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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Models for an EU superstate?

The United States of Europe?For those coming in late, the superstate series so far:
- The danger of Jean Monnet
- Why EU superstate conspiracy theories are nonsense
- Four points and a question for eurosceptics who believe in the advancing EU superstate
- EU competence creep, the spectre of the superstate, and how governments actually work

As I’ve set out several times, I don’t see an EU superstate as a realistic possibility at any point in the next hundred years – not even the next three hundred years. For me, this isn’t a problem. Our grandchilren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren are unlikely to have any of the same concerns that we do today – and as the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 has proven nicely, national/cultural identities are more than capable of surviving political union (hell, in Scotland’s case the national identity has arguably got even stronger since the Acts of Union). As such, if – over the course of the next few centuries – it proves to be in the best economic interest of the peoples of Europe for a “superstate” of some description to emerge from the present EU, so what? We’ll all be long dead.

But if such a superstate were to emerge, what would it look like? On one of those previous superstate posts (all of which have got healthy discussions in the comments – despite various sidetracks into insane detail about trucking and jam), helpful contributor French Derek argues that

“a federal state of 27 nations, each with their own languages, cultures, economic models, etc would be impossible to govern”

However, there are two cases where something similar to this has come about – Russia and India. Could these provide us with a vision of a future European superstate and clues about a model to follow?

Where the EU is made up of 27 member states with 23 official languages (and a bunch of other, less widely-used ones ranging from Cornish in the UK and Frisian in Denmark/Germany through more widely-used unofficial languages like Russian, Ukrainian and Romani), the Russian Federation is made up of 21 semi-autonomous republics (plus various self-governing cities, oblasts, okrugs, etc. making up a total of 83 federal subjects) and has 27 official languages), while India is made up of 28 states (and a few additional semi-autonomous regions) with 29 languages spoken by more than a million people (and 122 spoken by more than 100,000). Neither country – much like the EU – could be considered to be ethnically or religiously homogenous.

But the fact remains that both federal states continue to function, despite insanely complex internal demographics (far more so than the United States of America – the federal model most often used as a point of comparison with any future EU superstate). Naturally, the size of their populations are not entirely comparable – Russia’s population is c.145 million (about a third of the EU’s 500 million) and India’s c.1.17 billion (about twice the EU’s population), while the US’ population of c.300 million is about two thirds that of the EU. But still – India’s size is similar at 1.3 million square miles as opposed to the EU’s 1.6 million (compared the the USA’s 3.6 million and Russia’s 6.7 million) – so who’s to say that either population or geographical area is a factor in the functioning of an effective federal state?

Of course, in the case of both Russia and India (as well as, arguably, that of the US), their current situation came about after centuries of war and conquest – unlike the EU’s entirely peaceful formation – and whether either Russia or India can be considered to be effectively governed is another matter entirely. But Russia, India and the US nonetheless are all examples of large federal states that manage to work – in India and the US with more or less effective democracies that have both seen minorities elected to the highest office in the land (Obama in the US, obviously, but also Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh). In both India and Russia (and arguably some parts of the US as well, with the various secessionist movements), the various federal states and regions have often retained a strong sense of identity and autonomy – just as have Scotland and Wales (among others) in the much smaller federal state that is the United Kingdom. Both India and Russia also retain some violent paramilitary nationalist/minority elements that occasionally cause trouble (much like in the federal state of Spain with ETA, or the UK with the various Irish republican groups of the last few decades).

So large federal states with complex demographics can exist and function with the constituent parts retaining their own national/cultural identites.

But can they hold together? India was far larger than it now is when under British rule – once the Raj left 60 years ago, Partition tore the country in three in a bloody horror the tensions of which remain to this day. With the end of the Cold War and fall of the Communist Party, various parts of the old USSR (Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, etc. etc.) broke away from Russia – and other regions, most notably Chechnya, have continued as part of the federation only under threat of force. The United States was torn apart by civil war less than a century after its formation.

Indeed, it’s arguable that Russia and India continue to hold together largely due to fear of “the other” – the perceived threat of the West in Russia (hence the rampant popularity of the nationalistic Putin and co), and the genuine threat of Pakistan in India (the threat of India in turn acting as a unifying device for the fragile federation of Pakistan). The United States originally came together thanks to the threat of Britain, while England emerged from the Heptarchy under the threat of the Vikings, France from the threat of England, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, modern federal Germany from a series of unifying wars with various neighbours under Bismark – and so on and so on.

In all cases, the sense of identity – “I am Russian”, “I am Indian”, “I am American”, “I am English”, “I am French”, “I am German” and all the rest – emerged due to a growing sense that another group of people were both somehow different and a threat. (Welsh national identity is a prime case in point – such a thing didn’t even exist until England started to invade what is now Wales, with the entire region made up of little more than warring tribes and principalities until they were given a unifying force, and existed as one kingdom only once – and then for just seven years – until the English conquest was completed and Wales in its current form was created. The same unifying, nationalising effect can also be seen in Scotland, where medieval English invasions likewise fostered a sense of Scottish national identity that helped bring the warring clans together.)

But what is the European Union’s threat? Who is “the other” for the EU that can foster a sense of European identity? With the current ongoing arguments over Turkish EU entry – not to mention the rise in tensions between Islam and the West of the last decade, the Islamist terror attacks in Madrid and London, and the perennial Europe-wide tensions over immigration – is “the other” for the EU going to be Islam? With the increasingly frequent stand-offs between the EU and Moscow over energy supplies and the autonomy of states on the European fringe, could it be Russia? For a while under the Bush administration and in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, it even looked like it might be America.

But whatever the “threat” – real or simply perceived – might turn out to be, it is hard to see a truly European identity begin to emerge without a greater sense of what being European is *not*. “We are American because we are not British”, “We are English because we are not Viking”, “We are Welsh/Scottish because we are not English” – this is how national identity has always begun.

So, while I disagree that the EU is too big and complex to form a superstate, I do maintain that such a thing remains unlikely. You can legislate to create political and economic integration, you can forge agreements between different territories and different cultures – but you cannot legislate or negotiate to build a sense of identity. Without that sense of identity – “I am American”, “I am Indian”, “I am Russian” – none of those three existing sprawling federations would be able to hold together. Of the EU’s 500 million citizens, how many really feel “European” to the extent that an American feels American, a Russian Russian or an Indian Indian? Hell – we can’t even agree on what Europe is – how can we know what it is to be European?

71 Comments

  1. Josef L,

    Back to you later.

  2. Robin,

    You have a very interesting and unusual political view, and I don’t think I’ve really come across it before. I had originally figured you as an out and out eurosceptic, but your criticism seems to be reserved more for British civil servants.

    Are they really so bad? If you lived in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, even the US, wouldn’t you hate government bureaucracy in those countries just as much?

    Anyway, I’ll wait for your response.

    Joe

  3. Josef L,

    Sorry to come back late, and I will go over to your manor to post something there.

    Your post @ April 19.

    VED is a uk tax but is under conditions of the EU. Among other conditions about tax is that no country can levy a tax on another member state for anything (like trucks) unless it is non discriminatory ie; it is also levied against its own citizens.Which goes back to the point;

    A mamber state cannot discriminate against citizens of other member states BUT a member state can discriminate against its own citizens.

    Which is not a problem in other countries, but is here.
    To give an example how this moves from a national issue to an EU issie and back to the national issue.

    Germany was fed up of foreign trucks in its country, especially as many of them were only in transit. What was particularly galling was for a French truck (as an example) to transit through Germany paid nothing. But a German truck transitting or even terminating in France had to pay tolls.
    So, under pressure from the haulage associations and the unions, Germany proposed a charge on all trucks when on its territory. This angered the Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourg and Danish truckers whose countries did not charge foreign trucks either. But Germany couldn`t charge foreign trucks whose countries charged German trucks as this would be discriminatory. BY EU law it had to charge those other countries that did not charge German hauliers.
    So the Vignette system was devised in which the Benelux countries together with Denmark and Germany, would charge all foreign trucks as well as their own, sharing the costs and proceeds.
    Notice anything here ?
    Britain loses out again. Now there are another 5 countries we have to pay in.
    We`re not in this system, because this is the one time that the senior civil servants get patriotic, and dont want to be tied in to something controlled by Germany (probably because it involves work for them ).

    To your other point: we should leave. As quickly as possible. We may not be subject to the Shengen agreement (We are not anyway), but the single market is more of a myth than reality. We all want to trade and we import more from the EU than we export to it, so everyone will chill out, accept it wasn`t for us and get on in other ways.

  4. Josef L,

    Your next post.

    I dont think my view is unusual. I think it is shared by a lot or even most of the people now. I`m probably unusual in that I think i`ve narrowde down where the actaul bad governance is happening, but I think a lot of people are beggining to see it now.I am an out and out EUrosceptic, but I have made a list of the types of EUrosceptics (and EUrophiles) and it`s a brader church than you would imagine. I dont think, like some EUrosceptics (a small group) that the EU is a German plot for dominance for example, and I dont wish the EUro to fail and have an impoverished Europe .(having said that, sometimes I do ).

    I think, outside of corruption, the British senior civil servants are the worst in the developed world, and lower than many others.The bureaucracy in those other countries may be bad, but they wont be LOOKING AFTER tHE INTERESTS OF OTHERS INSTEAD OF THEIR OWN TAXPAYERS who pay their wages.

    Whether I hated them or not would probably be a bit more on an individual basis, as one of them might be obnoxios , bullying or corrupt. I cant see the whole ethos being as bad as the British,though.

  5. Robin@April 20th, 4:44 pm

    I’ll be honest I don’t get it, why did the British lorry driver lose out? It’s not just the British lorry drivers that have to pay in the five countries you mentioned the same hold true for French, German, Dutch etc. lorry drivers.
    And why would a system that would only target French truck drivers be fairer?

    Nosemonkey @April 19th, 8:42 pm

    After a quick Google search and according to Euractiv there are currently talks for an EU wide Eurovignette system.

  6. @Robin

    It’s interesting chatting with you – I can see where a lot of your frustration comes from, and I share in much of it (especially with jobs and livelihoods being lost left, right and centre at the moment).

    I think, on the whole (and this is maybe where we disagree), that access to the EU market is good for British workers. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel more jobs would be lost if we didn’t have such close ties with Europe. I don’t think India, the US, New Zealand or other countries would be able to pick up the slack if we reduced our trade with Europe. International trade is vital, but regional trade is equally (if not more) important.

    As for the nature of British civil servants. Well, I don’t personally know any British civil servants, so I can’t speak for their character. I have found the bureaucracy in Italy to have more red-tape than the bureaucracy in the UK, and the bureaucracy in Indonesia to be supremely… challenging (to be diplomatic) compared to the UK. I can’t help but feel that civil servants in Britain can’t possibly be all bad, and that it must be a fairly thankless profession (somebody, somewhere, is almost always going to be affected badly by your actions).

  7. Blaat,

    It comes down to the fact that British hauliers pay wherever they go in Europe, but foreign hauliers dont pay in the UK.
    If it wasn`t for the EU, Germany could have just charged those countries that charged German hauliers – reciprocal levying. As it is, we are paying, paying, paying and no one pays us. Ultimately that means we cannot compete.
    Foreign hauliers know which way round they want the £/EUro rate of exchange–the pound to be high. They dont have any costs in sterling. We on the other hand are caught whichever way it goes. If it`s high, we are more expensive. If it`s low, we have to find more money to pay the other countries charges.And we are talking about a very low margin for profit industry.

    Josef L,

    Thanks, and it`s good talking to a sympathetic EUrophile (another one I met was an actual EU official who could understand why I did not want Britain to be part of the project ).

    There is a difference for access to a market for goods and services, and access for people. Here is where the UK loses out again. I`m sure that if Britain left this project most Europeans would understand and we would keep trading – which at present means Britain buying goods fron Europe.Outside of this recession/depression I dont think there would be any slack to take up.

    As for our civilservants, well I give them a chance but the tricks and vexatious ruses they have means they are as the caricatures in Yes Minister portray them. Indeed it looks like that TV show is used as a training video for them .
    It`s not a thankless proffession for those at the top. They are very well paid, have job security, prestige , pensions, perks and knighthoods. One thing I really hate are well paid people who are seem more stupid than I am. For the money etc they get they should be the best and adminster like the best.Not the worst.
    As for the other countries, did you ever get the impression that their civil servants were working for any other country rather than the one that pays its wages ?

    (There is a school of thought that if this EU project breaks up, the last country to leave, abiding by all the rules,being communitaire (ie not putting its own interests first) and paying in more would be Britain ).

  8. PS “Someone somewhere is always going to be badly affected by your decision ”

    A Frenchman, Greek, Pole, Chinaman, Peruvian etc doesn`t have to worry, the senior civil servants at Whitehall will make sure it`s an Englishman that will be badly affected.

  9. Robin,

    I’m always interested in hearing other people’s opinions – I certainly don’t have all the answers, so it’s good to have my views challenged as much as possible.

    On that note, could you recommend any good eurosceptic forums/blogs where people wouldn’t tear my head off if I commented? I’m interested in honest, open debate with eurosceptics, but don’t want random abuse!

    Joe

  10. Joe, that`s a hard one. The best would be EUReferendum but there are some that would tear your head off. Mind you, you get your head torn off even if you are EUrosceptic , they take no prisoners.For example I`ve had comments deleted because they thought I was provocative and goading one of the mods, as if I would do such a thing.
    Another one is the British Democracy Forum, where you can start any thread. It has beem infested of late with BNP and outright Nazis but they`re easily seen off , ignore their stupid threats, they`re too cowardly to meet you face to face.
    I know how you mean about abuse. I get fustrated about another blog, BBC Bias where lately ther has been foul language and a thread about it.It has put off posters who are of a different viwpoint, and lessens the blog.
    If you do go on one of the above, let me know, so that I can “pave” the way to stop any abuse.

  11. I actually find the British Democracy Forum a good place if you wish to argue with the EU sceptics. I would say in defence of my EU sceptic friends in the BNP that they, like myself, have seen an unaccountable bunch of freeloaders, known as the EU, impose themselves on our rights and sovereignty and so their anger is understandable.

    You will find the perfect anti-dote to EU imperialism on the British Democracy Forum.

    But be warned – all the crap about ‘rights and obligations’ from the EU’s legal and bureaucratic puppets will be given short measure.

    Good luck.

  12. @Robin and WG

    Thanks for your advice!

    I often read EU referendum. I don’t agree with everything that is said, but it seems well-researched. I’m reading Booker and North’s book: “The Great Deception” at the moment, and am generally enjoying it and finding it useful.

    The British Democracy forum, I’ve not heard of. I’m wary about the far-right, and if there are a lot of angry BNP supporters then I’m not sure I will post. I’ll have a look before I judge it, though.

    @Robin

    No need to pave the way – but if you see me on EU referendum, just let people know that I’m not looking to brainwash anybody and I’m not looking for a fight! I just want to know more about the EU sceptics’ argument!

  13. WG,
    The later BNP who are supporting the party I can understand and if there are no UKIP candidates in my area I will vote for them.It`s the ones who are Nazis and claim Germany is hard done by that are at least a nuisance.

    Josef ,

    I admire your open mindedness. Dont worry about the far right they are easily dealt with on the BDIF web.To be honest, I didn`t know there were so many shades of far right opinions, and I bet I`m pigeonholed as far right myself.

  14. Robin, I think you, as does Josef Litobarski, make a common mistake. The BNP are always described as right wing – they are, like their 1930′s German counterparts, National Socialists.

    Presently, it is hard to find a British political party who represents the ‘working class’ person. We have recently had the emergence of the no2eu party led by the leader of the RMT union, Bob Crowe. (A very tempting option as they are proposing not to take their seats in the EU’s toy parliament if elected)

    The BNP do seem to offer protection for British jobs; as a manual worker this policy is attractive when viewed against a corporatist and exploitative EU supported by the three main British parties.

    I would guess that you would like me to vote for UKIP, well I’ll be campaigning for them and will most probably vote for them.

    My preferred option is to NOT vote in the EU elections.

  15. WG,

    I wouldn’t know whether the BNP are just far-right or are actually technically nazis. I’m pretty sure their leadership would not call their party a neo-nazi party.

    Either way: UKIP, I can deal with. BNP is tricky for me. I wouldn’t automatically refuse to debate politics with a BNP supporter, because there are obviously reasons that they feel force them to give the BNP their vote. I would listen to them and strongly, strongly, strongly encourage them to vote for an alternative.

    If there really is, as you say, no alternative, then this is very worrying.

  16. W G,
    I have a colleague (cliche it sounds I know, but true ) who has joined this party and daily tells me about it. He is an ex TIR man like myself, still runs his own truck and is in despair about his situation.
    Anyway, he tells me one thing about them, I read other things about them, some of what they say is the nuts, some of their policies are nuts (closing down US airbases, National service, odd attitude to ethnics, isolationism in extremis ).
    But seeing as the BBC and establishment have been either ignoring or traducing UKIP, it now seems that party is going downhill.I presume the likes of the BBC thought that if UKIP were destroyed we would go back to just voting for the three main parties.

    Josek L,
    It is worrying,even more worrying as it is unneccesary. They are nowhere near power yet, so no one needs to be alarmed, except I hope, the three main parties.

  17. Robin,

    I actually find the BNP’s policies revolting. Labeling people “racial foreigners” is appalling. Would I qualify as British by their definition (one Polish grandfather who was a mechanic in the RAF during WWII)?

    http://www.thinkaboutit.eu/2009/04/as-the-election-approaches-the-christians-impress-and-don%E2%80%99t-induce-tears-andor-sleep/

    They are manipulating people to vote for them, and when people are scared about their jobs and feel ignored by the main parties, that’s exactly what they will do.

    This is, though, the reason I would still debate politics with a BNP supporter. If people are voting for the BNP because they feel ignored, then we should stop ignoring them. If, however, they happen to be a diehard supporter, then I’m not sure it’s even possible to talk about politics without things descending into a useless, exhausting fight.

  18. Robin and Josef Litobarski, you are quite right concerning the strange policies of the BNP. The unfortunate thing about the situation is that people have stopped thinking, they are now running on gut instinct.

    I am a member of UKIP, but they don’t appeal to me at a basic level. It is at this level that a person operates when he finds that he suddenly can not feed and house his family.

    The EU with its corporatist and exploitative policies have created this situation. Even now they are talking of taking in more immigrants. How can we do this when there are millions of people who are unemployed.

  19. Josef L,
    I too find that appalling but my freind explains it in other ways (talking to him today again he is disappointed that I might vote out of protest rather than commitment ).He keeps warning me that there is a lot of disinformation about them. I would even find a letter to a “racial foreigner ” offering money to get out of the UK offensive. Perhaps that party will split between those who are patriotic but disenchanted with the system and be like that one in Holland, and those who wish to pursue racial policies.

    WG,

    At a gut level I would be ticking for the Libertarian party, getting government, civil servants and their ilk out of our lives and having a much smaller role but doing it properly.I am also reactionary and would bring back hanging for criminals and civil servants.

  20. To Josef Litobarski

    On nationalism, nation-states and national identity – here’s an endless discussion thread you may find interesting:
    http://www.strategytalk.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=4975&start=0

    It’s not strictly from an EU perspective and it tends to ramble, but you may nonetheless find it contains some useful food-for-thought and pointers on various issues of particular interest to you.

  21. Thanks, Lisa!

    That’s really helpful of you – I’ll have a look at that thread now!

    Joe

    P.S. I tend to ramble myself, so no problem in that respect! ;D