"Nations are Fictions"

Ulrike Guérot
Ulrike Guérot | © Sara N. Plassnig

We spoke to Ulrike Guérot, the founder of the European Democracy Labs, about her vision of a reformed Europe. She is the author of Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! Eine poltitische Utopie ("Why Europe Must Become a Republic! A Political Utopia"), a book that was much discussed in Germany.

What does the diversity of Europe mean to you?

Europe’s diversity is incredibly rich. Over the course of the last few centuries, the big artistic and technological inventions came from Europe:  the clock, but also the abundance of thought and ideas brought forth by the great poets and thinkers - that's European culture. The diversity of languages but also that of cuisines across our continent. This diversity is extremely pronounced here in comparison to the USA.

In your political utopia “Why Europe must become a republic!” you write that nations are outdated… 

Nations aren’t natural systems in history. There was a case for the nation-state form during the last 300 years. It was a consequence of processes of emancipation and it did work pretty well. But the nation-state can no longer serve as the frame for our welfare state and our democracy while the market and the currency are European. The market and the state must be brought together to operate on a single organisational level. One function of the state is distribution, which depends on the power to levy taxes. Cases like those revealed in the 'Panama Papers' show clearly that the state is no longer able to do that.

What would abolishing nations mean for European cultural diversity?

An abolition of nation-states sounds drastic, and citizens are worried by the prospect of a single, centralised European state. But culture and identity are not things we derive from the nation-state, they originate in our cities and regions. I am from Düsseldorf in the Rhineland – that is my home. As the Austrian writer Robert Menasse put it: ‘Regions are home (German: Heimat), nations are fictions.’
Ulrike Guérot Foto: ©Karin Ribbert How can a diverse Europe be unified under one roof?

I can’t say how this will happen - what I wrote was a utopia. So that we still have time to think, my utopia only starts in 2045. Of course the European Republic will not be founded at a meeting of the European Council with the signatures of Merkel and Hollande. We are at a turning point, things are changing drastically. What if history were to open another little door and suddenly we were once again confronted with the reconstruction of this continent? That's the purpose of my proposal.

What would your integrative and egalitarian vision for Europe mean in terms of refugee policy?

If Europe were to take the form of a republic founded on the principle of general political equality, then the actual goal would be to open up the world. Europe is the idea of a permanent search for identity and borderlessness (German: Grenzenlosigkeit).  Europe is not a fixed political entity, everyone would be able to be part of it. We would constitute ourselves away from nations as citizens of the world and thus fulfil the first clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All human beings are equal.  Obviously this can’t be fulfilled and must remain a utopia, but I still hope that we as Europeans will take the first step towards it.

So the definition “refugee” will no longer exist in your republic?

Who flees from where? All Europeans stem from Africa, we fled 5000 years ago in the Neolithic period. To say: "we are refugees and we are here" - as if the Earth were ours - is already a paradigm. The defect in the reasoning of today's system lies in the claim that we can’t be citizens without states because only states can endow us with civil rights. Human rights should be fused with civil rights.

In your book, you describe the EU as a currency union, not as a project for peace. Do you think the EU should return its Nobel Peace Prize to the Norwegian committee?
I thought it was a good thing that the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize, because it is a project for peace. It has maintained peace on the European continent for 60 years. The prize should be seen as a challenge to the EU to return to this ideal. We cannot maintain peace, including social and democratic peace, while we are governed by an undemocratic currency. It is essential that the euro be built into transnational parliamentary structures.

Norway’s population has always, by a small margin, voted against EU membership. What kind of role would democratic Norway play in your European Republic?
A membership of the EU in its current state form is unattractive [to Norway]. 80% of Norwegians would apparently vote against EU membership today. But even with their gas reserves to fall back on, Norwegians can no more "go it alone" than anyone else can. If the national dimension of Europe were dismantled, Norwegians would probably be happy to join. Because on the old maps of Europe, the continent is always represented as a queen. In her dress, all nations and peoples have their place.
Europe © Karen Serfinski