Year XLVIII, 2006, Number 3, Page 155
How to Respond to the Crisis of the European Union
Contrary to what is far too often affirmed, the crisis gripping the European Union is not due to the French and Dutch electorate’s rejection of the constitutional Treaty, but rather to the lack of projects capable of leading the process of unification in the direction of the federal outcome envisaged by Europe’s founding fathers. There have, of course, been periods of regression and crisis in the past. One need only think of the deeply troubled 1970s, a decade in which the breakdown of the international monetary system and widespread fluctuation of exchange rates brought the process of economic integration to an abrupt standstill and led the weakest countries to the brink of disaster. Back then, the politicians, under pressure from the federalists among others, proved able, by setting new targets (the European monetary system, the election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage, the single currency), to put Europe back on the road to unification. The proposal currently on the table, however, is the constitutional Treaty, which, even were it to be ratified, would not change the European power framework one jot. It may correctly be interpreted as an attempt to adapt the rules of cooperation to the increasingly heterogeneous setting of the enlarged European Union, but it makes no provision at all for any relinquishing of national sovereignty. In the face of the huge challenges posed by today’s ever more precarious world order, the constitutional objective has passed fleetingly through the minds of the governments and the politicians, but simply to use the word “constitution” in reference to a set of principles and rules is not enough to make these a constitution proper and thus the basis of a state. Today, the European federal state is the only objective that can get the process of unification started again.
We should not be surprised by the reluctance of the political class — the governments, the parties, and the parliaments — to embark on the last stage of the journey and make Europe a true political entity: the states and their apparatuses work constantly to ensure the preservation of the existing institutions. Yet might we not expect an extraordinary act of responsibility in the face of a global situation now so difficult that the whole planet seems to be hurtling towards the edge of a precipice? The wars in the Middle East, the spread of nuclear weapons, the energy problem, the presence of deeper and deeper social disparities, international terrorism, together with the many other problems that have accumulated over the years, are all clear signs of a growing disorder that no country — not even the United States — has the capacity, alone, to contain.
If the creation of a new state is the most difficult of political undertakings, then it is easy to see why there is such uncertainty over the most efficient strategy for carrying it out. Even in the building of Europe, different opinions emerged, and continue to emerge, over the routes that should be followed. In this very difficult situation, a militant journal can make its contribution by encouraging a broad debate, open to all opinions, even those that do not reflect its own line of thinking. It was this clear need for a broad debate that gave rise to the idea of staging an international meeting of Italian, French and German scholars of Europe, entitled “Building a European Federal State in an Enlarged European Union”.
By promoting, in collaboration with the University of Pavia and the Mario and Valeria Albertini Foundation, this meeting, which took place on February 20th, 2006, The Federalist set out, first of all, to remove the obstacle of the “small steps” philosophy, which no longer leads anywhere, and to look at the problem of adopting a realistic approach to Europe’s unification — one that, not prepared to settle for what the states are willing to concede, involves the working out of clear objectives and of the means by which these objectives can be achieved.
The lectures that we publish in this issue deal with many of the problems that have fuelled European debate in recent years. We are anxious to underline, in particular, several crucial points that emerged clearly both in the lectures and in the ensuing discussion: a) the transformation of the European Union, which is still set firmly in the Community mould, into a federal state is the prerequisite that will allow Europe to operate efficiently, both within its own confines and internationally; b) the constitutional Treaty drawn up by the Convention goes no further than making a few changes to the Union’s decision-making mechanisms; it does not alter in any way the essential powers, which will continue to be exercised through the intergovernmental method; c) following the entry into the Union of ten new countries, to say nothing of its imminent further enlargement, it is unthinkable that reform of the Union can be achieved through its transformation into a federation, given the often totally contrasting views of its members; d) the only course that can realistically be pursued is that of the creation of a federal core, which will be made up of those countries that are already willing to transfer part of their sovereignty to the European institutions, and will remain open to any others that may later be willing to take this step.
The crucial problem is how to arrive at the formation of this federal core. There are various proposals on the table. The most appealing of these suggests going back to the text rejected by the French and the Dutch, expunging the most controversial parts of it, and once more submitting it for ratification in the twenty-five countries, on the clear understanding that it will come into force in those that ratify it. But as one of the speakers pointed out, this proposal is not an option if the aim is true political unification, because it leaves the intergovernmental character of the Union completely intact. For this very reason, the countries that might ratify it cannot constitute the federal core that is so clearly needed.
This core can derive only from a close pact entered into by those countries that are ready to relinquish a part of their sovereignty immediately, rather than at some unspecified future time. But since, as Spinelli put it, “Europe will not simply fall from the sky”, there has to be someone prepared to take the initiative. This journal has frequently reiterated that the responsibility for this is primarily that of Europe’s founding member states — the same states that, having tragically set Europe ablaze and left it in ruins, then managed to summon up the will to start a new cycle of amity and cooperation that only the founding of a state can establish definitively. This appeal to the six founder members — and particularly to France and Germany — to shoulder their responsibilities should not be interpreted as a call to create a closed core, but rather as a stimulus to take the initiative that will lead to the creation of a European federation that is open to all the states that should wish to be part of it.
In politics, there is nothing worse than indicating an objective without also specifying the means by which it can be achieved, and the people and institutions that should make it their concern. If Europe’s progress to date has been desperately slow and tortuous, and if today the whole process of unification looks set to enter a blind alley, this is partly because almost no one is stating clearly the objective that needs to be pursued (the European state) and the means by which it can be achieved.