Thursday

17th Oct 2019

Opinion

For the United Statelets of Europe

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

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."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of 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".

Polish election: analysing why PiS won

Support for democracy was particularly low in Poland with only 19 percent consistently supporting democracy - only Hungary and Bulgaria scored lower.

Threat to Unesco park mars Montenegro's EU bid

The site contains Europe's second largest natural pasture and hundreds of local families depend on it, but part of it has been slated to become a military training ground.

New Dutch terror bill must not target aid workers

A controversial counterterrorism bill could end up criminalising aid workers in the Netherlands if they enter conflict hotspots when assisting the world's most vulnerable people.

Let girls own the future

While our politics is dominated by old and bullying alpha males and the negativity they have injected into our times, there is at least one day of hope - and it is through unleashing the power of young girls.

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us