The authors, usually regarded as political opponents, are here united to argue that the European project has stalled and must be pushed through to its Federal conclusion. The first part of the book is a political pamphlet, in the second they answer questions from a favourably inclined journalist.
As Belgian Prime Minister for nine years, Guy Verhofstadt was directly involved in the inter-governmental debates behind the launch of the Euro, as well as in the preparation of the EU treaties of Nice and of Lisbon. He is currently President of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, perhaps better known on the Continent than in Britain, was a student leader during the Paris riots of 1968 when he acquired the nickname `Danny the Red'. He is now co-President of the Greens, also in the European Parliament.
They argue that whereas the creation of the Euro was necessary to stop repeated competitive devaluation and debilitating currency speculation, it was deeply flawed by not being accompanied by a common economic policy. This, they say, is because Euro Zone governments lacked the courage and energy to transfer further sovereignty to a supra-national body.
A large part of the pamphlet considers and strongly attacks the reasons for this lack of courage. Governments, it says, are clinging to outdated notions of national sovereignty. They tacitly encourage those who believe that individual nation states are better able to protect social and environmental standards than the EU. The authors point out that separately, Europe's nation states are no longer able to face the world's new trading blocs. In 25 years, none of them will be large enough to belong to the G8.
However, the financial crisis has revealed the fundamental weakness of the Euro Zone. It stems from the inability of seventeen heads of government to define, let alone implement a common economic policy. The authors assert that it will inevitably lead to the Euro Zone's disintegration. For them, therefore, maintaining the status quo is not an option.
They argue that the original European project must be revived. After the 2014 European elections, the European Parliament should proclaim itself a Constitutional Assembly and put forward proposals for a new constitution, to be put to a referendum. The proposals would, after a period of transition, lead to a directly elected President of the Commission who would effectively be President of the European Union. The Council of Ministers would be transformed into a Senate. Parliament would control expenditure.
All the peoples and states of the EU would take part in the referendum. It would be implemented by those that voted in favour, even if some large countries had decided not to join. Asked about the British, Cohn-Bendit replies that they would have to choose between joining and seeking to become the USA's 51st state. He says that he would like to see how the British would actually vote when faced with a situation which is not one of demanding "I want my money back" but of being told "You will get nothing back". As implied elsewhere in the pamphlet, there would not be the option of a free trade area for those who decided not to join the new entity.
Indeed one of the underlying themes is that continuation of the status quo will not only lead to the disintegration of the Euro Zone, but will also, because of a return to competitive devaluation and currency speculation, lead to the end of the EU itself.
A certain embarrassment can be detected on the part of Verhofstadt about the proposal to have a directly elected executive President. Cohn-Bendit, having played an active role in French Presidential elections, probably considers it normal; although only France has such a system. All other EU countries have governments produced by parliaments and Verhofstadt must know that their people would find the notion of an executive president particularly alien. However he often expresses the belief that a political leader should lead and not follow public opinion, so on this subject parhaps he is inclined towards a relatively authoritarian form of government.
For a practicing politician, he displays refreshing candour about past mistakes. For example he says it was wrong to have given Rotterdam and Antwerp a slice of import duties that should have gone to the EU budget.
The authors promote a vision of a Europe built around an appreciation of its shared values; values that are under threat elsewhere and that would be crushed by the new trading blocs if defended by nation states alone.
In my opinion, this is where the pamphlet is most persuasive, as well as where it argues that the status quo will lead to the breakup of both the Euro and the EU. However, it is likely soon to be forgotten in the welter of highly charged debate on the subject, unless the authors are planning to create and lead a new Federal movement. In which case, they will need not just courage, but a lot of resource and energy.