The gap between people and politicians on the issue of Europe has never been wider. Large majorities in every member state now want powers to be returned from Brussels to the national capital. According to an opinion poll published in March, the number of people who want more European integration has fallen to 16 per cent in France, 12 per cent in Germany, and 5 per cent each in Sweden and the United Kingdom.
An unreconstructed paleo-federalism
Yet closer integration remains the aim of all the main pan-European parties standing for election in May. This year, for the first time, they have been invited to nominate candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, as though the EU were already a federal state. The three main candidates have interchangeable views. Jean-Claude Juncker for the Christian Democrats, Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals and Martin Schulz for the Socialists all favor a United States of Europe. All want tax harmonization, a single European military force, a united diplomatic corps, a federal police force and all the other accoutrements of single statehood.
This is the unreconstructed paleo-federalism of the 1950s, which takes no account of how the world has moved on, nor of how public opinion has turned against centralization. All three candidates come from EU founder members. Indeed, all three come from within a few miles of each other, in the heartland of Charles the Great which produced the original EU leaders.
Being opposed to a federal Europe
Who, then, will speak for all those millions of Europeans who have never asked to be citizens of a federal state? We will. The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists believes in a Europe of nations. We recognize that people’s primary loyalty is to their national institutions and, instead of centralizing more powers in Brussels, we want to take decisions closer to the people they affect. We are the youngest of the main European political parties, bringing together 18 mainstream center-right national parties of which six are presently in office. We believe in sound money, personal responsibility, free competition, trade liberalization, low taxes, strong families, national sovereignty and the devolution of power.
Being opposed to a federal Europe, we have not proposed a candidate for the Commission presidency. We believe that the process lacks a proper legal basis. The Treaty of Lisbon contains one sentence saying that the national governments should take account of the European elections when proposing the President, which the integrationist parties have chosen to interpret as meaning that, in effect, a federal Europe already exists, with pan-European parties contesting the election on common and binding manifestos. In any case, the whole idea lacks public support. Try to imagine a voter in Lisbon or Leipzig or Liverpool saying “I was planning to vote for Juncker, but this Verhofstadt fellow really impresses me”. The federalists are building a government where there is no nation, no shared public opinion.
Democracy requires a demos
Democracy requires a demos: a unit with which we identify when we use the word “we”. That exists at national levels but – except for a tiny number of Brussels functionaries – it doesn’t exist at the European level. When you take the demos out of democracy, you are left only with the kratos: with the power of a state that must compel by law what it dare not ask in the name of civic engagement.
AECR stands for a different kind of Europe. We believe that the EU has responded to the euro crisis by accelerating the policies that caused it in the first place: more integration, more borrowing, more government intervention. We believe that Europe would be more prosperous, as well as more democratic, if each nation were free to fit its economic policy to its own needs. We want to ensure that the flow of powers between Brussels and the national capitals can happen both ways. We believe, in short, in a Europe of free peoples, free nations and free markets. We may be in a small minority in Brussels — but not, we hope, among the national electorates.