Some time ago I read Imperium der Zukunft: Warum Europa Weltmacht werden muss (“Empire of the Future: Why Europe must become a world power”) by Alan Posener. I didn’t particularly like it – although there are some sharp observations in there, it’s unclear to me what Posener actually proposes, and he takes way too many cheap shots at his supposed opponents. The book did, however, get me thinking about what an Empire of Europe could look like.
And the answer I came up with was “Uh, something like this?”
You’ll notice that my fantasy Empire is a lot bigger than the current Union, stretching all the way to the Russian border and covering all of the Balkans as well as notorious separatist holdouts like Switzerland and Norway. Kaliningrad, or rather Königsberg, is firmly in European hands as well.
German readers will recognise the little star in the middle as Frankfurt am Main. Why should Frankfurt be the imperial capital? Well, for starters, it’s more or less centrally located. It’s already a major transport hub and powerful financial centre (housing, among other things, the ECB’s headquarters). It’s not an existing national capital, avoiding implications that the imperial project is actually one European country annexing the others. And last but not least, it has precedent for this sort of thing.
The Empire is divided into provinces called “prefectures” (more on that name later). To form these, I looked up Eurostat’s population figures by NUTS-2 region, and started grouping regions into blocks of approximately 10 million people. (See here for more details on how I formed the prefectures.) Such a size would make each prefecture big enough to efficiently organise most functions of government, but too small to be even a middling regional power in its own right. More importantly, making the prefectures all roughly the same size would remove the whole dynamic of “small countries” versus “big countries” that causes so much rivalry and tension in the existing European Union.
(On the map, prefectures are grouped into seven “Circles”, but these are merely for orientation and statistical purposes; there are no institutions of government at the Circle level. However, large businesses, sports leagues, and NGOs often use the Circles as convenient dividing lines in their organisational structure.)
In many places, I deliberately cut across existing national borders, to emphasise that the Empire is a new state running on its own logic – not just a tighter form of cooperation between existing countries.
So how is this new state governed? Obviously it’s too big for an entirely centralised system, so responsibilities are divided between the imperial government and the prefectures. Examples of policy areas left to the prefectures include education, police, healthcare and transportation, whereas Frankfurt concerns itself with things like social security, foreign affairs, energy, and defence. (Social security in particular will be a daunting task to harmonise across all of Europe, but it’s essential for a coherent economic policy.) Thorny questions about fundamental rights, in areas such as medical ethics and family law, are also decided on an imperial level.
The alpha and omega of imperial politics is the Senate, a 500-member legislative assembly. The Senate is elected every four years by proportional representation, with the same lists of candidates on every ballot throughout Europe. To prevent fragmentation, there is a voting threshold of 7.5% – we don’t really need more than four or five parties. To keep out parties with a strong regional focus, each new party needs to gather a large number of signatures in each prefecture in order to register for elections (say, 0.05% of the prefecture’s total population). Otherwise, the Senate could turn into a mere addition sum of bickering regional interests, which is one of the biggest problems with the current EU.
The executive branch of government is headed by the Imperial Chancellor, who together with his ministers forms the Imperial Cabinet. (There’s also a President of the Empire, elected by the Senate, but he’s more of a figurehead, similar to the current presidents of Germany and Italy). Needless to say, both the appointment of Cabinet members and the policy decisions they make need to be approved by the Senate.
There are nine ministers on the Cabinet, each leading a department of the Imperial Civil Service (ICS): Energy, Natural Resources, and the Environment; Interior (Home Office); Foreign Affairs; Defence; Labour and Economic Affairs; Finance; Immigration and Integration; Science and Culture; Justice and Civil Rights.
A new Senate means a new Cabinet, but the reverse isn’t true: if a Cabinet collapses prematurely, because of internal strife or a vote of no confidence from the Senate, a new Cabinet is formed and has to seek the approval of the existing Senate.
Besides the Senate, there’s also the Constitutional Council. This is a 50-member assembly elected by the prefectural legislatures. Its members have no party allegiance and serve six-year terms. To create some distance from the day-to-day political process, and prevent mid-term surprises that can hamstring a Cabinet, Council elections are held in piecemeal fashion, with two Council members being elected every three months. To keep Council members from becoming “delegates” who represent a single prefecture’s interests – remember, we don’t want regional interests dictating imperial policy! – the votes from all prefectural legislatures are thrown onto the same pile. The Council concerns itself with the technical details of bills and their compliance with the Imperial Constitution, combining aspects of an upper house of parliament and a constitutional court. The Council’s approval is necessary for a bill to become law; it can also strike down existing legislation as unconstitutional, but this requires an 80% majority.
On the prefectural level, things work largely the same, with a legislature called a Diet, and a Cabinet headed by a Governor. (There is no prefectural equivalent of the Constitutional Council.) Each prefecture is divided further into departments, again with their own legislative and executive institutions; the exact structure and terminology of these lower tiers of government varies slightly by prefecture, though, and major cities are often given a special status.
Speaking of terminology, shouldn’t something called a “prefecture” have a prefect? It should, and it does. The Prefect is a sort of ambassador of the imperial government: the eyes, ears and voice of Frankfurt within his prefecture. As the Prefect is a civil servant who does not answer directly to any elected body, he has no decision-making powers of his own.
The Prefect and his staff, responsible for maintaining good relations with the prefectural institutions and making sure they properly carry out the laws of Empire, are on the payroll of the Home Office – one of the aforementioned departments of the Imperial Civil Service.
Given the Empire’s size, the ICS obviously forms only a small portion of the entire civil service; the total number of civil servants employed at the prefectural level and below is much greater. But what the ICS lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: these are the elite troops of Empire, drilled in a Prussian ethos of duty and discipline. They enjoy high salaries and generous benefits, but there’s a zero-tolerance policy for fraud, embezzlement, favoritism and other such abuses – and the ICS only takes the best.
“The best” are the graduates of Academies of the Empire (AotE). These schools, established specifically to educate ICS personnel, are the only form of education run from the imperial rather than the prefectural level; there is at least one AotE in each prefecture. In many ways, the AotE are to the Empire what the grandes écoles are to modern-day France.
Academies of the Empire don’t only provide excellent university-level programmes in various fields relevant to ICS work (such as tax law, econometrics or environmental biology); all students are also taught extensively about European history, and the wide range of cultural sensibilities they’ll encounter at their postings from Iceland to Cyprus. Last but not least, the AotE programme includes absolute fluency in the three languages of Empire: German, French and English.
AotE charge no tuition, but the admission exam is very difficult, and students who can’t keep up with the demanding curriculum are swiftly shown the door. AotE graduates are guaranteed a job in the ICS – in fact, they are required to work there for at least five years (the Empire has invested heavily in their education, after all). Many opt for a longer career in the ICS, but AotE graduates are also highly sought after in the private sector.
I mentioned German, French and English as the “three languages of Empire”; fluency in these three is required not only for ICS personnel, but also for anyone with political ambitions at the imperial level (all three languages are allowed in Senate debates). In general, whenever imperial citizens of different native languages need to communicate, they tend to use one of these three.
Of course, many more languages are spoken throughout Europe, and these can attain a status called Imperial Accreditation if they meet certain requirements: a minimum number of native speakers within the Empire (say, 200,000); a standardised grammar and spelling; and a language academy, located within imperial territory, which regulates those standards – think e.g. of the Académie Française. (You hear that, English? No academy, no recognition. Get your act together already.)
Only Imperially Accredited languages are allowed to be used in official contexts (e.g. schools, courts of law, and government communication) – including at the prefectural, departmental, and local level. The Empire supports Accredited academies in preserving and promoting their respective languages. Imperial legislation must be translated into all Accredited languages; prefectural legislation into all Accredited languages spoken in that prefecture (usually two or three).
Last but not least, the Empire maintains a huge military to protect both Europe itself and European interests throughout the world. With almost two million active personnel, a dozen aircraft carriers, and a nuclear arsenal inherited from Britain and France, the Imperial European Armed Forces are not to be taken lightly. (Of course, worldwide nuclear disarmament is a big priority in the Empire’s diplomacy, but the Empire will not disarm unilaterally – that would leave it at a serious strategic disadvantage against less scrupulous powers.)
The American troops once stationed in Europe have long gone home.
All right, back to reality. Even if everyone in Europe focused all their energy on making this happen, we’d reach the situation outlined above in 2050 at the earliest – and, well, somehow I don’t think everyone in Europe is going to do that. In the current climate at least, an Empire of Europe crosses too many interests and offends too many sensibilities to be remotely politically feasible – and that’s not even going into the practical problems. Getting Belgrade, Donetsk and Palermo to march in lockstep with Frankfurt on a bunch of really important issues? Convincing Norway and Switzerland to join the European project? Prying Königsberg and Crimea from Russia’s hands without accidentally triggering World War III? Entirely abolishing all European nation-states and replacing them with provinces cutting crisscross through existing borders? Those aren’t exactly easy tasks, no matter how many top-educated Prussian bureaucrats you throw at them.
In general, far-off utopian blueprints are rarely a good basis for practical policymaking, and these “Visions of Empire” are no exception. Why did I bother writing them down, then? Because sometimes, it can help to articulate what you really want, in order to provoke thought and inspire debate.
And, well, Imperial Europe is the kind of Europe I’d really want to live in. A Europe with a streamlined and democratic central government, rather than the Gordian political knot that is “Brussels” today. A Europe that strides confidently across the world stage as a superpower in its own right, dealing with the US and China on an equal footing and with Russia from a position of superiority. A Europe that properly coordinates its own transition to a sustainable economy. A Europe that sets aside petty local squabbles for the sake of a common cause – and encourages its brightest minds to make a career out of serving that cause. One great big oasis of peace, prosperity, freedom and good governance, encompassing 600 million people or more, making them proud to be imperial citizens – proud to be Europeans.
A man can dream.