Anthony Giddens’ Vision of a Federalist Europe

As the various crises within Europe rage on, a wealth of literature has been written about the crises themselves as well as the possible futures for Europe. Anthony Giddens’ most recent book “Turbulent and Mighty Continent” is one of those texts and takes the current crises as a starting point to set out a vision for Europe which – as nobody knowing Giddens will be surprised about – is based on a federalist ideal. In short, he argues that the current crises show how an integrated monetary policy within Europe necessarily needs a banking union as well as an integrated fiscal policy. For him, the European Union – defined by the countries part of the monetary union – constitutes a community of faith within global processes of economic change and liberalization. From this perspective, especially Germany – at the moment the country profiting most from the Euro – will have to accept its responsibilities for its stability at some point.

giddens_continentWhile this idea might seem utopian from a current perspective, where eurosceptism is on the rise and support for the European Union is at an all time low, Giddens provides a suggestion what such an integration project could be based on: He asks the question why national sovereignty is always considered as independence of external influence and suggests a concept of sovereignty+ that looks more at the actual influece a nation can wield on an international and/or global level. From this perspective, membership in a closer integrated European Union might provide a nation with a higher amount of external sovereignty even though it has to sacrifice a lot of internal sovereignty.

Of course, such a federal Europe could not be based on the current way decisions are made within the European Union. Giddens identifies three dimensions of the current system:

  1. the more technocratic EU of the ‘Jean Monnet method’ (he calls EU1) consisting of a strong European Commission, several deciding councils as well as a correcting European Parliament
  2. the leadership based EU of the current crisis in which few strong actors – in the current case especially German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande, IMF president Christine Lagarde and ECB president Mario Draghi – decide about important matters without democratic legitimation (EU2 in Giddens’ terms)
  3. the Europe of the acquis communtaire, the paper Europe that is defined as a bureaucratic apparatus and legal system

From this differentiation he comes to the conclusion that a politically integrated, federal European Union would have to solve two major problems: the problem of legitimacy and the problem of leadership, as the EU1 can be seen as – more or less – legitimized but not able to actually lead, while the EU2 does display leadership while not being legitimated for such a position. His solution seems to be based on creating a more legitimate EU2, for which he suggests three important preconditions:

  1. Deeply involving the European citizens in the reform process to maximize the legitimacy of the emerging political entities
  2. Establishing English as the common lingua franca within the EU next to the national languages to enable the emergence of pan-European media and a European public sphere
  3. A much more transparent democratic process within the EU to enable the establishment of some kind of monitory democracy

In general, Giddens’ vision for the future of Europe reads much like a federalist ideal, not a realisitic path towards a common Europan future, as it takes for grantedd far too much emotional commitment towards further European integration. In my view, it puts to much confidence in the different nation states realizing the possibility to gain what he calls sovereingty+ and neglecting the inertia that is embedded within the current system of national states, their institutions and their public. Nevertheless, from the perspective of an outlook into the future of Europe, the book makes a very interesting read as it lines out an ideal that could be worth striving towards – at least for federalists – and the analysis of the current shortcomings of the European political systems seems spot-on – especially in the differentiation between EU1 and EU2.

Still, the outline of this model of the political future of Europe is only one dimension of the book. In the second, Anthony Giddens anlyses the current crises within Europe from a perspective that considers them not a European problem per se but rather a European expression of global developments to which Europe constitutes a community of faith and needs to develop common ways to face. I will get to those arguments in a later post.

Giddens, A. (2014). Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe? Cambridge: Polity Press.

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