A United States of Europe?

by Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat (Author)
©2020 Monographs 216 Pages


Why are a United States of Europe, in theory and abstract the most rational option, practically impossible today? This book analyses the contradiction implied in having enormous world-level potential whilst lacking the force to execute this due to the current structural limitations of the European Union. It examines the principal historical background to the idea of a federal Europe and its successive achievements after the European Community was constituted. It also aims to show how a union has been shaped where supranational and intergovernmental impulses coexist in a contradictory way. The Great Recession of 2008 and the refugee crisis of 2015 have also posed ever more profound challenges to European integration. Eurosceptic and Europhobic forces that encourage nationalist withdrawal and opt for recipes of authoritarian populism are taking advantage of the errors and hesitancy of the community "establishment". After describing and interpreting the context and results of the crucial elections to the European Parliament in 2019, the programmes of the main parties in the six most populated states of the union are analysed. This takes the form of a questionnaire regarding the greater or lesser degree of integration advocated by each state, providing a highly representative picture of the great plurality of existing options. Lastly, it includes a chapter on the constitution of the Von der Leyen Commission, the finalisation of Brexit and the serious crisis the European Union has faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Presentation
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Background and Characteristics of the Community System
  • Origins and Developments until 1957: European Projects in Historical Perspective
  • New Integrative Projects within the Community Framework
  • A Hybrid System
  • Federalising Theories on the Nature of the Community
  • Federal and Non-Federal Elements
  • Federal Asymmetries and Differentiated Integration
  • A Federation without a Federal State?
  • Chapter 2 The European Union as a Protofederal Structure
  • Nation States as the Main Obstacle
  • Democratic Deficit, Institutional Problems and Limits of the Community Method
  • Euroscepticism and Nationalism
  • Populism, Europeanism and State Interests
  • The Crises of 2008 and 2015
  • The (Virtually Federal) Role of the European Central Bank (ECB)
  • Driving Factors
  • Why Federalism?
  • Strategies and Proposals
  • Executive Institutions, Bank Union and Fiscal Union
  • Elections, Europarties and Citizens
  • Chapter 3 The 2019 European Parliamentary Elections
  • The Political Background – Tensions with Hungary, Poland and Italy
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Italy
  • The Limited Reform of the Eurozone and New Proposals in Foreign and Defence Policy
  • Brexit from a European Perspective
  • Polls, Campaign and Results
  • The New Balance of Power
  • Chapter 4 Party Manifestos and Positions
  • Parties of the European Popular Party (EPP)
  • Christian Democratic Union of Germany-Baviera Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU)
  • The Republicans (LR)
  • Forza Italia (FI) (Let’s Go Italy)
  • Partido Popular (PP)
  • Koalicja Europejska (KE) – (European Coalition)
  • Socialist and Democrat (S&D) Parties
  • Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)
  • Socialist Party (SP), France
  • Labour Party (LP)
  • Democratic Party (DP)
  • Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE)
  • Parties for the Renovation of Europe (RE)
  • Free Democratic Party (FDP)
  • The Republic on the Move (LREM)
  • Liberal Democrats (LD)
  • Citizens (Cs)
  • Green Parties-European Free Alliance (G-EFA)
  • Alliance 90/The Greens (B90/DG)
  • Europe Ecology the Greens (EELV)
  • Green Party (GP)
  • Scottish National Party (SNP)
  • Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC)
  • Parties of the European Conservative and Reformers Group (ECR)
  • Brothers of Italy (FDI)
  • Vox
  • Law and Justice (PIS)
  • Identity and Democracy Parties (ID)
  • Alternative for Germany (AFD)
  • National Rally (RN)
  • Non-Inscrits (NI)
  • 5 Star Movement (M5S)
  • European United Left/Nordic Green Left Parties (EUL/NGL)
  • The Left (DL)
  • Unbowed France (LFI)
  • We Can (Podemos)
  • Chapter 5 Post-Electoral Scenarios: Von der Leyen Commission, Brexit, Covid-19
  • The New Commission and the Outcome of Brexit
  • The Covid-19 Crisis and the European Union
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix
  • Acronyms
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

←14 | 15→


This is an essential book for those who want to understand where this peculiar political form we call the European Union is going and, above all, attempt to predict its future course. It is not easy, but this work by Cesáreo Rodríguez Aguilera de Prat will serve as a route map and compass. Take it as read that the author is not exactly an “impartial observer”, an attribute that in other scientific fields is usually a virtue. No, Rodríguez Aguilera is a convinced Europeanist, a committed supporter of the EU, and also as “Euro-Optimist” as they come, an idea clearly expressed in the dedication to his son on the back cover of this book.

Two well-constructed perspectives define the structure of the book. Chapters 1 and 2 guide us pedagogically through the historical background of this historic continental aspiration for unity. I consider it of great importance that the author has entered (beyond the usual review of these antecedents from their origins until 1957) the complicated terrain of what we political scientists call “applicable theory”. Not surprisingly, some eminent colleagues (Leca, Klingemann) have called the EU an “unidentified flying quasi-constitutional object”. Irony apart, the truth is that after several decades of existence, disciplines such as Political Science, Constitutional Law, International Law, The Theory of Organisations, etc., remain partially necessary, but none of them allow us to adequately describe the EU in its entirety. One reason for such a paradox is that we should not forget that (when dealing with a matter of this type) reality precedes the theory adequately describing it as a posteriori (if we are lucky). Therefore, the sections “Federalising theories on community nature”, “Federal asymmetries and differential integration” or the disturbing proposition “A Federation without a Federal state?” are not only innovative, but highly pedagogical. Chapter 2 continues along the same lines. We know full well that states are both the engines of the EU and the main obstacle to a vault to greater federal integration. We are essentially aware of what has been called “democratic deficit” but are at a loss as to how to solve it, and in fact we do not even know if it is possible to do so without limiting the weight of states’ sovereignty. We ←15 | 16→know the problem of populisms of different types (with the persistent discontent they usually cause) with the paradox that one of their favourite battlegrounds is the European Parliament itself, where they are sent by national voters – let’s not fool ourselves. In counterbalance, the heterodox federalising role of the European Central Bank and the major questions that arise on issues such as the fiscal union, the banking union and an EU in which many states are in the euro (but others not) and so on are considered.

Chapters 3 and 4 develop another topic, with a focus on protagonists and political processes, in other words, on parties and elections. Here it is worth mentioning that, unlike the first two chapters, these will have to be updated in future editions of this book. The important issues examined in the first half of the book will persist and are unlikely to be resolved in the short term, but those in the second half will have to adapt to changes in political and electoral reality, from legislature to legislature and from election to election to the EP. Certainly one can think that the great ideological families express continuity to a greater or lesser extent (Popular, Democratic, Social Democratic and Green) but few national parliaments have a degree of volatility and fragmentation comparable to that of the EU. Simple group names are at once renewed or changed, perplexing not just the minority but the majority of observers. I think that this adaptability to new changes is undoubtedly one of the great challenges that the author faces; however, given his motivation and the solidity of his academic background, he overcomes this through his research work, as evidenced by the book’s Conclusions, which truly offers an invaluable addition to the research as a whole.

Pere Vilanova
Emeritus Professor of Political Science
at the University of Barcelona

←16 | 17→


This book originated in a personal reflection on the future of the European Union that poses a specific dilemma: Why is the United States of Europe practically impossible today if in theory and abstract the concept is the most rational? The EU as a whole is the world’s primary trading power, the principal donor in development aid and the second largest exporter of manufactured goods. It has a high average per capita income, highly developed scientific and technological sectors, the broadest social inclusivity for its effective healthcare services, the largest international diplomatic corps and a defensive capacity that, if all European countries were grouped together, would make it the second biggest military power in the world. However, these attributes are almost irrelevant precisely because the EU is not a State. I propose to the reader that very time they see global statistics in any field by country in the media, they should take the trouble to add up all the indicators for all the EU countries. The EU would automatically become the first or second world power depending on the sectors (for example, in GDP, trade, R&D, education health, defence and others) if it operated as a single international entity. This said, and beyond political protagonists (who are the focus of this book), it must be acknowledged that the mass media and public opinion share a degree of responsibility in the fact that the perception of “pan-Europeanism” remains low. The former continue to (erroneously) report on Europe in the “international” or “foreign affairs” sections, when today it is unacceptable for European politics to be characterised in this way, because it is just as internal to Europe as national politics. With regard to citizens, and apart from the endless debate about whether or not it would be possible to create a European demos (something that is not the subject of this research), the general perception of considering when a European national moves (for work or leisure) to another European country, he or she has been “abroad”, is unhelpful. With this in mind, I close these initial reflections with a quote from a Canadian specialist that I take as my own: “European integration seems more necessary than ever. Member countries cannot ←17 | 18→manifestly address the immense current challenges on their own: security and defence, immigration, Islamist terrorism, Russian revanchism, environmental protection, digital revolution, new forms of crime and corruption, illegal actions by large multinationals, renewable energy resources, competition from large economic conglomerate players and others. For reasons of internal policy (dissensions) and foreign policy (the need to assert its place in the world), the EU must be stronger and must rethink its integration” (Bouchard, 2019: 133).

In the first chapter I deal with the background of European unity, with special focus on the movements that emerged during the interwar period. It is also of interest to note that in resistance groups during the Second World War the democratic federalisation of Europe was promoted as a way of preventing new catastrophes. In short, democratic Europeanism became another factor in the anti-fascist struggle, one of whose greatest exponents being Altiero Spinelli, promoter of the famous Ventotene Manifesto. The European Community (EC) was a specific empirical response in order to: 1) consolidate democracy and prevent new wars between Europeans and 2) confront the Soviet countermodel at the time of the Cold War. In addition, it was an initiative promoted, above all, by Christian Democrats (the “founding fathers”), which allowed the foundations for an ever closer integration of the main countries of Western Europe. The debate refocused with the constitution of the EC, since it ceased to be an abstract concept when confronted with an integrationist reality, partial and indeterminant, yet unavoidable. The object of this book is not to analyse the debate on the European democratic deficit (an issue I have dealt with specifically in another work), but only the institutional, jurisdictional and procedural elements that have been configuring a sui generis framework unique in the world.

In the second chapter I deal with the EU as a hybrid entity presenting some materially federal elements, while others differ from such a possible characterisation. Firstly, the crucial (and central) role of national states in the community framework is analysed, then the examination of some of the problems arising from the institutional architecture and the complex (and often opaque) decision-making procedures. These dysfunctions were highlighted more in the wake of the economic and financial crises of 2008 (which endangered the euro) and with the refugee crisis in 2015. Given the relevance of Germany as the primary European ←18 | 19→power, its role in the EU and its pros and cons are analysed; from initially being a country very clearly enthused with full European federalisation, to the growing nationalist withdrawal during the last decade. Not only is it the first European power that does not seem to want further consolidation; the newly incorporated Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) also show disinterest. I close the chapter with some objective considerations that seem to favour a federal scenario for European integration in the long term and possible strategies to implement this. In summary, various proposals for greater integration in economic, financial, fiscal, foreign and defence policy are described and analysed, regardless of the strictly institutional dimensions.

The third chapter is dedicated to the European elections of 2019, which focused largely on the issue of the degree of desirable integration for the EU and is linked to the central purpose of this book: the debate on a possible comprehensive federalisation. The tensions between the community authorities and the governments of Hungary, Poland and Italy are analysed first; the illiberal involution of the first two (with the executive control of the courts and the mass media) provoking intervention by both the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Commission. The conflict with the Italian populist government was of an economic character due to the excessive risks of deficit presented by that country’s draft budgets. The limited economic and financial reforms approved after the crisis that maintained the strategic vagueness of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) are also examined. Naturally, a large section is dedicated to the issue of Brexit because the fact that this reached the stage of formal proposal was the biggest defeat in the history of the EU (in addition to the obvious failure of the majority of the British “political class”) and because the risk of losing one of its most important members would affect the community space. The specific history of the process is not described in this section, but the EU’s attitude to the contradictions of British policy is highlighted. The European elections of 2019 are then analysed, reviewing the polls, the main issues of the campaign and the results, as well as the new balance of power between the parties.

The fourth chapter is devoted to analysing the programmes of the vast majority of the parties that obtained representation in the European Parliament (EP) in 2019 from the six most populous EU states. These are then classified according to the demographic size: Germany, ←19 | 20→France, United Kingdom (UK), Italy, Spain and Poland. In total, the programmes of 28 parties that have obtained at least three MEPs have been considered, resulting in the following: 1) six major parties from Germany, with seven minor parties with one or two MEPs each omitted, 2) six that obtained representation from France, 3) four of the principal parties from the UK – the extremist Brexit Party (BP) and the Tories offered no manifesto – with four small parties with one MEP each excluded, 4) four from Italy are analysed (the Lega did not present a specific European manifesto) with one with only one MEP excluded, 5) six from Spain (only the manifesto of ERC has been considered, not those of its partners) with two parties with one or two MEPs excluded, 6) the two main parties in Poland have been chosen (the Europe Coalition (KE), led by Obywatelska Platform (PO), included four more, but their manifesto is common and the agreement was to give these the freedom to sit where they liked in the EP) with a third party that won three MEPs, but not included, since its manifesto contained not the slightest reference to the issues discussed in this book. I must add a few more details; some parties did present themselves effectively in coalition and, in these cases, I have only considered the manifesto of their group as an entity. This is the case, for example, of the French La République en Marche (LREM), the Parti Socaliste (PS), the Parti Démocratique (PD), Spain’s Podemos, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) or Poland’s Koalicja Europejska (KE). In the case of traditionally partnered national parties – Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CDU-CSU) or the Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSOE-PSC) – it must be noted that they shared a common manifesto in this election.

At the request of the publisher, Peter Lang, a new chapter seemed appropriate with regard to the Spanish edition, to account for some relevant events after the 2019 European elections and that are directly related to the central object of this investigation. Consequently, the creation of the new Commission, chaired by Ursula Von der Leyen, the consummation of Brexit (with the regulation of future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom remaining to be resolved) and, above all, the severe crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are analysed. This absolutely exceptional and unexpected situation provoked by an extraordinary health emergency has precipitated an intense community debate on the financial mechanisms used to address it.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 216 pp., 19 tables

Biographical notes

Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat (Author)

Professor of Political Science at the University of Barcelona (PhD in Law. Bachelor in Contemporary History), Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat has published eighteen books and more than 50 articles in specialized reviews and 30 chapters in collective books. He has done research in academic centres of Rome, Turin, Milan, Florence, Paris, Lyon, London, Edinburgh, Brussels, Mannheim and Montreal.


Title: A United States of Europe?
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