From Napoleon to Martin Schulz

A history of the United States of Europe

The call by Martin Schulz, the defeated Social Democratic (SPD) leader in Germany, for the creation of a United States of Europe by 2025 is the latest in a long line of similar appeals.

George Washington reportedly said that a United States of Europe would be inspired by the creation of the republican US. On St Helena a defeated Napoleon mused that the arrival of a United States of Europe was the continent’s destiny, and in 1849 French writer Victor Hugo told the French parliament, ‘A day will come when we shall see the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas.’

Soviet politician Leon Trotsky predicted that a United States of Europe was on the way after the Russian revolution. Éduoard Herriot, who served as prime minister of France on three separate occasions in the 1920s and 1930s, wrote a book called The United States of Europe in 1931. And then came Winston Churchill, who in 1946 commandeered headlines with his appeal in Zurich for the formation of ‘a kind of United States of Europe’.

Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister, in 2007 wrote United States of Europe, which won the first European Book Prize. Ten years later, Schulz is winning similar headlines by issuing his appeal.

It comes at a difficult time for Schulz’s SPD. The party must decide whether, after a disastrous performance in September’s parliamentary elections, to re-enter government as junior partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Schulz wants to position his party as the strongest advocate of European integration, in contrast to Merkel’s more cautious Germany-first conservatism. In addition, he hopes some of Emmanuel Macron’s ambition will rub off on the German centre-left, as the French president has made a stronger and more effective Europe central to his vision.

But there have so far been few, if any, takers for Schulz’s appeal either in Germany or in neighbouring countries. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, has consistently said a United States of Europe is not on the Commission’s agenda. Predictably, anti-European politicians and press in the UK were excited to use Schulz’s remarks as proof that European Union member states are prepared to fold themselves into a federal United States of Europe, and that Britain was therefore right to vote to leave the bloc.

As with Napoleon, Hugo, Trotksy and Churchill and others, Schulz’s grandiloquent call makes for a good story, but is not going to happen.

Denis MacShane is a former UK Minister for Europe, a Senior Adviser at Avisa Partners, and a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

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