THE BLOG From HuffPost Spain
07/02/2015 01:27 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2016

Why Is It So Hard for the European Union to Act Like a Federal Body?

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Read on HuffPost Spain

All of Europe has its eyes on Greece. Sunday, July 5th there will be a referendum that could be the first step toward the end of the European Union as we know it. A European Union that, once again, has failed.

In the past two years, the European Union has had to deal with three crises, one on the political level (Ukraine) and two on the economic level (risk premium and negotiations with Greece). And in each and every one of them, the problem has been addressed based on the logic of the agreements between states instead of from a federal perspective, where the community institutions would take charge of the situation.

We saw it first with the risk premium crisis. For weeks, the ECB refused to intervene in the debt markets because of pressure from states that did not accept the use of European funds to buy debt from spendthrift partners (I would love to have a few words with the authors of the acronym PIGS), allowing those countries to drown slowly in debt markets that demanded unacceptable interests. Weeks during which the adoption of the measure that all of the EU's political leaders knew would have to be taken was postponed again and again: the famous "whatever it takes" of Mario Draghi, who ended the speculation in the sovereign debt markets against the bonds of countries like Italy or Spain.

We saw it again during the Ukraine crisis. Again, the governments of the EU, meeting in the council or separately, led the way in the political and dialectic escalation that followed the occupation of Crimea by the Russian army. Merkel and Cameron assumed the role of representing the EU on the international stage, being clear protagonists in the confrontation with Russia, to the detriment of the woman in the EU's post in charge of that function, Catherine Ashton, who was relegated to an embarrassing second level.

And we're seeing it repeated in the handling of the Greek crisis. Again, the national logic based on agreements between governments has been imposed when it's time to handle a complex situation in the EU. Thus, it has been the Eurogroup which has led the way in the negotiations between Greece and the group of countries, in theory, most committed to the community project, to the point of having created a monetary union between them. That did not prevent the European Stability Mechanism(ESM), Greece's main creditor, from being created under an intergovernmental organization model, instead of putting that European rescue fund's assets under the direct control of the commission. Ironies of the always complex, and sometimes absurd, community politics.

The national logic has been imposed once again in service of making decisions to safeguard the European project. This is the only way to understand the attitude of some countries that blame the Greeks for finding themselves in the dramatic situation they're living through, pointing to reports they falsified their accounts for years, and forgetting to blame an EU more concerned with presenting the Eurozone as a success than making sure there weren't cracks in the construction of this important step in the integration process.

And for that, these governments have not hesitated to use unfortunate stereotypes to justify this policy of punishment and have shown no flexibility for years, demonstrating that even today many European governments think it's more important to sell the measures they take to the national voters, than to apply the measures that are necessary to save the European project. Lest the voters get annoyed and give their vote to the corresponding national parties. That's the only way to explain the obstinacy demonstrated in facing this situation. Added to Tsipras' hasty move in calling for a referendum, it increasingly seems to take the credibility of the European project toward a dead-end street.

So, we just have to ask ourselves: Why is it so hard for the European Union to act like a federal body?

From the very first steps of what was then called the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Europe turned into the board of a chess game between white pieces that aspired to turn a continent into a united federal state, and black pieces that only considered the economic union, without daring to go further than the agreements between sovereign governments.

Sixty-five years later, the black pieces keep winning the game at the decisive moments.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Spain and was translated into English.