Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Leo Klinkers, the responsible, together with Herbert Tombeur, of the European Federalist Papers. You can follow him on twitter. And you can get more info about his project in the European Federalist Papers’ website.
“After more than two hundred years Europe has finally reached the momentum that the Americans already had in 1787. Time to act.”
-Mr. Klinkers, what can you tell us about your background?
I studied law at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands (1964-1968), specializing in State Law, Administrative Law and Public Administration. After two years working as a civil servant at a local authority I was invited to return to the Law Faculty in Utrecht to teach and to conduct research in the field of Public Administration. During this period I completed my Ph.D. in law and public administration, and developed a new method for interactive public policymaking. Thirteen years later (1983) I decided to leave the university to establish my own company: Klinkers Public Policy Consultants.
From that moment onwards I have been assisting governments in solving political and societal problems, using my interactive methodology. Besides the Netherlands I have worked in Belgium, Portugal, Indonesia, Thailand and Suriname. At the moment I live and work in Suriname. However, writing and publishing the European Federalist Papers, together with my Belgian colleague Herbert Tombeur, requires visiting Europe to take part in federalist debates about the strategy to create a real and realistic European Federation.
–It’s well-known that you are a committed pro-European. Why would anyone invest his/her time in fighting for the European integration?
When it is obvious that a group of countries have common interests, sooner or later they need to organize themselves and cooperate. In general there are only two concrete models and one insubstantial model. The two concrete models are a) a confederal organization and b) a federal organization. The first one is usually based on a treaty, without creating a central governing body, and takes care (somehow) of foreign affairs and defense. But since a confederal organization mainly focuses on the national interests of member states, they do not usually grant the necessary means for properly taking care of these two common interests. A federal organization is usually based on a constitution, which creates a federal body above the member states, while granting that body only a limitatively enumerated set of powers. All other powers remain with the member states. The federal body takes care of those interests that individual states cannot take care of.
The vague third model, however, is the present governing system of the European Union. It is called the intergovernmental system. The main element of this system is the decision making by heads of states or government leaders, together in unanimity, whereas those decisions have to be applied in all member states. Thus, hierarchical, top-down decision-making. This causes an increasing resistance against the EU. Not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the majority of EU-member states. In a federal system the vertical division of powers between the federal body and the member states prevents hierarchical decision-making. The problem, however, is that few know or understand the main principles of federalization. Many government leaders and their populations think that a federation is a super state that dictates what should be done in all member states. That is absolutely not true. Only a federation preserves the sovereignty of its member states.
Since February 9th 2013, we can read in the newspapers that even the European Commission and the European Parliament oppose the budget as agreed upon by the European Council. The external economic crisis has now infected the main institutes of the European Union. The time is right to replace the intergovernmental system for the federal one.
-You’re working on the “European federalist papers”. What are these papers?
Well, in 1787 the thirteen confederal states in North America, enjoying their freedom since 1776, were in a complete administrative and financial mess. Comparable to the EU at the present time. They decided to organize the Convention of Philadelphia in order to make adjustments to their confederal treaty. Instead, after some weeks they decided to abandon the treaty and to design something completely new: a federal constitution. This is a brilliant piece of work, consisting of only seven articles that confine themselves to a formulation of the limitative powers of the federal parliament and government, the division of powers between the three branches, an ingenious set of checks and balances for the operation of the three branches, and the freedom of each states to have its own parliament, government, judicial branch, education system, tax system, etcetera. In later years this constitution was supplemented with 27 amendments.
The delegates of the Convention put the draft constitution before the people of the thirteen confederal states. Not before the governments but before the citizens. Based on the first sentence of the draft preamble, stating “We the people…” While these citizens where thinking about ratifying the draft three people, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, wrote 85 papers (published in newspapers in New York) to explain and defend the draft constitution. These are the famous Federalist Papers. The people accepted the constitution. Based on that constitution the United States of America became the most powerful nation in the world.
After more than two hundred years Europe has finally reached the momentum that the Americans already had in 1787. Time to act. Time to adopt a comparable constitution. Since 1950 many attempts have been made to transform the EU intergovernmental system into a federal one. Until now all attempts have failed. Each time due to the same cause: they try to federalize by adapting the existing system. That does not work. You have to drop the intergovernmental system altogether and create something completely new, like the Americans did. Thus, Herbert Tombeur and I created a different approach: follow the best practice in the world and write the European Federalist Papers, including a draft federal constitution for Europe.
-Do you see the UK as being part of it? Would it be good or bad for Europe to “live without” the UK?
We describe in detail the ‘UK problem’. As a reference we take the Texas case. Texas left, together with ten other states, the federal Union unilaterally in 1861. Lincoln said: “This is a breach of the constitution, I am going to get you back into the Union”. This was the cause of the civil war. Since then it is a solid element of federalization that member states do not have the right to enter or to leave a federation unilaterally. These decisions are taken communally, thus by the member states, together with the federal body.
I personally prefer the UK to be a member state within the European federation. But the UK should learn that there are only two options: completely in or completely out. I trust that they opt for ‘in’ as soon as someone explains to them what a federation entails and that a federation preserves a country’s national sovereignty, identity and democracy.
–If a Federal Europe is finally built, how will the separatist tensions within the countries be treated (cases of Catalonia in Spain or Scotland in the United Kingdom)?
I have no problem with separatist regions. We should never forget that organizations of states should be based on the conviction of the people. If the majority of the Catalans are convinced that they are fit to be a national state, so be it. A federal organization does not care about territorial size or the number of citizens. There is only one thing that should be recognized: if Catalonia or Scotland wishes to be an independent state, they should do so before the European federation is a fact. Because it is a solid element of a federation that it is not allowed to create new member states within an existing member state.
-Do you have any proposals for the creation of truly European demos?
Our draft constitution for a federal Europe says that European democracy is based on the principle of one man, one vote. No electoral colleges in member states (as is the case in the USA), nor elections per country, but free elections with European-wide political parties.
-What’s your opinion about the agreement on the European budget 2014-2020? Do you think the EP is going to block it?
It is bad. It only serves the petty nationalist interests of some countries like the Netherlands and the UK. At this moment the European Commission as well as the European Parliament seem to oppose this budget. I truly hope that the parliament rejects it. Then we will have a new severe crisis between two ‘Sumo wrestlers’, the Council and the Parliament. The latter will win. Meanwhile it becomes increasingly more relevant to establish the federal organization.
-The Lisbon Treaty brought the creation of the HR/VP and the President of the European Council. What do you think about their role?
Their role is awful. This type of organization is against any organizational principle.
-Finally: Is this economic crisis an opportunity for the European Union?
Yes it is. It was the same financial crisis that convinced the delegates of the Convention of Philadelphia to establish a federal state.
-Thank you very much.