Austrian radio is my antidote to BBC World and the Dutch Evening News. On 27 May the latter featured Ulrike Guérot whose campaign for a European republic (Guérot 2019) I was familiar with, so I listened.

With German and French academic qualifications, she divorced her French husband – hence the name – has grown-up children in Paris and is living in Berlin where she founded the European Democracy Lab. She is also professor of European Studies at the Donau Universität at Krems some forty miles from Vienna. With books in various languages, she speaks frequently at conferences and writes in quality papers, most lately with Lorenzo Marsali at the occasion of Europe Day in The Guardian (Elites have failed us. It is time to create a European republic, 10 May 2020). The occasion for the broadcast has been the upcoming 35th anniversary of the Schengen Agreement which, in reaction to Corona, has al but been put on ice.

Guérot did not – nor would I – question restrictions on movement, but why at national borders? The answer is: because there states can show themselves to be doing what they have sworn to do: protect citizens. So, without much ado the Europa Brücke over the Rhine with its cross-border tram line was closed. Why not ringfence the Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Orthenau on both sides of the river? Why close the border where it separates Belgian residents from their bakery in the Netherlands, as also reported in The Guardian, and where it cuts through a clothing store, so that the Belgian section had to close while the Dutch side continued doing business? At least Belgian health workers were allowed into Maastricht, but only through detours and on the assumption that they would not do their shopping in the Netherlands, never mind that late shopping in Belgium was difficult.

Guérot concluded that nation-states manifesting themselves in this and other ways led them to suspend Schengen, even without due warning, as required, to the European Commission. And, while ordinary citizens were deprived of their rights, goods and seasonal workers were waived through to avoid the misery caused by consumers being deprived of seasonal asparagus. Concerned about Romanian health workers being able to continue providing round-the-clock home care, Austria even negotiated for them to come by the trainloads from Romania.

Guérot does not dispute the right and the duty to deal with emergencies. And the sovereign state, she points out, is presently the only one that can in such cases dispense with the law. It is just that states are no longer sovereign in fact. This is grist to her mill advocating a European Republic, as she does. Her republic is different, though, from that other counter-factual, a European Federation. It is rather an umbrella for a ‘Europe of the Regions’ with functions normally vested in states, like managing the currency, health and unemployment insurance and, yes, security. But there would be no pretence of a common identity. That would be a reserve of the, Guérot estimates fifty or so regions.

Which reflects her view of what a nation is: ‘…neither ethnicity nor language, neither culture nor identity. A nation is a law that establishes a group of equals boasting common rights’, she writes with Marsala in ’The Guardian’.

For those who know about my engagement with the EU and European spatial planning it may come as a surprise, but I am not in favour. True, stripping the nations of their pretence of ethnic homogeneity is sympathetic, but why should all the common rights be bundled into to the same territory? And, if so, would this not revive a feeling of ‘them and us’?

To explain, it suffices to return to Guérot‘s complaint about differentiating between freedom of movement of citizens, goods and essential workers. What’s the problem? They are differentiated already. Thus, there are opt-outs form the euro, and anyway: even without an opt-out, Sweden stubbornly keeps its Crown. This while, without asking, Montenegro uses the euro as the more palatable alternative to a kind of monetary union with Serbia from which the country has split only recently.

Something similar applies to Schengen: Four non-members of the EU are in, and members of the EU, some with opt-outs and others still in the waiting room are not, with Cyprus perhaps permanently excluded. At the same time, Cyprus is in the Eurozone!

And the much-vaunted Single Market? With notable exceptions it applies also to Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein. Notorious is of course the case of Switzerland with arrangements with the EU too complicated to explain.

I can seen nothing wrong with this. Which does not mean to say that the functions Guérot ascribed to her ‘European Republic’ should not be supra-national, only that they are not necessarily ‘one size fits all’.  Which is like the new-medievalism which Jan Zielonka (2014) and I in his wake I (Faludi 2018) consider more realistic than a European Republic, with or without common ethnicity or language.

text by Andreas Faludi, June 2020.

Faludi, A. (2018) The Poverty of Territorialism, Cheltenham: Elgar.

Guérot, U. (2019) Why Europe Should Become a Republic: A Political Utopia (translated from German edition), J.H.W. Dietz, Bonn.

Zielonka, Jan (2014) Is the EU Doomed? Canbridge: Polity Press.

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