Institutional Affairs

Belgian leader proposes 'United States of Europe'

01.12.05 @ 17:39

  1. By Mark Beunderman

BRUSSELS - In a bid to go against the eurosceptic tide that is dominating EU public opinion, Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has pleaded for the creation of a federal "United States of Europe."

Mr Verhofstadt, a liberal, on Thursday (1 December) presented his new book, provocatively entitled "The United States of Europe."

The work is meant as a "political statement against the current trend", the Belgian leader indicated.

In the book, Mr Verhofstadt proposes to break the deadlock that faces the EU after French and Dutch voters voted down the EU constitution, by creating a federal Europe.

In analysing the current mood of EU uneasiness among citizens, Mr Verhofstadt primarily points to fears that European citizens have about globalisation and international crime, but these fears should not lead to calls for "less Europe", Mr Verhofstadt writes.

Pointing to the European Commission's eurobarometer surveys on public opinion "people do not want less Europe, but another Europe", he states.

People want the EU to do more in foreign affairs, and do less unnecessary regulation that, for example "decides how French cheese should be made."

Federalist architecture

Mr Verhofstadt believes that citizens' concerns can be best addressed by a more deeply integrated Europe, which could make a fist in the globalised world, boost the European economy by better economic co-ordination and fight organised crime.

In proposing a concrete architecture for his "United States of Europe", the Belgian politician reverts to a range of ideas that have long since figured in the debate about the future of Europe, but are more federalist than the rejected constitution.

He pleads for a "European social and economic government", which should set minimum and maximum standards for, for example, greater flexibility in labour markets, pension age and workers' protection.

The European Union - a term which the Belgian politician keeps using next to "United States of Europe" - should have an autonomous budget financed from taxes like VAT, which it should use to boost spending on research and development.

The EU should further have its own president, foreign minister, army and prosecutor.

Two Europes

Mr Verhofstadt calls a federal EU "the only option."

"Clearly, it makes no sense to keep each other in a strangle hold and keep squabbling over the way we want to go, while other continents surpass us at high speed."

Like all federalist thinkers, Mr Verhofstadt finds himself faced with the dilemma that not all EU states are that keen to participate in a federalist project.

Again reverting to older ideas, Mr Verhofstadt proposes a two-speed Europe as a way out of the dilemma, with a core of integrationist states, surrounded by a circle of states that favour a looser Europaen construction.

The nucleus, with the prestigious "United States of Europe" title, could consist of the 12 EU states that have adopted the euro, but should be open to further expansion of states comprising the looser, outer circle of the "Organisation of European States" - a term that appears to have been borrowed from eurosceptic Czech president Vaclac Klaus.

Inspiration from US history

Mr Verhofstadt points to the fact that in the history of the United States of America, not all states immediately adopted the federalist constitution drafted in 1787, but today, "it is clear...that the choice for the federal model was the right one."

The Belgian premier acknowledges that recent EU history points to a development contrary to federalism, writing that "some countries have relatively recently detached themselves from the federalist camp."

But as in the US case, in the longer term "the direction indicated by history is nevertheless crystal clear", he writes.

Concluding the book, Mr Verhofstadt says he is confident Europeans would "by an overwhelming majority" approve his federal Europe in a Europe-wide referendum.

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