Federalism thrives on diversity

Keith Best

By Keith Best

Speech by Keith Best, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Federalist Movement (WFM), at the closing plenary of the XIX European Congress of the Union of European Federalists (UEF) in Brussels 12-14 October 2001

I am delighted to be with you today but just as disappointed as you that I am but a poor substitute for Sir Peter Ustinov whom we all would have preferred to hear. He sends his apologies but I know that he is with us in spirit.

The draft resolution at your Congress calls for the re-launch of the process of European unification through the creation of a pioneer group whose members are determined to relinquish their national sovereignties and to unite into a Federation inside the Union and open to the rest of its members. We should not be apologetic about a federal system: we should remind our critics that both the world’s most populous democracy, India, and the world’s most economically and militarily powerful democracy, the United States, have a federal structure. The core of the USSR became the Russian Federation even though there may be debate about the relationship between the states and the centre. History shows us that the creation of a federal state is either through an external military dominance as in India and Germany or through the threat of external aggression as in the United States. Nor should be forget that in the latter case the sense of independence of the individual states was so strong that they first formed a confederation – the full federal structure emerged only ten years later. Of course, a main driver was the self-interest that was seen to be advanced by the pooling of sovereignty. That has been the main driver for the member states of the EU.

Although the vision of an united Europe had been promoted before the Second World War and intellectually owes much to Altiero Spinelli and other European federalists the practical origins were modest on the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom treaties. The concept of a free market can appeal to the libertarians but is usually based on the dominance of one economy. To make such a market ethical and fair requires the provision of the level playing field – so that all participants are operating according to the same rules and none have advantages in the way of hidden subsidies or practices. What I might term the equality of bargaining power backed by legal protection of the rules. This also has relevance to the wider international community. Taken to its logical conclusion, as we have seen from many measures which affect the lives of all EU citizens, the creation of such a level playing field knows few bounds in what it affects: not just the eradication of state subsidies but also working conditions, health and safety measures and employees’ other rights. I shall return in a moment to this concept of equality before the law in a wider context.

The resolution mentions a pioneer group. In the book “Federal Union: The Pioneers” the authors Richard Mayne and John Pinder quote Sir William Beveridge’s Federal Tract of 1940 entitled “Peace by Federation?” in which he states “The purpose of federation is not the power of large nations but security for citizens of all nations and for their different cultures.” He added “Effective democracy is a condition of federation.”

I was particularly interested to note the subject of your Committee III: Fortress Europe or open space: Immigration, asylum and cultural diversity in a federal Europe. In my capacity as Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service in the UK my three hundred staff and I are wrestling with these issues and the effect of them on individuals every day of our lives. The determination of who should be allowed to enter and remain in a country lawfully, who should be entitled to citizenship is probably the last bastion of national sovereignty. So much else has already been surrendered into the common pool for the greater good. The sovereignty of unilateral involvement in war was given up as long ago as 1949 by those countries which acceded to the NATO alliance through Article V which has been invoked recently against the terrorists – namely that an attack on one country in the alliance constitutes an attack on all. Article II, however, is often overlooked yet is relevant in our context. It states that “The parties will contribute towards further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions were founded and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage collaboration between any or all of them.” Perhaps we should invoke Article II every so often.

Perhaps one of the boldest steps ever to be undertaken by a group of countries comes into effect next year with the planned extinction of national currencies and the advent of the euro – I must remember to spend all my Belgian francs! An end to national sovereign control of currency.

But when will the retention of national sovereignty over immigration and asylum finally fall? Probably within the next three years. Yet we know that the concept of European citizenship exists only on the back of citizenship of a member state of the European Union rather than existing on its own. So the debate is a real one and goes to the very heart of the future of the EU. We must address ourselves not just to immigration and asylum issues but to the matter of who is allowed to become citizens of the European Union. Even so, the issue of immigration and asylum is controversial enough. We have seen already the proposal for a common European immigration policy which is now central after the Treaty of Amsterdam and will need to be adopted by May 2004 – whether or not a qualified majority vote on it has been agreed by that time.

The history and lessons of the European Union have great resonance for world federalists. Over the many years that I have been active in WFM I have come to realise the close ideological links between the European federalists and the world federalists and why it is so appropriate and why we should be so pleased to welcome UEF as a member organisation of WFM. We already have some national chapters of UEF which have joined and WFM also has individual membership. Indeed, for many years our suggested proposals for a UN Parliamentary Assembly have been schooled by the way in which the European Assembly developed into the European Parliament. The fundamentals are the same, whether in a regional or global context: the minimum state; decisions taken at the level closest to the people with political power reserved upwards only for those decisions which cannot be taken at a lower level; these powers and their exercise enshrined in constitutional instruments; the rule of law rather than the law of force; disputes justiciable in international courts; equality before the law; the need for democracy at all levels.

Should we be encouraged by global developments? Has the world learned some of the essential truths about institutionalised international co-operation that it has taken the Europeans over half a century to evolve after twice in a generation tearing each other apart and leaving their sons and daughters dead and dying on the battlefields? Has the world learned about the dangers of tolerating the appalling genocide of tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others; of turning its back on the suffering of economic deprivation which leads to entrenched inequality and the both having the inevitable consequence of massive forced migration? Of what happens if you allow racism or religious and cultural intolerance to take hold and dominate the political agenda?

The scourge of war, against which the Charter of the UN is dedicated, is still with us. We see that poignantly today. Yet this war is different in many ways from previous conflicts. Wars have been fought traditionally over territory even if the excuse has been ideology. This war is against a phenomenon – terrorism – and an undefined and mostly unknown enemy. I hope that it may become a conflict against the abuse of human rights and intolerance: for that could be justified against the Taleban even if they were not harbouring Usama Bin Laden. Maybe the world will mature a little and realise that allowing an evil regime to flourish which impoverishes its people economically and socially is a source of terrible future conflict. There should be a role for the UN to intervene in such situations. The recent troubles in East Timor and former Yugoslavia as well as Somalia a few years ago have shown that the old inhibition of military intervention unless invited by the incumbent government is now dead. That is good. What is still lacking, however, is the full authority of the UN itself in many of these conflicts. I do not know how far the concept of self-defence in Article 51 of the UN Charter can be invoked to support legally what is now going on in Afghanistan and which could continue, as we have been warned this week, well into the summer of next year. We should remember that Article 51 legitimises collective self-defence only “until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” There needs to be specific authorisation so that there is a proper political debate over the extent of the authorisation for military action, as there was over the UN resolution on which the war against Iraq was based.

We should all have a concern about the authority for international action. It cannot be right that one country should be the policeman of the world – such a role will have legitimacy only if it is truly an expression of the whole international community. That is why WFM has engaged in dialogue with the UN and I well remember special tributes being paid to WFM by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Under Secretary General Gillian Sorensen and Kofi Annan specifically about the supportive work of WFM and how we were there at the beginning of the UN, influencing and encouraging. That is why we have welcomed and fully participated in the meeting at the General Assembly of Civil Society, why we continue to campaign for more democratic accountability giving representation to “We the peoples” as set out in the Preamble to the Charter rather than just “we, the governments.” It is why our policy advocates a UN peace keeping standing force whose members would owe their allegiance to the international community and not to the national governments which provide them, often too late to be effective, and which would bring into meaningful activity the Military Staff Committee.

It is also why WFM has led the Coalition for an International Criminal Court with funding from the European Commission, Ford, Rubin and McArthur foundations and others. It is one of the most important developments in the history of international institutions and one in which, I am pleased to note, WFM has taken such a leading role. We put together the largest coalition of international NGOs ever seen – well over 1,000 throughout the world – kept informed and motivated by the ICC website. We have been very successful – perhaps more than we could have imagined. Bill Pace our Executive Director has worked tirelessly and diplomatically in pursuance of this goal and in all the lengthy discussions about process and which crimes should be included, what safeguards there are for nationals of those countries that feel vulnerable to allegations and other issues. The fact is that the International Criminal Court is an idea whose time has come. We believe that it will gain its essential 60 ratifications by the time of our Congress in London next July. From the time it enters into effect there will be no place to hide for any dictator or head of state who perpetrates genocide or other crimes against humanity. Many countries are having to amend their constitutions to negate exemption from prosecution of serving heads of state. This is heady stuff.

So, we will have been successful at the turn of the 21st Century in making the rule of law of international human rights enforceable against individuals. True equality before the law. But what of enforceability against states? We still have a long way to go. It will come as no surprise that we support further extension of the remit of the International Court of Justice (or World Court) and that its jurisdiction should be mandatory. An encouraging development is that there are now few places in the world where disturbance is not shown immediately on global television and arouses widespread concern – telecommunications, electronic means and the world wide web have not only turned the world into a true global village but have also enabled access to millions in the poorer world.

The international community, moreover, has failed to make a concerted effort to eradicate poverty and the causes of conflict. Indeed, it is depressing that as the rich countries have become richer so the poor countries have become poorer. One sixth of the world’s population, over 1.1 billion people, still do not have access to the most fundamental need of clean water. This has led to migration, of which I shall speak in a moment, and to conflict. It is only when the rich appreciate that to leave the poor in poverty ultimately threatens their own material wealth that we shall see such action. Maybe the appalling outrage and tragedy on 11 September has brought home how vulnerable every citizen is to those who seek revenge in twisted and callous ways. Maybe this will provide a stimulus for us all to realise that the starving children in Africa and the homeless in the favellas as well as the uneducated in deprived countries are all our brothers and sisters whom we cannot pass on the other side as well as being a terrible waste of human resources and cause of exploitation.

The war in Afghanistan is characterised by a new development in warfare which may have something to do with this: the combination of attempted surgical strikes and humanitarian aid coupled with the realisation that the world must plan now for a lasting stable political solution. I know that the United States poured in large quantities of grain and machinery to Vietnam at the same time it was napalming and defoliating large areas indiscriminately but this is different. Far more than in any previous conflict is the understanding that poverty and ignorance – those two evils which walk hand in hand towards hell – lead to instability. As I mentioned, everyone in the world should have concern about the effects of migration which can be both a positive and a negative force. It is small wonder that tyrannical regimes such as the Taleban are careless of the economic suffering of the Afghan people and seek to deny them education. Just as Lenin and the Russian revolutionaries tried to destroy the middle classes so others afterwards who try to create their own revolution seek to annihilate the intelligentsia. A similar, less publicised, tragedy is happening in Ethiopia. It will not be easy to rebuild Afghanistan – it is fragmented by tribal and linguistic factions. Yet that is precisely the situation to which federalist principles should apply.

We in WFM should be examining now how those principles can be applied practically to Afghanistan. Our President, Sir Peter Ustinov, who would so much have liked to have been with us today has summed it up in his usual effective way by telling us that federalism is the way in which we can enjoy the differences between us. Federalism thrives on diversity – it is custom-built to accommodate it politically. There is no other system which enables that to happen with adequate safeguards for the minority. Raw democracy without federalism can be the tyranny of the majority over the minority – a kind of Benthamite hell where the only test is the fulfilment of the wishes of the majority. Sophisticated democracies now recognise that minorities may have legitimate interests and must be given a voice by which to be heard. Federalism places that in a structured environment. It is no coincidence that federalism is often most successful in countries where there is great diversity.

We should recall the words of Victor Hugo in his Histoire d’un Crime: “On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées” A stand can be made against invasion by armies; no stand can be made against invasion by ideas. Just as federalism in Europe has an inevitability that we should recognise, so looking to the wider world we should understand the historic role that Europe can play in acting as a model for global structures and the way in which they are developed. It is no coincidence that the Pan African Union is seeking to establish an African Community based on the same principles with similar institutions.

There has always been a close link between European and World Federalists. The founding Congress of the European Union of Federalists in 1947 expressed it as “One Europe in One World.” That is why both European Federalists and World Federalists have so much in common. Together we have so many goals to share and our themes and ideas, strengthened by the unity between us, and pursued with all the vigour at our command can make the world a better place and one fit for future generations.

This speech was given by Keith Best, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Federalist Movement and a former Conservative MP. He can be contacted at keithbest@hotmail.com.

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