Year XXXVII, 1995, Number 2 - Page 94

 

 

 

A Federal Core for the Unification of Europe*
 
KARL LAMERS
 
 
The reflections about the future course of Europe’s unification process which the CDU/CSU parliamentary group published six months ago, have provoked a wide-ranging and often lively debate throughout Europe, which continues to this day. Even in Italy there was initially a very lively reaction, but this did not last long however. Nevertheless the extraordinary range of this exchange of opinions at the European level demonstrates the validity of our analysis of the situation, and highlights the need to carry the debate forward.
For the first time ever a political document of this nature has created a European public opinion. In fact everywhere, and at the same time, the same subject has been discussed: Europe. A European public opinion is indispensable for the development of a democratic Europe, and for this reason we welcome this debate, and I in particular am very happy to have the opportunity to continue it with you here.
We have allowed ourselves to be guided in our reflections by the conviction that the European unification process has arrived at a crossroads, that is, that the Europeans must decide in which direction they want to go: do they wish to advance or do they want to remain where they are, taking into account that standing still, with the extraordinary challenges we face both within and without our states, means in reality going backwards? If Europeans do not go forwards, they will have no future. Either they will have a common future, or they will not have any future at all. Heaven knows that this observation is not news, yet confronted with a debate that at times seems to be confused and misleading it is important to remember that the vital interests of all Europeans are the same. We must be aware of this identity of interests not only when we strive to affirm them abroad, but also when we occupy ourselves with the well-being of our nations. The growth of interdependence has, for some time now, given a supernational dimension to our everyday life, ranging from the economy to international organised crime. The institutions of the nation-state are unable to respond satisfactorily to this supernational reality, and as a result everyone accepts that suitable institutions, namely, European institutions, are needed. The only controversial point, yet also a decisive one, is whether intergovernmental co-operation is sufficient, or whether Community institutions are needed; whether, that is, Europe must be federal, as the French argue (employing the term incorrectly however) or whether it should be a more-or-less close union of nation-states. We, that is, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group (and not only us, but indeed the German people as represented by the parliamentary majority), believe that intergovernmental co-operation is not sufficient, and is moreover proving the more inadequate the longer it continues.
Naturally we are aware that the future configuration of Europe, that is, its constitution, represents a historical first and will be different from the current models of confederations of states and federal states. Yet this does not alter the fact that it will be inevitable to place this experience with reference to the models that have established themselves throughout history. It is particularly relevant to recall the historic experience according to which “there exist two types of confederations of states: those that evolve by transforming themselves into federal states, and those that are broken up” (Jean Monnet). The European Union is currently already something more than a confederation of states and sometimes reveals definite federal characteristics.
Nowadays the word federalism threatens to confuse rather than clarify the political debate – so much so that in France, as in Great Britain, this expression means the opposite of what it signifies in Germany. In Germany federalism means the principle of dividing power among the different levels of state activity. It is for this reason that we consider it a model for the construction of Europe, since all the European Union’s member states seek to reserve the greatest possible number of competences and spheres of action to the nation-states. The fear that is sometimes expressed that we aim to reduce France, or even Germany, to the same status as Bavaria or Texas is absurd and purposely misleading. The nation-state will continue to play a decisive role also in the future, above all as the guarantor of civil rights and liberties. It has in fact already assumed a fundamental new function as the representative of the national interests at the European level.
 (Moreover, as a German I can not avoid recalling in this discussion of European federalism that it was France and Britain, as victors, which imposed a strongly federalist structure on the German constitution in 1949. This not only proved to be to the advantage of the member states, namely the Länder, but it is also undoubtedly the foundation of Germany’s current strength. The cunning of history seems in this case to be not simply an invention of Hegel.)
Even more out of place is the suspicion that we want to liquidate the nations themselves. On the contrary, it is our belief that Europe will safeguard the future of its nations in the precise moment when its own future is assured. The growing inability of the nations to resolve their own everyday problems within a national framework and through the nation-state is one of the reasons why their own identity is threatened. Precisely on account of the inadequacy of the action of the nation-states, which no-one denies and which is objectively undeniable, we have likened the sovereignty of the nation-state to that of an empty shell, yet this is not to say that we have denied the legitimacy of the nation as sovereign. All the same, when a sovereign is no longer able to take decisions, and no longer possesses the power to act, this necessarily impacts on his identity.
In reality the question we need to ask ourselves with regard to the debate about federalism is whether Europe should, or should not, have the physiognomy of a state as regards its legal status. This is moreover linked to the choice between an intergovernmental-type structure for Europe’s official bodies, and a Community-type organisation, that is, one based on the principle of taking decisions by majority vote. This principle is not solely a theoretical criterion for defining the legal status of the Union: it represents also an essential practical basis for its capacity to act.
Nobody, without exception, has disputed during the past months of debate the unconditional need to improve the Union’s efficiency by improving its capacity to act. On the contrary, everyone has stressed precisely this point. What nobody however has been able to explain is how the Union’s capacity to act can be improved without introducing or extending the principle of decision-making by majority vote. The capacity for action of all democratically-organised nations is based on the majority-voting principle (only the most simple societies, such as tribal ones, can permit themselves the luxury of a democracy based on unanimity). All supernational systems which are based on unanimity demonstrate day after day their fundamental inefficiency. The alternative is either more meetings or decisions taken by majority vote.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that the European Union already takes some decisions by majority vote, which have immediate legal validity for all the citizens of every member state; in this sense the Union in effect already passed the Rubicon some time ago. As concerns how this method has been used, the European Union experience is valid for all democratic institutions, even at the national level: majority votes are employed much more rarely than is legally possible. Yet the need to take account of the various points of view is so compelling at the supernational level as to make it unthinkable that the guillotine of the majority vote be employed following only a brief debate. In reality the majority voting principle has proved to be a path to compromise, and hence to the achievement of unanimity, and the most powerful and useful way to apply pressure in order to reach this goal.
The practical basis of the majority-voting principle in the European Union consists of the identity of its members’ interests regarding fundamental issues. Without this, the entire European unity project would be condemned to failure, with or without the majority-voting principle. The identity of interests also signifies mutual dependency. From this it follows that the danger of a state being defeated in a majority vote on an issue which is perhaps not fundamental, but still of considerable importance, is limited. Such an instance has not occurred in the Union to date.
This perspective must be kept separate from that which distinguishes between right and wrong decisions. The belief that a decision may be wrong is not an argument that can be employed in order to reject the principle of taking decisions by majority vote: the issue whether a decision is right or wrong is always resolved after the event. For this reason we are of the opinion that in the first pillar of the Union the use of vetoes should be increasingly reduced, while decisions by majority vote should become the norm. The same should apply in principle for common foreign, security and defence policies, as well as for the internal and law-enforcement policies.
The latest argument against the principle of taking decisions by majority vote in the context of a European entity exercising its prerogatives, consists of the lack of a sovereign European people who can legitimise such actions.
It is not possible to respond exhaustively to this seemingly incontrovertible argument in the context of a brief report such as this. Nevertheless it is possible to point out that the logic of the argument, apparently so convincing, is based on the presupposition that Europe’s societies have found in the nations, and in the nation-states, their definitive configuration. Yet only the end can be definitive. History does not recognise any definitive finishing line. As Raymond Aron says: “The nation-state is not the end of history.” If the European nations do not develop their structures further, if, that is, they do not continue to change, they will soon find themselves at the end of their historical journey.
That this is not the case is demonstrated by the European unification process, which is precisely the result of a European-wide gaining of awareness – initially among the ruling class. But the European policy carried out by Europe’s institutions has allowed the awareness process to be diffused also to the peoples and to the great masses of the population. History shows incontrovertibly that the peoples have never existed, but have always become, and that the decisive factor for acquiring a common awareness has been the experience of subjection to a common power. Moreover this has always been the work of elites, that is, of those people that are nowadays called the political leadership, whose responsibility in the European unification process can not be substituted by referendums. The problem of the political leadership generally consists more of its internal divisions than of a conflict with the people. The people are in fact aware of the need for Europe. Yet what particular form Europe should take is a task that the people can not take away from the political leaders. After all, why, on the threshold of the 21st century, should it not be possible to achieve between European nations what was possible at the beginning of the 18th century between the English and Scottish nations, which created a union through the 1707 Act of Union, ratified by both national parliaments in London and Edinburgh?
In this way, the argument as to the presumed impossibility of a democratic legitimisation of the state’s sovereignty is shown to be a vicious circle: Europe can not exist since a European people do not exist, and a European people can not exist because Europe does not exist. This is a static way of thinking which fails to take into account the dynamics of historical processes. It is only seemingly logical; in reality it can only be explained within a psychological framework, on the basis of the insecurity and fear, only partly justified, which manifest themselves at the prospect of having to abandon institutions and structures that have guaranteed the security of citizens over the centuries (even if today this is only an apparent security). Or to be more precise, to have to abandon these institutions and structures much faster than has ever previously occurred in similar historical processes, since the current process has developed a momentum which is worryingly rapid and constantly accelerating. Fear and timidity currently characterise the attitude toward Europe: they are our real enemies.
 
***
 
The idea of a “core” has been the key point in the debate provoked by our proposals. As regards this issue, the conscious and purposeful misunderstandings have been more numerous than the unconscious and unintentional ones.
Nevertheless, no-one now persists in asserting that we have proposed the creation of a closed and institutionalised group, and hence of a Europe divided into two categories of states. In general the need for greater flexibility, from which our proposal for variable geometry derives, is considered indispensable, because it is unanimously recognised that not all the present members, and even less so the future ones, desire or are able to participate simultaneously in all sectors of the Community’s policies. Some members however do want to and are able to; they represent therefore the solid core, as we have defined it. The birth of this solid core can not be blocked if one accepts the idea of variable geometry. From this it follows that there is a need to modify articles N and K9 of the Maastricht Treaty, which prescribe unanimity for changes to the treaty and for the transfer to the Community’s competence of matters in the sectors of internal and justice policy which are currently regulated at the intergovernmental level. Otherwise it will not be possible to achieve the aim of avoiding that, in Chancellor Kohl’s words, the slowest ship determine the speed of the entire convoy. As the coalition agreement of the German government says, “all the member states of the European Union must be able to participate on an equal footing in Europe’s progressive integration, yet the resistance of individual member states can not be allowed to block progress towards integration.” From this it follows, at least as far as widening the Union is concerned, that a suitable institutional revision of the Treaty of Union would appear indispensable. If a “lead group” (as defined by the Dutch government in one of its documents concerning the Union) is not allowed to organise itself within the framework of the Treaty of Union, such a group will do so outside the Union. Yet in this way co-operation could only be of an intergovernmental type, and in this event the danger of a Europe divided into two categories of states would be greater. This would be a makeshift solution, but one which could nevertheless achieve the desired effect, as has been demonstrated by the Schengen accord: already another four members have joined the five founders, and others will follow.
The creation of such a core, or lead group, represents the necessary and inevitable complement to an equally necessary institutional flexibility, for as long as some states are not able, or do not wish, to participate in all the Union’s policies.
Through flexibility, which we have called variable geometry, a complex structure made up of overlapping circles is obtained. Within this structure centrifugal forces will prevail if there is no force which determines the direction of the whole. This is precisely the function of the core, in the sense that we intend it. The entire development of the European unification process has been realised in this way. The functioning of the core is based on the fact that the room for manoeuvre of non-core states regarding matters in which core states pursue a common policy, is largely determined by those states that are members of the core. Non-core states, since they are not part of the group, do not have the power to condition the core’s policy. This situation, sooner or later, will be held to be unsustainable and all will want to become members of the group: the core will exercise a magnetic pull and in the long term will become superfluous. Already the simple proposal to create a core, such as the one we have made, has clearly had such an effect, since from that moment on we have observed a change of opinion: instead of a debate about opting out, there now exists a debate about opting in (that is, about participating rather than remaining outside). In conclusion, the prospect of proceeding regardless, and of obtaining a satisfactory result among the fifteen members of the European Union at the 1996 intergovernmental conference, is so much better the stronger the determination of a small group. Alongside this functional interpretation of the core, it is also necessary to note the political and psychological implications: if the peoples must entrust their destiny concerning matters of their everyday existence to the co-decision of others, they must have confidence in those who will take the decisions, and vice versa. Such confidence, as the foundation for the construction of Europe, can be generated only within the framework of a limited number of states. Therefore Europe must be born initially out of a small group.
If the core is defined by the participation of its members in all policies, it will, in the current circumstances, be composed of an overly restricted number of states. This would be a grave handicap. It would result from the fact that some states do not want to participate in certain policies, as is the case for Great Britain and Denmark regarding monetary union, and for the neutral states as regards the development of a common European defence. Others probably will not be able to participate in monetary union.
As a result of the attitude or difficulties of certain states such as Britain, Italy or Spain, monetary union represents the heart of the problem. Moreover independently of this, it is the key problem of the process of European unification. Before justifying this affirmation, I want to express my firm belief that the monetary upsets of recent weeks have highlighted once again, and dramatically so, the need for monetary union.
The debate over the past months has increasingly concentrated on the relationship between economic union and political union. All the same, this comparison is misleading. Monetary union is a part of political union, indeed it is the central part of it: it is (as has already been said) integration in its purest form; through monetary union the national sovereignty of the states will be exercised in common by a European body in which experts in such matters take decisions by majority vote, independent of national directives. The monetary policy decisions by a European central bank will limit the room for manoeuvre with which the national parliaments can make budgetary, fiscal, economic and social policies. In these sectors the pressure on the member states to pursue a co-ordinated policy, on the basis of European central bank instructions that will be oriented to maintaining stability, will be very strong. It will only be possible to oppose such pressure at the price of strong reactions both internally and from outside. It is true that behaviours that are marked by a lack of solidarity and that, in the final analysis, are irrational, can not be excluded from politics in certain circumstances. For this reason, the mechanisms for co-ordinating economic policy must be applied rigorously following the activation of the third stage of monetary union, and perhaps must be further tightened; the political union should be strengthened in its other parts as well.
On this depends the Union’s solidity, its cohesion, and the harmonisation of all its policies. Every policy requires financial obligations. The monetary policy of a European central bank can not go in one direction while the other policies of the member states go in another. For this reason, the issue during the 1996 conference of revision will be, to express it precisely, not to create political union alongside monetary union, but rather to complete the construction of political union, whose economic aspects are already thoroughly regulated in the Maastricht Treaty, but whose other parts remain incomplete. This feature was already highlighted at Maastricht by Chancellor Kohl, who has consequently pushed for the rapid completion of Europe’s construction as early as 1996.
But there is not only a direct and tangible interdependence between monetary union and the four political spheres that I have cited; there is also an indirect bond with all the political sectors that require funding and, above and beyond this, there also exists a psychological link – monetary union requires complete consensus and complete solidarity among its members regarding all matters of everyday existence, not least those concerning war and peace. These reasons explain the insistence with which Germany is calling for a common foreign, security and defence policy, as well as for a common European army. The monetary aspect of political union does not represent a bargaining instrument for Germany. Monetary union, in the long term, is also in Germany’s interest. Yet for Germans, a proposal of solidarity among the Union’s member states that is not based solely on a single currency seems the more reasonable in as much as they are conscious of the fact that their own sovereignty in the monetary sphere is still intact. As a result their partners’ interest in monetary union is perhaps stronger than theirs. A political union limited to a single currency and to the economic sphere would be difficult to persuade German citizens to accept.
The crucial nature of the monetary union project emerges also from another viewpoint, which needs to be considered in order to assess its political significance. This perspective simultaneously clarifies the basis of the fear that a Europe divided into two categories of states will be created. The goal of a policy of stability, to be achieved through the convergence criteria of monetary union, represents a programme of economic and social modernisation that will comprise painful adjustments for participating countries. The need for such modernisation, however, is not to be found in monetary union, but rather, on the one hand in the deep and ever more rapid structural change of the economy, and on the other in Europe’s worsening competitiveness. Economic and monetary union is the means for achieving the necessary adjustments together. Moreover these adjustments can be achieved lastingly only if they are pursued in common, since Europe’s economies are closely interdependent and have already been launched down a common path. The Union’s states have linked up with each other in order to travel together along the difficult road toward the goal of economic and monetary union. Europe is a grand project and without its realisation it will be impossible to achieve the modernisation of Europe’s societies and economies. Moreover its pursuit becomes more difficult the longer the adjustments are delayed. These delays are very different in nature from one state to the other, but in every case it is the nation-states that are exclusively responsible for them. This was expressed with notable clarity and concision in the report of the European Commission, which comprised prime minister Balladur under the presidency of Alain Minc.
National politicians are all the same greatly tempted to blame the high rate of unemployment on Europe, thereby confusing cause with effect, since the monetary union stability criteria no longer permit the implementation at the national level of the traditional policies for reducing unemployment.
For this reason it is possible to agree with Felipe Gonzales’ s reply when he was interviewed about why he had consciously renounced an independent economic policy in favour of a European one: “Undoubtedly this is true. But why on earth should we have an independent economic policy in order to pursue something which makes no sense? It would be the independence of stupidity.” (Die Zeit, 25.11.1994).
The same holds true for the reconversion of social security systems, made necessary by the stabilisation policy, and which will involve sacrifices. Making Europe responsible for these serious problems allows the national governments to divert attention away from their own shortcomings. This clearly does not favour the project’s popularity and above all can spread the illusion that the issue can be resolved within the national framework.
The risk of giving in to this illusion is naturally the greater the longer the delay which has to be made up for. And it is precisely in this delay that lies the danger that some countries may lose contact with the others. Yet it must be strongly asserted that this danger does not exist because of Europe, or because of monetary union and its completion, but rather in spite of them; that without European solidarity perhaps not even one state would be able to achieve the goal of stability, and even less so the weaker ones. If certain states pursue the path toward monetary union, the political leaders in charge in the other states will be unable to limit themselves for long to reproaching them, but would be well advised to commit their efforts, and those of their peoples, to regaining the lost ground as quickly as possible, with the help of those states that have gone ahead.
Here we come across, by the way, one of the reasons for Germany’s difficult psychological situation. Political stability seems to be determined by the hegemony of the D-mark, and the monetary union project was constructed along the lines of the German model. For this reason anti-European and anti-German reactions risk being mixed together. As a result, it is important to assert forcefully that no alternative to a common stability policy exists, not because of Germany, but rather because of the nature of the situation. It is important moreover to note that enthusiasm for monetary union has been more evident in other countries than in Germany, which is understandable, since as a result of the German currency’s hegemony in Europe the other states are obliged to follow German monetary policy decisions without contributing to the making of these decisions.
This unpleasant situation is recognised as such also in Great Britain. Precisely for this reason, but also because London is a great financial centre, I am firmly of the opinion that Britain will join the monetary union when it happens, regardless of how many other members there are. The behaviour of the chancellor of the exchequer, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons during the last four weeks represents convincing proof of this assertion. Hence, even in this perspective, monetary union appears as a crucial project, since on it depends the definitive participation of Britain in the European Union.
Now let’s consider Italy. Italy does not only belong to the heart of Europe; rather, as the home to our common culture it is itself the heart of Europe. For this reason it would be very serious if Italy were unable to participate from the outset in a crucial political project such as that of monetary union. This is so much the more important if one takes into account the fact that Italy has always given an active boost to the European unification process. But the situation which today is perhaps asserting itself in Italy was already foreseen when the Maastricht Treaty was entered into. The politicians then representing Italy signed the treaty fully aware of this situation, and with the same awareness the Italian Parliament ratified it. They did not act this way in spite of the manifest difficulties of their country, but rather precisely because of them, since, like all their other European partners, they were convinced that the creation of a vanguard group would, more than any other single thing, offer the others the chance of overcoming their difficulties and of therefore being able to join the lead group. The practical, and perhaps even more psychological, incentive deriving from this constraint provides the most valid of guarantees for achieving this objective. This explains why not all the reactions in Italy to our reflections have been negative. We hope that also the others will allow themselves to be convinced by our arguments, and even more so by the nature of the situation. Waiting to implement the third stage of monetary union until such time as Italy meets the convergence criteria would be the worst service that Italy’s European partners could render her.
The situation as regards Spain is fundamentally the same. Naturally Spain is absolutely indispensable for a strong Europe as well. Since it joined the Community, Spain has played an extremely positive role in developing a politically united and integrated Europe.
Yet allow me, in conclusion, to express my belief that Italy will be able to participate immediately in the third stage of monetary union, or that at least the basis exists for a satisfactory transition solution. It will be possible, that is, to create a framework that will reinforce the pressure exercised by the lead group on the decisions needed for Italy’s participation, yet in such a way as not to endanger the stability of the new European currency. A slackening of the convergence criteria, above all the crucial one regarding the size of the total public debt, by means of a “dynamic interpretation” of the Maastricht criteria (as foreign minister Agnelli put it) is not possible. The abandoning of the stability criteria would not be accepted in Germany: it would signify the end of monetary union.
The responsibility rests solely on Italy, that is on its politicians, to exploit the opportunity that she has been offered (and in which I believe). Germany sincerely hopes that Italy will seize this opportunity.
As foreign minister Agnelli’s comments, that I have just referred to, once again demonstrate, Germany and Italy are as one concerning the fundamental question of the type of united Europe that we desire – a Europe that is politically capable of action, and that is fully integrated and federal. Hence the hope is strong that in 1996 Germany and Italy will strive side by side to achieve this goal.


*This is the written version of a speech given at the conference “Italy and Europe: the challenges of 1996”, held in Milan, 25th March 1995.

 

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