Tuesday, May 13, 2014

E.U. Federalism Enabling Russian Expansionism

The visuals alone in the closing news conference of the EU-US “summit” held in Brussels, which President Barroso denoted as “the capital of Europe,” on March 26, 2014, must have struck Europeans and Americans alike as novel, if not rather bizarre; we are not yet accustomed to seeing the EU and US presidents on the same stage, for we are mired in the paradigm of another epoch. The failure to "catch up" may tacitly enable the expansion of another empire-level federation.

Were the original 12-star US flag used, the similarity would be too striking to ignore. This is not to say that the EU and US are identical in basic law. Whereas the US has one federal president, the EU has two. A council of presidents in the US had been considered in 1787 and dropped in favor of the energy that only a "single executive" could have(Image Source: Reuters)

The old mental framework may sense itself already out of place—that is to say, on borrowed time in the new century and millennium. Clutching tight to one word, country, as if the global system were exhausted by it (and reduces to it), may suggest just such a felt insecurity as a houseguest might feel once his or her relations have moved away and only strangers remain.

In the stage with EU Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso, US President Obama probably had no sense of the ambiguity latent in his reference to “the countries represented here today.”[1] To the overstayed houseguest, Obama was referring to the EU’s states and to the US but not to its states. The mental staying-power of a framework firmly ensconced in the global (collective, which is to say, shared) consciousness rides headlong over the silent category mistake that inheres in thinking of the states in one empire-scale union as each corresponding to another such union rather than to its states. Both in terms of scale and governmental sovereignty (i.e., dual-sovereignty), the states are states and the unions are unions—the situs of foreign policy, whether at the state or federal level, not being decisive as to the ontological nature of the unions as federal empire-scale unions-of-semi-sovereign states.

President Van Rompuy, chairman of the European Council—which like the US Senate is based on intergovernmental principles as polities rather than citizens are represented—had only his chamber’s half of modern federalism in mind when he stated, “We have to coordinate [sanctions] among our member states; they are not all in the same position as far as trade, energy, financial services is concerned; so we have to coordinate among us and of course with the United States.”[2] By implication, the United States is on par with the “member states” in the European Union. 

President Obama had already laid the perfect groundwork for his counterpart by observing that there “has been excellent coordination between the United States and Europe.”[3] To be sure, Obama was on more solid ground in stating that Russia has not driven a wedge “between the United States and the European Union,” and that over the years, “we have been able to deepen the ties between the European Union and the United States.” [4] Yet he quickly reverted to treating the EU as if it were like NATO instead. “The twenty-eight members of the European Union are united; the twenty-eight members of NATO are united.”[5] Well, the fifty members of the United States were united too; hence the name, whose use in the singular rather than plural only became definitive nearly a century after the Declaration of Independence declared to the world thirteen sovereign states, or countries.

The American president’s uses of Europe and members are both logically problematic (especially at an EU-US Summit!). Furthermore, the rhetoric played into the European president’s institutional and prejudicial agenda in privileging the EU’s states at the expense of not only the US’s states but also the EU itself.

Put in terms of the development of federalism both historically (and relatedly) in terms of the theory, Van Rompuy was reducing modern federalism, which contains both national and intergovernmental governmental institutions at the federal level, to the much older confederal, alliance-based, sort of federalism that is entirely intergovernmental at the federal level.  Excluded from the mythic paradigm wherein the EU is like the ancient Athenian Alliance and Spartan League are EU institutions such as the European Parliament (which like the US House of Representatives is founded on national-government principles), the European Commission (also national rather than intergovernmental), and the European Court of Justice.

In practical terms, President Van Rompuy’s antiquated vantage-point reinforces a major weakness of the EU. En fait, Van Rompuy’s council of the EU state governments could not get past their commercial differences to arrive at a formidable array of sanctions “with sharp teeth” to impose on Russia in the wake of its invasion of the Crimea region of Ukraine, an independent state between two empire-scale federations. Whereas the governments of the republics and regions of the Russian Federation did have sufficient power to thwart Putin’s adventurism at the federal level, the EU’s states had enough power in the EU’s federal system to obstruct a united response with enough “teeth” to push Putin back into Russia and keep him from further incursions at the expense of neighboring independent states.  

As it stood, Ukrainian lawmakers could only lament Ukraine’s agreement with Russia and the US to give up the third-largest stock of nuclear weapons in exchange for the counterparties respecting Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. “We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement,” Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said in the wake of the Russian invasion. “Now there’s a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake.”[6] As if unable to part with his partial (intergovernmental) understanding of the EU as something akin to NATO or the Athenian Alliance rather than Russia, China, and the US, President Van Rompuy reflected in his remarks the institutional bias of his own chamber at the expense not only of the EU itself, but also the world. 

The failure of the whole (i.e., the EU) to relativize the particular state interests in the European Council (and the Council of Ministers) to the overarching interests of the EU (as represented in the Commission and the European Parliament as a body) informed Rizanenko’s reservations and thus tacitly sent the message that reducing nuclear proliferation does not pay. Add in the message to Putin that he could invade Ukraine with virtually no cost to Russia and we can conclude that the imbalance in the EU in favor of the state governments at the expense of the Union (and its foreign policy) has already made the world a much more dangerous place. The antiquated, and indeed mistaken view of the EU as comparable to NATO and thus of the EU’s member states though little united states of Europe (while the US states are somehow like European provinces) is not merely an ideologically convenient (i.e., self-serving) series of category mistakes; the resulting fecklessness in the EU had had a direct impact in weakening global security.

[1] Closing News Conference, “EU-US Summit,” March 26, 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Oren Dorell, “Ukraine Lawmaker Laments Giving Up Nuclear Arsenal,” USA Today, March 11, 2014.