The speech given on May 12th at Berlin's Humboldt University by Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer, and the one delivered by French president Jacques Chirac before the German parliament on June 27th, have stepped up considerably the quality of the debate on European unification. In the wake of decades during which they have been irresponsibly ignored, the questions of the final destination of the process and of the ways by which it might be reached have now been placed firmly on the agenda. Expressions like "European constitution" and "European federation" which, until recently, were banned from the language of politics, have acquired respectability, and now crop up on a daily basis in newspaper reports that document the views of politicians of all extractions. A new phase in the evolution towards European unification has been entered.
The element that made these two speeches both revolutionary and innovative, and which has forced many (including some who would have preferred to remain silent) to adopt positions on the question, was not only the fact that they were delivered by highly influential individuals (two of the most high-ranking political figures of the two most important states of the Union), but also the content of their message. The two made it quite clear that the Union, faced with the prospect of its enlargement, cannot survive without radical institutional reform; that this reform can only come about, initially, within the framework of a limited number of countries, presumably the six founders of the European communities; and that this vanguard must come into being and follow its plan through, even - if opposition from the other governments renders this necessary - breaking away from the framework of the existing Treaties. This shared realisation has, per se, led to a re-emergence of the Franco-German alignment, in other words, to a strengthening of the common outlook of these two countries from which the process of unification first sprang, and which has underlain all its most significant developments.
Of course, this does not mean that our end is in sight. Indeed, on the one hand, the two speeches have, as was to be expected, generated opposition not only in the countries that could not be, or would not wish to be, part of the core from the very beginning, but also in those that would. This is certainly what has emerged from the stances adopted, repeatedly, by members of France's socialist government, and from several exceedingly unfortunate statements made by the Italian prime minister. On the other, even the speeches given by promoters and supporters of the idea are full of contradictions and ambiguity; their positions, while courageous and innovative, nevertheless betray the structural tendency of national politicians to try and square a circle, in other words, to believe that a strong and democratic Europe can be built without the need for the nation-states to relinquish their sovereignty.
There is thus no shortage of obstacles, and it will be difficult to overcome these. But it is also true that the realisation that sparked the speeches of Fischer and Chirac is destined to set in motion a logical mechanism of its own. When faced with the concrete problems that will emerge and with the arguments that will be put forward by those wishing to see Europe transformed into a free trade area, those who are truly alive to the fact that Europe, in order to survive, must accomplish a radical reform within the framework of a limited group of countries, will not find it at all easy to remain within the realm of ambiguity. They will have to look for a valid solution, and that cannot be anything other than the creation, initially within the ambit of a limited number of countries, of a European federal state.
This is not the place to enter into the thick of the constitutional debate and describe, in detail, what the federal nucleus should look like. What we can do, however, is mention two points with regard to which, if the project is to succeed, there must be no room for compromise: first, the executive power must be rendered democratically legitimate, and second, an end must be put to the situation which sees the executive and legislative powers concentrated in the hands of the Council of Ministers: this situation could be resolved through the transformation of the latter into a High Chamber of the Union which would no longer hold executive powers, but would, on an equal footing with the European Parliament, be equipped with full legislative powers. It goes without saying that the new institutional structure, hinging on these two principles, would have to be invested - possibly after a transitory period, whose duration must nevertheless be predetermined - with responsibility for the areas of foreign policy and security.
This is the only way that the disintegration of the Union can be avoided and the dynamics of the process turned once more in the direction of unity. The federal core idea is not a means of dividing Europe as some of the most dogged defenders of national sovereignty suggest, but rather a means of uniting it, and it is based on the obvious fact that a strong determination to achieve this objective can never be generated in the framework of the current fifteen member states, let alone in an enlarged Union. But if the highest-ranking politicians of France and Germany have the clear-sightedness and determination to put together an unequivocal design - one that makes absolutely clear the mandatory nature of its key points - and to draw Italy and the Benelux countries into the endeavour, then the federal core will, from the outset, probably attract other countries, and will, in any case, be destined to expand rapidly and embrace the whole of the Union.
Fischer and Chirac have opened up a decisive new front in Europe, and for all politicians who do not wish to be excluded from the process, the time has come to take sides - or rather, to take the right side. The time for procrastination, ambiguities and quibbles has now run out; what we are seeing is the start of the era of responsibility, an era in which concern for the common good of the people of Europe must prevail over every parochial, nationalistic exercise and over every temptation to yield to narrow-minded party jealousy.