Martin Schulz thinks he has a brilliant idea. In reaction to his party agreeing to commence coalition talks with Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU/CSU, the former German Social Democratic leader issued a fresh call for a “United States of Europe.” He made the announcement in a tweet sent on December 7:
In an additional tweet, Schulz explained that he intends to put a new constitutional treaty forward that member states would have to adopt. And the agreement would have some bite: countries that didn’t adopt it would “automatically leave the EU.” According to Schulz, the former chairman of the European Parliament, a federal European Union would stand as a firm bulwark towards the nationalist movements in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Austria, all of which have made headway in recent elections.
The socialist Schulz rounded off his newest political move by posting a picture on his Facebook account describing himself as “radically pro-European” and conflating once again those who oppose the European Union with those who are anti-European:
A number of German conservatives were quick to reject Schulz’s demands for complete political union. Volker Kauder, chairman of the center-right parliamentary group in the German parliament, said Schulz’s European proposal posed “a danger to the EU and citizens’ approval of Europe,” while Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chancellery chief, said the idea was unrealistic.
The move comes as a surprise even for a professed Europhile like Schulz, both politically and in terms of its timing. Rather than outright endorse a U.S. of EU, Schulz had previously glossed over the federalist tendencies of the European Parliament, though his EU fanaticism has been flying more freely as of late. At a rally during this year’s German election campaign, Schulz declared:
Yes, there is an alternative for everything, including for Europe [meaning: European Union]. But the alternative to the Europe that we have today is, we know that already: it’s the Europe of the last century! That of murder, manslaughter, the fantasy of big and powerful empires, the reigns of autocracy. That is not my Europe, that is not the social democrat Europe.
But there’s something different about this latest demand for more EU power. Suggesting a United States of Europe seems like a desperate attempt by Schulz to remain relevant after the disastrous election result back in September. Schulz, who took on the arrogant tone of someone convinced of his upcoming success well before election day, was utterly rejected by the German public, yet rather than step down, he made it clear that his party would not engage in coalition talks with Merkel, despite her having won the largest number of seats in parliament.
Since then, and since the so-called “Jamaica talks” between Merkel, the environmentalist Green Party, and the Liberal Democrat FDP failed, discussions over the likelihood of a renewed “Great Coalition” that would include both Merkel’s and Schulz’s parties have been relaunched. Aware that the SPD looks very similar to the center-right on a wide range of issues, it seems now as though the social democrats are trying hard to find considerable disagreements with Merkel’s party in order to placate their left flank, which is horrified by the idea of another left-right alliance.
Yet even granting its intra-SPD wisdom, arguing for a federal Europe is about the only way that Schulz could make his party’s overall standing even worse. While Germans view the EU very favorably, they certainly don’t think it needs more federalism. The assumption that because euroskeptics are in the minority the rest of the population are die-hard federalists is highly erroneous. In fact, following the Brexit vote in June last year, the Pew Research Center found that 42 percent of EU citizens believed some federal powers should be returned to national governments, while 27 percent said the power division should remain the same. Only 19 percent responded that the union should acquire more power. There is only unreliable online polling on the question of a United States of Europe, but we can be safe in the assumption that out those 19 percent, only a small fraction are in favor of a single European state.
EU federalism isn’t popular; in fact, it’s little more than the daydreaming of a small elite inside the Brussels bubble. In contrast to Martin Schulz, French President Emmanuel Macron has adopted the salami tactic of EU integration, demanding more power be transferred to Brussels but slowly, gradually. Lest we forget, Macron won the elections in his country, while Schulz did not.
It is likely that if the SPD can successfully conclude its coalition talks with Angela Merkel, Schulz will be excluded from the political sphere altogether. After ditching his EU perch for a miserably failed run in national politics, his last attempt at rebranding himself a “radical European” might just finish him for good. All of Europe will be better for it.
This article was first published by The American Conservative.
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