Year LIX, 2017, Single Issue, Page 10

 

 

For a Federal Europe: Sovereign, United and Democratic

 

 

“The Europe of today is too weak, too slow, too inefficient, but Europe alone can enable us to take action in the world, in the face of the big contemporary challenges. Only Europe can, in a word, guarantee genuine sovereignty or our ability to exist in today’s world to defend our values and interests”. Thus, “the only route which ensures our future” is that “of refounding a sovereign, united and democratic Europe.

These words, spoken with remarkable directness and clarity, mark the crux of the speech (Initiative for Europe) given by Emmanuel Macron at the Sorbonne on September 26, 2017. They were explosive and extraordinarily powerful words, for two reasons: first, because they came from the president of a country that is acutely aware of the value of the term “sovereignty”, and has so far always acted in a way designed to keep it firmly in the hands of the states; and second, because they reflect a will to revolutionise the political and psychological framework in which to pursue Europe’s rebirth. Indeed, Macron called for a process of EU reform that deviates entirely from the current systems and procedures, setting out a schedule and method that centre on the group of countries that are committed to rebuilding Europe: “we cannot allow ourselves to keep the same habits, the same policies, the same vocabulary, the same budgets”.

Thus, France, finally extricating itself from a 20-year-long state of impasse, has returned to the European stage — a stage on which, essentially up until the creation of the euro and the time of German reunification, it was the leading player, pursuing an intergovernmental vision of Europe in the Gaullist mould, which led it to oppose, actively, any progress towards a supranational political union. But, in the wake the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War — these events began a period that saw the creation of an initial federal power (in the monetary field, thanks to the birth of the European Central Bank), and also saw Germany regaining full national sovereignty and emerging as a new leader in Europe, strengthened by the enlargement of the EU to the East —, France found its position increasingly weakened as a result of the leadership role progressively assumed by Germany. Furthermore, the backwardness of parts of its economy and the need for strong reforms to increase its competitiveness in the new global economic framework further undermined its capacity for political initiative.

Today, with the country still in the grip of a long and painful economic crisis, which has wiped out the traditional political forces and led to the emergence of extremely strong nationalist and anti-European sentiment, fuelled by populism, Macron has come to the realisation that the only way to get France centre stage once again is to successfully combine the planning of the country’s much-needed internal reforms with the relaunching of the process of European integration. And these two things are, indeed, interdependent: the building of national responsibility, on the one hand, and of solidarity and strong policies at European level, on the other, are two parallel processes that cannot advance without each other. This means, first of all, proposing a new European identity for France — one that gets to the real heart of the political problem. The intergovernmental version of Europe that France has espoused until now serves only to exacerbate the divisions between the member states, leaving the leadership in the hands of the strongest countries and all the rest resentful; furthermore, the existing EU institutional balance leaves Europe incapable of taking action in the world, and unable to defend its values or protect its citizens and respond to their needs. For these reasons, the only avenue open to France remains that of promoting the building of a European federal power, through the construction of European sovereignty, greater unity of the European peoples, and European institutions that satisfy the demand for the democratic legitimacy on which the work of any true government is founded.

As all this comes to the fore, we cannot help but remark that the challenge of reforming the eurozone, and the EU, has now been waiting in vain to be addressed for a full five years, in other words since 2012, the year that the European Commission’s Blueprint for a Deep and Genuine EMU and the Four Presidents’ Report both spelled out the need to resolve the untenable situation of a monetary union that had been built without the support of a banking, fiscal, economic or political union. This inaction can be attributed to many factors, including the aforementioned French weaknesses and the lack of trust shown by Germany, and the northern European countries in general, in the other European partners. But aside from these aspects, a significant contributory factor has certainly been the absence of a bold vision, capable of reigniting the process of European integration and dragging it out of the mire of national vetoes. This is precisely what Macron wants to do, because he is convinced that the answer for today’s Europeans, desperately in search of the tools and a framework that will allow them to rise to the challenges of the 21st century, resides in the added value they derive from the European integration project — a project that has already ensured over 70 years of peace in Europe and fostered its economic growth and the civil development of its societies. But what is needed now is a powerful Europe, set on playing a global political role in defence of its values, its model of civil and social coexistence and its interests throughout the world.

The French proposal dares to break a series of taboos, and it does so by offering a project that is strongly driven by ideals, yet concrete and practical; and also by raising the question of the need to rebuild the European framework starting from two different levels of integration and rejecting the mythical idea, now almost a dogma within the EU, that the Union can be enabled to live up to its role without the need for a political act marking a break with the current decision-making mechanisms (even though this would, in any case, leave the current institutional framework intact). Several aspects of Macron’s speech — its tone, the political nature of its content, the methodological approach behind the ideas, and the description of the steps to be taken in pursuit of the objective — combine to make it a manifestation of what Mario Albertini defined the indispensable “occasional European leadership”. But the struggle of those intending to carry this brave attempt forward will undoubtedly be extremely arduous. The reactions coming from Germany are very worrying, as indeed are the attempts being made by many members, at all levels, of political circles in Europe to underplay the extent of the proposed reforms and confine them within the narrower framework of Community solutions, on the pretext of the need for compatibility with the existing Treaties. It could be that no one really expected such an advanced understanding of the route needed to save Europe to be developed and manifested by a head of state; or perhaps familiarity with the Community method — by this we mean the method that allowed Europe to embark on its unification process, and has since served to ensure supranationality in the negative integration processes (legislative harmonisation, market building), but remains totally inadequate for governing the policies that strike at the very heart of sovereignty — has resulted in a loss of the early awareness of the federal objective. The fact remains that, words aside, the French proposal has been greeted with great scepticism in many quarters, and even those who see its merits struggle to understand how the project can be sustained and made to work.

For federalist organisations, on the other hand, the stakes could not be clearer. In this issue we have deliberately chosen to republish, also as a contribution to today’s debate, two articles — one from 1996, and the other from 2001 — that denounced the drift towards intergovernmentalism that began to emerge with the reorganisation of the EU in the wake of Germany’s reunification. Both contributions analyse the problems that were accumulating as a result of the loss of the prospect of federal political unity, a project that must necessarily be pursued starting from the creation, as a driving force, of a core group within the broader market-based union. Today, around two decades on, with events confirming the accuracy of those analyses and the French president sharing this same view and throwing all his weight into the battle, we know that the EU will not have another chance of salvation, or a future, unless it can summon the courage to exploit this window of opportunity. This is why it is so important to highlight, clearly, the main points of Macron’s initiative, which, by offering Europe the possibility to make the federal leap forwards, presents it with the key to political success.

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The package of proposals that France chose to advance in the aftermath of the German elections, with the clear intention of raising the issues that the new government in Berlin will be called upon to address, covers both the strengthening of the internal market and the creation of an “integrated core” within the EU, built around the sharing of the same currency. This means a market (even more robust than the present one) founded on both the rule of law and the values of democracy, but also on solidarity and convergence of social standards — a European market that is equipped to better protect its citizens, primarily from unfair competition, and ready to welcome new members, which may even include the United Kingdom, once all the agonising uncertainty surrounding Brexit is over. At the heart of this European Union, which in the future will likely extend beyond the post-Brexit 27 member states, there must lie a political nucleus formed by the EMU member states, which already have the necessary foundations on which to build strong common policies in the areas that pertain to what Macron has identified as the six keys to European sovereignty, namely internal and external security, foreign and industrial policy, ecological transition, and the digital world, in such a way that the eurozone might become “an economic and industrial power built around the same currency”.

In short, there is no suggestion of a Europe à la carte, or of variable geometries; what is envisaged is a cohesive group that, united on all questions, advances together in all fields. In this regard, the most difficult question, from the perspective reaching a political agreement, will certainly be that of completing the monetary union and launching the economic union, as it will be necessary to overcome the resistance of the northern European countries to any proposal that evokes the possibility of a so-called “transfer union. And yet, this is, too, is a taboo that it is essential to break down in order to advance. Obviously, it will be possible to proceed in this direction only if the states guarantee to comply with the rules agreed and pursue the reforms needed in order to boost competitiveness and support growth and employment; but in exchange, Europe needs to guarantee them common instruments, primarily a common budget for the eurozone to allow it to fund its policies, make investments and create stabilisation mechanisms. This must be a true and robust budget, funded with new (European) taxes appropriate to the economic model that it is chosen to pursue (web tax, financial transaction tax, carbon tax), and also, in theory, with part of the revenue from corporation tax, once this is better harmonised at European level; in short, a budget that will allow greater solidarity between the member countries and that, in addition to a sense of responsibility vis-à-vis the common rules on the part of all the member states, also needs “strong political guidance of a common minister” and must be “subject to strict parliamentary control at European level” . As Macron said, “Only the eurozone with a strong and international currency can provide Europe with the framework of a major economic power. So let’s look at the issue the right way round: if the euro is to become the currency of all EU member states once they meet the criteria, we must quickly create a strong, efficient, inclusive eurozone, and this strength will benefit all who join it in the future.

For its part, France, after 15 years of inactivity, now says it is ready to kick-start the Treaty reform that is crucial in order to realise some of the proposals it has made, and thus, in practice, to open a constituent procedure. It is envisaged that this procedure will involve the citizens through democratic conventions serving to discuss, and possibly enrich, the project that a pioneering group of “refounding states” (i.e. the ones most committed to, and ambitious for, Europe) will, as soon as the coming months, need to agree and develop together with the European institutions. From this perspective, it is clear that the European elections of 2019 will need to focus on these proposals to refound the European Union, so as to usher in five years of genuine constituent endeavour.

The real focus of the battle will be the development of an innovative method for reforming the EU, driven by a strong initiative on the part of the most advanced governments and by the contribution of the European institutions, without today’s lengthy procedures and reciprocal vetoes being allowed to get in the way; indeed, this and the question of a true ad hoc budget for the eurozone financed with own resources will be the problems to resolve to prevent the entire project from derailing. Those who support the preservation of national sovereignty and the continuity of the Community model are already hard at work sending out their siren calls, opposing any suggestion for a eurozone budget, or indicating the false objective of a euro area budget line within the general EU budget, which would obviously be subject to all the constraints, unanimity included, of the 27-member Community mechanisms.

For those who believe in a united and democratic Europe, on the other hand, the moment has come to show courage, acting with a clear head and without indecision. Because wanting a united and democratic Europe must mean fighting for a sovereign Europe: the federal Europe envisaged by the founding fathers.

November, 2017

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