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?