Year XXVII, 1985, Number 1, Page 30

 

 

 

Either European Union or the Historical End of Europe
 
GIUSEPPE PETRILLI
 
 
The somewhat solemn and vaguely millenarian title of this international Conference is a measure of the ambitious task that the promoters have set themselves. For over thirty years, the European Movement has championed the development of a federal system as being the only real alternative to Europe’s increasing decadence. The Movement has struggled and will continue to struggle to be a meeting point where all those who are really willing to take such a radical step can stand up and be counted. The Movement has struggled to put forward new proposals that go beyond the national political frontiers inherited from the past which are increasingly less suited to the composite and changing reality of the world in which we live. We are faced with a decline in utopian spirit that accompanies the inarrestable decline of ideals that go back to obsolete historical experiences. We are also faced with the younger generations’ growing indifference to politics which is no less dangerous when, as often happens, it is coloured by social conformity. Thus, the European Movement has for a long time felt its duty to enrich the European alternative with a debate designed to interpret the meaning of this alternative and make its countless innovative implications more readily understandable. In so doing, we believe we are correctly serving the cause of a Movement like ours. In the short term, we pursue what are openly avowed political objectives relating to progress in European integration, but we also have a duty to place these objectives within a much wider historical perspective and to find guiding, though provisional, answers to the disquieting questions that the current situation now increasingly raises.
Today, European issues and more specifically the issues relating to Community integration are the arena where there is an almost universal inclination in national politics to adopt an empirical approach based on so-called “small steps” and on an increasingly renewed and increasingly subtle patching-up of diverging tendencies. Running counter to this approach, and with increasing evidence and indeed growing brutality, is a radicalism of things, which has been brought on by the technology gap, the loss of international competitiveness, the spread of unemployment, the growing weakness of national institutions and their inability to take on pragmatic initiatives on a world scale, which testifies to their unstoppable decline. A much graver sign of this decline is the growing weakness of the ideals that serve as a reference point and, as a result of this, the crisis in the very identity of European culture.
Although daily management of power, with its vexing problems that circumstances have made increasingly difficult and more precarious, seems to have distracted politicians and government staff from realities that transcend the very often narrow temporal horizons of democratic life, in our opinion the battle for the European Union should not be allowed to meet the same fate. If it did, it would lose its role as the structure which is needed to implement a real alternative, a function which it has acquired by the very nature of not being reducible to alternatives in national policy which are often such merely in name.
In this respect, this Congress is the legitimate outcome of the decisions which have increasingly led the European Movement both to adopt federalist culture and to recognise that European orientated militant associations, whose role is to stimulate and orientate, have their own autonomous capacity to propose, which goes beyond the limits of co-ordination. The presence today of recognised authorities in the world of culture from Robert Triffin to Wassily Leontief and Michel Albert, whose observations will be matched against the institutional reply entrusted to Altiero Spinelli (as the principal promoter of the Draft Treaty for European Union) is, moreover, the greatest proof both of the Conference’s seriousness and of the force of provocation and aggregation implicit in the decision we have taken, a decision which, admittedly political, is, nevertheless, fundamentally cultural.
The purpose of our initiative is, moreover, made most persuasively explicit by the introductory documents drawn up by Federalist friends. Bearing these documents in mind, I would like briefly to run over the major characteristics of a historical situation which is evolving rapidly and which is dominated by what we have defined without fear of rhetoric as the “challenge of the future”. To quote one of these documents, we may, in fact, speak of the emergence of a new mode of production which may be defined as scientific, and which is characterised by the drastic reduction in the industrial sector’s capacity to provide employment, by a concomitant development of new types of services mainly linked with production structures and by a radical change in the enterprise model, with major potential changes in the relationships between production factors and juridical structures. The inadequacy of traditional ideological categories when attempting to understand the nascent historical situation needs no further comment. The “new mode of production” envisages, on the one hand, a stronger economic role for the State as an entrepreneur of services and, on the other hand, at least in prospect, a weaker role for financial capital and hence greater space for the initiative of individuals and their spontaneous association. This makes it impossible to apply the traditional contrast between public and private spheres to the new situation, demonstrating the deceptiveness in many of the debates put forward by schools of thought which are vainly re-proposed in daily polemic.
If these are, as they seem to be, the implications which are consequent on and foreseeable in the new mode of production which is looming on our historical horizon, then the discussion about the technological challenge (which the report drawn up by Michel Albert at the European Parliament’s request thankfully brought so rapidly to our attention) takes on a meaning which transcends the technological and economic terms, however significant they may be.
To say, as Albert says, that the Community has sacrificed the future for the present insofar as it has been unable to carry out the common investment effort that circumstances demanded, a step requiring, before all else, an end to the jealous national fragmentation of public tenders is certainly to put one’s finger on the scourge whose continued existence renders the entire European economy liable to increasingly rapid involution. Yet the problem is more complex because the advent of the scientific method of production has immediate and obvious consequences on employment that all industrialised countries have experienced and whose incidence seems bound to increase.
At the same time as the changed historical circumstances irredeemably jeopardise employment policies to which universal validity was for a long time attributed, we cannot simply leave the expansion of services to the market’s natural forces. Nor can we really believe that the crisis in a particular historical model of the Welfare State justifies the abdication pure and simple of public powers faced with social responsibilities universally attributed to them. This assertion should not be taken as an invitation to unleash on public institutions, responsibilities which do not belong to them. Rather it means thinking about the problems of the future in terms which are dialectically able to link a commitment to European federal development with an indispensable deepening of internal federalism. In particular, I wish to allude to the idea that new responsibilities as regards employment should be entrusted to local authorities, who should be given effective fiscal sovereignty, while there should be a corresponding shift in monetary sovereignty towards a European level of organisation. These suggestions, like those relating to possible Community legislation designed, particularly creditwise, to facilitate the development of co-operative societies, are obviously no more than general possibilities, but contribute to stimulating discussion. A responsible European commitment designed to accelerate the introduction of new technologies on which the future of Europe depends and to take on the inevitable social consequences of this acceleration, cannot realistically be restricted to a merely international dimension. It must consider federalism as a decisive step, but not the only one, in the construction of a European reply to this social challenge.
The distinction that exists in the tasks and spheres of intervention between the various levels of a federal structure does not mean they are in any way indifferent to each other. We need merely recall, in this respect, the problem of regional disequilibria which the worsening labour market has further aggravated. The gross per capita product of the ten strongest regions is 50% higher than the Community average, which in its turn is 50% higher than the gross per capita product of the ten weakest regions. The enlarged Community will double the population of the less developed regions. This is a further indication of the need to strengthen the Community budget around a European development plan in which policies designed to eliminate the disparity between regions go hand in hand with the promotion of technologically-advanced productive sectors rather than being merely restricted to hand-out aid policies. In this connection, the European Movement has for a long time raised the problem of the search for a dynamic composition of the Member States’ interests. So far the Member States’ contrasts have fed the eternal feuding on the Community budget. The European Movement believes that an increase in the Community budget as advocated in the Mac Dougall report is what is needed to bring about the effective redistribution required to consolidate the process of monetary union begun with the EMS (European Monetary System).
Not by chance the preparatory document on the technological challenge views this problem as one specific aspect of a more general centre-periphery relationship, whose most obvious manifestations are, of course, today, apparent on a world scale. The threat that Europe will suffer isolation, implicit in the tendency for world development to shift its baricentre from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is linked, as the preparatory document correctly points out, to the threat to the European economy from the decline of traditional Third World markets, which are forced to reduce their imports drastically to face up to growing foreign debts. The idea of a sort of European Marshall Plan for developing countries, i.e. a whole series of transfers of public funds for the Third World together with incentives for other European investments in the beneficiary countries, has a precise economic justification in terms of stimulating the potential demand of economies which are complementary to ours. Far from assuming the “hand-out welfare aid” connotation typical of paternalistic attitudes to Third World Development, it becomes prospectively one of the basic ways to restore Europe to a world role, by contributing to bringing together technological progress and occupational recovery, which at first sight seem to be irreconcilable.
Such an idea is the easy target for the irony of those who claim to be “political realists” because they will inevitably compare it with the laboured and inglorious squabbles over the Community’s budget. It certainly presupposes a great financial capability which would be unthinkable without definite progress towards integration in another basic field: the monetary field. The constantly delayed passage from the first to the second stage of the European Monetary System (EMS), with the concomitant establishment of the bases of a Community central bank able to act as a lender of last resort, is in fact today the true prerequisite for providing the Community with the responsibilities that it should have in financing world trade in the light of its major role in international commerce. Only a European currency will make it possible for the Community to express its economic potential to the full, rescuing it from Malthusian policies which force it persistently to be the underdog when measured against the international role of the dollar and North American monetary policy.
The “radicalism of things”, thus leads us once more to point out the enormous disparity between Europe’s potential (or rather the “call for Europe” that the current world situation indirectly demands as an alternative to the constant worsening of disparities which will inevitably deteriorate into conflict) and the poverty and repetitiveness of national political experiences. As regards the latter, the very alternation of diverse forms in the exercise of power ends up frequently as being almost irrelevant. All that can emerge from this situation is either renunciation or commitment to substantial change. Faithful to its founding inspiration, strengthened by the lessons of an experience mainly characterised by disappointment, the European Movement has accepted federalist demands for institutional change as the only policy capable of intervening on the primary cause of the Community’s institutional decline: the continued existence of a decision-making process which is totally unable to give quick and effective replies to the challenges of the contemporary world. By this means, we managed to realise, in time, that direct elections to the European Parliament were the only element able to introduce new dynamic forces into an increasingly ineffective institutional framework and bring about the political conditions for real reform. Our forecasts have been confirmed, since MEPs’ need to justify to the electorate why they should be elected has led them to question the validity of an institutional system which has constantly worked in such a way as to move them offstage. In the course of the elected Parliament’s first legislature it was the very failure at attempts to intervene, which brought about the overwhelming consensus that the reforming initiatives, proposed by a small group of innovators, unexpectedly found. Thus, in the space of one legislature, Parliament was able to approve the organic reform plan contained in the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union.
As regards the European Movement, its willingness to look at things in the long term has not prevented it, or so it seems to me, from concretely identifying the key problem that needs to be solved in the historical period we are going through. On the contrary, precisely the presence of a wider perspective has made it possible for the European Movement to abandon its gloomy role as mentor or advisor to a prince who is increasingly reluctant to listen, and to go beyond the bitterness of negative comments or hypocritical optimism. We may say with a certain degree of pride that once again – after the now distant battles relating to the attempt to create a political Community in the early fifties – we have been able to give credit and support to an initiative which has at least managed to call the public’s and political forces’ attention to a problem which was otherwise destined to remain permanently in the realm of academic exercises.
We have done this with a series of well-timed interventions, during the entire drafting of the Treaty; we did it in the European Congress promoted in Brussels after the Parliament’s vote, with the wide and well-informed participation of the representatives of all the political families of democratic Europe. Today we are doing it again in Rome at the beginning of the Italian semester from which we hope substantial progress in the right direction will be achieved. We believe in fact that the Draft Treaty for European Union is not just one political initiative among the many, but the only project which can guarantee the “political and institutional minimum” (as the preparatory documents to our work happily put it) and provide the Community with effective capacity for action. The Draft Treaty achieves the democratisation of the Community in an original way. It gives the Commission which is set up by a President (designated by the European Council and approved by the Parliament’s vote of confidence) effective powers of government and assigns concurrent legislative powers to the Parliament and the Council of the Union, which tend to convert the latter into a sort of States’ Chamber. This democratisation is, in fact, the true premise for increased decision-making powers throughout the system. Even though the Draft Treaty is restricted to economic powers which in the long term seem to be inadequate, there can be no doubt that the first nucleus of an authentic European federal power has been established.
For this reason, we look upon any decision to call a diplomatic conferences with concern, though with no prejudiced opposition. A decision in this respect should be taken by the European Council to be held in Milan in June 1985, in the light of the Dooge Committee’s final report. We are concerned that the member States should be compelled on this occasion to take decisions which cannot be delayed any more, to test without facile alibis whether or not there is a group of Governments in any case willing to go further down the road to European Union. And we are further concerned that the European Parliament’s project should not be (as is always the danger) polluted and twisted by intergovernmental negotiations. Hence the significance attributed to a procedure which entails the subsequent referal of the results of the diplomatic conference to the European Parliament’s assessment.
In this respect, the European Movement is urging the militants of its member organisations to take part in the big rally to be held in Milan on the occasion of the European Council, in the difficult, but not impossible, attempt to turn its own intervention into a mass dimension. Once again, this ambitious goal is commensurate with the historical significance of what is at stake. As always happens, there is an inevitable disparity between historical prospect and political action, between strategy and tactics, between initiatives based on principle and organisational consequences. This disparity is particularly apparent in the case of a Movement like ours, with means manifestly unequal to the task it sets itself. For the reasons stated at the beginning of this introduction, we believe, however, that the European Movement is able to fulfil its role only if it has the courage to run risks and give the public a scale of values and priorities which provide an alternative to those proposed by everyday politics. In our apparent monomania we are convinced that the European Federation is the narrow door through which any serious reform has to pass. Any plan for reform must be able to see things from the microcosm of local politics all the way up to the world scale demanded by the contemporary world. In this sense our battle for the European Union springs from our unshakeable belief in Europe’s ability to express a universal model of social organisation once more.

 

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