Fischer seems to have intended his discourse to foster debate. He was cautious not to offend the sensibilities of anybody. He insisted that this was not an official piece, so he took his ministerial hat off. He softened his language with several discharge notices. However, his invocation of the European F-word (for federation) has been more effective in awakening fears of a European Leviathan than in offering a clear picture of the decision-making structure that he favours.13
It is too soon to offer a detailed analysis of criticisms. However, it is not too risky to suppose that frontal attacks will be based on the argument that a federal Europe, with mechanisms for the direct political representation of citizens and both renovated breadth and scope for federal decision-making processes, is unlikely to reduce the European Union's legitimacy deficit. This is so because it is the pooling of competences by a supranational institution that is perceived to be the problem. It is precisely this that is argued to be what is actually perverting national democracies. Under such premises, a European federation (somehow by definition) cannot be sufficiently democratic.
This is, of course, the language of Euroscepticism, a short word for anything opposing further political integration. This usually comes in two main variants. Firstly, we find those who conceive of the Union as mainly an economic affair. Integration would mainly be about deregulating cross-border economic activities. The key words here are competition and mutual recognition of standards. This can be based on a general political stance (neo-liberalism, ordo-liberalism) or on a particular view of the distribution of competences between the Union and the Member States (this seems to be the case of `third way' social-democrats like Tony Blair). Secondly, there are those who deny that a federal Union can be a working polity, to the extent that it cannot forge one of the basic resources for stability, namely, the loyalty of citizens. The argument goes that politics requires a sort of pre-political solidarity, and this is based on common culture. Because the latter is absent within Europe, the Union should be a mere association of states, based on the intergovernmental model of international organisations. The key words here are loyalty, solidarity and demos. The Union as a federation would be a recipe for tyranny.14
Even though we are still waiting for direct responses to Fischer's speech, one cannot fail to notice that it has had an immediate impact on the discourse of national and supranational officials. It is interesting to see how the basic premise of the Green politician's argument is directly rebutted, namely, that monetary integration needs to be complemented by further political integration. This has been left painfully clear in two statements within weeks of the speech given in Berlin by Gordon Brown, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer,15 and the flamboyant Fritz Bolkestein, Commissioner in charge of the Internal Market and Taxation (portfolio).16 It is worth noticing that both of them advanced a view of the Union based on economic competition,17 and strongly disregarded any further integration towards some supra-static form.18 This makes it clear that we are in the middle of a debate about the soul of European integration.
13 See, The Times, 13 May 2000: `German threat to isolate Britain'. The correspondents report that `Paris and Berlin are determined to counter what they see as an Anglo-Saxon plot to turn the EU into little more than a free-trade area' and that Francis Maude, the Conservative shadow-Foreign Secretary argued that Fischer had `spectacularly blown the lid of Europe's super-state agenda.' It is interesting to have a look at the two letters to the editor in The Times, 17 May 2000, under the headline: `European `superpower' plan eclipses Euro debate'. One of the readers, Sir Roy Denman, argues that `[the UK] will not be prepared to join a federation for a generation. This is the length of time during which we shall simply be a sidekick to a new European superpower under Franco-German leadership.'
14 It is worth considering the extent to which the two variants have deeper intellectual connections. After all, neo-liberal arguments against redistribution postulate charity as an alternative means to guarantee that people are not exposed to extreme economic deprivation. The obligation of charity is then located in the members of close-knit communities, sharing culture, language and so on.
15 A lecture delivered 13 July 2000 to the Royal Economic Society. Available in electronic form at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/press/2000/p90_00.html/.
16 Speech given 27 June 2000 to Conservative MEPs participating in the IGC. See, for details: http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_ market/en/speeches/spch243.htm.
17 Bolkestein was assertive. He said: `I am not about to harmonise taxes. I would rather have fiscal competition. Instead, we try to simplify as much as possible by recognising the validity of each other's rules. We call this the mutual recognition of standards. Where necessary, we replace fifteen different sets of rules by just one. Thus, the goods, services, labour and capital can now freely flow across borders.'
18 Brown was quite straight, and indirectly referred to Fischer's speech as `an old claim'. Here is the relevant passage: `We are challenging the old claim made by some that tax harmonisation and a federal super-state run by the European Commission are the next stage after Monetary Union. We are putting the case for tax competition and against tax harmonisation, for the mutual recognition of nationally determined standards, and calling for timetables that would open up the single market in aviation, telecommunications, utilities, energy and financial services.'