The war in Iraq has illustrated, with dramatic and unprecedented clarity, Europe's total incapacity to act, the paralysis produced by the continent's division, and its absence as a political actor on the stage of international relations. Some of the governments of its member states allowed themselves, contrary to the wishes of their citizens, to be caught up in this sorry enterprise, whose disastrous outcome was wholly predictable. Others, despite demonstrating a measure of self-respect and trying to impose their autonomy, found themselves forced to watch, without being allowed to change the course of events, the unfolding of a bloody and senseless crisis that could have been avoided, had an independent and authoritative actor also been present on the stage. Similar conclusions must be drawn from the depressing absence of Europe in the theatre of conflict in the Middle East and from its abject failure to play there the mediatory and innovative role assigned it by history and by its strategic geographic position.

Meanwhile, the eurozone is going through a protracted period of economic stagnation, which is lengthening the gap that separates it from the United States and Japan. Europe's production system is increasingly exposed to the competition of less developed but far more dynamic economies, such as that of China. Europe's families are seeing their prospects of well being and prosperity dramatically curtailed. Even the euro, which before its creation was regarded as a decisive step on the road towards European political unity, is threatened by the increasingly patent incapacity of the states that adopted it to respect the terms of the Stability Pact, on which the very workability of the single currency is founded. The harsh reality is that governments with separate economic and budget policies cannot, for long, remain part of the same monetary area. And it is also clear that the enlargement of the EU can only exacerbate this already dramatic situation.

The European Union is on the road to its own disintegration. Nationalism is making a comeback, albeit for now in the form of petty provincialism. Europe is abandoning the political stage and its citizens are accepting passively their new role, which is one of growing subordination.

In the face of all this, the incapacity of the members of Europe's governments and political parties to appreciate the gravity of the historical moment that the continent is going through is quite astounding. Whereas there exists a general awareness of the need for Europe to "speak with a single voice," there is absolutely no awareness of the road that must be followed in order to ensure that this need evolves from a vain and vague hope into the dramatic realisation that must necessarily precede the reaching of radical decisions. One need only consider the projects in which this general awareness is reflected, which merely advocate a strengthening of collaboration between sovereign states, be they plans to form a sort of trilateral directorate (France-Germany-Great Britain), condemned from the outset to paralysis given the totally divergent opinions of its members in the sphere of foreign policy, or efforts to secure consent for and the ratification (highly improbable) of a new treaty, pompously named "constitution," which would make only cosmetic changes to the present structure of the community institutions, without in the least reducing the sovereignty of the member states.

The fact is, the question of creating a European power, and of deciding the initial framework in which this might be feasible, can be deferred no longer. A European power cannot be born of any confederation, of any customs or monetary union, or of any institutional device that leaves the sovereignty of the nation states intact. Because the fact is, sovereignty is the problem that cannot be circumvented and that must, therefore, be tackled. And the solution to this problem implies the creation of a European army, controlled by a democratically elected European government, which will replace the national armies, and of an independent European budget, funded by taxation of the citizens.

This means, in other words, transferring to European level the powers of the sword and of the purse. But these are the very powers that define statehood. Therefore, if Europe is to speak with a single voice, it has to become a federal state. This is, of course, a difficult objective, but it is the only one that can lead Europe out of the impasse in which it currently finds itself. Because whereas, sadly, it is both reasonable and realistic to affirm, as many now do, that the time for investing our hopes in Europe has come to an end and that European unity has become an impossible dream, it is neither reasonable nor realistic to argue that European unity can be achieved simply by rewriting the rules of the Union and adjusting its institutions, leaving the sovereignty of its states intact.

At the same time, it is meaningless to raise the question of founding a European state without also raising that of the framework in which this foundation might come about. It is pointless to go on deluding both ourselves and others by feigning to believe that Europe's political unity can be achieved, as if by magic, through a coinciding of the intents of the governments of twenty-five countries with profoundly differing degrees of economic development, political traditions and social structures, the great majority of which see Europe as nothing more than an economic opportunity to be exploited to the full and that have to answer to a public opinion that regards national sovereignty as a valuable asset that must be defended. The truth is that the process of European unity, if it is to be revived at all, can be restarted only through the creation, within the framework of the founding member states (with or without Italy), of a federal core. It is wrong to argue that the founding members do not constitute a sufficient critical mass to stand up to the great forces in the global equilibrium, starting with the United States. A federal union made up of Europe's founding member states, even excluding Italy, would have a population of almost 170 million people, greater than that of Japan, a recognised force in the global equilibrium. And, since this initial federal core would be open to the membership of all the European countries ready to accept its constitution, it would not for long remain restricted to its initial line-up of member countries, but would instead be destined to expand rapidly until it embraced the whole of Europe. It is equally wrong, finally, to criticise the federal core proposal on the grounds that it would divide Europe. Europe is already divided, and this very real division is deepening by the day. There is an urgent need for someone with the courage to reverse this trend and to restart, by taking the indispensable first step, the march towards European unity.

Publius