Year LVII, 2015, Single Issue, Page 3

 

 

The Greek crisis: a chance
for political union of the eurozone?*

 

 

The Greek crisis cannot yet be considered over. The Greek parliament has been asked to approve, in record time, a series of reforms that the country has been waiting for in vain for many years, but it remains to be seen exactly what impact these reforms will have on the country’s internal political balance. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Greece’s road to recovery will be an uphill one all the way, and that the negotiation of its actual bailout is going to be a long and complex process.

And yet, if one is able to step back from the clash of ideologies that has accompanied this difficult crisis, and avoid being swayed by the heightened emotions stirred up by the manner of the latest negotiations, and by the irresponsible, even injurious, behaviour of the Greek government up until Tsipras’s about-turn in the early hours of Friday July 10, one gets the feeling that these recent developments could actually prove to be a turning point for the monetary union. Indeed, this chapter of events, which somehow encapsulates all the contradictions thrown up by the existence of a single currency managed through the intergovernmental method, has brought many unanswered issues to the fore. And even though, to date, only one of these questions (that of whether economic sovereignty can be left exclusively in the hands of the member states) has been answered (in the negative), and moreover in a manner that was painful and is certainly unsustainable (through a show of force, and without shifting the axis of power from the intergovernmental to the European supranational level), it can nevertheless be suggested that recent events have clearly shown that completion of the monetary union through the creation of a political union is necessary and possible, and that the agreement reached, far from showing that “Greece’s brutal creditors have demolished the eurozone project” (Wolfgang Münchau, Financial Times, July 13, 2015), could actually be the basis for its revival.

As Münchau’s comment suggests, at present few observers share this assessment of the situation. Although all have been quick to welcome the avoidance of Grexit and the devastating effects it would have had on Europe, the majority have, at the same time, been keen to point out that following this close shave – the possibility of Greece leaving the single currency was even raised in Eurogroup documents, albeit never approvedthe euro can no longer be claimed to be irreversible; they have also underlined the harshness of the attitude of Germany and the other creditor countries towards Greece and the differences between the French and German governments, and condemned the conditions imposed on the Greek government by the Eurosummit, arguing that they are unrealistic and hardly likely to help kick start a country burdened by unsustainable debt that should, instead, be restructured. The representatives of the European institutions and governments who actually took part in the negotiations seem to be the only ones who really want to highlight the deeper meaning of the agreement, and reveal its crucial nature. For example, Piercarlo Padoan (Sole24Ore, July 24, 2015), in reply to a journalist who asked him “Following this initial compromise, isn’t it now time to tackle the broader issues of a reform of the eurozone governance rules and a strengthening of the concept of political union?”, replied “Yes, I already said and wrote as much in less critical times; we are in midstream and certainly cannot stay where we are. We must press on or turn back. We are working on this.”

In order to understand how Europe, having narrowly avoided the tragedy of a negative outcome to the Greek crisis, can get started again, the first thing to establish is who have been the winners and losers in this bitter struggle; second, it is necessary to analyse the origin of the contradictory behaviour of the current intergovernmental system, in order to try and clarify the unresolved problems that need to be addressed in order to finally start the process of creating political union in Europe.

* * *

Controversial as this affirmation may seem, the strongest impression one gets from the agreement reached between the Greek government and its eighteen eurozone partners is that there have been no winners and no losers in this affair. One need only look back at the alternatives that were on the table. Would it have been better, for Greece, to have been “rescued” without being subject to a strict conditionality that, by putting pressure on the country’s government and parliament, actually constitutes support for the weak, but decisive pro-European forces? Greece needs the structural reforms that have been decided upon in negotiations with the Eurosummit, and these reforms constitute the country’s only real opportunity to modernise and find its way out of the tunnel. Would an agreement that allowed Greece to retain its “sovereignty” as it implemented the agreed measures have made the task of the political forces wanting to reform the system easier or more difficult? Will the tight deadlines that have been set help Tsipras to exploit the dramatic nature of the moment and, on this basis, win the consensus needed to push the reforms through the Greek parliament? Many have spoken out against the brutality of Greece’s creditors, Germany in particular, whose “pedagogic and punitive” approach is claimed to have humiliated Greece, and also criticised the failure to take into account the will of the Greek people who had voted against the so-called austerity measures. But neither of these criticisms takesinto account what Europe effectively is.

As clearly pointed out by Sabino Cassese, writing in Corriere delle Sera (July 15, 2015), the transfer of sovereignty that accompanied the creation of the single currency (and not just that) effectively created, even in today’s still imperfect intergovernmental EU, conditions of legitimacy and accountability that put Europe’s ruling class under an obligation not only to the people they govern directly, but also to the other members of the Union: “The national governments are no longer answerable only to their own people, but also to the governments (and, indirectly, the peoples) in the other European states. If the Union is an association of joined hands, it is entitled to dictate rules of conduct for all its members, and expect these to be respected. For this reason, it is wrong to talk of a wounding of sovereignty or a humiliation of democracy, to complain that this is not an agreement between equals, to allude to protectorates, and appeal to national pride. Basically, this dual responsibility is precisely what Europe’s founding fathers had in mind: they believed that popular legitimacy was not enough, that democracy needed to be enriched; this is precisely what happens when one enters into an association with others and common rules are established that everyone must respect.”

Clearly, over time this balance in Europe, elegantly described by Cassese, is destined to become untenable, because it creates a conflict between the formation of consensus, which remains at the national level, and the political dynamic that has a European dimension but lacks a common platform for shared exchanges. This is precisely the aspect that warrants criticism and correction, and that shows the need to overcome the existing system. As long as we fail to call into question the intergovernmental method, we are effectively accepting the existence of a situation governed by power relations, also within the Eurogroup. And this applies to everyone. It applies in particular to Greece which throughout the negotiations of recent months never hesitated to play, with breathtaking ruthlessness, all the cards it held. The real weapon it used was blackmail, threatening to bring down the single currency if its demands were not met, and its behaviour and the stances it adopted, including its launching of a bitter ideological attack on the German government in particular, were a consequence of this approach. Greece was attempting to reject the entire European system created over decades, not in the name of a credible European alternative (in reality, the Syriza slogan “another Europe is possible” has never been backed up by a single concrete proposal), but rather in its pursuit of purely national interests. The Greek government has never really criticised the intergovernmental system, nor supported the numerous initiatives geared at overcoming it that, in the final weeks of the negotiations themselves, coincided with the preparation and publication of the Five Presidents’ Report. All Tsipras did was press for his country’s sovereignty on the one hand, while demanding supranational solidarity on the other. It is this impossible combination, together with the manner in which he played his game, undermining the foundations of mutual trust and bringing the European system to the brink of a devastating crisis, that explain the harshness of the negotiations in the days that followed his post-referendum turnaround, when his awareness of the abyss towards which was leading his country finally prevailed.

Having said all this, the fact that Tsipras was able to reverse the course of events and return to the negotiating table with other governments, on an entirely new basis, shows that neither he nor Greece can be said to have come out of the agreement as losers. On the contrary, in this new framework, Tsipras has the possibility of becoming the statesman who can lead Greece towards a stronger future, and is finally in a position to fight the battles to improve the conditions of the Greek people that, at the time of his election, he promised to fight.

Similarly, the European project, having passed this tough test, is in a position to get under way again with renewed strength and determination. Although the aftermath of all these recent tensions will undoubtedly remain with us for some considerable time to come, it is already possible, in the midst of the dust of controversy, to discern two key facts that, if cultivated and exploited in the right way, could revive attempts to complete the monetary union through the realisation of political union. The first, already mentioned, is the recent affirmation of the principle of the dual accountability of governments (to their own people, and to the peoples of their partner countries) and, by extension, of the principle that it is necessary to accept the conditionality that accompanies solidarity. The second key fact is the need, which emerged strongly, to improve the governance of the eurozone by formalising the transfer of sovereignty, replacing the present “system of rules” with stronger European institutions, and initiating the transformation of the current system, still predominantly confederal, into a federal one.

It is likely that these latest intergovernmental negotiations will turn out to have been the very last occasion on which it proved possible to obtain, through this method, a positive outcome with progressive value. Since the start of the economic and financial crisis, this system of rules has served as a means of re-starting the European machinery each time it has found itself jammed by the serious errors of the previous decade. The list of advances “jump started” in this way is a long one. It was the governments themselves that, in 2011, affirmed the politicalprinciple that a member state could be bailed out (something expressly prohibited by the Treaties); that outlined an institutional system of controls on member states’ national budgets, similar to the kind used in federal states (overcoming the system enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, purely conferedal in nature and essentially based on control by the markets); that defined the eurozone as the framework in which to pursue, within the broader EU, a deepening of economic and political integration; that paved the way for the first, albeit partial, forms of debt pooling; that started up the banking union, agreeing to make provision for the necessary risk sharing; that created a setting in which the European institutions have been able start acting as a driving force once again: this applies to the ECB (from July 2012 and Draghi’s “whatever it takes” through to the quantitative easing of recent months), to the Commission (we may cite its November 2012 Blueprint, the politicisation of the election of its president in 2014, the Juncker plan for investments, the Analytical Note, and the Five Presidents’ Report, the latter disappointing in terms of the results it produced but remarkable in its ability to reignite and encourage development of the debate), and also to the European Parliament itself, which is waking up to its role as an institution responsible for supporting and developing control mechanisms and the workings of supranational democracy in the European setting. The intergovernmental system has also succeeded in bringing into line those countries whose systems, and above all debts, are incompatible with membership of the monetary union. We saw this in particular with Italy, where the change of government in 2011 and the start of a process of internal reforms were greatly helped by the country’s membership of the European system, a circumstance that strengthened those in the country who, despite initially being in the minority, were determined to change the national system and to ensure its progressive convergence with the rules agreed within the monetary union. And the same thing has now happened with Greece. In this latter case, because of the difficulties encountered in initiating the process of convergence with the rest of the euro area, the agreement has amounted to direct intervention, by the Eurogroup, in Greek politics. As we have already tried to explain, this does not represent an assault on national democracy, but merely the affirmation of a principle that must now be rendered universal in the eurozone and democratised, by transferring to the Commission and the European Parliament the necessary powers (currently in the hands of the Eurogroup) and ensuring that the institutional framework of the monetary union evolves in a federal direction. The principle of partial transfer of sovereignty to the European level is essential in order to achieve economic union (which must inevitably be political too), and the fact that this has now been affirmed, albeit in a controversial manner, is helping Europe to continue down this route. From here, it would be unthinkable to turn back; equally unthinkable is the idea of again having to experience the painful events that have just unfolded. The problem is that there is a very high risk of a similar situation occurring again. Even though the U-turn by Tsipras represents a huge blow to the anti-systemic movements and the euroskeptics, who saw him as a flagbearer of their ideas and are disoriented by his new political line, the present system continues to be one in which the governments of countries needing to undergo a process of modernisation – with all the resistance that this will encounter – must implement reforms that, even though they will produce enormous benefits over time, in the immediate term will impact on vested interests, and thus generate confusion in society and, in many cases, high social costs. If these reforms are not reinforced “from the outside”, i.e. lent support at European level, then there is a very high risk that the winners at the ballot box will be the populist forces whose support stems from a mixture of different elements: fear, opportunism and resistance to change. Should this indeed come about, as many surveys unfortunately seem to suggest, Europe would once again find itself having to reckon with countries in disarray – a paradoxical situation given the continued desire, on the part of the majority of public opinion, for stronger European unity.

Therefore, the eurozone, if it is to be saved from implosion, must unavoidably set out to overcome the intergovernmental method, and this means assuming a federal structure.

We feel it is important to use the term “federal” clearly and unambiguously. Ever since the European institutions started to be seen once again as institutions in the making, which need to acquire supranational political power (as was envisaged in the original plan of the founding fathers, Monnet included), the Community method, has, in many ways, overlapped with the federal one. However, the Community method is weakened by the fact that it retains a cultural flaw: namely, its continued understanding of the transfer of power as a series of gradual steps, i.e. as a progressive and uninterrupted evolution. But this is not what it is at all. As Spinelli always declared, the creation of a European power implies a definite leap forward that, despite entailing a seemingly small shift of prerogatives from the national to the European setting, is a transition that changes the “character” of the power relations between the national and the supranational levels. It is the step of creating an autonomous European power that, equipped with the means and resources necessary to exercise its competences directly, is a coordinated system in which the supranational level is no longer subordinate to that of the member states. And this is the point at which the dynamic changes radically: sovereignty is no longer merely something that the states, as equals, agree to pool; rather, it is “transferred” with the precise objective of creating a new sovereign entity alongside the national one; in this way, power no longer remains exclusively in the hands of the states, but is shared with Europe. And while the national peoples certainly continue to be central to the citizens’ sense of identity, they are joined by a brand new European people, united by shared interests and common values, and capable of fostering the development of an additional strong collective sense of belonging. At the same time there emerges a powerful political dynamic that helps to strengthen the European power. This is the scenario often painted by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which has at least provided the model. Given the way things are taking shape, the reality will undoubtedly be more subtle. The transition will occur through the advancement of the four unions and through the launch of an autonomous budget for the eurozone, even in an embryonic form to begin with; this will put the own resources issue on the table, together with that of the need for a democratic political system in which a key role is played by the European Parliament, and the Commission is granted autonomy from the member states but at the same time rendered more accountable to the European Parliament. But however gradual these steps may seem to be, and however seemingly imperceptible the formation of a European power, they in fact amount to what Draghi has called a “quantum leap”. This fact is patently clear to the governments called upon to give up their “power to decide in the last resort”, and it is therefore no coincidence that they waver and draw back whenever they are called upon to make a choice, as also shown in the case of the so-called Five Presidents’ Report. This was a report prepared by the president of the European Commission Juncker, together with the other four European presidents (Draghi – ECB, Dijsselbloem – Eurogroup, Tusk – European Council, and Schulz – European Parliament) and published ahead of the European Council of June 25-26. Its publication was preceded by an in-depth debate and it raised considerable expectations, given that it was meant to tackle the issue of the completion of the monetary union. As stated in the first, introductory chapter of the document, this objective implies the need “to shift from a system of rules and guidelines for national economic policy-making to a system of further sovereignty sharing within common institutions”. It also implies that: “Progress must happen on four fronts: first, towards a genuine Economic Union that ensures each economy has the structural features to prosper within the Monetary Union. Second, towards a Financial Union that guarantees the integrity of our currency across the Monetary Union and increases risk-sharing with the private sector. This means completing the Banking Union and accelerating the Capital Markets Union. Third, towards a Fiscal Union that delivers both fiscal sustainability and fiscal stabilisation. And finally, towards a Political Union that provides the foundation for all of the above through genuine democratic accountability, legitimacy and institutional strengthening. All four Unions depend on each other. Therefore, they must develop in parallel and all euro area Member States must participate in all Unions.” However, after these premises, which confirm the value of the positions expressed in particular by the ECB and by Juncker himself in various interventions and preparatory notes, but also by the European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs and by some governments, including the Italian one, the subsequent chapters of the report failed to go any further than offer remarks on the need not to abandon the process of reform of euro area governance, and on the need to continue to aim at completing the monetary union together with the four unions – but deferring until 2017 efforts to start moving in this direction.

If one considers that the four unions project has been on the table since 2012, in other words since the publication of the European Commission’s Blueprint for a deep and genuine Economic and Monetary Union, followed by the Four Presidents’ Report whose main author was Van Rompuy, then President of the European Council (on that occasion the President of the European Parliament did not participate), then one can appreciate what a crushing defeat it was to have to postpone, yet again, the realisation of these objectives. In the two aforementioned documents of 2012, completion of the monetary union by transferring to European level true powers of government in the economic and fiscal field, including fiscal capacity and responsibility for employment policies, together with the creation of an adequate and autonomous budget for the eurozone, was seen as the development that needed to be brought about in the medium to long term (within five years for certain objectives, longer for those demanding profound reforms of the Treaties), having first achieved, as a short-term objective, the creation of the banking union. Three years on, re-reading these two documents and analysing the extent to which the objectives they identified have been achieved, delayed and at times even deliberately ignored, the thing that emerges most strikingly is the fact that it is the further transfer of sovereignty, in the literal sense of the power to decide in the last resort, more than the transfer of competences and instruments of control and coordination, that represents the line at which the institutional advances of the Economic and Monetary Union have repeatedly ground to a halt. And it is precisely for this reason – the tendency of the governments to pull back – that this report too remained stuck on the brink of the “quantum leap”.

However, as already indicated, it is clear that the Greek crisis has effectively reshuffled the cards. It has shown that, contrary to what the Five Presidents’ Report suggests, we certainly do not have two years of calm ahead of us in which to prepare the conditions for a subsequent resumption of efforts to reform the governance of the euro. The problem has to be addressed immediately, resolving the issues that, ever since the birth of the monetary union, have prevented its further development.

* * *

The monetary union, when it came into being, rested on very weak foundations. When France first proposed it in 1988, Mitterrand saw it as a way of getting Germany to give up the Deutschmark and thus of reducing the weight of German influence within the Community equilibrium. For Kohl, who chose to take up the challenge, the single currency was, rather, the basis for creating political union, which he envisaged as based on the assignment of real political powers, particularly the power of legislative codecision, to the European Parliament. Delors, entrusted with drawing up a preliminary plan (completed in August 1989), deliberately chose not to consider budgetary union together with monetary union; he wanted to avoid provoking negative reactions on the part of the governments, which would have been alarmed by the idea of losing control of their national budgets. The thinking was that, once the currency had been created, it would be possible in the very next treaties to take steps to complete its structure. But, as we all know, this is not how things turned out. The Economic and Montetary Union came into being with a weak structure, as a result of the mutual fears of France and Germany.

In the clash between the two opposing concepts embodied by France and Germany (on the one hand, a statist neo-Keynesian kind of vision, in which monetary policy is shaped by the government’s economic strategies, and on the other an ordoliberal view, based on sustainability of public finances and control of inflation and revolving around the complete independence of the central bank), the least common denominator on which it proved possible to reach an agreement was the model of the social market economy, founded on the doctrine (ordoliberal) of independence of the central bank and the control of public finances, offset, however, by renunciation of all explicit transfers of sovereignty in the economic and budgetary field and suspension of the start of political union. Indeed, in the Maastricht Treaty, the European Parliament saw its powers increased, but not in the key area of monetary union, a result obtained through the ploy of creating the three-pillar structure of the EU. In this way, the ideas of social union, fiscal union and budgetary union, all fundamental parts of a monetary union, were shelved. Instead, criteria were established to govern the public finance behaviour of the single governments and fix the inflation rate for the euro area, but no real mechanisms of control and supervision were created. Basically, in a system that, despite being set in the framework of a single monetary area, had features typical of a confederation, the markets were left to play the role of guardians and enforcers of the rules, in the misguided belief that they, through the spread mechanism, would effectively sanction divergent trends between different economies. There was no anticipation of the profound transformation that the financial markets were about to undergo as a result of the incipient globalisation phenomenon, or of how easy it would be, in this context of global growth and low interest rates, for the single states to formally meet the parameters without endeavouring to initiate a real convergence of the national economies; similarly, there was no anticipation of the protective effect that the euro would have on the weaker economies, cradling them in their inefficiencies instead of stimulating the necessary reforms (this was true in the case of Greece, and perhaps even more so in that of Italy). Also, there was no instrument designed for governing a suboptimal currency area in which the differences between the national economic systems were destined to get even worse in the absence of the necessary political tools of guidance and compensation: a supranational budget for absorbing, at least partially, asymmetric shocks and for implementing a measure of redistribution, a banking system and a capital market, both genuinely unified, and effective powers for the European institutions in the economic field.

The story of the following years shows how, from the mid-1990s onwards, every attempt to consolidate the monetary union was abandoned. In particular, France’s rejection of the German attempt (through the Schäuble-Lamers document) to set up an initial monetary union embracing five countries – Europe’s founding member states minus Italy – and to accompany this with deeper political integration, so as to create a magnet to attract the other EU countries and create the basis for putting a definitive end to confrontation between sovereign nations in Europe, ended up having the opposite effect, i.e. causing a race to participate among countries that, lacking the basic economic requisites, were not really ready to join the single currency; and once the consequences of the phenomena of German unification and EU enlargement to the East had become apparent, together with the effects of American neoliberal globalisation, the prevalent thinking in the European Union was that a stable equilibrium had been reached through the enlargement of the single market, and that there was no need for additional steps towards political integration. By using terms ambiguously, in a way that struck at the heart of the federalist culture from which the European project itself had sprung, the governments and even the European institutions of those years wiped out the chances of starting a true political union, as the whole story of the Convention and of the birth of the so-called Constitutional Treaty – post Lisbon – clearly shows. These were the years that, in the presence of mounting difficulties in France, saw Germany, under Schroeder, playing a major role in the Union, and effectively exercising hegemony, yet without accepting a “political leadership” role (this is reflected, for example, in Germany’s lack of attention to and lack of efforts to correct the growing imbalances within the euro area, caused both by the high public debt in some countries and by the excessively fragile growth models adopted by countries like Spain and Ireland). Its actions in this period amounted to exploitation of its position of strength for purely national ends, as the matter of its own 2002 violation of the Maastricht criteria illustrates.

The outbreak of the financial and economic crisis and, above all, the emergency of the speculative attacks against the euro, came as a rude awakening for the national governments. Germany, with regard to its European policy, had to make to a full 180° turn. The true extent of the weakness of the foundations of the single currency was exposed, and Germany, primarily, was forced to acknowledge that many of the premises on which the euro had been built were untenable: the no bailout clause, to begin with, but also the exclusion of any form of debt pooling, risk pooling and transfer union. The challenge became, once again, that of completing the monetary union with economic and political union, and what this meant for Germany was, effectively, the start of a new era of political leadership within the setting of the euro area, which this time, however, it found itself having to learn to exercise in the interests of Europe as a whole, and in a climate characterised by growing mistrust on the part of public opinion in the other countries, and by lukewarm support for this new role among public opinion at home. A very difficult challenge for Merkel and Schäuble.

The obstacles were, and still are, enormous. First of all, even though many strides have been taken, politics, having striven for over a decade to destroy the federalist perspective, has struggled and still struggles to rediscover the concepts that will allow it to think and act, once again, along federalist lines. Furthermore, it has not been easy for post-war Germany, facing various historical and political difficulties, to take on a leadership role in Europe, especially when its opponents slyly use its past against it. But what really complicates Germany’s exercising of this role is actually the democratic nature of its attempt to do so; indeed, we are not talking about the hegemonic approach of a country that cloaks its actions in rhetoric and ideological mystification in an attempt to mask the real balance of power, but rather an approach that amounts to a genuine assumption of responsibility. It is a leadership role that Germany feels called upon to take on, simply because it recognises that it has the necessary solidity and that, despite the protests, there is actually no alternative, in Europe, to the social market economy model that it advocates. The problem is that this type of leadership is workable only to the extent that other states accept it: indeed, at critical junctures, a country assuming this role, not being in a position to impose change without first having gained the consent of its partners, can only seek to advance by small steps that can be shared and supported by all.

As indicated several times, there are currently two open fronts, and they are actually related: one is the economic convergence of the entire euro area towards the social market economy model that the Northern European countries have shown to be the only sustainable system for Europe, insofar as it is designed to protect the welfare system and to combine competitiveness and social justice (one does not have to be an expert to see that the neo-Keynesian solutions based on debt-financed increases in public spending by national governments, which are vociferously advocated by many politicians and also supported by leading Anglo-Saxon economists, cannot work without the leadership and monetary policy resources of great powers like the US, which attract capital flows in any case – even though the possibility of a sustainable debt incurred to finance investments by a federal Europe would be a different story of course; or, conversely, to see that models based on tax cuts are incompatible with the preservation of the welfare state). The other front is the transfer, by the eurozone states, of part of their sovereignty in order to create a genuine economic and political union, which entails them giving up their ultimate decision-making power over their budgets and economic policy strategies. As we recalled at the start, from the outbreak of the crisis up to the present time, much progress has been made on both these fronts, thanks to the patient work of the Council led by Germany and the other European institutions, primarily the ECB. With regard to the first front, we can cite the process of reforms begun in Greece, in the wake of the one started in Italy, as well as the emergence from the crisis of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus (all developments that are moving in the direction of an economically sustainable system), and with regard to the second, all the changes and new institutions put in place and all the proposals fielded between 2011 and today. Nevertheless, the enemies of this direction are still numerous and also very strong, and can be identified by their resistance to the financially and economically sustainable model that underpins monetary union, and to the transfer of sovereignty to supranational level. Those resistant to these ideas, i.e. the euroskeptics and populist movements, are indeed the ones who, hiding behind false economic or political alternatives (the former disastrous, as we have seen, and the latter able to lead only to dead ends), are building the myth of a Germany that wants to crush the rest of Europe.

Moreover, and there is no point denying this, many of them see France as their stronghold. It is no coincidence that, in the context of the different political proposals for a quantum leap in the governance of the euro area, the French government, repeatedly proposing a eurozone institutional model created around a new parliament (a second-level parliament, understood as an expression of the governments or national parliaments), has clung to its vision of creating a union “of sovereign states”; whereas the alternative proposed by the federalists is to have the European Parliament meet in specific composition on issues relating to the euro, so as to create a genuinely supranational model. The French position is a formidable obstacle to Germany, which will never consider moving towards political union without the support of France.

If, then, the conflict between the two visions embodied by France and Germany is the source of the impasse that has prevented the monetary union from developing into a political union, the crucial thing to understand now, in the midst of today’s confused debate on European issues, is that Germany is neither an enemy nor a hegemonic power striving to impose its vision of Europe. It is Europe itself, strengthened by a history that has demonstrated the superiority, for our continent, of the so-called German model, that has made the choice between the two alternatives. This affirmation certainly does not imply that all dialectic between right and left and between different political and social sensibilities has come to an end; it merely establishes the framework in which such exchanges can be productive. In the same way, it is post-WWII European history, together with the actual unfolding of political events, that has gradually assigned Germany a particular weight of responsibility in the European process.

In short, to contribute to the success of the European project, the national governments and political forces (Italy’s first and foremost) must prove able to create the conditions that will allow France to accept the European federalist model, and encourage it to play its crucial political role alongside Germany. This is important primarily in order to prevent the reactionary forces within Germany, fuelled by the poisonous debate that is raging at the level of public opinion in the other countries, from becoming so resistant to change that the monetary union loses any chance of making its political quantum leap.

The Federalist

 

 

* This editorial went to press in late July 2015.

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