Jonathan Eida | Opinion
The European Union is crumbling. It has had fractures since its conception, however ever since Brexit, its decline has been ever sharper. The conclusion of the Brexit process is drawing closer, as a rise in anti-federalist sentiment grows among the individual nations. A landmark ruling in the German Constitutional Court last week showed that even the generally Europhilic Germans are resisting European Union power grabs. The case set a precedent that questioned the authority of the European Courts and ruled that power resides in Germany. It is being widely hailed as an attack on the power of the European Central Bank and the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The added crisis of the coronavirus pandemic and the Union’s response to it is being widely acknowledged as a significant blow to the European Union. The retreat to national Governments being the deciding authority for the response to the pandemic (rather than the European Commission calling the shots) and the EU’s disinterest in bailouts for the effected countries have led to widespread dissatisfaction from Member States, revealing a Union on the brink of disintegration. Even the Europhile George Soros has been going around predicting that the joint events of the coronavirus and the German Court’s decision may bring about the end of the EU!
Writers over at The Guardian have observed the winds of change currently blowing through Europe, and seem to be frightened by the shifting tides. A joint article was released recently by two authors who have sensed these vicissitudes and have put forward an alternative. Lorenzo Marsili, the founder of “European Alternatives”, and Ulrike Guérot, the founder and director of the “European Democracy Lab”, have written a piece entitled: “Elites have failed us. It is time to create a European republic.” 
Over the course of the article, the pair argue that “national elites” have failed and that the idea of a united Europe must be rescued from them. They ”call on you, on us all, to take the lead and keep the flame alive in these times of crisis. In place of another insignificant institutional conference, we call for the establishment of a European Citizens’ Congress on the Future of Europe, forming the basis of a modern constituent assembly. Such a congress would be a hybrid structure: falling somewhere between a social movement, a political actor and a deliberative platform, providing a rallying point for all those wishing to resist the path of disintegration.”
They propose that the EU’s current problem is the lack of federalisation and that the only way to solve it would be to give more power to a federal European government. This government would control taxation, welfare and human dignity, independent of nationality. They further ague that a new European Republic should rise in the EU’s place, based on ideals such as common rights, which they argue will surpass the current attachment to nation states. To quote: “What defines a nation? A nation is neither ethnicity nor language, neither culture nor identity. A nation is a law that establishes a group of equals boasting common rights.”
This is a submission which lays out a desperate ideal that ignores everything that we have learned from the Brexit vote. It is a vision that premises itself on failed ideas and faulty sociological theories. The proposal aims to fight fire with fire in order to regenerate a dying institution.
The first practical issue with this proposal is its sheer unpopularity. During the Brexit referendum campaign, lots of the proponents of remaining in the European Union put forward the argument that the EU should be reformed rather than abandoned. They recognised the issues with a federal United States of Europe, which it was becoming, but felt that internal change was preferable to full abandonment. This was the argument made by David Cameron at the time, as well as other leaders.
They did not observe or at least take seriously the chances of a full federal government being established, whilst Eurosceptics did. The inference to be made from this is that, had we been given the option of full federalisation versus leaving in a binary choice, then even the leaders of the Remain campaign may well have been on the Brexit side. This is notwithstanding the fact that over half the electorate already believed the EU to have too much power.
Therefore, the idea proposed by this article in The Guardian, that the EU should adopt further polices to centralise power, is clearly just a shout in an empty field and would never garner enough support to take off. But this still begs the question: why is the thought of a federal super-state with such widespread power so unappealing to the average citizen?
The first reason is simply down to the fact that having one overarching governing structure, with little accountability, is not a reality that people want. Big Government is hard work at the best of times. Having the ability to speak to a local MP to about issues brings in a form of accountability and trust. However, having a Government in some far-off land with vast amounts of power, which sits inaccessibly above the electorate, will not work. Just think of the levels of bureaucracy associated with such an institution. Even the current EU Parliament’s levels of bureaucracy were too much for us to handle – increasing the levels of federalism would only make things worse.
However, the primary reason why this proposal would be so roundly rejected by the general population, and why it is a project that would always be doomed to fail, comes down to their fundamental misunderstandings of nationhood.
In their article, they define a nation as “a law that establishes a group of equals boasting common rights”. This, in some scenarios, could indeed form part of the basis for a nation. As long as the laws are the primary definition of the nation, then it is possible to claim their statement to be true. The optimum example for their claim is the United States, which defines its existence as a nation by its Constitution and its subsequent Bill of Rights.
Nevertheless, to define a nation with such a broad brush as “a group of equals boasting common rights” is surely misguided. I would suggest that, ever since Athelstan became the first King of a united England in 927 AD, England has been considered a nation. It could hardly be suggested that England as a nation was a group of equals at that point, and there was little in the way of common rights for the people – or even, in some senses, rights at all. The same is true for every other country in Europe, none of whom can claim unity through common rights since their conception. Therefore, a common law cannot be the the only factor that creates a nation.
Sir Roger Scruton, I believe, asked a fundamental that revealed why this idea of complete unity under a federal flag is so far removed from reality. He asked the question: “What is England?” This is a question that has not been given as much thought as it warrants over the years. Scruton then answered his own question with great profundity, saying simply: “Home”. But what does “home” mean? He wrote: “Home has its customs, its rituals, its special times and its places.” In essence, these seemingly unimportant, arbitrary aspects to its existence are what lend significance to its habitation. Scruton went on to list character, English law and culture as among the other things that make it what it is. Clearly, this speaks far more to how nationhood is perceived among the European nations than mere laws that tie them all together.
The same is true for most other countries in Europe, each with its own ambiance that makes it unique and creates an attachment to those who reside in it. Therefore, to try and fit all these unique individual societies into one huge bloc, with little thought for their innate subtleties, is a recipe for disaster. To carry the analogy further, it would be like extracting several families from their homes and ramming them into a small hotel – give it a week, and the police might have to be called! Not a pretty sight! However trivial these factors may seem, the fact of a matter is that they do exist and must be respected.
In fact, these nuances have been deemed irrelevant in the past, but have always proven to be more significant then they seemed. Marx, for example, believed that the unity and solidarity of workers around the globe would surpass the loyalties to one’s country. He believed patriotism was a conception created by the “bourgeoisie” to manufacture a connection between the classes, in order to prevent an uprising. Yet, the experience of the First and Second World Wars taught us all that this was not the case, and that national bonds did matter. In the trenches, working-class Englishmen stood shoulder to shoulder with “bourgeois” Englishmen to fire back at the Germans, with no discrimination at all as to their class. Class distinctions fell where national bonds remained.
The faceless bureaucrats operating in Brussels know this to be true, which is why they are not up-front about a fully federalised state. Were things to be entirely up to them, the opportunity for greater power would surely not elude them. But they, unlike those writers in The Guardian, realise that this is not a workable reality.
The idea of a European Republic is even more detestable then the current institution of the European Union. The EU was resoundingly rejected by the British electorate, and I have no doubt that a proposition for a European Republic would be similarly disregarded. The alternative, after all, could only be to our own detriment.
 England: An Elegy