The European Union, and more particularly the Eurozone, does not know what it is. This is not only a matter of nominalism, but also of the meaning of the project.
To still consider this Europe as a “Federation of Nation States”, as Jacques Delors put it many years back, is clearly insufficient as a description and as a desideratum. Today we have to move away from the idea of a United States of Europe, to think of the EU as a republic, as the European res publica, and to put citizens and civil society back into the centre stage that they have abandoned.
To consider a European republic means to make democracy a priority, especially in these times in which we are emptying out national democracy without replacing it with a European democracy.
European citizens feel they can choose among politicians, but much less so among policies. Or that, to make a real difference, they would need to choose among European policies.
But that is not possible, as the electoral system, as we have seen in the last elections to the European Parliament, is a sum of national elections, even in some ways of nationalistic elections, and nationalism can destroy Europe and its peoples.
That Europe has no demos (people), but rather a collection of demoi (peoples) is not the central problem. A demos is not something given, but constructed as a result of historical processes and also of policies, of purpose. The problem is to see Europe as an entity formed exclusively by states–not even nation states but member states–and not by citizens, in spite of the Treaties that say that it is both at the same time.
The problem of not being able to choose European policies is that the real choice is between populisms and technocracy. And that is something that alienates people and ultimately reinforces populisms (of various kinds).
The way out of that bogus choice, again was very present in the recent European elections, is by going for transnational European choices that could form the basis of a European republic. Citizens in Europe are not organized in a transnational setting. They have no real voice through their representatives. The idea of a European republic should push the emergence of a political ‘we’, based on social bodies. A more transnational and republican organization would also mean getting away from the vertical structures of the EU towards a horizontal one that would allow coalitions building among European citizens.
It also means that there is a need for a redistribution of powers among the EU institutions. The European Parliament has gained new powers with every new treaty, all except the one which from a democratic point of view it should have: the right of initiative that remains a monopoly at the behest of the European Commission (and in some instances, of the member states).
Joachim Glauck, the president of Germany, has made use of the term ‘European Republic’ in some of his speeches. This idea of a ‘Republic’ is connected with the meaning it possessed in the European Middle Ages as it appeared in the first modern writings of thinkers like Bodino: that is, a legal concept of the cross-national exercise of sovereign powers. It was conceived as a way of sharing a democracy in common among citizens, but citizens with different national democratic systems and different ways of doing things. Some are parliamentary monarchies, others more purely parliamentarian, others presidential or semi presidential systems, and so forth.
It also means aiming for a European common good. And that idea of the common good shared by every European citizen would also be a way of overcoming the worrying divisions that have arisen of late in Europe between north and south, creditors and debtors, centre and periphery and even between the ins and outs (of the Eurozone), although the major aim which the republic needs to steer towards has to be the construction of the economic and monetary union, open to all EU member states of course.
The republic has to be based not so much on equality as on solidarity, even solidarity in the plural—solidarities–, as a concept and a set of realities no longer directly linked to sovereignty and national borders.
It has also to be a solidarity between generations, and especially towards the young who have felt abandoned in the latest phases of construction of the EU and the Eurozone, an abandonment that has led to more people aged 18-25 voting above average for populist options in most of the countries of the Union.
In the end, to opt for the European republic idea means to organize European civil society and to give it a voice in the European system. Not to do this will lead citizens to exit the system, as Albert O. Hirschman would have put it.
In this context, the Spanish debate should be more than about a monarchy-republic. It should be about the European dimension of the res publica.
Ulrike Guérot is Senior Associate for Germany at the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE) | @ulrikeguerot
Andrés Ortega is Senior Reserach Fellow at the Elcano Institute in Spain and member of the European Council on Foreign Relations | @andresortegak