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25th Feb 2024

Opinion

Biden, eurofederalists and eurosceptics

  • US president Joe Biden with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The EU was the only international organisation to have been invited to his 'democracy summit' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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While the EU is turning the Conference on the Future of Europe into yet another round in the outdated debate between eurofederalists and eurosceptics, President Joe Biden has diplomatically endorsed the emergence of the Union as a democratic polity in international law.

The US president invited not only 26 of the 27 EU member states to contribute to his Summit for Democracy but also the European Union as such.

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In view of the purpose of the meeting, it may be concluded that president Biden appreciates the EU as a democratic union of democratic states.

Obviously, the American president cannot be accused of meddling in the internal affairs of the EU. His intention in organising the Summit for Democracy is "to make clear that renewing democracy in the United states and around the world is essential to meeting the unprecedented challenges of our time".

He perceives the EU as an ally in his worldwide campaign for improving democracy and has attributed a leading role to the president of the European Commission. His appreciation of the EU is the more remarkable since the Union is the only international organisation to have been invited to the summit.

Member states of other regional organisations, such as the African Union, ASEAN and Mercosur, have been welcomed as well, but not those organisations of their own. In the eyes of the US president the EU functions as a democratic international organisation.

Longstanding conundrum

Rather than reproaching the USA for unwarranted interference in its internal affairs, the EU should be grateful to Biden for his enlightening contribution to the solution of the longstanding EU conundrum.

For decades, the EU and its precursors have been paralysed by the ideological battle between the proponents of a federal European state and the advocates of a confederal Europe of nation states.

Should the European experiment lead to the creation of a United States of Europe in analogy of the USA or result in the establishment of an association of sovereign states? As the two adversaries were convinced that other options were not available and as they were unable to convince each other, they agreed to disagree by describing the EU with an empty term as an organisation sui generis.

As the stalemate between the competing schools of thought has already lasted for 75 years, Biden's uncomplicated approach may be perceived as a wake-up call for the two adversaries.

Indeed, should they have studied the treaties on which the present EU is built, they could have seen for themselves that the union has been evolving steadily to a democratic polity in international law.

In 1973, the European Council identified the then Communities as 'a Union of democratic States'. As it is not feasible for a union of democratic states to be governed in an undemocratic manner, the new polity had to acquire democratic legitimacy of its own.

The first step in this direction consisted of the introduction of direct elections for the European Parliament in 1979.

This initial move was followed by the launch of EU citizenship in 1992 and the inclusion of democracy and the rule of law in the values of the Union through the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

While the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU gave the new citizens their own Magna Carta, the 2007 Lisbon Treaty construed the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state.

The feud between the opposing ideologies has crippled political thinking in Europe to such an extent that the EU still presents itself on the Europa server as "a unique economic and political union between 27 European countries."

The definition, which is also used by member states, mentions neither the citizens nor the values of the Union.

Under these circumstances, the European Parliament should heed Biden's call by overcoming the traditional divide. The Summit for Democracy will continue with a 'year of action' in preparation for a final meeting in December 2022.

So, the EU should do its homework.

In line with the conclusion of Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo that the last thing we need is another fight between eurofederalists and eurosceptics, the EU should reposition itself on the global stage by communicating that it has evolved from an organisation sui generis to a democratic international organisation.

In fact, the greatest compliment Biden could make to the EU is that he has organised the Summit for Democracy as the leader of a democratic federal state and has invited the EU to participate as a democratic international organisation.

Author bio

Jaap Hoeksma is a philosopher of law, and the author of The European Union: a democratic Union of democratic States.

Disclaimer

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

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