Ulrike Guérot

Res Publica Europae – a European Union of the citizens

In ‘Why Europea Should become a Republic!‘, Ulrike Guérot analyses the crisis of the European Union with profound criticism and shrewd observation. “The blueprint for Europe is missing,” she notes. The way to a Res Publica with transnational democracy is blocked by the nation states and their selfish interests. Therefore, Europe is not prepared for the major challenges such as the financial crisis, migration or, currently, the corona crisis. In its current constitution, the EU itself is the crisis.The disappointment of people however results in flaring populism and nationalism.

The book sees itself as an alternative to the renationalisation and depoliticisation in the EU. In a digression, Guérot explicates the 2000-years-old history of the “Res Publica”, from Plato, Seneca and Cicero to the works of the French Revolution. The “Res Publica” is always based on the common good. That is what is missing in the EU. The European single market and monetary union are not able to create the common good for its people. The EU is skewed to liberalism, which makes those who are already stronger even more powerful. It guarantees property rights – but not labour rights. Guérot denounces the hypocrisy of liberalism: there is, she says, formal freedom, but no real freedom. The social embedding of European politics is missing and the gap between the rich and the poor is only widening.

“The words shape the thinking,” Guérot writes. The deficits of EU’s are quickly excused by calling it “sui generis” entity and by saying that “multi-level governance” does not produce better results. With the project of a European Republic, Guérot wants to rethink Europeand rekindle a desire for Europe. Her long-term vision is the realisation of the European Republic, to be proclaimed on May 9, the European Day of 2045.

“Without a constitution, everything is nothing” – the quote is attributed to James Madison, at the time the United States were founded.The citizen is the sovereign in a republic. The community of citizens decides on the foundations and direction of politics in a republic. There is equality before the law for all citizens, political equality in elections and rights to social participation. In the EU, the policy guidelines are set by the European Council, which is neither controlled by the European Parliament nor by the national parliaments. A real European political area and a real European democracy cannot be created this way.

In her blueprint for the “new EU”, Guérot goes beyond well-known patterns of thought and argues that democracy must be re-founded beyond the nation state. In the 21st century, a territorial reorganisation comes in sight.

Guérot proposes that regions and metropolitan areas should form the basis of membership in the EU. Their representatives must be given a seat and a vote in a new EU parliamentary system. This new European Parliament will make decisions for the European citizens’ more easily and efficiently than the current EU system, with the strong position of the nation states and their far-reaching veto power. This European “Res Publica” would not only provide IBAN numbers for money transfers, but also, for example, an ID number of all citizens in the European republic, a European social security number or a European tax number.These citizens-centred decisions would strengthen people’s sense of community and solidarity. Liberalism, including the internal market, would be tied to the common good.

The “citoyenneté européenne” needs a common language of understanding in order to enable deliberation on all common topics in the same language and in direct exchange. The education systems in the EU should therefore promote bilingualism.

The youth is for Guérot the greatest hope for the realisation of this idea of a “Res Publica Europae”. The young people want to have a say and will not accept false authorities or technocracies. The question, however, remains how a Europe-wide movement for this “Res Publica” will emerge. How to overcome the opposition of the many bureaucracies? The populists scream, “we are the people”, Guérot therefore calls upon the political centre of the peoples of Europe to reply to them: “We are the Res Publica Europae!”

The subtitle of the book is deliberately called “A Political Utopia”: it is an attempt to see things differently and to present an innovative European social design. The idea of a “Res Publica Europae” has found numerous supporters and followers in Europe.

Ulrike Guérot’s ideas should be discussed at the “Conference on the Future of Europe” which the European Parliament and the European Commission are promoting.This conference should not be given up. Rather: because of the current poly-crises, a new consensus about the future of the EU and continent is more urgent than ever. Should the Member States try to stall this debate, then the time for a grassroots democratic movement comes, to take the EU’s future in its hands. Progressives of all countries will be there – and they will participate.

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