May 2001

 

Since the Maastricht Treaty came into force, the European Unionhas shown itself to be incapable, as far as the reforming of itsinstitutions is concerned, of moving any closer to its aim ofachieving the progressive building of a more perfect union. Untilthe introduction of the single currency on January 1st - 1999,this is something that went largely unnoticed, the reason beingthat the efforts of politicians and the attention of commentatorswere focused instead on the problem of bringing national budgetsand the main instruments of public finance into line with thecriteria established by the treaty. But once these aims had beenachieved, it became obvious that not only were there no longerany ambitious targets left on the horizon for which to strive(targets like that of the European currency), but Europe's summitshad become incapable of agreeing even on minor reforms that mightimprove marginally the ordinary running of the Union's institutions.And the resulting situation of stalemate has never been more glaringlyobvious than at the European Council in Nice.

 

This situation has come to light in an extremely delicate phasewithin the process of European unification. Enlargement of theUnion is now not only certain but also imminent. There is a widespreadrealisation among many of those in power in Europe - with theobvious exception of some who would consciously like to see theUnion watered down into a free trade area - that the institutionalstructure of the Union, which with its present fifteen-memberframework is already on the brink of collapse and of total decision-makingparalysis, would not be able to withstand the impact of enlargementto twenty, twenty-five or thirty members, and that it will need,before any enlargement occurs, to undergo some form of deepening.But no government figure, with the partial exception of the Germanforeign minister, has managed to address this need with a concreteproject. It is thus in a state of confusion that the EuropeanUnion is preparing to embark on this latest adventure (the entryof the countries of the central and eastern part of the continent)- a state of confusion that cannot be concealed even in part eitherby fanciful diversions like the Charter of Fundamental Rightsand the European Security and Defence Identity, or by purely verbalexpedients that, like the "Federation of Nation-States",set out to reconcile the illusion of change with the de factomaintenance of the status quo.

 

The truth, as far as the process of European unification isconcerned, is that the time for drawing closer to the final objectiveis now over, leaving the Union's holders of power faced with adecisive choice: to take the final step and create a Europeanfederal state, which means renouncing sovereignty in the nationalsetting in order to recreate it in a vaster ambit, or to followan involutional path destined to lead to the dissolution of theUnion. Meanwhile the idea that the present situation can be prolongedindefinitely represents the most unrealistic position of all.What the wait-and-see strategy actually betrays is resignationto the view that all we can do is sit back and watch the Europeanendeavour flounder. In the absence of a great shared project,the very countries that have always been, from the very start,the driving force behind the process of European unification -France and Germany - are condemned to fall into the trap of mutualrivalry and mistrust, and Nice provided proof of this. Indeed,without a common project, the interests keen to see Germany establishingand consolidating a position of hegemony over the countries ofcentral-eastern Europe - even, if necessary, breaking free fromthe restrictions that its membership of the Union places on it- would, with the passage of time, inevitably grow stronger. Lookingaround, nationalist, tribalist, xenophobic and authoritarian forcesare at work everywhere, albeit in different forms. It is clearthen that time is not on Europe's side. The process of the unificationof the continent must advance in order not to go backwards. Buttoday, the only way it can do this is by making the federal leapforwards.

 

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As enlargement has become an increasingly imminent prospect,a second problem within the process of European unification hascome to the fore. It is a problem that has been evolving for sometime and can now no longer be escaped. We are talking about thefact that - due both to the virtual impossibility of reachingimportant decisions unanimously in assemblies in which today fifteen(and tomorrow twenty or more) sovereign states are represented,and to the different depths of European consciousness in the differentstates of the Union - the objective of creating a European federalstate can now only be pursued within a smaller territorial frameworkthan that of the present Union, to say nothing of an enlargedUnion. The problem, in other words, is that of building a federalcore. To advocate the creation of a federal core is not tomaintain that there exists a will in some of the Union's governments(but not in others) to unite the various states with a federalbond. This will, in fact, exists in none of the states. Instead,to advocate the creation of a federal core is to appreciate thatthere does exist in some states — i.e., in those most deeplyinvolved in the process, those where public opinion is more opento the idea of European political unity and where those in powerhave a hazy, but nevertheless real, sense of the contradictionsthat are generated by the incapacity of the current institutionalorder to reach effective decisions and by the absence of Europeon the international scene — the possibility that,in the right circumstances, this will could in a reasonably shortspace of time be generated. At the same time, it means appreciatingthat this possibility does not exist in other states. In otherwords, in the present situation, a project to found a six-, seven-or eight-member federation could, albeit with difficulty, succeed,while the founding of a federation with fifteen (or twenty, ortwenty-five) members would be simply impossible.

 

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We are thus faced with the need to tackle two extremely difficultproblems contemporaneously. That of creating a federal state is,in itself, more difficult than any of the other problems thatthe governments have had to face in the course of the processso far, because while the achievement of objectives like the ECSC,the EEC, the direct election of the European Parliament, the singlemarket and the single currency served to shore up the sovereigntyof the nation-states, which would have been thrown into crisiswithout the emergence of increasingly deep forms of European cooperation,the creation of a federation actually implies the abandonmentof this sovereignty. Equally difficult, however, is the problemof realising this objective in a narrower setting than that ofthe Union, because it means changing the political frameworkwithin which the next phase of the process will, if it is to havea federal outcome, have to unfold. This implies the loss of whatmight have been regarded as the centrality of the European institutionsand of their role as the driving force behind the process. Atthis point, it is important to recall that in earlier stages tooit was always the entente between the French and Germangovernments - with occasional, but important, contributions fromcertain leading Italian statesmen - that represented the drivingforce behind the process of European unification. But while thisdriving force was once able to operate within the framework ofthe European Community and later of the European Union, the timehas now come to face up to the difficult task of creating a newframework.

 

Moreover, these are two problems that are indissolubly linked.And it is because of this that attempts to divide them and totackle them in isolation are destined to lead to nothing. Consequently,to pose the problem of the founding of a European federation withoutposing at the same time that of the federal core - which is implicitlyto give credence to the idea that a project for federal unioncan today be proposed and have a chance of success in the frameworkof the Union's current fifteen, or future twenty or twenty-five,members - is so obviously devoid of any basis in reality thatit seems inconceivable that any energies can be mobilised on thestrength of it. On the other hand, to pose the problem of a coregroup of states without endowing the same with a federal content,in other words, to believe that a group of states can establishan efficient form of internal cooperation without forgoing theintergovernmental method, would be tantamount to renewing, withinthe framework of the six, seven or eight members of the core,an approach that has lost all credibility in the eyes of everyone.This, at best, would give rise to the creation, within the Union,of a sort of directorate that would be not only unacceptable tothe countries not included in it, but also, rather like the presentUnion, devoid of decision-making capacity and subject to no formof democratic control.

 

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But what are the conditions in which, within a group of countries,the will to create a federal core can develop? What does appearinconceivable is that a European federation, whatever its initialgeographical configuration, might be born of a clear and calmrealisation, on the part of those in power, of the objective needto renounce national sovereignties and create the conditions forthe restoration of sovereignty in a wider setting. The fact isthat for as long as the lives of the people of Europe continueto be characterised by a high level of prosperity and a reasonabledegree of freedom and security, its governing class is simplynot going to be prepared to abandon the safe and traditional methodof intergovernmental compromise for solving problems, and to findit within itself to express the strong will that is needed inorder to impose a traumatic solution like that of the renunciationof sovereignty. This will, then, can be born only under the effectof popular pressure; the latter, in turn, is a force that canbe unleashed, also thanks to the action of a conscious vanguard,only in a situation of crisis, in the same way as all the mostimportant advances of the process of European unification untilMaastricht were born of crisis situations. But in this case, thecrisis will be different in two regards from those that have gonebefore. First of all, it will be a crisis that can only be solvedthrough the foundation of a federal state, and thus at the costof the abandonment of sovereignty at national level, and as aresult it will bring into play much more deeply rooted interests,and much more dogged resistance than in the past. Second, it willbe a crisis that will not manifest itself with the same degreeof intensity in all the states of a Union that has now becometoo large and too variegated for this to occur. It will be muchmore marked in those states that, linked together by closer bondsof interdependence - consolidated by decades of shared experience,by a closer convergence of interests and by a greater maturationin public opinion of the European idea - will regard themselvesas faced with a stark choice: to federate or perish; whileit could even fail to manifest itself at all in the countriesthat are less deeply involved in the process of European unification,countries like Great Britain whose special links with the UnitedStates could constitute an alternative to the European Union.Thus, while a strong will to achieve federal unification mightemerge in the former countries, in the others the determinationto hold on to national sovereignty would remain unshaken. Theselatter countries will fight tooth and nail to prevent the birthof the federal core and to bring the process back within the ambitof the Union's institutions. Therefore, in order for the federalcore to come about, the determination of the countries that favourit will have to be strong enough to overcome this resistance,even if this means denouncing the Treaties.

 

Many find it hard to accept that crises and splits are theprice to be paid for the advance of history, and of politicalhistory in particular. But this is indeed the case. The easy way,the way of compromise, is today leading Europe towards enlargementin the absence of reform and, as a result, towards a further weakeningof its already depleted institutions; it is a way that will leadto the dissolution of the Union and to crises far more seriousthan any that would accompany the denunciation of the Treaties,or the mere threat to denounce them. In Europe today it is necessaryto divide in order to unite. But it is essential that any splitsthat do occur are shown for what they really are, in other words,as the essential prerequisite that will allow the process to berelaunched through the replacement of the intergovernmental methodwith the federal one and the consequent creation of the essentialbasis for the establishment of a Pan-European federation; furthermore,every institutional proposal advanced within this setting willhave to be presented clearly as non negotiable as regards itscontent but, at the same time, as open to all the countries willingto accept it, as well as reconcilable with the preservation, onthe part of those that feel unable to accept it, of the acquiscommunautaire.

 

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The eventual creation of a federal core will be based on adecision reached by a certain number of European governments,gathered around the central duo of France and Germany. It willnot, as explained earlier, be a decision taken in a vacuum, butwill instead represent the culmination of an initiative undertakenby a few leaders who will have developed a keen awareness of thegravity of the historical moment; it will be a decision reachedin a climate of emergency and as the result of the pressure ofpublic opinion in favour of it; the latter will, in turn, havegrown up and developed as a result of the political agitationand of the permanent presence within the territory of a consciousvanguard. It will have to result in the conferment, on an assemblythat represents democratically the citizens of the countries belongingto the federal core, of a mandate to draw up the federal constitutionthat will regulate the working of its institutions and definethe values by which they will be guided. But the decision tofound the new state will still rest with the governments asit is they that are the ultimate holders of power in the statesinvolved in the process and they that are the only subjects thatcan legitimately carry out the formal act of transferring thestate's sovereignty. That the crisis could escalate to a pointat which the governments are completely deprived of power is certainlynot beyond the realm of possibility. But such a development wouldbe tantamount to the establishment of a situation of anarchy thatwould be the prelude not to the birth of a federal state but,in all probability, to the micronationalistic fragmentation ofthe continent.

 

It is a fact that the intergovernmental method, in the runningof the European Community first and of the European Union subsequently,is, and has always been, ineffective and non democratic, and hasdone nothing other than reflect the confederal nature of theseentities. It is also true that it is, and always has been, inperiods of normality, totally unable to reform their institutionalstructure. It is not by chance that governments are the placesin which sovereignty manifests itself most strongly and thus thatthey are the subjects naturally entrusted with the task of defendingit. But it is precisely because of this that they are also theonly subjects that can, in an emergency situation, take the decisionto relinquish sovereignty. After all, the reaching of an intergovernmentalagreement has been a crucial step of every advance made, in exceptionalmoments, by the European institutions. And the step will be allthe more crucial when the advance in question is the foundingof a federal core.

 

In any case, it would be mistaken to think that the natureof the process might change just by entrusting the task of reachingdecisions on the fate of the Union to bodies in which other subjectsare included as well as the governments. A "convention"that brings together, alongside the governments, representativesof the European Parliament, of the national parliaments, and ofthe European Commission - like the one which drew up the Charterof Fundamental Rights, or the one which, according to the Niceagreement, will by 2004 produce a document that defines more clearlythe relative responsibilities of the European institutions, thenation-states and the regions - may serve as a form of make-believe,but it does not alter the decision-making process nor the realnature of the power relations.

 

This is not to say, of course, that the action conducted byother forces is not essential - quite the contrary. But what isreally important is the ability to distinguish between those whosetask it is to pave the way for the future, to express needs andaspirations and to organise the application of pressure, and thosewho will, instead, be called upon to make the formal decisions.And it is crucial that each of these plays its designated part.

 

Publiusty to distinguish between those whosetask it is to pave the way for the future, to express needs andaspirations and to organise the application of pressure, and thosewho will, instead, be called upon to make the formal decisions.And it is crucial that each of these plays its designated part.

 

Publius