will happen with a larger superstate is a devolution of power and democracy down to regional, even local level, providing everyone with a much more significant say over their future. Let's push for a more participatory local democracy!
We should not be so frightened of change. The world is very different to 50, even 20 years ago, and we should be flexible and adaptable if we are to secure a good place for Britain in the future.
William O'Herlihy, Ireland
Can we have a European super state as soon as possible, please? Having lived and worked in three other EU countries (and travelled extensively in the others), the quality of life is so much better there. I don't care what the currency is, so long as I've got enough of it. Get a life - let's be more European! As long as I can still speak my own language (Welsh), fine.
A United States of Europe would lead to civil war. You only have to look at the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia etc and see the amount of violence and innocent deaths caused by people wanting to break away from "unions" they never asked for.
At the end of the day you can call us what you want but I don't think you will find many Englishmen boasting about how proud they are to be European. If we will all be better off because of it, then how can we not join? We will never lose our identity if we don't want to. How can we think that this can last when we can't even hold together the union with Wales and Scotland?
This is just a proposal to make the decision making process in the EU more democratic and more similar to the way governments work around Europe, with a parliamentary democratic system - nothing more, nothing less. The British tabloids will probably distort this into being some nazi-German communist plot to take over Britain, as they always do...
Tridiv Borah, Germany/India
I don't understand what all the fuss is about. A few decades from now we'll probably be discussing the issue of a World Government...based in Washington.
Superstate is the fate of Europe. The only thing that hinders it is the British hangover of its imperial rule.
We don't speak even the same language. Schröder's ambitious goal is NOT to unite Europe but to go down in history as "The Chancellor who made Europe possible". I personally believe that a "Federal Government EU" would complicate matters too much. An economic union - yes; a governmental union - it's not yet time.
Ian Mc, Scotland
I think myself that the EU needs to be utilitised and revitalised as a force for democracy and regional government if it is to win popular support: this is where it lags behind at the moment. We've already built a considerable, fairly efficient bureaucracy with a respectable economic record, now we need some sort of democratically controlled and responsible body at its head - giving as much free choice as possible to the individual elements of the federation, both regions and "nations" - to keep it in check.
We need to federalise the so-called UK of Great Britain first, giving more powers to the four constituent parts of the UK. It was the powerful German states (the Landers) who pushed Schroeder to express their concerns and their wish to see the Federal Union. It is time for England to wake up and start to federalise the "English" Union into the proper British Union then within the European Union. We have to be radical and change Europe for a better and united place to live in.
S. Rushton, London, UK
I think it would be FANTASTIC. I love the idea of a strong European superstate. It's a situation that used to exist during the Holy Roman Empire. It's about time a United States of Europe existed again.
I think the idea of a European government goes too far. We have different societies and different cultures in Europe. We cannot mix up all the different identities into one state; all the European nations are historically grown.
I couldn't imagine it happening! How do you expect to unite Europe if you can't even unite Ireland and the rest of Britain? They've both have the same cultures and language don't they?
As an American who chooses self-determination over subjugation, I find it very interesting how many Britons seem so willing to abdicate their rich heritage, sovereignty and personal freedoms to a centralised European government power. Do you really prefer a Socialist European conglomerate to an England governed by your own citizens? If so, then I'm disappointed.
Our identity is not threatened. We are not British or German or Scottish or Bavarian etc. because of laws or the national political systems. It comes from the situation and the ways under which we are raised. Why are so many people in Europe so uncertain about their identities?
A federal Europe is not a matter of identity but of democracy, efficient decision making and common interest. The current situation of the EU, which is correctly described as undemocratic and bureaucratic results from the fact, that the national states still play the key role in decision making. Lets go beyond the national states in European decision making and create a federal system.
Whilst I would not vote for this super state (given the opportunity!) I do think that British people should try and let Brussels run things for say four years, an election term, they can't do much worse than our own politician. Both Labour, and the Tories have consistently lied throughout their terms. Give something else a try, if it don't work, try something else!
There is no doubt that Europe is leading into a super state in this age of globalisation and the bigger the better. As usual there are always people who resisted changes throughout history. Such people have always been the losers, as change is a law of life. The UK should therefore embrace the bandwagon sooner than later. I am certain that the euro will overtake the US dollar very soon.
The whole project's doomed. Britain is barely governable with its competing interests so what chance a polyglot collection of reluctant nations being led by the nose by the interests of large multinationals? The one thing that unnerves me is the company I find myself agreeing with.
The question asks whether Europe is heading towards being a superstate. The answer is obviously "yes". The trouble is that history from Roman times to the Soviet Union demonstrates that federations do not have a long-term future.
There will be a United States of Europe, but not this century. With different short-term (national) interests, we cannot expect a
successful implementation of the U.S.E. The expansion of the EC to the east will lead to a Europe with different speeds. The part of Europe that succeeds in developing a coherent government first, will eventually push Europe into the U.S.E. Until then we will have to ask the U.S.A. to solve the problems we cannot handle...
I suppose then, with one European superstate, that we'll no longer have the six nations and European cup. We'll end up with a European team in both football and rugby. That'll be fun! I want to watch a team from where I was born and brought up, not a team with people from totally different cultural backgrounds who have absolutely no interest in the country from where I was born. I don't understand why people are so obsessed with a European superstate. Has everyone lost their sense of identity?
Allan, Warks, UK
I'm only 27 and a United Europe won't ever happen in my lifetime. The EU consists of many distinct cultures, languages and histories. World War 2 relatively speaking wasn't that long ago, in which tens of millions of Europeans were killed by other Europeans. Everyone may be friendly now but what happens when a new conflict emerges in Europe coupled with a downturn in the economy? The US started out as one country and has a common history and culture. The one exception is Texas, which was an independent nation when it joined the union. It still has its own culture but it's also an integral part of the US, economically and culturally.
There's a lovely story in the Bible about the Tower of Babel....
The answer to the question of whether there should be a European Government depends on what its powers would be, how much it would cost, how much sovereignty it would take from the federal nations who would then effectively be subservient to it, and finally whether it is feasible to centralise the amount of power it will have. Until a proposed constitution is drafted it is impossible to say.
This is an issue that people jump into on either side of the argument with "yes" "no" answers. Why does no one ever take the time to ask exactly what problem it is that we are trying to solve. Free trade among EU members already exists, and so does free movement of citizens. There is already close multilateral co-operation, and the idea of any kind of warfare among EU members has long been unthinkable.
So what exactly would
a European government
It would give the
politicians a bigger
stage to strut on,
and we see already
institutions tend to
be aloof, arrogant,
The CAP alone has
as well as doing a
lot of damage to
And this mess costs
Britain over five
BILLION a year.
What real benefits
could a European
government offer to
offset all these
And why does anyone
imagine that a European
government would not
have exactly the
same defects that EU
It's very hard to
argue that having a
will "fix" anything,
since if it could,
why can't the EU just
fix their internal
A European government,
why? What for?
I would love a super government, a super British government that would listen to what they are told. Maybe even let us have a voice, a referendum on the Euro and on Europe. We voted to join the great EEC party, sadly the party has become a nightmare so it must be time to find our coats and leave. We wish the Europeans well, but we have spent far too much on an area of the world we have never had much success with and this is a big planet.
The money in my pocket will be the same as
if it were in euros. The Queen's head will be
replaced by something else, but I can still
buy my food with it. The passport in my
pocket says I am a British Citizen. It would
make no difference to me if it were to state
European Citizen instead. I'll still be able to travel.
On the world stage, the Centre Right policies
of the U.S.A. must be balanced by another power.
I believe that Europe as a single Centre Left state could amount
to a great nation, that could accomplish a great deal
in a future where solidarity through unity and respect for
each other will be a tenet of survival.
Whatever happened to a common market, a Union of peoples and cultures, whilst maintaining a national identity for your own country. Surely what the EU should be doing is bringing people closer together while ensuring the continuation of their own diversities. Making everything the same - the same government, the same laws, the same defence, the same currency should not be the EU's aim, and it is certainly not what British people wanted when we joined, or indeed what we want now.
As an American cultural student, I find it amusing to see how many in the UK seems to thinks that the US has "a single, binding culture and language". What they do have as a "glue" is the flag, the Declaration of Independence etc, symbols that works as a common culture.
America is a union of fifty states, all proud of having their "own" culture etc. Plus, you have the African-American culture, the Latin culture etc. And when we speak of the US, we speak of it as a state, but when we speak of the future EU as a state, we tend to use the word "super". Why is that? Isn't the US more vast (geographically) than the EU can hope to be? What we should do is to look at other federal states, like Switzerland, where for example, each canton decides their own budget.
Since I've lived in North America I've made friends who come from Europe, and we have a lot more in common than people think. I don't feel that different cultures will be that compromised, after all, drinking Budweiser and eating hamburgers over there is hardly traditional is it? This may be the only way to actually protect our culture. Its a natural evolution, much like Mercia joining Northumbria or Scotland joining England. It is an adventure, embrace it! Shroeder has it right, the rest are just camping out.
We already have recent examples from
recent history of nation states that have
been coerced into large confederations
i.e. USSR, Yugoslavia etc. Eventually, history
has shown, these supra-national conglomerations
are unsustainable. Forget politics, forget
economics, let contemporary history
teach us the lessons.
The rich social and cultural diversities present in Europe exist because of our understanding that countries and individuals need to live differently. To introduce any form of European-wide governmental control negates this right and passes collective power into the hands of a few. Are we to believe those suggesting this are doing it out of an altruistic need? That indeed would be naive.
Why would anyone want to forfeit their hard earned sovereignty for a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic nightmare that would even shock Kafka. The EU is becoming more and more Orwellian each year. The checks and balance system of the EU is a joke and the whole system is so convoluted that accountability is virtually impossible to trace.
What started out as a way to keep Europe's "powers" from starting another war, has turned into feeding trough for politicians, large corporations and Euro-fanatics who somehow believe that Italians are just as good as the Swedes in directing Swedish affairs and vice versa. Just how exactly does forcing people to give up the use of pounds make the world a better place?
Robin Molinski, Portugal
I totally agree with John B. You cannot compare a United States of Europe to the United States of America! It is not like crossing the state border from Kansas into Missouri and people start speaking a separate language! Can you imagine Kentucky or Iowa Nationalism? America has always been one country, whereas Europe has not!
Furthermore many other countries look up to Britain for the way she has influenced democracy to the rest of the world! When did Britain ever elect a Fascist or Communist government? Many other EU countries have done in the past! Today we have the fourth largest economy in the world and is economically better off then the rest of Europe, my wages would be cut by half if we were to join the Euro! Why do we want to give up a good thing?
We should be in control of our own destiny, and so should all other European countries!
For those who are entertaining the heady dream of a 21st century "European Manifest Destiny" of the European Super-State, many are comparing this to the history of the USA. Be forewarned, there will inevitably be a moment of truth, where one must choose to "preserve the union" at literally all costs. For with such diverse peoples who subsequently have such conflicting priorities and interests as European nations have, far more diverse and conflicting than the conditions found in 19th century America, you will face such a moment of truth someday. It cost the USA over 600,000 lives to "preserve the union" in America's civil war, how many will your Manifest Destiny cost you someday? Who will you have to grind into the ground, to ensure the "destiny" of your United States of Europe?
This idea is basically what the USA is - each state is really a country in its own right - and look how powerful they are. Please, people of the UK, don't be so short-sighted.
A "European Government", as proposed, equals
the Commission of today plus democratic
oversight by the elected representatives of the
citizens, as well as member states. Why somebody would prefer today's system to one that is accountable to the people beats me.
Probably governments are more comfortable with
making deals behind closed doors than with
making policies under the critical eye of the
I, for one, would rather have the possibility to follow
and influence EU policy-making directly, rather than
only through the obscure government-to-government
debate that is currently the rule.
Clive, Australia (English)
Having lived and worked in France, Italy, Greece and the UK, I can testify that there is too great a cultural divide to allow for dynamic democratic processes to occur at pan-European scale. And, personally, I still quite enjoy the mystery attached to national cultural identities, while being able to hop from country to country. What we should see, nevertheless, is a more structured debate within Europe, and a more transparent and accountable bureaucracy. (What we have now is not government, but a dictatorship!) The real challenge faced by Europe is to grow stronger by learning from each other. Believe me, for most people, the neighbouring country is a deep mystery of which only the surface will be scratched. Oh, and by the way, when people ask me where I'm from, I say "Europe". No need for a government to sustain my national identity... which is long lost anyway (I am a French national)!
James Crosby, Telford, England
As a 16-year-old living in Britain, I would like to say that hardly any teenagers that I know want to join the EU or further our alliance - they want out. They are the next generation. There are two generations that seem to care but won't be counted. The old - who want out and get a vote but can be deterred by great offers - and the youngsters. We waste far too much money on the EU. We want out!
It is a very good idea and the way we Europeans must go forward. We need more accountable politicians in Europe, and the nation states of yesterday are no longer viable in the ever-shrinking world. An elected president and an elected parliament are the way forward, and within a federal state the second chamber should consist of the individual state representatives on the lines of US Governors. As usual Germany leads the way while unfortunately the UK comes grumbling along behind, complaining and talking of the old days of the Empire.
Schroeder's plan is a step in the right direction. A united Europe needs a central government. In order to be the richest people in the world, we need to create the world's biggest superpower.
The idea of a European Government is not new. It inspired the much earlier European Community treaties of the 1950s and later. Their main purpose was perhaps not economic benefit for the member states, but reducing the probability of wars between them. Examples like Switzerland and the Indian Union show that a democratic state may indeed be based on several languages and a number of related but different cultures. The example of Yugoslavia shows what will happen in Europe if nationalism prevails at the expense of European integration.
We need less government not more. Why do we need so many tiers? Local council, city, area, region, country, federation, etc? This looks to me like a gravy train for politicians. Set the people free! (No, I'm not an anarchist!)
People of the UK, if you are so scared of the EU and the shape it is taking, then please commit yourselves to shaping it how you would like it, rather than cowering behind pound notes and the channel with sensationalist criticisms. You may like it or not, but you are a member of the European "Family", it's up to you to make the best of it rather than standing back and letting the Germans and French have all the initiative and power.
Sridhar Mosuru, India
Is Europe ready to built up a new Roman Imperium? Qui bono?
Chancellor Schroeder's kite flying should be seen as a step in the right direction. At last a major political figure has the courage to stick his head above the parapet and state clearly what European integration is all about. However many difficult and painful reforms need to be faced and enacted alongside this integration to ensure it will work. European integration needs to be set in context, as one of a series of steps taken world-wide toward global integration and a unity-in-diversity world government that can tackle the needs and assure the safety of humankind while asserting and celebrating the diversity of the human race. No uniform Europe or fortress Europe, please.
The main problem is that political union is linked to economic union - but large economic blocks will always cause hardship in those areas which are not doing as well as others. The prime example at the moment is the boom in Ireland and slump in Germany - a centralised economic policy creates damage as seen in the USA 'rust belts' and the former Soviet bloc. We need to have closer links but with retained local powers.
European political and economic co-operation is a great idea - but why does everything have to become "one". I like the idea that I can escape from dreary England and to go to a culturally different and more interesting place in Europe. We don't need more Eurobananas or Eurotomatoes, and a European government will certainly be more bureaucracy than substance.
The vast majority of our population does not want to adopt the European currency or be a part of a federal Europe. Whatever the pro-Europeans may like to think, our culture is more similar to the US than to Europe. Our language is virtually the same. Our approach to business was the same before this government opened its red-tape factory. Supporters of European integration hail the US as the target model. The US has a single currency but also a single language and easy mobility. An unemployed person on the West Coast would not regard a job on the East Coast (some 3000 miles away) as an unacceptable option. How many Portuguese bricklayers would move to Norway for a job? The culture and language are totally different. This project is doomed to fail, just as others before it (think USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia etc). Even the mighty US union was only preserved at a cost of 600,000 lives.
Iain B, England
In the past, countries in Europe punched far above their weight through their extensive overseas empires. Now that the colonies have gone, if European nations wish to remain world players they have to act as a single unit, especially in areas such as manufacturing, trade and defence where scale is all-important. The best way of acting as a European unit is to have a European government.
You've got one half of Europe tearing itself apart on a ethnic basis. Now they want to push the rest of us together! Integration is great - if everyone wants it. We've also got enough of our taxes being spent by autocrats already. This will just turn into the mother of all gravy trains!
Personally, I don't care whether a guy I don't know or want called Tony Blair or a guy I don't know or want called Sven Blair heads the government of the rock I live on, so long as he is fairly reasonable. What I do care about is living on a rock with some muscle behind it, securing the future prosperity and liberty of my offspring. This small part of a tiny island "England" is certainly not that. The incredible short-sightedness of those people opposed for sentimental reasons to our country playing a leading role in a new emerging superpower right on our doorstep is frankly sickening.
Tim Smith, UK
We only have to look at the United States to see the benefits of a "United States of Europe." While such a move would not solve all our problems overnight, a European government would be able to compete and lead the world in a way that the European Commission never could. Let's stop debating Europe, and start being European. If the European government is coming, then I want my vote sooner rather than later.
Those who compare Europe to the US often forget that the US is one nation, Europe is many.
There is no common culture. There is no common legal philosophy. There is no common language. There is no overwhelming need to federate in the face of any external threat or internal need.
Like previous polyglot confederations, a United States of Europe will not work in the long term. Comparisons with the USA are meaningless - at least they shared a common language, threat and cultural heritage. This does not apply to Europe.
Maurice, England - I think?
Who cares what the currency is, Pounds or Euros, so long as you can afford a decent quality of life. A United States of Europe seems a very sensible idea - and must surely be inevitable. Why are the British encouraged to be so afraid of a "European Super State"? With France and Germany, we'll be the ones running it. If this could put an end to the little Englander mentality, so much the better.
No one claims that the Japanese need to merge their economy with the Chinese, or that the Australians should merge theirs with South Africa. So why should the UK merge with the EU? The UK is the fourth largest economy in the world, we can trade anywhere, with anyone, on our own terms. Why gamble on submerging ourselves in Europe where we are the best-placed economy of all to work with the EU, NAFTA, the emerging markets and China/the Far East as equals?
Have you realised that most of the EU laws target the UK the most? Get out of the EU now!
Schroeder's plans are at least honest, which cannot be said of Blair's evasions on the subject. But being honest does not make the idea acceptable for Britain. The EU has become economically illiterate and politically undemocratic. Insult me with the Little Englander taunts all you like, but I would prefer to be prosperous in a sovereign, democratic nation than a disenfranchised pauper in an unaccountable federalist bureaucracy.
Without doubt there will be a super-government. But, who will be the Super Prime Minister? Will it be Blair, Schroeder, a people's peer or Phoenix the calf? I'm sure the Sun newspaper will have an answer to this important question.
I like the idea. I am sure Britain will benefit a lot from such a move.
Why is there so much fuss and fear about Gerhard Schröder's vision? The German Chancellor has rightly identified the major problems of the EU - a lack of democratic accountability and a lack of public support for the EU's institutions. Instead of using these criticisms as reasons to stop the integration process as many UK politicians do, Schröder proposes a positive solution we should welcome and have no reason to fear: a federation (NOT a superstate) based upon a strong commitment to democracy.
I am a British citizen living in mainland Europe.
I commend the German leader with action for making Europe stronger and signalling a vision!
This is all great for the true followers of the European dream and we will follow.
It is a pity that Britain is being left behind but that is what they prefer. However, they are certainly in no position to criticise the people who decide to pursue this great dream.
Why do we feel so threatened by the thought of partial devolution of power to Europe? The Channel has thrown up mental boundaries that simply don't exist in other European states. Do we really feel that the lifestyle and quality of living in Italy, France, Germany is inferior to that of the UK? And as for Jeff Scholey's comment about giving up the pound. Please let's lose the sentimentality and get perspective. Europe is our natural political and economic partner, not the US as the Tory party would have us think. Please let's go into Europe once and for all, and put the little-Englander mentality to bed.
The only things stopping a unified Europe are xenophobia and nationalism, neither of which are particularly desirable and both of which have caused pain and suffering for millennia.
It's been done elsewhere, and better.
The current census will show that the population of the UK does not want to be part of Europe, or get rid of the pound. I could handle the idea of a 'Super Government', one which looks over the individual governments of Europe, but nothing more.
29 Apr 01 | UK Politics
'Euro government' gets cool reception
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