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September 18, 1999

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Network Europe: The new case for Europe

Mark Leonard


Introduction: The new case for Europe
1.Europe Confused: Living the ghost of federalism
2.The new context for Europe: Globalisation and European Union
3.Understanding Europe as a network
4.Misunderstanding the EU:
How the reform agenda could threaten Network Europe
5.The new agenda for reform: Legitimacy and effectiveness in Network Europe
Conclusion: Reforming Network Europe

More about this pamphlet

The New Case for Europe by Mark Leonard , from Global Thinking, Autumn 1999.

As the European debate reaches fever pitch, it makes less and less sense. Pro-Europeans don’t seem to know what their case is anymore. They can no longer rely on the success of the European project in the post-war period. Their old case – based around the trinity of peace, prosperity and democracy – was clear and attractive, but it has little relevance for people today. Now they are stronger on what they are against – isolation, narrow nationalism, being left behind – than what they are for.

Their failure has allowed the sceptics to make the running. The Santer Commission crisis, the low turn-out in the European Elections, and the EU’s inability to do anything about Kosovo without US support are held up as the latest symptoms of its lack of capacity and legitimacy. And now, they say, we are being asked to open up the citadels of state sovereignty – our currency, our defence policy, our borders – without much say over what is done. We can all agree that the status quo is far from perfect – but the alternatives seem even less appealing. People are being asked to make an impossible choice.

The sceptics want to repatriate power to the national level and dismantle the EU to create a free trade area. They claim that this is the only way to regain the democratic rights that our ancestors risked their lives for. But loosening our ties with the rest of Europe flies in the face of global change. Our national governments can’t deliver the basic things we need on their own anymore. Our physical security, a clean environment and economic prosperity can only be guaranteed through interdependence, co-operation and pooling sovereignty. But the instrumental relationships between members of a free trade area will never be able to give us the strong bonds of trust and binding rules that we need to maintain a single market – let alone protect the environment or co-operate on foreign policy.

Pro-Europeans claim that a European constitution, giving more power to the European Parliament or electing the Commission President will help put the EU get back in touch with its citizens and address its lack of capacity. Though most do not support the idea of a federal state, their proposals seem to lead us inexorably closer to that destination. This would not just be unpopular, it would be very damaging to our economic and political prospects. In the global information age, we need national governments that are decentralised, close to the people and in competition with each other, not the lumbering leviathan of a country called Europe.

People don’t want to be forced to choose between a federal superstate and a free trade area – neither will allow us to thrive in the next millennium. We want to be able to combine the military and environmental protection, the large markets and the global power which European integration can deliver, with the flexibility, strong national identities and democracy that we enjoy at a national level. It is time to show that we can really have the best of both worlds.

My pamphlet, “Network Europe”, aims to present the new case for Europe. It will show that we can combine democratic legitimacy, national identity and effective European action to tackle cross-border problems but only if we learn to think about the EU in a different way.

Properly understood, the EU is neither a failed free trade area, nor a state in construction. It is an entirely novel form of political organisation: a network. This is a decentralised political system organised around many centres of power including member states, European institutions and Non-governmental organisations. They share power and sovereignty as equals, rather than having their roles defined by a hierarchical constitutional settlement. This pamphlet will use the lessons from successful networks in business to develop a new political theory, and show how “Network Europe” can allow us to co-operate where it is necessary on cross-border problems – while promoting the healthy competition between countries that has driven so much of the continent’s innovation. But a network of states cannot just be about effectiveness – it needs to be based on shared values, and political legitimacy as well.

At the heart of the theory of “Network Europe” is a new model of democracy and legitimacy. It depends on us creating the first political system that is not tied to a single state, which allows us to have political debates across frontiers – without destroying our national democracies. I challenge the idea
that giving more power to the European Parliament, or electing the Commission President can provide the legitimacy we need. Instead, I look at reforms involving direct democracy and changes to the European Council and political parties that will allow us to have a debate about the kind of Europe we want to live in, so that our continent can be run in the interests of its citizens rather than interest groups and lobbies.

This revolutionary theory of European integration will guide us through the reform debate and show that European integration does not need to involve impossible sacrifices. By starting with the challenges of the next century rather than the successes of the last it will allow us to build a broad coalition for Europe.

Mark Leonard is Director of The Foreign Policy Centre. His pamphlet, Network Europe: The New Case for Europe is available from the Centre (£9.95+p&p).

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