The biggest problem the European Union faces is not the Euro, not excessive regulation, not the growth of nationalist parties or the radical right. It is the lack of popular appeal to the people of Europe. The problem is that the concept of a continent without war was, in the 1950’s, really beautiful but today, after nearly 70 years of peace, is just boring. To a generation where almost every European nation had suffered deprivation, death on an unimaginable scale, near starvation and either fascism or communism threatening the existence of civilisation, the dreams of a Europe without boundaries and with a political method of resolving disputes was very seductive. The dreams of Spaak and Monet of a Europe where common regulation would replace regiments of riflemen in determining whose rules would apply have lost their resonance. There is no romance, no unifying symbol, no ceremony to fascinate, nor even, apart from Senor Berlusconi, any interesting scandal to follow which is truly European.
Only in the East where memories of despotism are closest both in time and distance does the European dream still attract popular support. The lack of enthusiasm for common standards of hygiene and food is not perhaps totally surprising – the freedom to expect food without filling in forms is unlikely to fill the streets with placard waving protestors – but it was the removal of the everyday causes of friction and the prevention of small fights which the founders of Europe saw as the secret of freeing us from the horrors of the holocaust, the rivers of blood flowing across Europe from the Somme to Stalingrad.
The boredom, lack of romance and lack of meaning to the man in the Manheim or Manchester street is often put down to a ‘democratic deficit’ – a deficiency in institutions such as the European parliament, the Commission and the Court. The prescription often made is that more power should be given to Parliament as opposed to the Council or the Commission; that the popular mandate for MEPs would connect European people more closely to their policy makers.
I argue that, although the diagnosis is correct, the cure is much more radical. Boredom and disillusion are there and evident but it is not more politicians who are required, not more plebiscites or polls but romance which is missing – what Europe needs most is an identifiable institution and we have exactly the right instrument available in the Holy Roman Empire. We can re-invent or re-establish this memorable relic of our common ancient civilisation with no problem.
The Emperor or Empress would become the unifying symbol of our common purpose, in his person would be vested with the ornamental and formal representative powers of every member nation – he would be the ceremonial head of the union and every Head of State would swear allegiance to the Emperor or Empress. In his person every European citizen could identify with the real existence of the Empire.
The very existence of an Emperor or Empress would give tangible form to the Union and would allow popular support to focus on something real – a person with a name and a history – an individual who could be seen, cheered and waved at and whose every movement could be commented on by the press, pictured on TV and fill the pages of gossip magazines – of course he would have no real power himself although perhaps rather more than some of his forebears. He would, for instance, have the power to invite every member of the Commission or any head of government of a member state for tea, the duty to attend the opening of the European Parliament etc., but the very fact of his existence would be living proof of the European dream.
The Holy Roman Empire is now widely regarded as not very holy and far from its Roman antecedents so it is perhaps possible that a more politically correct term would be appropriate today – indeed a European wide referendum could be held to decide which parts of our common inheritance we should celebrate in the title, although probably the “holy” bit would be acceptable to most and “Roman ” was always a very inclusive and multi-cultural status. Such a referendum might itself be a unifying move.
As for who should be Emperor or Empress, again the elections should be the occasion for public participation, via publicity, betting and TV exposure of the candidates – but the electorate should be restricted to heads of state of member nations. To be eligible for election as Emperor one would need to be a head of state or spouse or child of a head of state. The electors would by ballot select ten of their members (or the nominee of one of their members) to enter the final selection by lot. Any head of state could nominate one candidate, either themselves or any eligible person from any member state, in their stead but any nominee would have to be between the age of 40 and 50 when nominated. When elected the European Emperor would rule for life or until he abdicated but when he achieved 70 years of age a successor would be elected.
Imperial power would be restricted to the right to veto any legislation coming from parliament, the right to revoke or amend any act of the Commission and power to veto any appointments to the Court or Commission. These powers would be exercised on behalf of the Emperor by a Senate of 100, all of whom would be elected by the parliaments of member states on the basis of at least one Senator for each state, with the balance being allocated on the basis of population of member states, or groups thereof. A Senator would serve for 20 years, and the Senate would be in continuous session.
The seat of the Emperor would be a matter for his personal choice, and each Emperor could choose the city in which he held court – but once he had chosen he could not ever change. The Senate would sit wherever the Emperor had chosen.
The funding for the imperium would be an imperial purse – this would comprise 1% of all expenses claimed by all Commission, Court and Parliamentary employees and members. It would belong exclusively and wholly to the Emperor and he would not be asked to account to anyone as to how he spent it. In addition he would receive free of tax without any need to account to anyone any payments from any city, country, company or person for any service he wished to provide, including sponsorship, entertaining or personal visits. Any gifts or inducements would belong to him personally to do with as he wished.
Senators would be paid by the states they represented at the same rate as members of their domestic parliaments, and they would be paid at this rate for the rest of their lives. They would only be able to serve a single term of 20 years and would be expected to resign all other forms of employment or positions of authority whilst serving in the Senate. They would be entitled to the honorific “Senator” for life.
The European Parliament would retain its existing powers but at the end of their term existing MEPs would be replaced by members of individual state parliaments elected by domestic parliaments for a ten year fixed renewable term, on a ‘1 for 2’ basis so as to halve the size of the parliament. It would henceforth only sit in the month of August and when it was not sitting all its powers would be devolved to the Senate. Members would not be paid as they would be receiving a parliamentary salary on appointment. They would not cease to sit as MEPs if they lost their domestic parliamentary seats but if they lost their parliamentary seat there would be no prohibition on their taking outside employment as long as they were available for the month of August.
The benefit to the European project of adopting these reforms would be several.
First, a popular involvement of all the people of Europe in the identification of candidates and with the selection of an Emperor would itself help by providing a unifying symbol.
Second, the removal from the spotlight of the Commission, and the reduction in time and expense of the unpopular parliament would remove sources of unpopularity.
Third, the romance and tradition of the restored imperial throne would provide a continuing source of stories; a focus for the future. Whether it was scandal or the prospects of succession any reporting would of its nature tend to be Europe wide as all would share an interest.
Fourth, an example to the outside world of how Europe can combine forward looking democratic institutions with traditional national institutions and historical continuity would illustrate virtues which could be followed in other areas.
We should cease to bemoan the loss of the glory that was Rome, and act to recreate the best of its long and civilising characteristics in a new Empire. The reality of 70 years of peace is too valuable to risk; securing the inheritance requires imagination from politicians and popular support from their electorates. Re-establishing the greatest Empire the world has known could just be what would inspire both.
Written by Marcus Johnson, Chief Executive, NW Brown Group Ltd