Looking to the Past to Solve the Present: Europe’s Antifederalist Model

There are many issues within the Lisbon Treaty of 2008. The Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the Treaty Establishing a Constitution of Europe, created an Antifederalist model of the European Union, which possibly explains the rise of Populist leaders across Europe today. Looking into the past, we may be able to find solutions for the present and prevent the return of extreme nationalism that devastated the 20th century.

My favorite Founding Father of the United States is Patrick Henry. He was one of the most influential and prolific characters during the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States. Yet, he ended up on the wrong side of history. Henry was an Antifederalist, and in the end would lose to the Federalists’ led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison during debates that formed of the Constitution of the United States of America. While the issues dealt with in the United States nearly 250 years ago do not directly answer the issues faced by Europe today, they may indicate a place to start.

One of the first things the Constitution of the United States does, is clearly define its citizens as “We the People of the United States.” The Lisbon Treaty makes a similar attempt, but fails to create a truly European identity, stating “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.” This is an antifederal compromise, which could explain the reemergence of Populist Nationalism. When looking to how Europeans identify themselves, over a third of all Europeans identify themselves based on their nationality alone, and nearly half identify themselves as their nationality over being European. This is in stark contrast to those who identify themselves as European over their nationality (roughly 6%), and those who identify themselves as European alone (roughly 2%). Where countries identify more closely with their nationality, there appears to be more support for Populism.

Another possible explanation for the rise in Populism that may derive from the Antifederal model of the Lisbon Treaty, is the relationship between the Union and its member states. Unlike modern nation-states, the European Union does not have well defined and established borders, given its enlargement plans. This means that the European identity is still expanding. Additionally, the Lisbon Treaty grants its member “their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security.” These are some of the fundamental underpinnings of nation-statehood, and could be causing the lack of identity associated with Europe that is fueling Populist movements.

While the Lisbon Treaty’s aim was never to create a nation-state, the European Union has increasingly taken on nation-state functions such as currency, legislation, and open borders within the Schengen Area. Although these policies have been largely accepted and embraced, they were strained by the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing migrant crisis. The Antifederalist nature created by the Lisbon Treaty makes it difficult to address these issues at the pan-European level, and has left many European nations to fend for themselves. Thus, as a leading expert on the topic of Populism named Cas Mudde pointed out,  the Populist movements which seek to channel the general will of the people against a corrupt and out of touch elite, is often assumed by the national identity.

At this point, you may be wondering why my favorite Founding Father would be an Antifederalist, due to many of the inefficiencies such a model may produce. However, while Henry may not have agreed with the politics of his day, he found a way to work within the system and safeguard all of the American people through the creation of the Bill of Rights. While the politics and symptoms of today differ from those of the past, it is my hope that Europe may do the same and find compromise.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s