On the contradictions of the Federalist Movement

, by Daniel Matteo, David Schrock, Lars Becker, Translated by Sarah Robinson

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On the contradictions of the Federalist Movement
The authors are calling for a renewal of the structure of the Europa-Union Germany. Photograph: Bowfinger26 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

After the failure of the Europa-Union’s and UEF’s President to put forward a core issue of their associations, Lars Becker, Daniel Matteo and David Schrock have written a polemic pamphlet. All three have served in leadership positions in JEF Germany over the years.

The European Federalists’ defeat in regard to the introduction of transnational lists has caused a problem for the agenda of the Europa-Union and its umbrella organisation. But this problem is, in actual fact, not new. In the past, the Europa-Union also had the occasional problem articulating its grounds for decision because its chosen speakers were not able to represent the association’s positions adequately, due to conflicts of roles. Of course, for active politicians, if there is a conflict between their party’s positions and those of their association, the latter must take a back seat. Not just because their involvement in the association constitutes a voluntary engagement whereas party politics is their profession, but also because a parliamentarian’s independent mandate is a precious and vital asset, and demanding this mandate always be utilised to enforce the association’s political positions would certainly not be appropriate . The Europa-Union is a non-profit organisation with clear political objectives that find their expression in the charter, in the founding documents, in its manifesto and other decisions. If all of these documented ideas are not meant to be mere dormant material for the archives, but contributions to the future composition of the European Union, then the ideas must be advocated. If this is now no longer even effective for the setting of political goals that are part of our manifesto, then we should thoroughly scrutinise our own ability to communicate our ideas.

This challenge is for all intents and purposes not new. It has been sporadically expressed for years, sometimes even by self-critical officeholders in writing. Christian Wenning, the then Secretary General of the Union of European Federalists, wrote astutely as much: ‘What we need now is an inconvenient effort. We must put an end to the (self-)affirming assemblies.’ He raised a central problem there. We are far too often content when we pass a well-reasoned resolution. Sometimes there is a follow up in the form of a short note in which we bring up the association’s decisions with parliamentarians. We then consider our work to be done. However, every good lobbyist knows that the work is not over with a few decisions made and notes sent. They know instead that the work has actually only just begun.

In the following year, Manuel Müller, Germany’s most prominent Europe blogger, contributed many wise ideas on ‘the European Federalists’ Strategy’ and reported on the observations he made as a guest at an assembly of Europa-Union: ‘All the participants mutually agreed with each other in a way that went beyond courtesy. They decided simply to make a little something of everything, not to argue about the setting of priorities and to resume the discussion at some point.’ With that he described a pattern which is also fairly widespread in our association and he concluded that the Europa-Union essentially advocates for the preservation of the status quo, but hardly appears as a progressive, federalist player.

Views from outsiders far removed from Europa-Union, such as Benjamin Zeeb and Brendan Simms, should give us food for thought. In their 2016 book ‘Europa am Abgrund’ (in English: ‘Europe on the Edg’), they wrote about how little success the federalist movement has had in the recent years, especially the UEF and Europa-Union. They also quote Rainer Wieland who found ‘that European lists of candidates are currently not an urgent concern’ and because of this concluded, among other things, that they expressed the ‘dividedness of a movement.’ This perception is so dire because it is wrong. Our movement may well be divided on some things, but transnational lists are not one of the issues we are divided on. It is a part of our manifesto (Proposition 7 of the Düsseldorf Manifesto) and of many decisions made by all statutory bodies which have always been passed with overwhelming majorities. But this is only known by the well-informed members of Europa-Union. The outside observer compares our positions with what reaches the outside world and what our spokespeople say.

Our inability to communicate our positions more clearly and outside of Europa-Union is incidentally not only detrimental to our ideas but also to ourselves. Simms and Zeeb are staunch federalists and summarily founded their own organisation, the Project for Democratic Union, also in part due to how they judged our performance. The project’s committed and intelligent members would surely also be in very good hands with us, if they had the impression that we were also relevant players in today’s European integration.

Role conflicts are undoubtedly only one of several reasons why we are worse than we should be at getting our ideas across. We are, however, convinced that it is a significant reason and one that can be resolved particularly easily, as the resolution of role conflicts is not a particularly challenging task intellectually: we merely have to ensure that people are chosen as representatives who do not have any conflicting roles. As our president has rendered outstanding services to Europa-Union, not passing a vote of confidence in him is not an option, even if we believe that, in the future, his successors should be elected to the office with this criterion in mind. The problem, however, can be solved very easily and without personal consequences in the interim. The president and executive board merely have to equip the Secretary General with a stronger political mandate and, on the one hand, empower him but, on the other hand, also call on him to make the central positions of the association part and priority of our external communication. Should the president fail, the vice-president without any conflicting roles or the Secretary General should speak for Europa-Union. Our umbrella organisation, the Union of European Federalists, has provided a good example of how this can work. While Elmar Brok has represented his party’s position and spoken against his own association, the Secretary General has issued a statement after the vote’s failure, conveying unequivocally that the Union of European Federalists deems the vote’s result a mistake.

This stronger political mandate still does not solve the problems we have in advocating our ideas. We also have to talk about priorities and strategies, about how we better organise ourselves and what roles members should play. But the stronger political mandate we have proposed for the Secretary General would be a good interim solution, quickly and easily solving a significant problem.

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