Friday

24th Feb 2017

Opinion

For the United Statelets of Europe

Alfred Heineken did more than just brew beer. He also thought about things, like the future of Europe and how best to proceed.

"I propose a United Europe of 75 states," he wrote in a pamphlet published in the summer of 1992, "each with a population of five to 10 million inhabitants."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Heineken called it "Eurotopia' - a contraction of Europe and utopia (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Heineken, a creative old man with a lot of time and money on his hands, was famous for having wacky ideas. And the one about Europe was quickly forgotten.

Alas. Because 20 years later, it is more relevant than ever.

Too big and too small

It has been said before, but never was it truer than today: European states are too small for international affairs and too big for everyday life.

The time is long gone when Germany or France was able to fend for itself on the global stage, let alone Luxembourg or the Netherlands. That is why today, there is Nato, the EU, and - for the time being - a single currency.

Take a look at the list of the biggest countries in the world in physical terms.

The EU's highest ranking member state, France, is number 43. Russia, the undisputed number one, is more than 26 times as big. Both China and the US are 15 times as big.

Now look at the list of countries by population size. Germany, the EU's most populous, is number 16. China, the world's most populous, has more than 16 times as many inhabitants. India has close to 15 times as many.

If the EU was considered a country, it would be seventh on the list of biggest countries and third on the list by population size. And, as officials in Brussels never tire of repeating, first on the list of biggest economies.

The time is also gone when people were ignorant and obedient. The time when they did not annoy their leaders with demands of transparency, efficiency, democracy and accountability.

Technological progress has always led to political turbulence, often at the expense of those in power. The Internet, just like the printing press before, gives people access to information and the power to create and distribute, undermining establishments everywhere - not only in the Arab world.

That is why states are doing what they need to accomodate an ever more demanding and emancipated people: decentralise. The UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy: all have passed down powers over the last couple of decades.

The closer the power, the more transparent, efficient, democratic and accountable it is.

Size matters

Everything which has a function, one could argue, has an optimal size. A pen can be bigger or smaller, you still need to be able to use it.

The European welfare state has multiple functions. It needs to protect its territory from outside, uphold the rule of law, provide healthcare, education, take care of the roads and the forests and - to a more or lesser degree - distribute wealth.

The problem is that each of those functions has its own optimal size and that, as the world continues to change, they continue to diverge.

The result is not that the state does not work anymore - it just does not work very well. Like a pen as big as a broom or as small as a splinter - you might still be able to use it, but it is not very practical.

It is a trend that will continue as long as technology continues to progress. China and other rising giants will continue to rise; the ruled will continue to undermine their rulers.

And then there will come a day - or has it come already? - that the European states of today do more harm than good, unnecessary obstacles between Brussels and Barcelona.

Heineken the prophet?

Of course, it is absurd. We have grown so accustomed to today's division of the continent that any suggestion to do otherwise gets a sympathetic smirk - at best.

But is it really so crazy? Take a step backwards and try to see the whole picture. It is not such a bad idea, a United Statelets of Europe.

We’d have a small, directly elected, federal government, and any number of local, similarly-sized state governments - not unlike in the US.

We would be able to make a stand on the global stage and at the same time decide on a local level whether to allow bull-fighting or smoking marijuana.

Much of our current problems would disappear: of finding a balance between big states and smaller states, of the north having to rescue the south.

Heineken called it "Eurotopia" - a contraction of Europe and utopia. He was well aware of the scepsis the idea would garner.

But radical times call for radical measures. And the way things are going, I prefer utopia over dystopia.

Philip Ebels is a Dutch freelance journalist working in Brussels. He is a frequent contributor to EUobserver

Belgian leader proposes 'United States of Europe'

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

The crisis we face in the Lake Chad Basin

With no end in sight to this crisis, humanitarian actors must call for concerted engagement of political, developmental and security actors to help stabilise the region, writes the head of the UN migration agency.

Romania, the endless anti-corruption race

Romanians take to the streets in anti-government protests due to a proposed amendment to the country's anti-corruption legislation. But will this have any effect?

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin the Rare Disease Day and Help to Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  2. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  5. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  6. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  7. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  8. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  9. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  10. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  12. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean