Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Move Brussels to the Washington model - says Andrew Duff MEP

Andrew Duff MEP is a British politician leading the charge towards federalism. He talks to PublicServiceEurope.com (original article) about the creation of a United States of Europe

Andrew Duff is a most unusual animal: a British federalist MEP. And not just any old federalist either. Duff is a hardcore federalist, a proponent of a United States of Europe. He is perhaps the most federalist politician in the European Parliament, itself the most federalist of the European Union institutions. As co-chair of the Spinelli group of 110 federalist MEPs, the Liberal Democrat representative for the East of England is already preparing for the next quantum leap. The coming European convention, he hopes and believes, will lay the groundwork for the creation of a fully-fledged European government.

Some 10 years ago, when the ill-fated European constitution was on the drawing board, Duff was already the parliament's man on the scene. A decade later, the way forward is still perfectly clear is his mind: fiscal union, debt mutualisation, a true European president and the downgrading of the nation state. There has, however, been a big change in the interim. Duff's country is this time certain not to take part.

"The United Kingdom will not join the federal core and I deplore that," he tells PublicServiceEurope.com. "I'm trying to draft an arrangement that will satisfy the British for a period". He is referring to an opt-in that will allow the UK to catch up at a later date. "Once they have seen it working they will no doubt want to join," says Duff.

This theory is consistent with Britain's past relationship with Europe. While wishing the continent well, London decided to stay on the sidelines as the European Economic Community took shape in the 1950s. Only later, once the community was a proven success, did the British government come to the conclusion that joining was a good idea after all. From this perspective, UK Prime Minister David Cameron sent his European counterparts the same message in his keynote speech in January - go on without us.

Duff predicts Britain will also one day overcome its reluctance as far as the euro is concerned. The pound, he points out, is hardly a safe haven. The downgrading of Britain by ratings agency Moody's adds weight to this argument against sterling.

Like all true federalists, Duff wants decision-making in Brussels to move towards the Washington model. "Voting weights in the Council of Ministers should become less proportional," he says. The populous American state of California sends two senators to Washington; the same number as tiny Rhode Island. Just imagine Germany and Malta with the same voting weights, the same relative power, around the council table.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, would under the Spinelli group plan become more proportional. Germany would be given a relatively greater number of seats to reflect its 80 million plus population. The voices of Malta and Cyprus would under this scenario become largely irrelevant, though Duff makes noises about not going too fast too soon.

Other proposals likely to emerge when the group publishes its blueprint this June include a merging of the functions of president of the council, currently held by Flemish haiku specialist Herman Van Rompuy, with that of European commission president - the job performed by pedestrian Portuguese Jose Manuel Barroso. The separate roles create too much confusion, says Duff. This merger plan received some support - from Belgium and the Netherlands, among others - when put forward 10 years ago. Its time has now come, says the Liberal Democrat.

Such a super-president would in the ideal federalist world be elected by the European Parliament. As an interim measure, MEPs are planning to propose candidates to replace Barroso when his term expires in 2014. "I haven't plumped yet," says Duff when asked if he has a preferred candidate in mind, "though if the Germans are serious about this project it is perhaps time for a German commission president - we haven't had one in a long time".

Then comes the make-or-break question. Is the voting public calling out for more federalism? For the first time, Duff hesitates. "It depends who you are talking to," he says. "In Italy," he continues, before correcting himself: "There is Grillo, I suppose." Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian-turned-political phenomenon, is not a big European Union fan. But Duff doesn't dwell on the rise of Euroscepticism. "Let's have that debate," he concludes.

Are federalists living in a dream world? The history of the 20th century suggests their goals - at least on mainland Europe - are inevitable. But is this want Europeans really want? When faced with mass unemployment and declining standards of living, will voters accept that federalism is the answer? The only way to answer this question properly is for politicians like Duff to stand on federalist platforms and try to take the populace with them.

In some countries, they might even succeed. But if Duff stood up to talk in front of 100 average Britons, you cannot help feeling that half of them would not have a clue what he was talking about. The other half, in today's venom-filled society, would probably want to eat him alive.