Guérot speaks on transforming Europe into a republic

After what Ulrike Guérot said was a 300-year failed experiment of Europe’s nation-states, her vision for a European Republic is “under construction.”

Guérot is a German political innovator who founded and directs the European Democracy Lab. She gave the morning lecture, titled “Redefining, Redesigning, and Reimagining a Soul for Europe,” Thursday in the Amphitheater.

Guérot is friends and colleagues with this week’s previous speakers Roger Cohen, David Marsh and Constanze Stelzenmüller. She agrees with Stelzenmüller that German unification is European unification and that their foreign policy learning curve has improved dramatically. However, she said Germany needs work in one key aspect.

“Germany is essentially running the euro governance,” she said. “However, I will argue that Germany is pretty bossy, unfortunately very secure in its opinion and strong enough in the European Council to push through its opinion.”

Some reactions to the inevitable increase of German dominance have been vitriolic. Guérot wants to take a different tack and forge a new narrative. The current system is broken and disintegrating, she said. It is a ripe environment for unforeseen and unpredictable dynamics.

The heart of European unification lies in Franco-German relations, Guérot said. Right now, there are deep tensions that distract from what she would like to see: the development of a European Republic.

“I am deeply concerned about the rift between France and Germany because they are the engine of Europe,” she said.

When elites think something cannot happen, that is when the system is lost, she said. It was this system Guérot believed in and had worked for until she turned 50. She then realized that what she had worked for had not materialized.

“We were told for 20 years that economic integration would lead to political union,” she said. “And that has not been the case.”

She quit her job as director of the European Council on Foreign Relations to write a “Manifesto for a European Republic.”

Organizations such as the European Council and Munich Security Conference confirmed to her what she intuitively understood: The system was “broken and lost,” and change was needed on a fundamental level.

Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former president of Finland, opened his keynote speech at a conference in November 2011 with words that, to this day, burned into Guérot’s mind.

“When I was young and reading the history books of the 1920s, I never understood how the elites by détente could lose the system,” Ahtisaari said. “Now, I understand.”

From her research, it is a feeling she and Ahtisaari share with many European youth. According to Guérot, they want the political union that is missing from current Europe. But politicians are either ignorant of or unwilling to provide that.

The state and market are the two pillars of current European politics. This has left Europe’s “nation-states” dancing to tunes of nationalism and financial puppetry, she said.

In tradition of poet Octavio Paz, who said “everything is language,” Guérot needed a new way to describe Europe’s political union and came up with the European Republic. Her goal is nothing less than the reinvention of European democracy.

The current European Union is the essence of a catch-22 for its citizenry: a “post-democracy” where “citizens always vote but have no choice,” Guérot said.

Her model of governance is heavily derived from the American federal system, though she carefully avoids words like “federation” and “united states.” There would be a European president. Congress would be separated into two chambers, the Senate and the Parliament. All representatives would be directly elected by citizens.

Her version of the week’s oft-mentioned “United States of Europe” is meant to catch up political and social integration with the past 20 years of economic and monetary integration. Conflicting interests have produced a system that is not “embedded in democracy.”

“If you allow all these nation-states to torpedo the common European good, you end up with what Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of European integration, said: ‘National interest is only the interest national political and economic elites in whose seats citizen interests are to be written off,’ ” she said.

She cited energy, digital and tax disparities that have risen because of the system’s failure to address citizens’ needs in relation to those in wealth and power. In particular, rural communities with low population density are left behind while urban cities become more centralized.

For example, solar energy and Internet access are both subsidized in prominent cities like Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, Spain, at the expense of the nation’s broader citizenship. It plays citizens against each other and contributes to the damaging effects of fracturing and factionalism, she said.

These problems have been compounded by the Greek debt crisis. The issue is those who profit from the suffering of the Greek people and defined the conflict as class warfare against the impoverished, Guérot said.

The real problem, she said, is oligarchs playing citizens against states and vice versa.

“Just to be clear: All the money that came from Germany to Greece is money from the European security mechanism, which goes to Greek banks and straight back to French and German banks to guarantee savings,” she said. “The money is ‘light in a bubble’ that didn’t go to the people who needed it.”

The combined complication of citizens competing against countries has had the cumulative effect of erasing the populist vote, Guérot said.

Part of the way forward — besides reforming the Europe into a politically unified entity — is focusing on changing mindsets about what Europe is. Or, rather, what “she” is.

Throughout history, the symbols for Europe, freedom and democracy are consistently women, Guérot said. The fact that Europe’s leaders are overwhelmingly elderly white males is of great concern to Guérot. Perhaps, the answer lies in the sacred feminine rather than the masculine, she said.

Until Europe has access to political equality — that is equality in tax, voting and social issues — it will be trapped in a “time of monsters.” The idea of a “United States of Europe” is of yesterday. The European Republic is the idea of tomorrow, she said.

“Europe is a little like Chautauqua,” Guérot said. “Everybody has their space and their place.”