Ulrike Guérot does not see Europe as a collection of states. Nor does she see them as the European Union. Instead, she sees them as “Mrs. Europe” — many parts of a single body and ripe for an experiment in transnational democracy and true political equality.
“Political equality is you vote the same way, you pay the same taxes, and you have the same access to social rights,” Guérot said. “We don’t have this in Europe. My son is living in France. He has a different tax system than I. We do not vote the same way, and obviously we do not have the same access to social rights.”
At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, German political thinker Guérot will discuss the possibility and advantages of a unified European Republic, as well as addressing some of the issues facing Europe that might hinder such a project.
Guérot uses this term “European Republic” carefully, as opposed to federation or united states.
“Res Publica means ‘common good,’ ” Guérot said. “ ‘United States of Europe’ has no normative underpinning. You just want to unite states. But [with] Res Publica you have an appeal to the common public good.”
Such a republic would be radically different from the Europe of sovereign states that has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, signed toward end of the Thirty Years War. It would guarantee a consistent system of taxation, voting and a single European parliament and executive. Instead of European states competing with one another economically, they would be unified under one system of governance.
“By definition, it’s transnational,” Guérot said. “If you say the first sentence of French Revolution was, ‘equality beyond classes,’ now the European challenge is ‘equality beyond nation states.’ ”
This model might even make self-determination of ethnic and national groups in Europe easier, Guérot said. This is an important flexibility in light of several separatist movements in Europe, including last year’s Scottish independence referendum.
“The disintegration of the nation-state is already a momentum which we can observe in Europe, so my idea of a republic is precisely to give into that momentum and to regionalize many things,” Guérot said. “The idea would rather be to have Düsseldorf in Europe, or the town of London in Europe, or Catalonia in Europe, rather than France or Germany or Slovenia, which are highly different states.”
But Scotland is not the only European entity that has examined breaking old ties. Britain has also been discussing a referendum — set for next year — on whether or not it should stay in the EU, and other countries have growing nationalist, anti-European political parties.
“To be cynical, or semi-cynical, there is this 80-20 thing, which is you can always lose 20 percent of your society,” Guérot said. “You benefit them, but if they are dropping out of election mode, they don’t go for elections, that’s fine. The moment you cross more than 20 … you have shifts in the whole system. Which is happening in Germany.”
Once this shift begins, radical fringe groups start having much more control over the political discussion, Guérot said.
“The normative political elites are fearful, and they try to double this vote instead of holding against it,” Guérot said. “It’s like the Tea Party system of the Republican Party: The moment it gets started it’s really hard to bring down because then everyone wants to be more anti-homosexual and more anti-[abortion] … and because you change your normative grounding, you lose progressives.”
While at the surface, an unraveling of the EU as it stands would seem to condemn a European Republic to a theory only, Guérot remains hopeful that the collapse of the old EU might, in fact, clear the way for a more unified transnational project.
“Europe might again become an avant-garde approach, which is building democracy beyond nation-states,” Guérot said. “If we could manage that on European ground I would be very happy — because if we were to manage, it would have world-leading character.”
This international leadership would provide a challenge to the balance of international power, however. Europe has a population of over half a billion people, according to Eurostat, and contains some ofUlrike Guérot, Europe, EU, 10:45, Amphitheater, Britain, Republic, United States, Westphalia, Nationalism, Chautauqua the largest militaries and economies in the world.
This new superpower would be uniquely situated to address a number of international issues, Guérot said.
“I would wish for this, this sort of positively connoted imperial stretch of Europe,” she said. “I could imagine an avant-garde Europe which basically deconstructs the centralizing powers we have had over the past 20 years, which is all about big data, big business, big banks. And for that, you need to be powerful and convinced of your normative basis.”