Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 1 - Page 3
Europe after Gorbachev’s Downfall
The failed coup in the Soviet Union on 19th August 1991, followed by Gorbachev’s fall from power and the rejection of his Union treaty, have made the prospects for a new world order more uncertain. The plan to build a grand progressive alliance, which seemed to be taking shape among the Northern industrialised countries of the world, and which would have done a considerable amount to push forward the unification of the planet, has lost a good deal of its credibility and its capacity to arouse and keep alive the hopes of men and women. This does not mean that we have returned to the situation that existed prior to Gorbachev’s rise to power. The achievement of this historic man represents a decisive and irreversible step in the process of detente, regardless of the fact that he was unable to carry out a considerable amount of his grand design. The ex-Soviet Union is no longer a military danger, and as a result military spending in nearly all industrialised countries is being sharply reduced. Nevertheless the break-up of the USSR has opened up a hotbed of crisis, and has deprived the rest of the world of a reliable partner to deal with both in political and economic matters.
This new situation cannot fail to have repercussions on the status quo in Europe. The CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) was able to guarantee stable political relationships in the vast area that stretches from the Atlantic to Vladivostok, since this was in reality based on a division of responsibility between two grand poles, the European Community (backed by the guarantee of the US) and the Soviet Union. The disappearance of one of these has thus weakened it. The forces of disintegration which are at work in Eastern Europe, and lie in ambush even inside the Community, have been greatly strengthened. They have devastated Yugoslavia and threaten Czechoslovakia. Nationalism, separatism and intolerance are everywhere on the increase, and are endangering the very basis of civil cohabitation.
The European Community remains the only political entity which, in the current situation, has the potential to reverse this trend, by opting for unity rather than disintegration. Hence the Community should be compelled by the novel and dramatic situation that has unfolded, to rethink radically its historical role and responsibilities.
Europe, and above all the Federalists, should take a stand on three issues in the current situation. They are: the length of time to be allotted to the federal unification of Europe; the borders of the future European federation; and the conditions for admitting new states.
Time limits. The principle limitation of the agreements at Maastricht was the scarce appreciation of the fact that progress towards a real federal union in Europe has become a race against time. If the Community is capable of quickly transforming itself into a real federation, and enlarging immediately afterwards to include the countries of Central Europe and EFTA, it will ensure that movements in favour of integration prevail, both in these countries and in the Soviet Union itself. If, instead, the Community remains oblivious to the urgency of this task, the situation will be reversed, and divisions in the eastern part of the continent will feed divisions within the Community itself. Events in Yugoslavia have already demonstrated this, with European Community governments being divided between those which supported Serbs, Croats or Slovenians, rather than coming together to work for the unity of the Yugoslavian state and to accelerate the democratisation of its institutions.
As long as division remains, it is inevitable that Germany’s economic power will continue to emerge (with political power following in its wake). This will not happen as a result of conscious hegemonic aims on the part of the political class in the unified Germany. On the contrary, a sizeable proportion of German politicians, with Chancellor Kohl at their head, are aware of the risks to which Germany is exposed because of its very strength, and is hence playing the European card with greater determination and courage than politicians in any other Community country. Rather, Germany’s power will grow because in the current situation, she is already forced to substitute herself (willingly or not) for a Europe which does not yet exist. This leads Germany to take on responsibilities that other member states, alone, are incapable of undertaking, so that she will become, as time progresses, the privileged partner of most Eastern countries. In place of a grand European ‘Marshall Plan’, which could reverse the tendency towards disintegration, there is the possibility that in the not-too-distant future a regional economic hegemony will be created (to be followed by political hegemony), whose logic, as for all hegemonies, will be division rather than unity. Yet it should be made clear that the responsibility for such a development will not rest with Germany, but with its partners within the Community. The blame will not lie with the government that, facing the danger of anarchy, undertook the serious task of guaranteeing some form of order, albeit imperfect, in the region, while simultaneously declaring its willingness to surrender its sovereignty within a federal European framework. Fault will be found instead with the governments that did not want to abandon their sovereignty (although such sovereignty is by now merely illusory) and chose to block, or at least slow down, the process of European federal unification.
It would nevertheless be irresponsible to hide the fact that, if this scenario comes to pass, democracy itself will be under threat in Western European countries. The only force which prevents the expansion of the extreme right in these states is the hope for a European political union and for a new era of international co-operation which this would make possible (the extreme right can adapt to the circumstances which prevail, playing the cards of nationalism or regional separatism, without changing in the slightest its basic character). If such hopes are left unfulfilled, it is not possible to imagine who will be able to prevent the rise (already a matter of concern today) of figures like Le Pen and Bossi, or those who will take their place in the future.
Borders of the European Federation. If the Community is to turn itself into a real federal union, it needs to face up to the issue of its eastern border, which the collapse of the Soviet Union has brought into question. The western Republics of the so-called CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) look to the Community, and hope to apply for membership in the future. In a similar vein, there are those within the Community who entertain the idea of enlarging the Community to increasingly distant borders, even to the extent of admitting the Russian Federative Republic itself as a member state.
These dreams are as unrealistic as they are dangerous. In reality the process of federal unification has insurmountable geographical limitations. The Community represents the most advanced regional expression of a larger integration process that is currently taking place on a global scale. The political conclusion of this world-wide process, which will be realised after an unpredictable length of time, can only be the unification of the entire planet. Nevertheless, it is clear that this will not be the result of extending a single federal core to the around 180 currently existing states, but of a pact between great continental federations. Without such intermediate structures, that guarantee of cohesion and element of responsibility, without which a stable and governable world federation cannot be reasonably imagined, will be lacking.
The geographical area of the ex-Soviet Union contains the necessary ingredients for creating one of these great continental poles. It would also possess a strong degree of economic unity and a particular identity, on account of its Euro-Asiatic position, hence enabling it to exercise a stabilising role in a part of the world that will be considerably removed from the influence of the European Union. As an alternative scenario, if a regional federal structure is not constructed, nationalism will remain the sole doctrine for legitimising power, hence provoking permanent tension between the Republics of the CIS, as indeed is already the case. The process which is presently underway throughout the region, in which the framework of the state is increasingly fragmenting, and civil society is disintegrating, will be accelerated. The integrity of the present Republics themselves will be endangered, beginning with the largest (the Russian Federation), in which Russian nationalism will conflict with nationalist sentiment in Tartarstan, Chechena-Ingushetia, Iakutia, and so on, and will encourage separatism among the sizeable Russian minorities which currently exist in other Republics, from the Baltic to Central Asia.
Furthermore, the Republics of Central Asia would be pushed into the orbit of countries like Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, which would clearly not assist the creation of an unlikely Central Asian Community, but would rather serve to destabilise the situation further, as these three regional powers compete for the acquisition of hegemony in the region.
If Europe can federate itself, it will need to undertake vigorously the role that the present Community has shown itself to be incapable of fulfilling up to now – that of encouraging all favourable forces to develop Gorbachev’s ideals and plans, and to draw the institutional implications therefrom, hence reviving the unity of the ex-Soviet Union on a genuinely federal basis. These forces are silent at present, but they do exist, and their claims are fully justified by the profound economic and social interdependence that still exists (and which will continue to do so for a long time to come) between the Republics of the so-called Commonwealth of Independent States. But in order to achieve this, the European Community must make it immediately clear that its frontier will never extend beyond the western border of the ex-Soviet Union; and thereby stop encouraging (with promises which it will in any case not be able to fulfil) the fatal illusion which some of the new republics suffer from, namely that in the future they will be able, after a period of association, to become full members of the Community. In the same way the Community ought from now on to distribute aid on the basis of a single plan, organised in common with all the states in the region. Only in this way will it be possible for the Community not to give succour to the nationalism of the minor Republics (as it was guilty of doing with regard to Croatian and Slovenian nationalism), and to avoid facing up to Russia like an antagonist which aims to dismantle its power, rather than as a partner which wants to offer real co-operation for the construction together of a new, peaceful, and progressive European and world order, within the framework of a strengthened CSCE.
Conditions for admitting new states. The enlargement of the Community to include the countries of Eastern Europe (as well as EFTA ones) is now both necessary and of immediate concern, if the aim is to give the peoples of that area a solid vision of future prosperity within the framework of unity, and not a prospect of disorder and ruin in disunity. Moreover, it is absolutely clear that the present decision-making structure, whose main characteristics are the requirement of unanimous decisions and the absence of real democratic government, would make a Community of twenty, or twenty-five, completely ungovernable. From this straightforward observation, two opposing conclusions are usually drawn. The first, put forward by the British government, insists on the priority of enlarging the Community, maintaining that this should precede institutional reform. The aim here is to dilute the Community into a vast free trade area, and hence dissolve it. The opposing point of view makes the reinforcement of the Community’s institutions the main priority and would put off the issue of its enlargement until some future, unspecified, date. In reality, though, these two objectives are inseparable: enlargement is not a purely idealistic option, which can be postponed at will, but an immediate and rational necessity. Yet enlarging the Community without radical reform of its institutions would lead to its destruction. From all this there is only one possible conclusion: the urgent need, as has been previously highlighted, to transform the Community into a federal Union.
The prospect of enlarging the Community requires, in any event, a rethink of the very structure of a European federation including up to twenty-five currently extant states, and stretching as far as the western borders of the ex-Soviet Union. There are in fact strong reasons to fear that without bold institutional innovations, a Europe of twenty or twenty-five will be difficult to govern even after the achievement of federal unity. It is of course possible to affirm that the United States is a federation made up of fifty states. But it needs to be remembered also that the United States, since it lacks intermediate institutions capable of effectively counterbalancing the power which is exercised at the federal level, has for a long time now taken on the appearance of a centralised state.
The important point, however, is that Europe will in any event be a different type of federation from the United States. It will unite peoples with greatly differing languages, customs and histories, each of which is firmly established within its own territory. The Community’s expansion to include Central and Eastern Europe will bring in countries with economic problems and productive infrastructures that are destined to remain incompatible with the twelve’s for a long time to come. As a result, the Community should be governed with procedures that are totally different, both from the current antidemocratic and ineffectual ones of the Community, and from those with which the United States is presently governed. In particular, its decision-making structures will have to be more decentralised and more consensual. These two requirements seem irreconciliable with a constitutional organisation based on a large number of territorially small, or very small, member states.
For decentralisation to work effectively, the size of the regional government levels needs to reflect the scale of the issues to be dealt with. If the levels are too small, all decisions relating to problems that concern issues on a wider scale will fall within the competence of federal bodies, which will tend as a result to centralise functions, and hence power. But centralisation (which in any event is the negation of federalism) would be substantially incompatible with a greatly fragmented economic and social landscape such as exists in Europe, and would thereby encourage tension and trends towards disintegration, even so as to endanger the continuity of the Union. In reality the independence of small countries within a large federal unit can only be guaranteed by their grouping together in intermediate-sized units which are strong enough to balance the power of the highest level effectively. On the other hand, for effective decision-making based on consensus, a limited number of agents is necessary. A myriad of quarrelsome localities, incapable of seeing the general interest, is not compatible with such procedures.
On the basis of these considerations, it is not possible today to propose precise institutional solutions. But it is reasonable to emphasise the need for the Community (when reflecting on its institutional make-up in view of its enlargement to include the countries of EFTA and Eastern Europe) to pay close attention to the crucial requirement of making the formation of regional sub-federations a pre-condition for each new admission. Such regional sub-federations will become, in effect, member states of the Union, allowing its extension without prejudicing decentralisation and the capacity to take decisions. Having this requirement in view will quash any temptation to dangle the possibility of direct membership in front of the separatist Yugoslavian Republics.
It remains true that the present Community includes some small countries (Luxemburg, Ireland, Denmark) as member States, and since the current situation is now firmly established it does not seem realistic to ask these countries to enter into intermediate federal groupings (although a federal group made up of the Benelux countries, or Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland would not be unthinkable, given the special ties that already exist between these groups of countries). But it is a different matter for the states which are aspiring to Community membership. Their admission will, in any event, have to be subjected to certain conditions. The creation of regional groupings should be one of these, and would seem all the more reasonable in as much as it would also serve the interests of candidate countries, by giving them contractual and decision-making power, rather than condemning them to a peripheral minority role, which would leave them the sole option of obstructing federal institutions in a bid to increase their political leverage. Moreover, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia already realise this, and have begun to co-operate on a regional scale. In response to a specific request from the Community, this trend could evolve in the direction of a real federal agreement.
It is true that such a request may seem unlikely to gain acceptance in light of the complexity of the ethnic situation and the resulting delicacy of relations between the states of Central and Eastern Europe. But it is necessary to take into account that the enlargement of the Community will not be achieved by a straightforward and painless process. On the contrary, this is an issue which sets the Community a dramatically urgent and traumatic challenge which, if it is to be met, will require both strong political will and a considerable capacity for planning ahead. In light of this, Community institutions (with the Parliament in the vanguard) and the governments of the member states, should take steps to prepare quickly and with determination, without allowing themselves the delusion that only the passage of time can resolve problems that, on the contrary, will only become more serious as the situation develops.
In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that there has been no attempt in this editorial to predict the future, but only to point out the existence of problems and to set out general guidelines. Federalists are not observers, but active participants in the process. Their task is therefore not to try and work out which forces will gain the upper hand in the tumultuous events in Europe and the world in the final decade of the 20th century, in an effort to jump on the bandwagon. Rather it is to single out the great choices which history is currently placing before mankind, and Europeans in particular, and to commit themselves to positions, in an effort to make the arguments for unity win through over those for division, fully aware that the outcome of the conflict is by no means certain.