Friday

18th Jan 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

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".

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

News in Brief

  1. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  2. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  3. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  4. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  5. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  6. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan
  7. New abortion laws pave way for Norwegian majority government
  8. Another referendum 'would take a year', Downing St says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Germany led way on EU human rights protection
  2. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  3. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  4. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  5. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  6. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  7. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  8. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us