Year XXVII, 1985, Number 1, Page 72

 

 

 

The Constituent Role of the European Parliament
 
ALTIERO SPINELLI
 
 
Having listened to the previous speeches which have discussed the reasons why Europe is necessary, I would prefer to start by giving a kind of ‘snapshot’ of the Community’s current position, rather than going any farther into the question of the need for Europe.
For thirty-three years there has been an embryonic European unity, essentially consisting in the four Community institutions and the Community’s regulations and directives. There is a widespread feeling that the political as well as economic problems which need to be faced jointly, are becoming tougher to solve as well as more numerous. A growing number of countries have agreed to or are agreeing to join the European Community. First there were six countries, then nine, then ten and soon there will be twelve. The political and economic situation (described this morning by Albert) now makes it possible, and will continue to make it possible for a short period in the future, for decisions to be made to get things going in the right direction. And yet, the Community’s growing inability to face up to the task is almost brazenly before all our eyes. All to often, decisions are either not taken or delayed indefinitely, and when they are taken, they are taken far too late. Generally, they are insufficient and always taken at the lowest possible level when the problem needed a more rigorous and more precise answer. When a decision has been taken, it becomes impossible to correct it, even when it is wrong, because the decision becomes a prison.
There is a standard reply to this, re-iterated by journalists, politicians and ministers: what a pity it is that there is no European political will. I would like to go into this idea of European political will to see what substance there is in this formula. Clearly, in the most elementary use of the word, a political will means that, if we can bring together Europeans from different countries, with different languages, cultures and different policies to discuss a particular matter, then there is the problem as to whether they can or cannot find a common language and common formulas, and as to whether or not each country will follow its own road without being able to establish ties with the others. If they can work together, then a common European will exists, and if they cannot, then it does not exist.
But then we need to consider what the experience has been since 1952 when the first Community began – all of thirty-three years ago, one third of a century. I would just like to run through the four institutions through which common European will expresses, or should express, itself. The Court has to interpret the legislation, the Commission has a legislative function and the task of administrating joint policies. The Parliament has the task of drawing up joint political initiatives, expressing an opinion on Community legislation and budget.
Note that these first three institutions are not made up of doctrinaire federalists who forget about all other problems and concentrate only on the will to construct the European federation. They are judges, politicians and administrators who typify the make-up of the Community countries. And yet in none of these three institutions do the people who run them have a duty to represent their governments, or to put forward their own country’s point of view. They have all been sent there by various procedures with the duty to create, within their particular fields, a European standpoint, a European view, a European administration and European political trends. If there were no widespread European awareness, these people coming from different backgrounds and experiences in each of the Community countries, would not have managed to work together and find common agreement on the various issues for some thirty years. The experience has been that these Europeans, who are renewed periodically, are capable of putting European goals above national goals.
When I say this I do not want to give the impression that the national standpoint entirely disappears – what politician, what minister in the Community countries does not cast a more watchful eye on and have a certain preference for their own region? Nevertheless, politicians and ministers still manage, generally speaking, to put forward a national policy or point of view. So in Europe there have been a certain number of men, who have been able to look at things from a European point of view, who know how to work despite all the difficulties arising from their different origins and different languages and who have developed a common European political will. This has not been going on for just a day, but for thirty-three years and there will have been many occasions when we have felt that a certain decision was wrong and we may criticise it. But how can we turn round and say that this or that decision has been taken or not been taken because the policy adopted was to champion a national interest or a coalition of national interests against other national interests. This would just not be possible if a diffuse awareness did not exist in our countries as regards the need to construct Europe.
But there is a fourth institution, the Council, made up of the representatives of the governments, i.e. the States. It is, of course, perfectly natural that in a structure like the Community, made up of States and citizens, there should be a body representing the States. So there is nothing strange about the Council being one of the Community institutions. What is not natural are the roles envisaged by Monnet when he thought up the formula for constructing Europe and this was a fatal error he committed. Monnet envisaged that the Commission would have looked after the administration, that the Parliament would have expressed its opinions; but that the Council of Ministers would have taken the real decisions and would have delegated responsibilities to other institutions from time to time. But unlike the other three institutions, the Council is not capable of developing a European policy with any sort of continuity.
I do not wish to say that the Council is unaware of the existence of the problem of European unification. Far from it, the very existence of this awareness is the basic reason why, after every failure, after every setback, the national governments say: we must get back round the table again, we need to look for the right road. I would say that this response, which never fails to occur after every setback brought about by failure in the workings of this particular institution, is one of the clearest examples of just how significant the problem of European unity is. If it were just a fad, it would have been forgotten long ago.
So, the Council is the reason for the Community’s paralysis: it has the greatest decision-making powers but is incapable of deciding with any continuity. We must remember that the Council is the place where ministers must materially take the decisions but that behind every minister is a process of formation of political will which is made, in particular, by national administrations in this or that sector, and in general by the Foreign Affairs ministries.
Clearly, reform is needed before any further progress can be made. While it is true that the reform must be based on what already exists, and not on a tabula rasa, it is equally true that the reform will have to go beyond the current structures and will have to be fairly radical.
Around 1980, we finally realised the need to maintain the commitment which had been written into the treaties and which was subsequently taken up and re-affirmed in the summit held in Paris towards the end of 1972: that it was necessary to build a European Union in the eighties. This sense of urgency to achieve true political unity was felt at the same time by the European Parliament and by the Council of Ministers: the European Parliament through my initiative, and the European governments as a result of the Genscher-Colombo plan. Both initiatives were undertaken at roughly the same time and both ended up having the same objective: proposing a political union.
The method followed by Genscher and Colombo, and subsequently by the Council, was to convene a diplomatic conference and to stipulate an agreement between governments, with the result that, little by little, the entire substance of the GenscherColombo plan, which was initially well-intended, was diluted to the point where it disappeared. There years after, there only remains a delightful declaration in which substantially it is said that the Council was unable to face all the problems it had to face and that, therefore, it was perfectly appropriate to entrust it with others, regarding political co-operation and security and that, at the same time, the Council would have to become more efficient. This is the substance of the Genscher-Colombo plan.
At the same time, the European Parliament began to set to work and, with a debate that lasted for three years, which went through commission after commission, group meetings, debates in the full assembly, an awareness grew up in all countries and in most political circles that a fundamental reform was necessary. It was not a case for touching up this or that detail. Starting with the acquis communautaire – accepted as a basis but liable to transformation – a new treaty needed to be created, a union in which the Commission was a true government, legislative power was shared between the Parliament and the Council and in which there would no longer be a right to veto. We have agreed that in the course of a transitory period, when a government believes that a vital interest is at stake, it can use a temporarily suspending veto. But we have placed conditions on this veto: the first is that the veto must be clearly motivated; the second is that the grounds for the veto must be upheld by the Commission, because the vital interest of this or that government is not the only one which exists – because the vital interest of the Union also exists. When the vital interest of the Union is confirmed, a second reading must be given, a reformulation made, i.e. everything is rediscussed bearing the various requirements in mind.
To get round the obstacles created by the governments in the Luxembourg agreements, we have established that Parliament and Council must have deadlines, a date within which it is necessary to discuss matters, beyond which date silence is deemed acquiescence. In this way, we are forced to decide. Already today, in the accounting procedures, inertia is taken to mean approval, so that, on this matter, decisions are always made in good time both in the Council and in the Parliament.
We have reinforced the powers of the Court and, in particular, we have introduced a clause under which the Union is required to protect basic civil rights, which are clearly laid down in the documents approved by the Council of Europe, which have been ratified by the individual States, and which ought to belong to the Union’s structure, because today we are in the strange position that, if, by chance, basic rights are violated in one of the Community countries, the Community cannot intervene.
If democracy is overthrown in a Community country and an authoritarian regime is installed, the Community can do nothing about it. The country can be expelled from the Council of Europe, as happened when Greece was in the hands of the colonels, but in the Community this situation would have to be suffered in silence. In the Draft Treaty for European Union this state of affairs has been corrected.
We have thus defined the Union’s duties in a much better way so as to make it really able to work. And we have, lastly, introduced mechanisms which make it possible for the Union’s institutions to take on new functions which make them more dynamic. We believe in this way that we have worked out a structure which introduces effectiveness into the Union’s machinery as well as democratic elements, which can become the hub around which a growing political force can take shape. These principles make it possible for the Union to extend its own functions, when necessary, unlike the current structures which start out with certain functions but which also have certain constraints placed on them that are so numerous and so strong as to force them to recede bit by bit, and to restore to the national governments what was initially placed in the Community’s hands. This process has to be reversed if there is to be any possibility of progress towards joint action.
The Draft Treaty for European Union is not a perfect federal constitution. Although it contains a number of federal features, it is essentially a pre-federal structure which has two advantages over any other alternative project existing. Firstly, it has a dynamic nature which leads to its reinforcement, i.e. its driving force has been strengthened so as to be stronger than the braking effect which has been notably reduced, in total contrast to the current position in the Community. In the second place, the Draft Treaty for European Union was launched with the consensus of a great majority of the main political forces present in the European Parliament. This is important because the political forces had behind them the highest form of legitimation that exists in our countries, namely they were directly elected by the citizens. We must add that their consensus was a matured consensus, not last-minute improvisation. In various ways hundreds of different MEPs participated in the creation of the Draft Treaty because every step was fully debated.
The main political forces have shown that they really want this Draft Treaty, even if this has meant that they have had to rebel against the instructions and pressures of the national political machines. In this respect, the British Conservative group’s stand must be praised. When ordered to abstain from the final vote, the group protested and asked for and won a free vote. After which, to the surprise of the Union’s promoters, there was a majority vote and those who abstained or who voted against were in the minority. All this goes to show how in the UK things are somewhat different from what the political establishment of the two main parties would like people to believe. Thus, in February 1984, we had a final vote and while all the sceptics said that it was all a lot of hot air and that nobody would have taken up the Draft Treaty, three months after, Mitterrand came to the European Parliament and said that France was abandoning the policy it had traditionally followed since de Gaulle’s days. Instead of fighting supranational measures, France now wished to follow the path indicated by Schuman, wanted to back the Draft Treaty and would have proposed a conference to achieve a treaty for political union. Another two months went by and the new Irish President of the Council of Ministers set up the Dooge Committee, made up of the personal representatives of the Heads of State and Government. This committee drew up an interim report, in which the ideas contained in the treaty were translated into more general trends. Andreotti was right when he said in his recent speech that this committee would never have been able to draw up its report if the Parliament’s Draft Treaty had not existed. The Dooge report proposes that a conference should be called which should be inspired by the spirit and method indicated by the European Parliament.
At the same time, debates were held in five Parliaments and in four of them, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Holland, the trend was very favourable. Denmark, on the other hand, was very hostile.
In March we will have the final report of the Dooge Committee and in June it will be discussed by the Council of Ministers. In the Italian government’s name, the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister, Andreotti, stated that the Italian Presidency of the Community will do everything possible to ensure that a decision is made and a date is fixed in June for the conference on the Draft Treaty for European Union.
The European Parliament has not been a passive onlooker in all this. When it saw that the governments were beginning to respond to the proposals and demands it had made, the European Parliament said and repeated both to the Dooge Committee and during visits to the various European capitals – and it will go on doing so in the debate in April – that in June it wants a conference to be called or that a decision be taken to call a conference. It wants this conference to begin, if possible, with all the governments but, if not all the governments are present, that it should begin with all those who are willing to work on the basis of a precise mandate. It wants the Draft Treaty for European Union to be placed on the conference table, which ought to propose, if need be, any amendments, while respecting the spirit and the method of the Draft Treaty. The document should then be re-examined by the European Parliament with appropriate conciliation methods, until a common text is agreed on with consensus all round – the conference in the name of the governments and the European Parliament in the name of the citizens of Europe. This is a requirement which has already been advanced by the Parliament and it is the requirement on which every other development regarding the Draft Treaty for European Union depends. Another demand which we should insist upon is that Spain and Portugal who are about to be admitted to the Community should not be excluded from the negotiations of the Draft Treaty. They should participate in the work of the Conference and in the work of the European Parliament without too much delay, if they find the appropriate means to do so.
Why has the Parliament made these demands? Because it is not enough for the governments to begin to take what the Parliament has done seriously: from a formal point of view, of international law, this Draft Treaty for European Union has started life as a treaty, i.e. as something that must be adopted by each individual government who must submit it to and have it ratified by the national Parliaments; as regards its content, it is the constitution of a political body, and a democratic political body at that. As a treaty, there must be a conference of the representatives of the governments who must discuss and accept it; as a Constitution it must be drawn up and voted by the European Parliament.
In addition to these legislative grounds, there is an underlying and much deeper political one. We must be aware and we have seen from the past examples that a diplomatic conference brings out national points of view in a natural way and hence adverse and reductive points of view. When one country does not do this, then another one will. Why does this happen? Because a diplomatic conference is made up of people who have the exclusive task of developing a national point of view and hence looking for a compromise between one’s own national point of view and that of others and not the creation of a common attitude. The European Parliament’s nature is very different. It is true that the various MEPs have been elected in their national States. But it has transnational political groups, transnational debates and votes. This creates a supranational standpoint in a fairly natural way. For this reason it is vital that in the final phases of the drafting of the Treaty for European Union, the need for this force to be present is stressed.
It is a real dialectic. These matters are discussed in the Dooge Committee among the national ministers. The Quai d’Orsay is not at all happy with Mitterrand’s politics. It tried to resist when Faure, drawing up his report, declared that it was necessary to be inspired by the spirit and the method of the European Parliament. We all know that the politics of the Italian government is heavily committed to Europe. It would be very advisable, however, to go and see the document that the Political Affairs Department of the Italian Foreign Ministry is drawing up as a comment on the Draft Treaty for European Union. Here also there is a reductive will, a tendency to empty the Draft Treaty of a part of its content. The German government was the first to reply to Mitterrand saying that it agreed, and has repeated on every possible occasion that it is necessary to go in this direction and that it will go in this direction. But we all know that in the Central Bank there is strong resistance to the idea of giving true legislative powers to the Parliament, to develop the monetary Union too much and so on.
Generally speaking, all these tendencies do not say very much, but they act – silently – with the pretext of having the agreement of all the members of the Community, so that it becomes necessary to agree with those who ask for less, and so a conference needs to be prepared with a mandate which effectively makes no commitment and places no condition. You can imagine what would have happened if when ECSC was born, Schuman had simply proposed to put the coal and steel market under joint control. Everybody would have agreed and this common market would have been reduced to six national representatives who would have done nothing else but watch what happened in the common market. But instead Schuman proposed that the Coal and Steel Community be placed under the control of an authority which was quite independent from the national States and national governments and he stated he was ready to start with anybody who wanted to join in. This was the prerequisite for a start to be made. Subsequently, others joined in.
The second objective which this rejection process attempts to achieve is to reduce the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty to a preliminary study: a very nice study, very decorative but to be put straight under a glass bell, to work subsequently as if the world had to be re-invented and everything had to be begun again, entrusted to diplomats in a conference. The umpteenth application of the inter-governmental method will certainly result in this.
We need to be careful. The goal we want is for the conference to work on the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty and that the Parliament is associated on an equal footing and takes part in the approval of the definitive text. These are words that are to be found in a speech by the Italian President of the European Council to the European Parliament.
I hope that the European Parliament in April will be able forcefully and energetically to say something in this respect. Its President is aware of the importance of the problem and he has worked a great deal in the past months in all the capitals among all the governments to obtain the necessary agreements. For this reason we can count on the fact that a strong position will be taken by the European Parliament.
The idea of a big march in Milan is a great idea. I do not know if this will be the last chance for Europe. I have the feeling that it will be, but I am not sure of this. When I think of the problem of European unity, I cannot help thinking of Kafka’s short story in which a man is mentioned who tried to enter a great building. The door was open and he asked the doorman if he could go inside and the doorman said no. And all his life he asked the doorman if he could go inside and the doorman said no. When in the end he was dying, the doorman began to close the door. And then, just before he died, he asked the doorman: “who was the door open for?” And the doorman replied: “it was open for you,” and closed the door. The man should have gone in, he should not have asked. This is the position we are in.

 

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