All those who may now feel caught in a dreadful predicament – on the one hand, wanting to embrace the necessity of a united Europe, while on the other no longer finding any arguments to defend the EU in its current form – should read Ulrike Guérot’s book, Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss (Why Europe Must Become a Republic! A Political Utopia). According to Guérot, a political scientist whose opinions are now highly sought after across Europe, her opinion as director of the European Democracy Lab think tank is that there actually is a third way between regression to nationalism and wasting away of the union. The solution is a republic! Modern republicanism, according to Guérot, is the “perfect model for a new European constitution” because it defines a community oriented towards the good of society and it is founded on a political basic order. “The concept therefore has the potential as a third way to cut a path between the two concepts of (…) nationalism and liberalism that influence today’s discourse about the EU.”
It ought to be clear to most people that much has gone awry in the European Union for a long time, and the reasons for this are well known: first and foremost, there is the often maligned democratic deficit of the union with its parliament largely incapable of action, whose transnational projects are cancelled out by national interests of the heads of state and government within the EU Council. Guérot highlights the connection between these structural deficits of the EU and the resulting political vacuum in which from the start of the Euro crisis the economy was allowed to forge ahead with disastrous consequences, in particular, for Southern Europe. Until now, however, the EU had no need to justify being undemocratic because there seemed to be no alternative to its founding motto “War – never again”. Evidently, until now, there was a lack of courage for the utopian vision of a complete new start, and therefore there is something encouraging when Guérot writes, “Let’s imagine for a moment we would run a wide-pronged toothcomb over the European continent and national borders get caught in it. The citizens of the European regions and cities built an entirely new form of Europe: decentralized, regional, post-national, parliamentary, democratically sustainable and social.”
One could easily dismiss this as a naïve vision, yet with deep conviction the political scientist defends not only the need for a political utopia – her manifesto begins with the quote from Einstein – “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” – but she also makes a whole series of concrete suggestions about how to realize that European republic. “Together, not against each other” is the basis for a political, territorial and economic new order in Europe, in which everyone should participate, who feels a sense of obligation to the European idea, even refugees, emphasizes Guérot. At the very start there must be a new organization of EU institutions with a directly elected European President and the creation of a European Congress. The institutions should then only be responsible for the major areas such as defence, finance, foreign policy and the environment. “Everyday affairs” – consumer protection or agriculture, for example – would be the responsibility of the regions and the metropoles. Finally, on an economic level the state and market must be uncoupled again, while on the other hand politics and the economy must be realigned with each other. A key concern would be rediscovery of the concept of the ‘common good’. In this sense, Guérot demands tax equality, an unconditional basic income as well as unified European unemployment and health insurance.
Such demands, as Guérot herself says, are “not new in this form”. On many counts, her utopian vision is merely a continued spinning out of the pre-existing discussions within EU in think tanks or social networks. Perhaps, speculates the author, we’re already on the way to a European republic and we don’t know it? It could be a rosy prospect. However, even if we are only at the very beginning, her appeal inspires commitment for the ‘res publica’ in Europe, and no longer to permit the future of Europe to be frivolously assigned to the populists and nationalists.
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright