Importance of Nation States in Europe

Opportunities for a Sustainable Integration of European Nation States on the Basis of Their Inhomogeneities and Commonalities

An Article in the Compendium of Market-Based Social-Ecological Economics

Key issues in view of the neoliberal crisis:
How can we guarantee employment and fair income?
How can we protect the environment effectively?
How should we shape the economic globalization?
What should the economic sciences contribute?
What must be the vital tasks of economic policy?
How can we legitimize economic policy democratically?

Click here for the list of all articles: Compendium
Click here for the German-language version: Bedeutung der Nationalstaaten in Europa


Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Inhomogeneities and Commonalities of European Nation States
    2.1 Inhomogeneities and Incompatibilities
    2.2 Commonalities and Conformities
  3. Importance of Nation States in Europe
  4. Basics on the Nature of Democracy
  5. 4.1 On the History and Constitution of Democracy
    4.2 On Democratic Decision-Making Processes

1. Overview

UNABHAENGIGKEIT, KATALONIEN, UNABHAENGIGKEITSBESTREBUNGEN,In the course of the current European integration it can be observed that (1) political and economic decisions are being taken in closed supranational circles, that (2) an industrial policy reduced to capital interests is regarded as synonymous with general economic policy, that (3) the European integration is being corrupted by unleashed economic power, and that (4) the political-industrial protagonists undermine the democratic foundation consisting of sovereign nation states to subject Europe to the dictates of their oligarchic self-interest through supranational institutions detached from political reality. It is not surprising that it is the same oligarchies that are also carrying out their nefarious deeds on the global level, concentrated there in the equally rapturous World Trade Organization. As a supplement see the article World Trade Organization (WTO).

The above figure shows the Catalan demand for independence and disobedience.

Thus, the European Union (EU) poses a specific threat to the democratic structures of its constituent states, because, under the pressure built up by oligarchic economic self-interest, national governments and parliaments are inconsiderately conferring national powers to European institutions. To institutions which do not bear responsibility before the sovereign people of the EU Member States, and which are not subject to democratic scrutiny and therefore are not democratically legitimized (for further details see the article Undemocratic EU Institutions). This also applies to the so-called European Parliament (EP), which serves the other EU institutions as a democratic fig leaf, and on which the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht / BVerfG) ruled in 2009:

»The European Parliament is not a representative body of a sovereign peoples of Europe, but rather a supranational representative body of the peoples of the Member States, … When measured against national requirements on democracy it is not bound to electoral equality and not authorized to take relevant decisions regarding the supranational balancing of interests among the nation-states. … Given this structural democratic deficit, that can not be resolved within a compound of states, further steps towards integration beyond the current status shall neither undermine the policy-making ability of the nation-states nor the principle of conferral.«

Unfortunately, the European integration, promoted with industrial power, has since gained further ground against the constitutional interpretation of the BVerfG. The German constitution is threatened to be further undermined and the German sovereign as well as all other national sovereigns united in the EU will fall by the wayside. With every election to the EU Parliament, the European voters consciously or unconsciously confirm the fig leaf of the EU oligarchy, irrespective of the level of their turnout at the polls, simply by the fact that they go to the polls. However, the always low turnout every five years is proof of the political disenchantment of EU citizens, based on the inscrutability of the European integration process and the detachment of the EU bureaucracy.

If the European electorate wanted to send an ultimate signal of its disapproval of the oligarchic clique and its ambitions to undermine democracy, it would have to boycott the European elections as a united front. But this scenario can be ruled out. More realistic for the time being is the assumption that the undemocratic integration process would continue even if voter turnout continued to fall.

Members of the EP are paid indecently, which is why there is never a shortage of candidates, but they must also endure daily frustration in their role as fig leaves, because they are not taken seriously by the inner circle of power of the EU bureaucracy, are not directly involved in decision-making processes and must take comfort in the fact that at least some of their demands resulting from votes are given a symbolic value in public. However, this only applies to demands on which the European nations would be able to agree quickly and with considerably less effort even in a confederation of sovereign nation states, such as demands for environmental protection or minimum social standards. All other demands that violate national sovereignty are very quickly seen through by citizens and perceived as unreasonable.

EP members must therefore live with the fact that the real power is exercised by the oligarchy referred to, which has conveniently established itself in the other democratically likewise not legitimate EU institutions: the European Council (Heads of State and Government of the Member States), the Council of the European Union (Ministers of the Member States), the European Commission (“Government” of the EU), the European Central Bank (ECB), and, in a particularly presumptuous manner, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which over the years has empowered itself to exercise jurisdiction over all national courts.

And so Europe is heading towards a federal superstate whose pseudo-democratic authorities are attracting more and more powers and seeking to use them to govern the continent through central directives.

For what follows, it is crucial to be aware, as stipulated by the BVerfG, that the EU does not represent a pan-European constitutive peoples, and that, consequently, the EU does not possess popular sovereignty, and that the latter could only be established if all nation states gave up their sovereignties in referenda with the aim to integrate them into a supranational European sovereignty. The constitutional hurdles alone, including those of the German Constitution, are very high for good reason, so that a European federal superstate should not be taken into consideration under purely constitutional law, at least not in the foreseeable future.

But, above all, it’s the existing political, socio-cultural and economic inhomogeneity of the continent that stands in the way of integrating the nation states into a federal European superstate. In light of this reality only a confederation of sovereign nation states is conceivable as a future-oriented model of integration, or as Charles de Gaulle put it: a Europe of the Fatherlands (l’Europe des patries). For more details on the subject, seee the article EU: Federal Superstate or Confederation.

2. Inhomogeneities and Commonalities of European Nation States

The continued existence and further development of national democracies in Europe is crucially dependent on the course of European integration and the influence of the economic globalization on the countries. It is in this area of tension that national sovereignties must prove their worth; more precisely, they must play a self-confident, constructive and sovereign role in shaping European integration and globalization in order to develop and implement rules domestically and in exchange with their partners, rules that set in motion a development towards sustainable social welfare.

The EU today (2019) consists of 28 nation states whose historical developments differ greatly from one another due to their respective membership of language communities and political alliances, their degree of independence, and their ethnic roots. Despite these differences, there is a pronounced sense across all national borders of belonging to Europe. This feeling is a result of geographical proximity, the many migratory movements and ethnic affinities, cultural inseminations, economic interdependencies going back a long way, and not least the terrible experiences of war that have been etched into European memory for centuries, and to which no one wants to add any more.

It is no exaggeration to say that, through their interdependencies and shared experience, the peoples of Europe feel that they belong to a continental community that is striving for closer cooperation and cohesion, not least to be able to have a powerful say in the fate of the world. And since there are both great national inhomogeneities and pronounced European commonalities, the status quo can be used to derive a promising political imperative:

A continued independent and democratic development of the individual nation states must be ensured as a decisive prerequisite for forming a stable long-term foundation on which a forward-looking integration, supported by European commonalities, the appreciation of the given inhomogeneities and the preservation of a meaningful and fruitful diversity, can take place in the first place.

Europe is ideally equipped to embark on the path of integration into a confederation of sovereign nation states. Any ambition to quickly overcome the historical peculiarities, as is currently attempted under the dictates of economic interests – particularly drastic within the Eurozone – alienates citizens from the ideal of a European future under one roof.

It is to be hoped that all Europeans who still dream of the United States of Europe as a centrally governed federal state will wake up and take note of the real European nightmare into which the selfish rustling of a supranational oligarchic rule of industrialists, politicians and compliant economists has already driven us. The Eurozone provides the perfect illustration of this nightmare, especially Greece, which is highly indebted due to free trade in euros and US dollars and has become dangerously dependent on its creditors.

2.1 Inhomogeneities and Incompatibilities

As I said, the national differences are large. For a number of them one would wish for a quick alignment at as high a level as possible, with others, it seems hopeless, although difficult for foreigners to comprehend, because they are based on traditions, still others are supranationally compatible without restriction or even enriching. Whether and in what period of time a desirable harmonization can be achieved politically while preserving diversity is all written in the stars. A fixed timetable for harmonization, even more so a binding one for all countries, is therefore fundamentally out of the question and, as current attempts at integration suggest, would not be feasible at all – at least not if democracy, prosperity and welfare serve as benchmarks.

That a generally binding timetable is out of the question applies to political and socio-cultural factors and, in the short term, even more so to economic factors. The latter are particularly critical because, in the event of hasty integration, they can immediately and perceptibly lose their balance and make daily life more difficult for citizens, even to the point of existential danger. The euro zone, which can be described as one of the largest field experiments on living organisms, has for years provided evidence of the crowding out and destruction to which economically less productive countries are exposed when they compete with more productive countries in prices of a single (unified) currency (see Greece). And because monetary policy is of immediate existential importance, it must be recognized that unified currencies are the result of successful state foundations, not their prerequisite!

A closer look reveals the full range of inhomogeneities and incompatibilities, or to put it positively, the unique European diversity, including the 24 languages spoken in the 28 nation states currently belonging to the EU…

… in the political sphere: constitution, federalism/political subsidiarity, direct participation of citizens (referenda), legal system, tax system, administration.

… in the socio-cultural sphere: language, culture/traditions, educational system, social system/solidarity, environmental awareness/ecology.

… in the economic sphere: natural resources, industrialization/physical capital, production structure/economic subsidiarity, agriculture, first versus second labor market, vocational education and training, equal distribution, productivity, wages/purchasing power, entrepreneurship, banking system, research and development, intellectual property, current account balance, global interconnection.

2.2 Commonalities and Conformities

The feeling of belonging together of the citizens of Europe across national borders derives from many periods of common history, surprisingly largely independent of whether and to what extent the individual peoples or countries were involved in certain historical developments.

Worth mentioning here in particular are the beginnings of science and democracy in ancient Greece; the influence of the Roman conquests and the Latin language, also on jurisprudence; the spread of Christianity; long-range trade; aristocratic marriage policy; the arts; enlightenment and secularization; the emergence of modern humanities and natural sciences; the technical revolution and industrialization; and finally, in the twentieth century, the experiences of two world wars and the division of Europe, which shaped awareness of the importance of human rights and peaceful coexistence.

3. Importance of Nation States in Europe

Medieval state-building through territorial conquest was challenged in the early nineteenth century by the emerging awareness among citizens of belonging to a unique, self-determined community defined by language and proximity. The nation states emerging in this consciousness were sustainably confirmed by the French Revolution in their endeavor for self-determination (autonomy) and a people’s sovereignty including all social strata. The resulting national consciousness and national pride led to emotional emancipation from neighboring countries, but also to nationalist excesses and the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, Europe can be considered cured of nationalism – with the exception of the eastern edges of the continent.

The following fact is now of decisive importance for the European integration: Only the constitute peoples of the nation states are sovereign, the term people’s sovereignty applies only to them. Europe, on the other hand, is not a state and cannot be a state, because the political, socio-cultural and economic inhomogeneity of the national peoples does not allow a merger into a unitary European nation in the foreseeable future. That is why no European constitution can be created at the supranational level and no European people’s sovereignty can be claimed – at least not under democratic conditions.

Since the preconditions in Europe for a merger of the nation states into a single federal superstate are lacking, political reason requires that European federal illusions be abandoned and, instead, the given preconditions be accepted and the opportunities for shaping a European confederation of sovereign nation states be pursued. In doing so, no one should be guided by the widespread misconception that the few good impulses of the current development so far should be weighed against the profound social devastations and the de-democratization. For all the good could be achieved in a confederation of nation states without the growing disadvantages of the current development towards a centralist federal superstate.

For the successful formation of a confederation of nation states it is indispensable to make a clear distinction between powers which concern inhomogeneous areas, as summarized above, and which must be exercised nationally, and powers which can be exercised supranationally, at the European level, because they clearly serve common, »homogeneous« interests.

With regard to the political, socio-cultural and economic inhomogeneities of the nation states it follows:

that the European level, in the exercise of a political function affecting political, socio-cultural and economic concerns, can currently represent no more and no less than a platform for agreements on common normative objectives on an equal footing between representatives of the sovereign nation states with subsequent autonomous implementation of the options by the nation states.

Normative objectives in the political domain include:

alignment of national constitutions; implementation of federalist-subsidiary political structures; implementation of equal conditions for referenda; alignment of legal, fiscal and administrative systems.

Normative objectives in the socio-cultural domain include:

alignment of educational systems and systems of social solidarity; promotion of environmental awareness; alignment of environmental standards.

Normative objectives in the economic domain include:

standards for the following areas: decentralized (subsidiary) production structures with regard to decentralized responsibility and high employment levels; entrepreneurial legal structures and entrepreneurial action; decentralized, citizen-oriented banking system focused on lending from savings deposits (decentralized monetary cycles); trade in scarce natural resources; regulation of intra- and extra-European foreign trade and capital movements; national autonomy on currency, capital flows, goods flows and customs duties with regard to equitable balances of payments; price- and productivity-related European exchange rate system, including interfaces with non-European currencies; labor market and control of productivity-related wages with regard to equal distribution and intact economic cycles; vocational education and training; mutual assistance in industrialization, creation of physical capital and technology transfer; active, future-oriented participation in shaping economic globalization.

With regard to the historically constituted commonalities of the nation states it follows:

that the nation states can establish joint project groups and institutions at the European level that perform tasks of common interest and, if appropriate for reasons of effectiveness and efficiency, can delegate revocable powers to the institutions.

The tasks of common European interest include:

external security and military cooperation; joint foreign policy presence wherever possible; principles for development aid (helping people to help themselves); health policy principles, for example for disease control; judicial and police cooperation; technological projects (research and development); technical standardization; intellectual property protection and trade; promotion/preservation of European languages, cultures and traditions …

Note on intellectual property: trade in intangibles is different and much easier to regulate than trade in goods, for details see the article Intellectual Property and Neoliberalism.

With given national sovereignty this means: agreements, which are made by representatives of the nation states at the European level, are basically binding only on those nation states, which have expressly consented to the agreements by virtue of their people’s sovereignty. Consequently, no nation state can be overruled by supranational agreements. And further: every nation state can revoke any agreement at any time for its own scope of application by virtue of its people’s sovereignty. Unanimity can never be forced, because otherwise the people’s sovereignty of nation states that do not agree would be violated and the decision-making power would be gradually transferred to a democratically unlegitimated supranational bureaucracy (as we experience it today in the EU).

It is an international legal »trademark« of people’s sovereignty that it is in principle not bound by any eternity clauses in treaties between sovereign peoples. Every sovereign people can make a new decision at any time, most effectively if it can articulate itself directly through referenda. To this end, European integration can be expected to be nothing more than a multi-speed Union. This would have the advantage for the Union as a whole that individual states could at any time act in a progressive manner and carry the majority along with them. In the case of national sovereignty, there is also no need for sanctions based on individual agreements against states remaining behind or unwilling to comply, so that only in the case of extreme incompatibility a country could be ostracized and in the worst case be threatened with exclusion from the Union.

With regard to the political, socio-cultural and economic inhomogeneities within Europe, a very slow process of harmonization must be assumed in the course of which advantageous alignments shall be sought, without gambling away the diversity based on autonomy and peculiarities.

With regard to the historically constituted commonalities, a very rapid integration can take place in performing the tasks of common interest mentioned, so that Europe can act globally as a confederation of nation states with strong common interests and convictions.

4. Basics on the Nature of Democracy

4.1 On the History and Constitution of Democracy

Democracy is rule by the people for the people. What sounds so simple and convincing, however, only emerges from a lengthy process of liberating a people from authoritarian claims of individuals or groups and their ideological justification. This includes the liberation from clericalism of religious organizations. Thus two independent spheres emerge in modern democracy: a state policy sphere and a private ideological-religious one, which, in order to coexist, must grant each other autonomy, just as the different private spheres must respect each other’s self-determination. All ideologies and beliefs and their practical exercises are thus assigned to the private sphere. In order to coexist, a strict separation of the institutions of the state from those of the private communities is mandatory, and finally, based on practical reason, the secularization of the state policy sphere and its decisions is also absolutely vital.

The fact that the process of secularization has not yet been completed is demonstrated by the debates currently taking place in Western democracies about, for example, the rights of non-marital partnerships, euthanasia and sexual ethics.

In the course of its liberation process, a people becomes a responsible constitutive people, a sovereign of the state – hence the term peoples’ sovereignty. Meaning that the people become responsible citizens who know how to distinguish between their political and private degrees of freedom. »All state power emanates from the people«, is therefore stated in Article 20 of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz) of 1949. The constitution which the people decide to choose usually marks the beginning of the institutionalization of a democracy. A genuine democratic constitution is always an expression of sovereignty, freedom and the rule of law, and, in order to be binding and unassailable, a constitution must basically relate to a geographically defined state (nation state) and the people living in that state. It is therefore reasonable to say that the terms nation state and constitutive people are synonyms.

The purpose of a constitution is also to clearly state those values that are non-negotiable and are beyond the scope of democratic discourse. This includes, above all, the respective stage of development of basic and human rights, increasingly also the rights of the remaining nature, and in the future, so is to be hoped, also the special basic economic rights. But the peoples’ sovereignty itself must also be protected from restrictions. Transfers of sovereign powers, for example, to institutions outside the state should in principle only be permitted for a limited period of time and for revocation. And even the federal (subsidiary) structure of a state can be anchored in the constitution of a state or its amendment protected by high plebiscitary or representative hurdles, as is the case in the German Constitution.

4.2 On Democratic Decision-Making Processes

To practice democracy in an advantageous way, it is not speed and supposed efficiency that are decisive, but good preparation and the hearing of all arguments. Only if the political debate among citizens is understood as a normal, everyday process can a community protect itself from being influenced by group interests or ideologized majorities. The charm of democracy lies in its vitality, in the fact that it involves all parties concerned, masters changing challenges and further develops its own framework of rules and the sense of justice of its citizens.

A sure indication of the vitality of a democracy is the tension that regularly builds up between »popular sentiment« and »professional law«, leading to the question: Can everything be right (or lawful) that democratic decisions produce? But even if we considered democracy to be only slightly better than other forms of government, it would be logical for the judicial system to bow to the sovereign’s will – with the exception of basic and human rights. Because it is not the current state of a democratic community that is significant for its welfare, but its ability to constantly develop further. In other words, there are no permanent claims to truth and validity in democracy. What ever has been established as todays majority opinion can already be rejected by a new majority tomorrow.

An institutionalized democratic culture of conflict, which is practised subsidiarily across all levels of a community, ideally forms the centre of political life. On the basis of grassroots democratic (plebiscitary) and market-economy principles, a rationally founded capacity for criticism can develop, which is sustained by the freedom to question the respective order with its procedures and rules at any time. The liveliness of direct and regulated engagement of all citizens ultimately creates a locally anchored and globally effective community.

Experience also shows that centralist-oligarchic decisions always exhibit authoritarian, selfish and ideological imbalances, that they are difficult to revise and have almost without exception caused damage in the history of mankind. That is why even the slowest and most laborious democratic decision-making is superior to the supposed efficiency of overhasty and selfishly irrefutable oligarchic decisions, mainly because the learning progress and the insight of those who are directly affected by decisions are most significant in the democratic process. The citizens’ political maturity, which is so readily disparaged, is the crucial capital that needs to be increased in order to shape a future worth living.

As a supplement I recommend the articles Principles of Democracy and Subsidiarily Structured Democracy.

For a larger overview I also recommend the article Democracy and European Integration.

Note on the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has noticeably revealed the significant weaknesses of the neoliberal economic system for everyone, above all the shortage of medical, but also other products, caused by disruptions in the absurdly networked value and supply chains across the globe.

The analyses of the neoliberal system as well as the principles and practical procedures based on them for building a sustainable system, which are presented in this compendium, thereby obtain an unexpected topicality. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and build up economic policy pressure to enforce the development of an economic order that is sustainably oriented towards social and ecological welfare.

The following article refers to the targeted arguments contained in the Compendium: COVID-19 and Globalization


Click here for the German-language version: Bedeutung der Nationalstaaten in Europa.

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