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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Do we want a United States of Europe?
The first draft of a new constitution for Europe has been unveiled by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
The document suggests a basic definition of what the EU is - a union of European States, which, while retaining their national identities, closely co-ordinate their policies at a European level and administer certain common competences on a federal basis.
However, there has already been controversy over whether the EU should be renamed United Europe or United States of Europe.
Mr Giscard d'Estaing has been heading a 105-member convention aimed at bringing the organisation closer to its citizens.
It is due to complete its work next year.
Earlier, a row between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the current French president Jacques Chirac over Europe's farm subsidies was said to have put an Anglo-French summit planned for December in doubt.
Could the EU constitution proposals work? Would you be happy to see a United States of Europe?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I see the formation of the EU or USE as an opportunity for Europeans to become leaders of the global community. By putting aside petty ethnocentric squabbles, Europeans can unite to lead the world. You have the opportunity to overshadow the egomaniacal behaviour of the USA and human rights abuses in Asia by directing your efforts, and hence the efforts of the world, towards sustainability and reason.
We in the UK are always complaining about how undemocratic the EU is, yet only 20% of us turned out to vote for the European Parliament. How can we criticise the EU when our laws are still decided by the House of Lords and Ratified by the Queen. When was the last time we voted for either of them? If people are so fed up with the EU being "undemocratic" how about turning up and voting next time the elections come around, or is it just easier to criticise than act?
I like the name "European Union" but United States of Europe is not bad either. I definitely don't like the name United Europe (it's boring). I would like to suggest three ideas: Interlingua as the official language; moving the "capital" of Europe eastwards and southwards (maybe Vienna or other town in central or western Austria); and adopting that epitome of eurotrash culture "The Final Countdown" (Europe) as the national anthem of the USE.
In my opinion, the only way to truly make the EU more responsive to the people, is to have some sort of government body directly elected by the people. Otherwise, any other form of government is doomed to fail. Either by inefficiencies or revolt of the populace. My other comment is this, if there is to be a USE, does that mean there would be only one representative for the USE in the UN, and one Olympic team, or would all the states still get their own representative? in which case I say each state of the USA should get their own UN rep.
Matthew, Boston, USA
I'm Scottish, and feel more European than British. Matters like interest rates and social policy have always been set with the interests of the south-east of England in mind: maybe Brussels can offer a better way. Also, I love the idea of being able to work anywhere in the EU bloc/state whenever I want. Face it - Britain is not a united country anyway, and never has been. The words English and British can more or less be used interchangeably for one fifth of the population.
I find the current debate here interesting because in some small ways it parallels the arguments made at the start of the United States of America. The argument about whether a public vote for representatives should be mandatory or if each state could do it in its own way is exactly the same as the debate that went on when this country was formed. There were arguments for both sides that made sense. One way removes people's right to have a voice in their own representation, the other removes some of a state's sovereignty to govern itself as it wishes, which essentially subordinates the state's power. (To the point where today voters in the USA don't care as much about state and local elections as they do about the federal elections.) I don't know what Europe will end up being like. I'm sitting and watching. A USE is inevitable, but I don't think it's inevitable that the UK be a part of it.
Leon, Czech Republic
The fundamental tenet of British Democracy is that "no Parliament may bind its successor" - any Act of Parliament attempting to do so is technically treason, and also impossible - it can be repealed as soon as the next Parliament wants to do so. Also, all over the world, the West has been working for the Self Determination of Peoples - e.g. East Timor, the fragmentation of Yugoslavia and so on. Why is it that the sole exception to this trend has to be Europe? Probably because no-one has looked at the problems implicit in maintaining a Federal Europe containing so many diverse ethnic, cultural and political groups!
I would favour Britain leaving the EU entirely. I do not want us Britons to ruin the greatest project in the history of our continent for everyone else. I live in Austria, and to me it is obvious what the benefits of further integration are. Why are we always complaining about little things (like selling fruit in kilograms and not pounds), instead of celebrating nearly 60 years of peace and prosperity? Britain obviously does not want to take part, and so we should leave now, and not pull everyone else down with us. We clearly want to become a third rate country.
In its present state, we are rightly very suspicious of EU leadership: the only government in the world with 2 unelected (and therefore unaccountable) executives and an impotent elected parliament. Maybe a new constitution will bring accountability and therefore acceptance from member states such as Britain. We'll see...
Nigel, Norfolk, England
Give us a carbon copy of the US constitution and I would vote yes in an instant.
Europe should not be joined and more than it already is. In a United States of Europe, we would have to have the Euro to 'bring ourselves together'. We know that so many culturally diverse and economically wide-ranging countries cannot have the same currency and constraints when different economies need different reasoning. The only way a United States of Europe could exist is if all the members become one country. That should never happen.
No, I want a Union of European Socialist Republics (UESR).
I for one will never accept "European" Citizenship whatever our politicians think and I will fight with every bone in my body to sink this ship before it sets sail.
Yes I think that a united EU is the way forward. Maintaining one's identity in a United Society strengthens not weakens the population.
Give it a try, hope it will work. Actually it might bring the currency to a better position and unity may prevail as well, if all come to use the euro. Try it.
After the other day... will the French LET us ?
USE? Absolutely no way!
Reading the responses to this item it is very clear that the problem isn't the EU per se, but the politicians who set and then manipulate the structure. This is the prime factor that makes the EU a dangerous vehicle. Examining the track record of those politicians, I suggest that your respondents are being very perceptive.
I don't think we need give up 100% of our sovereignty, yet we need to try to abolish as many barriers as possible that keep us divided to gradually share one common identity, that of being Europeans in all our diversity.
I don't understand why the idea of federalism raises such fears, especially in the UK. The striking feature in countries with a federalist structure (e.g. Belgium, Germany) is that MORE (not less) powers lie with 'sub-national' entities. The federal level only deals with those issues it can do more effectively than lower levels of administration. To me, that doesn't sound like something to be afraid of - it sounds like something we should aim for.
I would have no problem with a federated Europe providing common defence, research, economy and social programmes. But I don't think it will work with the current leadership and its attitudes. Instead of offering a vision and commitment that citizens can embrace and support, we get wastrels and corruption.
We already live in a federal republic in the EU. Face facts - we have an elected EU Parliament and an indirectly elected EU President, the hallmarks of a European State. The sooner the European nations join together in formal binding and federal union the better.
From an outsider's point of view Europe is a culturally, economically and socially diverse continent. The unique nature of each nation must be preserved. Integration for solely economic motives would mean the loss of global diversity.
Javier V. Bordell, Zamora, Spain
Plain and simple...No.
A United States of America works economically because it has a common language and common cultural references which allow very high mobility of labour. This compensates for the shocks to the system produced by a "one size fits all" federal economic policy. Such as system could never work in Europe and will simply bring about the long overdue collapse of the EU dictatorship.
I am not at all sure
that it wouldn't
work; the question
is whether Britain
would want to be a
part of it. This
question should be
put to the British
railroad them into
such a union without
a clear democratic
decision would be a
recipe for disaster
in the long run.
It seems that many people get rather emotional about a name suggestive of a federal government. The EU will ultimately become a federal state whether it is called the USE or the EU or whether the UK remains in or gets out. Individual regions will never lose their identity within a federal state. Are Texans the same as New Yorkers are New Englanders the same as Californians? Local pride survives intact many years after integration so we shouldn't worry about losing our identity. Though I can't really picture a sharp image of a British identity without first breaking it down into smaller regions.
Basically I think a European constitution is a good idea, but I doubt Giscard d'Estaing will come up with much, simply because the whole process in the EU has and will always be slow, because there is so much mistrust between each other.
I am for Europe, however I am a tax paying Briton living in Germany and don't get a vote as far as I can ascertain. To vote here I first have to declare that I will not vote in Britain. But I cannot vote in Briton anyway as I live in Germany...can anyone clarify this.
The nation-states played their role in history. We live in a global village and I think we have to work towards new forms of communication and interaction. For me as important as a Federal Europe is the possibility of making the neutral language Esperanto the official language of our common institutions. That way all languages will be equal and all customs will be preserved. Esperanto is an artificial language which has proved to be a living powerful language.
No - 'we' do not want a United States of Europe. Politicians, bureaucrats, bankers and multinationals do, because they can benefit by taking accountability even further away from ordinary people. The citizens of the UK and other countries were dishonestly conned into the EU under the guise of 'economic co-operation'. They now find themselves living under what the great philosopher of democracy, Karl Popper called 'a Jacobin dictatorship that must and will fall'. It cannot fall too soon.
It is a good idea as long as the USE will not emulate the USA and does not become a US satellite like the UK has. I think novel ideas can be tried to forge a workable union. If it tries to become a clone of USA it will also become vulnerable to collapse under its own weight or arrogance at one point of time.
I doubt if it will work. It would be paralysed by power struggles between the UK and the French/Germans.
The United States of Europe has the inevitability of a runaway steam train crashing through current nation states' buffers. The Romans, the 1930/40s Germans - all have tried to unite Europe by force. Now it will happen because the public apathy in political life is widespread. Better brush up on your Esperanto...
Great idea but only if it means fewer politicians, more efficiency, simplified and unified tax & benefit system, standardisation of duty on alcohol & tobacco, English adopted as official language, standardised health and education, full metrication of all measurements and an end to the ridiculous British system of driving on the left.
I think a USE is a great idea. Think of all the extra bureaucratic jobs that would be made - can't be bad for all those countries with high unemployment. No one would be unhappy with the outcome of important debates because nothing will ever be resolved due to vast cultural differences. If we let some "European" look after British interests we won't get hassled by the press so much on current affairs (how many of us know what our MEPs do?) and can spend more time doing what we do best - watching trash reality TV. Incidentally there seem to be a number of these shows in the USA, I wonder why.
Get over it, and accept it as a fact. USE is here to stay no matter how much we as individuals do not like it or accept it. The only thing that we should and ought to fight for is that in this new USE democracy, individual rights and freedoms should be guaranteed. If we are not careful we might repeat the history where individual was sacrificed for so called majority.
How does this ludicrous plot square with the fact that we can't even maintain contented unification among the countries of the United Kingdom? Furthermore, history shows that, almost without exception, unifying arrangements of this sort inflame political and cultural differences and all too often degenerate into civil war.
If a United States of Europe enhances peace and a better world it will get my vote.
EU enlargement? It's all about self-interest and is doomed to fail because the 10 new countries desperate to join have agricultural economies in need of cash handouts, whilst the few richer EU members themselves have wavering economies. The only people who win out of this scenario are egomaniac politicians who fancy themselves as the next President of Europe with massive salaries and perks from taxpayers. Who needs yet more bureaucracy and in-fighting? Europe trying to emulate the USA is a farce - there is too much diversity: wealth, cultures, history, rivalries etc for it ever to unite and be a success. Do we need to spend billions on failed integration to find this out?
If the devolution of England, Wales and Scotland strengthens our democracy, how can being included in a US of E at the same time also be right? Perhaps it is our beloved politicians just creating a closed circuit career structure that will never eject them into the cold!
The current European Commission, effectively a government in waiting, is fundamentally undemocratic. If the EC evolves into an actual government it will become a dictatorship and be open to all sorts of abuses of power. The recent financial scandals are merely a preamble to what would be the norm. The EC's practically non-existent democratic unaccountability would further allow them to ride roughshod over the will of all European peoples if it benefited big business. We should retain our democratic traditions and remain sovereign and free.
A United States of Europe is inevitable, in that the world will end up with three huge economic superpowers, North America, Europe (centred on Germany) and Asia (centred on China). There would be room for small states outside this but the riches will be inside. Once we come to terms with this we can drop our petty differences and get on with the job, I suspect after a while people will realise that they could have more in common with someone in say Holland than the person who happens to live next door
At last a way forward! The federal United States of Europe will work in the same way as the USA does with each State maintaining itself. For anyone to say it is undemocratic is a fool, as it will still be controlled by the people we vote for.
Sorry Adrian, UK. Before you call other people for being a fool, think again, I suggest it may be you. By what process do you evaluate the present EU structure to be democratic? When did you last have a say in who occupies the office held by Neil Kinnock, Chris Patten, Romano Prodi etc? The latest proposal for a European President sees that office being elected by the European heads of state, not the citizens of Europe. There is no comparison with the US system. People can scoff all they want about the US electoral system and the Florida issue (which would never have happened except that the vote was effectively a dead heat), but at least the US citizens have the opportunity to elect their President directly.
Do we want a United States of Europe? Polls of citizens of the continent show no. But since when has that ever mattered to European politicians?
I'm all for a united Europe. Single countries in Europe are just too claustrophobic now. I want to be able to live, work and travel anywhere in the EU in just the same way as I can in the EU. I think it's so exciting. God bless Europe.
I really don't want to be part of a USE. I am not European - I am English and British in that order. It will do us, the public no good unless you are travelling on holiday and is really only a vehicle for yet more spectacular monetary wastage on Euro parliament buildings, food subsidies, and yet more hangers on. Get rid of this terrible load of parasites asap!
There have been two previous attempts to create a United Europe. The first by Napoleon starting in 1795 and the second by Hitler starting in 1936. Both attempts failed due to the English fighting to maintain freedom. What is happening now is that the French and Germans are trying to do by political chicanery what Napoleon and Hitler failed to do by force. We were conned into joining a "Common Market" on the basis that it was just about removing trade barriers. There was no mention then of a United States of Europe. We should not allow a bunch of failed and unelectable politicians to ride roughshod over us.
I think whether it's called the EU or the united states of Europe it doesn't matter. Lets not lose sight of the real issues which are the increased benefits of free-trade on one hand and the issues that arise from tying ourselves rigid and unpractical economic policies on the other. Its obvious that the only step forward this country can take is further into Europe, but there are more important issues than what we call it that need to be addressed.
How would a United States of Europe deal with the current issue of Iraq, when the UK, Germany, France etc have completely conflicting standpoints!? We would squabble for years over the smallest issues and achieve nothing.
If we are to compete with the U.S. on an international level, then we've got to get together with other people in Europe. Like it or not, the U.K. doesn't have the weight it used to have on the world stage. Reform CAP, sort out the pensions crisis across Europe, rationalise immigration, and we've got a recipe for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Intriguing - what will the UK be a part of - United States of Europe or United States of America? After all Blair is practically Bush is Foreign Secretary!
I think any further integration with Europe to be a positive thing, and rules and regulations laid down in a constitution would be seen to be giving the EU more legitimacy. A more united Europe could also counter the US dominance of world affairs which in my opinion can only be a good thing.
I am English, although I will tolerate being called British. One thing I am not and never will be is a European. I don't consider that I am better than Germans, Italians, Spanish or the other nationalities of mainland Europe, but I am not one of them, despite the machinations of politicians who are pursuing their own agendas.
Obviously Tony Blair wants a European Constitution and a United States of Europe since he desperately wants to its President!
Ian Harriss, UK
A United States of Europe is just what we need, in order to preserve European culture from the homogenising influence of global US dominance. But it will not be achieved by names alone but by the more vigorous pursuit of single European policies in defence and foreign affairs. One doubts if there are many European leaders with the courage and vision to pursue this.
An USE would be a good idea, but one main problem that sets us aside from the USA is the fact that our 'states' are not all the same. Unlike North America, they are completely different countries - the range of issues such as culture and language are much wider than that of the USA.
Just think President Blair and you'll realise the stupidity of this idea.
Barry P, England
Like it or not, the creation of a "United States of Europe" under any other name, is inevitable. Anyone who has never read the story of King Canute is probably adamant this will never happen. The rest of us just accept it.
I can never see us being part of a United States of Europe, we have too many differences. Also why should the UK be told what to do all the time by out German and French masters and all our subsidies/tax money go to economic migrant countries who see us as a soft touch. Keep out of Europe and maintain our sovereignty.
I don't want to upset Nick S, but unfortunately for him, we have already lost our sovereignty. With the creation of the European Court, we can now be forced to change our laws at the whim of the EU. Surely this is the way forward anyway. Joining together to help and protect our poorer neighbours. Countries are becoming more and more obsolete when you look at the diversity of the populations.
Geoffrey says "to help and protect our poorer neighbours." Doesn't he mean "to subsidise and fund our wasteful and inefficient neighbours?"
I don't recall the public clamouring for this new United States of Europe. It is the politicians that want it, not the people. Europe doesn't need fixing and as the old saying goes 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. What is wrong with Europe being a collection of independent democracies? This new arrangement will undoubtedly be less democratic and will be a Europe by the politicians, of the politicians, and for the politicians.
Well said James Wild. I couldn't agree more. From east to west Europe is a world of different language and culture all by itself. This diversity of language and culture is what makes the countries that make up the EU special. Do not change it!
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