18 May 2014

The United States of Europe: EU’s answer to Russia?

Only a strong single European state would be able to fend off the threat from Russia and solve the euro crisis, a prominent supporter of a federal Europe tells Channel 4 News.

In a call to counter the rise of anti-EU parties, Brendan Simms, professor of the history of international relations at Cambridge University, told Channel 4 News: “Euroscepticism is a huge threat, not so much because people are cautious about the ability of Europe to deliver – a concern which I share – but because they seem to be turning their backs on our common destiny altogether.

A euro blow-out or a Russian attack on the Baltic states would create much greater pressure for a federal solution. Professor Brendan Simms

“Opinion polls suggest that most people don’t want to give up the euro, or to simply acquiesce in Mr Putin’s aggression in the east. At the same time, they don’t seem to will the means to solve the euro crisis or to defend Europe’s eastern border.

“Whether it is possible will depend on how bad things get. A euro blow-out or a Russian attack on the Baltic states would create much greater pressure for a federal solution. Only a single state can create the eurobond and the common military necessary to master the internal and external challenges.”

European elections

Of all the current leaders in the European parliament, the man who seems to “get this most” is Guy Verhofstadt, Mr Simms told Channel 4 News.

Mr Verhofstadt is a former Belgium MP and leader of the centre-right Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), who are polled to finish third at the EU elections next week behind Jean-Claude Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg and European People’s Party (EPP) leader, and Martin Schulz, German leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

Dutch journalist Joop Hazenberg, from EU Watcher, told Channel 4 News: “Mr Verhofstadt is not a serious candidate, as the other two candidates will get up to four times as many votes, but he is an excellent speaker. He is energetic and a true believer in a federalist Europe, so he fires up debates.

“The liberal group of Verhofstadt, ALDE, hope they can retain their position as third group in the next European parliament. Though he will not become the president of the commission, in brokering a deal for all the top positions, he can become the president of the European Council.”

Guy Verhofstadt (Reuters)

Mr Verhofstadt (above) is a prominent federalist in the EU parliament and founded the Spinelli Group, an EU initiative with a view to reinvigorate federalism in Europe. In 2013 the Spinelli Group published its federal treaty for the EU elections in Brussels.

Mr Verhofstadt was blocked by Britain in his last attempt to become commission president in 2004 on the grounds that he was too federalist, but he is trying to soften his image, saying he favours cutting back EU bureaucracy. His views are still likely to antagonise Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to allow Britons to vote on whether to leave the EU if he is re-elected.

Mr Hazenberg told Channel 4 News: “The federal treaty proposal comes from a group of very pro-European politicians who may be walking around in Brussels for a long time now, but do not represent the general vision of Europe’s leaders. Schulz and Juncker also want a more federal Europe, but the member states will firmly put their feet on the brake.”


The shift away from a more federal Europe in Brussles comes as a result of the rise of Eurosceptics and far-right parties set for major gains in the elections next week.

In Germany, the AfD party is rating well, in Italy Beppe Grillo’s populists Five Star Movement are front-runners, and the radical left Syriza in Greece is also popular.

But the far-right and Eurosceptic parties remain divided, with Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Finland’s far-right Finns or the Danish People’s Party all refusing to put together a parliamentary group with Marine Le Pen on the grounds that the party remains racially prejudiced and anti-Semitic.

Ms Le Pen plans to launch an anti-EU group with Geert Wilders, controversial leader of the anti-immigrant anti-Islam PVV Dutch Freedom Party. but she refuses to do business with Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.

Nigel Farage (Reuters)

Matthew Goodwin Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences at Chatham House, told Channel 4 News: “Radical right-wing and eurosceptic parties will perform strongly in some EU member states. [But] one thing these parties lack is unity at the pan-European level and while Le Pen and Wilders are trying to establish a new alliance of anti-EU and anti-immigration parties, they will struggle to match the strong unity of other party families in Europe, like the greens and progressives.”

Vincenzo Scarpetta, political analyst at the Open Europe think tank, told Channel 4 News: “There is little public appetite for ‘more Europe’, and the rise of anti-EU and protest parties in almost every EU country is a wake-up call for the political establishment. The only way to bring Europe closer to citizens is to aim for a deeply reformed, slimmed-down EU that does less but does it better. A United States of Europe would be the guaranteed way to make voters eventually throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Mr Hazenberg added: “The euro crisis has shattered that federalist dream. Trust in the EU has plummeted even in pro-European countries like Spain and the Netherlands. The eurozone has to be fixed, a banking union installed, our energy supplies secured and the foreign policy extended because of the re-awakening of the Russian bear. That will keep Europe’s politicians and people working here in Brussels busy for a long time to come. The member states will keep playing the first violin in the European concert. You will see more bundling of sovereignty, and more centralization of powers in Brussels, but not a dramatic step towards a real EU government with a full-fledged parliament and a senate etc.”