The United States of Europe could be the social project of the century, but Macron and his allies will not build it

The European Left should renew itself radically and push for social federalism and a Progressive Europe.

It seems yesterday when newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron opened his victory rally with the Ode to Joy, while the crowds waved the French tricolour and the EU flag. But what has become of Macron’s Europeanist aspirations? They have come to nothing. Macron and his République En Marche (REM) party have become the pillar of the status-quo Europeanist political group led by Guy Verhofstadt. Verhofstadt, despite his rhetoric, has joined the EU power structure without pushing decisively for a federalist agenda. Even with an increase in the share of the vote gathered by his Renew Europe (formerly ALDE), Verhofstadt’s Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager de facto merely retained her previous post as the head of the EU’s antitrust policy. Macron, instead, has protected his country’s interests just like (and sometimes even more than) his predecessors. To cite but one event, Italians to this day cannot forget the Bardonecchia incident, in which French police illegally entered Italian territory to search a Nigerian migrant for drugs before he could cross the border to France. This event highlighted how Macron has been hypocritical when it comes to the migrant crisis, pledging a European response one day and leaving the mess to Italy and other border countries the next one. And this same pattern is repeated in other policy areas. For example, Macron and his REM are happy to sit in the EU Parliament with Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s party, themost relentless opponent of Corona Bonds and the Recovery Plan during the recent negotiations. The tragedy in all of this lies in the fact that ‘Macronians’ believe they are the heirs of the EU’s founding fathers, but they have forgotten Spinelli’s determination to create a single European government that guarantees all citizens’ social and political rights.

Europe as a Necessity

The question then becomes why Europeans might need the United States of Europe, and who is the most appropriate political actor to build them. As Arbury Road’s first article has shown, a federalist response to the Coronavirus crisis was the best and only appropriate response available. But we must also be frank about the role of Europe in today’s international political order. Europe is today largely impotent on most issues against the power and interests of global giants like China, the United States and Russia. It is in the interest of Europeans that we organise ourselves in ways that these powers will not like. We need a unified army, to be part of NATO on a peer-to-peer basis with the United States. We need a unified fiscal policy, to eradicate poverty and fiscal inequality in all the corners of the continent and increase public investments and job creation. We need a common, innovative welfare network based on a Universal Basic Income that guarantees a minimum of social and economic development to every European. These are just examples (or even, provocations that the magazine will analyse in depth in the next articles), but the bottom line is that we need a fully-sovereign EU Parliament and a Federal Government with full financial, economic and political power. And again, Macron and the current status-quo leadership have lost sight of these fundamental necessities and have become embroiled in the day-to-day administration of an EU that loses legitimacy by the day.

The Idea of a Federal State

The only political actor able to do this is a new coalition of Progressives stretching from the Greens through the centre-left to liberal federalists. Only such a coalition has the ideals to implement a social federalism. However, self-criticism is fundamental to create a new Left that speaks to the needs of all citizens and stops shying away from embracing full-on Europeanism. Instead, actors like the centre-left of the S&D have made substantial mistakes in the last 12 years, as they have pandered to the right-wing agenda of austerity that has encouraged the emergence of populism and the far-right. Maintaining the present contradictory stance of liberal pro-Europeanism without federalism will only boost the enemies of European integration, and keep citizens dissatisfied under the current political regime.

To be clear, all of this is not to say that progressives should necessarily exclude liberals and centrists from their federalist project. Instead, progressives should redefine the European project and create a new social agenda focused on human and social rights, jobs, and the Green New Deal. Federalism, without progressivism, is an empty concept. So far, the EU has dwelt for too long on its rhetoric about the European peace and the pivotal role of the single market in preserving it. Progressives can and have to provide the European project with new political aspirations and ideals that aim to make the continent once again a global leader on all fronts. Progressives have a vision because they want to radically reduce economic and social inequality, increase access to high-quality education, reduce unemployment and increase the quality of life of all citizens, just to mention some policy areas. In brief, progressives are the true heirs of the political project of the founding fathers, the likes of Spinelli, Schumann, De Gasperi, Monnet and Adenauer. On the other hand, liberals are at present plagued by the delusion of ‘neo-functionalism’, a sociological theory according to which after the institution of the EU single market, a federal state would emerge automatically with time. According to this principle, we would one day wake up with the United States of Europe without even noticing. This is pure fantasy, as the Coronavirus crisis has shown, and the Union is now more likely to disintegrate rather than integrate further. Decisive action is required now to avert a catastrophe.

A Strategy for Europe

Progressives, as said above, have the ideals, but also the strategy. Liberals and centrists fight populists and the far-right in the name of abstract principles, such as the Rule of Law. Liberals think that Orbán, Salvini and Le Pen would be deterred from enacting their obscurantist policies when the headlines of mainstream newspapers warn against the return of fascism or the rise of dictators. Progressives know that what the people have been wanting to hear is a new project to increase their wealth and rights, an agenda that goes beyond the disaster capitalism of post-2008 Europe. Sadly, so far, progressives have not been able to articulate such a project, and have left a vacuum for the far-right to fill. But now is a good time to make up for lost time, and the progressives should enthusiastically claim the mantle of federalist movement to push for the implementation of social and economic policies that truly serve the interests of all Europeans.