A country called Europe
I have a single European hangover. It should have been subject to co-decision, but nobody stopped me. I'd been covering a meeting of young federalists in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. They're a jolly bunch and have this game, you see, where you have to taste the drinks and nibbles of various European nations and guess their origin. Surprisingly, the porridge with yoghurt and cheese (Romania) didn't get as much attention as the overcrowded drinks table.
Your intrepid reporter can exclusively reveal that Romanian wine, followed by Moldovan brandy, Slovenian blueberry schnapps, French Calvados and Scottish single malt certainly makes an evening slip by in a painless fashion. But is the attempt to mix 27 countries together enough to give even federalists a thumping headache?
Many in Britain who are hostile to the European Union dislike it precisely because they are worried about the federalist dream, the attempt to create a United States of Europe. Some still want this. Last year, the outgoing Belgian Prime Minister published a book called The United States of Europe.
But many others, including enthusiastic supporters of the European Union, say the dream is dead. It is obvious, they say, that it could have happened with the six, would have been harder with 15, but is well-nigh impossible with 27. The "No" referendums on the constitution in France and the Netherlands - both founder members - were, according to this argument, the final nail. But attempts at "ever closer union" continue, so what is the federalist dream today, and more importantly, tomorrow?
The Young European Federalists, known as JEF after their French acronym (I imagine an earnest young man in a tweed jacket with a wispy beard) are partly funded by the European Commission and it's they who have organised the summer school in Slovenia. The students here have won their places against fierce competition, writing essays on the future of Europe, and they are seriously bright and knowledgeable. Among them, I'm sure, are a few future prime ministers or commissioners, who will shape the Europe of tomorrow. What they think matters.
I joined them first of all for their search for European vibes in the city centre. In front of the Church of the Annunciation, a pretty confection in pink, they are snapping away at everything that moves, trying to capture images redolent of the spirit of Europe. A couple holding hands. Snap. Raindrop on a leaf. Snap. An American busker playing Wonderwall rather well, tossed a coin by a tubby lady all in black, apart from an embroidered headscarf. ("Man! I've been given money by a gypsy!" the busker exclaims.) Snap.
The boys seemed especially keen on capturing pictures of the blonde Latvian delegate, Anete Skrastina, for posterity. She tells me what sights have captured Europe for her: "Daddy carrying his kid on his shoulders. The thoughtful face of an old lady." It's a bit wishy-washy for me. Surely people smile in America and Asia too? Eugen Soineanu from Romania answers: "It's about what links people. You can see love in a Romanian's eyes and a Belgian's eyes… Yes, you can see it in an American's eyes, but Europeans are more docile and calm and romantic. Think about High Romanticism: we were the ones who invited romanticism and now we are picking the fruits of it 200 years later."
They talk about the euro and travel as things that have brought them closer together. But what about a country called Europe? Do they want that?
"The concept of a fixed country is old anyway. We do not need a huge country but a big family, a network that can help each other," says Eugen.
"When you are here you feel the diversity of the cultures but when you go to Asia or America you feel, 'Hey I am a European!'" adds Anete.
Later, the students are busy preparing their national dishes, or fetching the bottles from their rooms, and downloading pictures on to their laptops.
Before the party begins I talk to Iza Trsar in the university gardens. We're lucky, it's a balmy evening between two days of downpours. She feels the politicians have abandoned Europe's political dimension and wrongly concentrated on economics. For her, federalism is an ideal, something to stretch towards, rather than an immediate short-term goal.
"I don't think we will ever be able to feel primarily European, and then Polish, Slovenian, British, whatever. It will always be the other way round," she says.
"But I would certainly like a stronger form of confederation. At the moment federalism is utopia, what I wish for is for is for people to be more mobile, less strict immigration. We should have common foreign and defence policies."
She's 20, so I ask what Europe will be like when she's an old lady? "I would like Europe to be a federalist state but I'll die before that happens," she laughs. "I want more and more and more common things. And really happening, not just written down in treaties."
Before the uncorking of the local liquid delicacies, each student gives a brief presentation about their country. Nearly all of them claim to be at the heart of Europe and to have the most beautiful women. The French are introduced by their Slovenian host as liking stinky cheese. The two women play the game, branding themselves as arrogant eaters of frogs' legs. A beret perched jauntily atop her pigtails, Violaine Faubert proclaims they invented the French kiss. But they also invented the more controversial embrace of European federalism. What does Violaine make of the dreams of French statesmen like Monnet and Schuman?
"A federation of nation states is an ideal because it resolves war, but maybe we should concentrate on practical things. A nation called Europe...? That's impossible. But we need a more democratic Europe."
The man who brought the malt whisky along is not in favour of European blending. Alistair Maciver tells me he joined the Conservative Party because of European federalists.
"I joined the Tory party after going to a European Youth Parliament event in Britain. I was going along quite cheerily humming the Ode to Joy and left with my head in my hands, thinking 'This is a nightmare!'" he says.
"A lot of young people think we are engaged in a process and we have to bring that process to fruition. It's quite dangerous thinking, it's like Marxism: 'I foresee this day when the working classes rise up… I foresee this day when we are going to be in an ever closer union.' I don't think that's very rational."
He adds that, as a lawyer, federalism has its attractions. "I study law, and federalism legalistically secures the sovereignty of each state, it would define the powers of each member state," he says. "But it's not something I would ever be in favour of. Britain would derive its right to exist from a European document."
Whatever you think of his political argument, his perception about those who call themselves federalists is essentially correct: it's an emotional goal, rather than a political blueprint. Most concede it is further away now than it was 10, 20 years ago. They realise that for now it is a dream. Perhaps the Maltese delegate, in his jokey presentation, makes an important point. Noting that most people have said their country is at the heart of Europe he says his is at the centre of the world. It's in the middle of the Med, and "Mediterranean" means middle of the earth.
Indeed he goes on to claim he used to live in a village at the centre of Malta, and his house was at the centre of the village and his bedroom in the centre of the house. So he was the centre of the world.
While many EU countries' governments claim to abhor such a self-centred view, when push comes to shove few are willing to surrender either that position or that perception for a hazy vision.