Year XLVIII, 2006, Number 2, Page 125

 

 

The New Course*
 
ALTIERO SPINELLI
 
 
The collapse of the EDC and the London and Paris agreements mark a profound turning point in European politics, and also as regards the role that our movement should play within it. For us, this is the start of a phase of reflection and debate that here I intend merely to get under way.
The question now is what to do in the current circumstances, and in order to answer it properly, we must first analyse what we have done over the past years, the reasons for the grave defeat we suffered last summer, and the situation that has been created in its wake.
 
The Era of the Europeanist Governments.
 
During the period that ran, roughly, from the announcement of the Marshall Plan in 1947 to Mendes-France’s rise to government in France, there emerged in Europe an extraordinary situation that will not easily be repeated: the governments of six countries, while bound, like all national governments, to protect the sovereignty of their respective states, found themselves led or influenced by men who, more or less explicitly, set out to limit these national sovereignties and to create supranational European institutions. It is worth pausing for a moment to look at the reasons for this state of affairs, and also at how it came to an end.
The nation-state is normally sustained by a series of things: by the armed forces, by the diplomatic corps, by the central administrations, by certain groups of economic interests, and by the nationalist mentality that is fuelled by certain political forces. However, at the end of the war, and for a number of years afterwards, these props were lacking in the continental countries of Western Europe.
The national armies, after hardly covering themselves with glory, had been destroyed and no longer existed. The military generals, far from being able to portray themselves as the proud recipients of military honour and as the guarantors of their countries’ security and independence, were forced to adopt a low profile and keep quiet.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic corps were quite unable to generate any faith in their capacity to secure their countries a place on the chessboard of international politics. Passively, and with bowed heads, they could only wait for the world’s big players — America and Russia — to decide what position the European countries should occupy, and whose friends or adversaries they would be.
The national bureaucracies, barely able to fulfil their most basic duties, had to relinquish their arrogant belief that they were the only ones capable of keeping their countries in order. All the economic groups, capitalists and workers, that for decades had taken refuge in the nation-state, managing to convince themselves, and others, that it was state’s responsibility to guarantee them exclusive markets, monopolies, and a corporative system, were reduced to silence by the general disintegration of the national economies, which were no longer able to meet even the most basic needs of the populations.
The magnitude of the catastrophes that had been generated by the nationalist way of thinking was such that those parties that could accurately be defined nationalist were swept away, while the nationalists spread among all the other parties were forced to hide away, starting to speak a language that sounded wrong on their lips. Meanwhile, the parties of Catholic extraction that, after the war, found themselves leading, or at least contributing to the leadership of their respective countries, were less pervaded by nationalist tendencies, being still mindful of the mutual animosity that, in countries like Italy, France and Germany, had for so long existed between the state and the Church.
To these internal European factors can be added two enormously influential external ones. First, Stalin’s Russia was striking fear into all the countries of western Europe with its dangerous determination to expand, and was thus prompting these countries to unite. Second, America, which, through its economic aid and its military support, exercised enormous influence over democratic Europe, was convinced that it was its duty to help Europe to unite.
It was thanks to this set of circumstances, which rendered fragile not only the de facto sovereignty of the democratic states of continental Europe, but also their desire to affirm this sovereignty, that their governments were able to develop a foreign policy hitherto inconceivable in Europe: that of supranational unification. Lacking both the practical experience and the political doctrine of federal state building, their progress was slow and hesitant, their projects were confused, and their fears were great in the face of the adventure upon which they had embarked. Thus, in the conviction that they were being wise and keeping their feet on the ground, instead of exploiting the favourable moment in order to proceed quickly and methodically, they in fact allowed circumstances to lead them towards inadequate solutions.
This is the political background that must be borne in mind if we are to appreciate the intentions behind the actions of the federalists. We possessed the political doctrine that Europe’s leaders needed to adopt in order to realise their supranational aspirations. We therefore sought, during this period, to take on the task — not particularly high-profile but important nonetheless — of inspiring the governments’ European policy. While we did not have the power to determine that policy, we were able to make ourselves heard, at least in part and at certain decisive moments in time, by the governments and by the political forces that supported them, because our suggestions were the logical and coherent expression of the very impulses that were driving these governments.
If the ECSC possesses certain supranational characteristics, this is due to the level of inspiration provided by the federalist Monnet. If the EDC project contained elements of a supranational political evolution, and if these elements began to be embodied, even prior to the ratification of the EDC, in the constitutional statute drafted by the Ad Hoc Assembly, then this too is a reflection of the degree of inspiration provided by the federalists.
In one crucial regard, however, the federalists, despite their best efforts, were not able to make themselves heard. From the very outset they always recognised, with perfect clarity, the extremely transitory nature of the favourable moment; over and over again they pointed out that time was working against Europe and that speed was of the essence. But the men and the parties of government failed to heed their warnings; they believed they had decades at their disposal, whereas in fact they had only a few years; they maintained that it was prudent to be empirical, as they put it, in other words, to be slow and imprecise, whereas the wise thing would have been to act decisively and rapidly; they allowed themselves to make mistakes when what was needed was clear thinking and clear intentions. In short, they allowed the forces of national conservatism to re-gather and the favourable moment to slip through their fingers. Ultimately, they lost the first great battle for Europe.
All that remains for the federalists is the bitter satisfaction that comes from knowing that they did their duty. And they must be proud of this if they still want to continue the battle. All battles can be won or lost; a defeat in battle is not a demonstration that one was in the wrong, and any movement that, when its past actions were right, is unable to be proud of what it has done — even in defeat — surely lacks the vigour and potency it needs in order to go on.
 
The Return of Nationalism.
 
The Europeanist men of government, through their contradictions and hesitations, allowed the forces of nationalism to regain the upper hand. All the time the governments were pursuing their Europeanist designs, the path for this return of the old regime in Europe was, little by little, being paved.
The national economies recovered, thanks to the aid given by the Americans to favour European unification, and all the protectionist, restrictive, sectionalist, monopolistic and National Socialist elements that existed within them began again to exert a growing influence over the state.
The armies reformed and the general staff were once more ready to defend, with increasing vigour, if not their own countries, at least their own national armies.
The national bureaucracies clawed back their control of their respective countries and became daily more intolerant of the prospect of having to relinquish even a single one of their functions to supranational bodies.
The nationalist mentality crawled out of its hiding place and began to spread everywhere; right-wing nationalist groups reformed; the right- and left-wing factions which saw themselves holding power alternately with Christian Democrat governments, sensed the way the wind was blowing and stepped up their nationalist allegiance, accusing the governments of not being patriotic enough; ultimately, even the Catholics were beginning to love these states that, fortunately, they had once mistrusted, but that now they governed.
The international situation also changed. Following the death of Stalin, the new men at the Kremlin, weakened internally, toned down their policy of expansion and began to preach detente. The American administration, under Eisenhower, while continuing to favour European unification, lost some of the democratic, idealistic impetus that had characterised the Truman administration, and thus wielded considerably less influence over the European states. Our national diplomatic corps were at last able to raise their heads again and were soon anxious to take control of their countries’ destinies, which had remained for too long in the hands of Europeanist ministers.
The communists quickly saw the need to try and keep democratic Europe immobilised within the system of national sovereignties, realising that this would render the disintegration of the democracies an unstoppable process and would thus increase their chances of success; and they did not hesitate to enter into the most bizarre of alliances in pursuit of this objective.
This slow return of nationalism in the European states assumed, externally, a range of different forms, but these were essentially identical in each of our countries, and it was like a profound and irresistible movement. The nation-state, merely by virtue of still being intact, became the focal point around which all the forces of nationalist conservatism gathered and grew in strength. And since the European institutions had yet to emerge, there lacked, to counter this, a focal point around which the pro-European forces might gather and strengthen; indeed, practically all of them remained latent and passive.
The question of the ratification of the EDC thus became the trial of strength between the nationalists and the Europeanists. For a long time, the struggle was uncertain, and it was because of this uncertainty that the federalists felt bound to commit themselves completely to the cause. In the end it was won by the nationalists in France, Europe’s oldest nation-state. The first partial victory came when Schuman, hated by the Quai d’Orsay, was replaced by Bidault, an individual much more ready to bow to the wishes of the French diplomatic corps. With the rise to government of Mendes-France and the rejection of the EDC, the victory of the nationalists was complete. It would be a serious mistake to believe that the current French government is different from those that have preceded it simply because it represents a different parliamentary mix. The truth is that it differs radically from previous ones because it now has behind it, in positions of power, all the French nationalistic forces of the military, of the bureaucracy, of the diplomatic corps, of the economy, and of politics, both on the right and on the left. In France, a country where governments are often unsteady and fragile, the present government could easily be brought down, over practically any issue. But even if the men in power were to change, this would not remove the prevailing political constellation, which reasons and acts in national political terms.
This remarkable reversal of the power relations between the Europeanists and the nationalists that took place in France was repeated, albeit “silently”, in the other European countries in the space of a few days following France’s rejection of the ECD. The French nationalists, of all colours, had fought, and won, their battle not only for themselves, but for nationalists throughout Europe. The governments of the other five countries lacked the courage to hold firm, and to force the French to face up to a long political crisis in the (ultimately vain) attempt to find an alternative European policy to that of unification; instead, abetted by British foreign minister, Eden, who hurried to all the capital cities of Europe to convince them to reason in terms of the formation of alliances between nation-states, they allowed nationalist viewpoints to prevail over European ones. Adenauer may well blanch internally at the thought that his European policy is ending in the rebirth of a German national army, but caught between a right and a left both pressing for a recovery of sovereignty and national power, he cannot oppose it. De Gasperi may well be heartbroken by the prospect of an imminent end to the attempt to unite Europe, and the Italian politicians may feel deeply saddened by the thought that, without a European federation, Italian democracy is doomed, but even as they do so they are being pushed back towards the old paths of diplomacy that the country followed under the House of Savoy. Spaak may well have been president of the European Movement, but he has still become foreign minister of a Belgium that is again beginning to live in fear as much of the collusion as of the rivalry between France and Germany.
Thus, the era of the Europeanist governments ended on the 30th August, and Europe’s democratic states are now striving, through the traditional system of alliances between sovereign states, to find a satisfactory way that they can coexist. The words Europe, Union and the like are now nothing more than dust in the eyes of fools.
The first consequence of all this, for the federalists, is that the methods of action employed thus far have become meaningless. To seek to be a source of inspiration and suggestion made sense as long as there were governments ready to be inspired, and ready to listen to suggestions; as long as there were ministers who were themselves convinced of the need to move in the direction of supranational institutions. Then, to accept, or even to propose, a compromise, to strive for a partial success in order to obtain a complete one, had a precise and concrete political meaning. Political manoeuvring serves a purpose when there is good reason to believe that one still controls the movement imparted to things, and that this movement can still be directed towards one’s chosen objective. Over the past years, the federalists had reason to believe that the governments did indeed plan to stay on course for supranational unity; all the manoeuvres and concessions thus had a meaning. But, now, to continue to act according to this strategy indicates a failure to understand what has happened, that is to say, that the European governments today are once more under the predominant influence of the social and political forces of national conservatism and that, as a result, they have become deaf to any federalist suggestion or inspiration.
It is this change in the framework of the struggle, and not any perceived tactical error in the past, that today obliges the federalists to change their approach.
As when any revolutionary movement loses a battle and is forced to reform its ranks and work out new plans, in our case too, enormous confusion currently reigns both at the grassroots and at the heart of the European federalist organisation. Some of its leaders, particularly Frenchmen and Germans, although this also applies to some Italian federalists, have failed to appreciate the extent of the victory won by the nationalist reaction. Allowing themselves to be deceived by the lip service now being paid to Europe by our governments, they still favour the tactic of inspiration and suggestion. Accordingly, they want us to press the governments into introducing at least an arms pool, a common uniform, a minimum of democratic control over a non-existent European political power, and into attempting, at least, confederal solutions, and so forth.
However, this action implies more than winning the governments’ attention. In the effort to come up with something that the governments might listen to, and accept, these federalists are being induced to abandon their basic demands, and to propose seeming solutions whose content is, in truth, the opposite of what they should be striving for. We never asked for the creation of the EDC; since the governments had come up with the idea of creating the EDC, what we asked for, on the basis of the internal, supranational, logic of the EDC, was the creation of a European government and a European parliament. If, today, on the basis of the Union of Western Europe, whose internal logic is the preservation of national sovereignties, we were, absurdly, to request an arms pool, Franco-German arms cartel, which would disintegrate at the first conflict between the two states, we would foolishly be applying a tactic that had been valid in entirely different circumstances, and instead of making progress in a supranational direction, we would instead be moving towards the swamping of federalist ideals by a nationalist way of thinking. We would be disuniting the federalist movement without obtaining anything positive at all.
 
No to a False Europe.
 
The first thing that the federalists need to make clear and denounce is the falseness of all the assurances currently being given out by the governments, parties and the press with regard to the new agreements that have replaced the EDC. It is practically certain that these agreements will be ratified quickly and that they will form the basis of European policy over the coming years. But this does not mean that we should not denounce them as a danger to democratic Europe. They represent the sum of what the European states can achieve when taking as their fundamental starting point the maintenance of their sovereignty, but precisely because they are taking this as their starting point the European states can, in fact, no longer work towards anything but the destruction of their own peoples.
The self-styled Europe that is the product of the conferences of London and Paris cannot resolve any of the three fundamental problems that make the European federation necessary today.
It cannot undermine the national economic policies, because there is no European political power that can draw from the national societies the forces needed to demolish the national economic programmes and impose one law for all (without which no common market, nor any common social solidarity, is possible).
It cannot prevent the armed forces from being at the service of the nation-states, because there exists no supranational power that can have the armed forces at its disposal, independently of the nation-states.
It cannot prevent the emergence of divergent foreign policies, because each state will continue to act alone in the diplomatic sphere, and to follow paths that are different from, or even that oppose, those of its allies (when what is needed is a single European power pursuing a common European foreign policy).
By failing to resolve these problems, the so-called Western European Union keeps the national economies in a state of stagnation or dangerous agitation, renders any true defensive preparation problematical, and puts the European states, particularly France and Germany, at the mercy of Soviet diplomatic manoeuvring and of American reactions to this; in other words, it turns Western Europe into the Balkan states of the world, increasing international tensions and the risk of war.
And since these miserable states guard their sovereignty so jealously (even though they have no possibility of holding on to it, only of perpetuating chaos in Europe) their preparations for European unification are being made not under a freely adopted federal law, but rather under the heel of a future ruler.
For the federalists, this is the start of a difficult period in which they will have to have the courage to set themselves, and to remain, in opposition. We do not know whether European federal unity will become a reality, but we do know that it will become a reality only if the ruinous nature of all nationally-oriented policies is fully appreciated. Favourable circumstances may again emerge in six months’ time, or in a decade from now; we are not the ones who will determine them; but for these circumstances to be exploited, for the magic circle of the national sovereignties to be broken, there will have to have been people who have tirelessly denounced what is wrong, and who have laid bare the falseness of the claims of all the parties (without exception) which accept the national framework as the normal framework of their activity, and which promise, within that setting, things that they cannot deliver.
The federalists differ from all the other political factions, both democratic and anti-democratic, with regard to what they perceive as the enemy that must be destroyed — the very thing that all the others regard, in their different ways, as an idol to be worshipped or served: the nation-state.
 
What Is to Be Done?
 
Had it been accepted, the EDC would have opened up the way for a series of political struggles that could have led, quite quickly, to the creation of a European government and parliament. We had grown accustomed to reasoning in terms of objectives that could be realised quite quickly. The premise was the creation of a single European army, that is, the collapse of the main pillar of the national sovereignties.
But the rejection of the EDC has changed our outlook, and we must recognise this. Our task now is to understand ourselves, and to convey a need that today scandalises not only the man in the street, but also many of those who consider themselves federalists. Briefly, it is this. The sovereign nation-state is not an absolute entity that must be respected come what may, and obeyed come what may. It is an instrument at the disposal of men, from whom it demands obedience in order to render certain services. Now, however, it demands obedience of its economic policy, but is no longer able to deliver the service of promoting economic progress; it demands obedience of its foreign policy, but is no longer able to deliver the service of guaranteeing international security and reducing the risk of war; it demands obedience, even the sacrifice of life, to defend the country in times of war, but is no longer able to deliver the service of guaranteeing defence. This means that in the areas of economic, foreign and military policy, the sovereign nation-state makes laws and governs unlawfully; its power in these areas has become illegitimate.
The federalists must demand the direct election, by the free European peoples, of a European constituent assembly, and that the constitution voted on by this assembly be put to popular referenda for ratification. They know very well that, at the present time, no government is ready to accept this procedure. They outline it as a way of underlining their total rejection of the nation-states, to make it clear that the European constitution must, at its outset, possess European democratic legitimacy, in other words, that the organ that draws up its constitution cannot be made up of diplomats or national parliamentary delegations, but must comprise representatives of the European people, chosen to carry out a European action; equally, its sanctioning upon completion must have European democratic legitimacy: the Yes or No must come from the peoples, not from their national parliaments, which can legislate only on national matters.
What we must obtain from the national governments and parliaments is that they relinquish their illegitimate sovereignty in those fields in which they are no longer able to exercise it, agreeing to the convening of a European constituent assembly.
This relinquishment may be secured only when a new, blatant demonstration of the impotence of our states — and this day will come, sooner or later, in some situation or another — coincides with a rebellious federalist consciousness, a hundred times stronger, more widespread and more self-assured than it is today.
To prepare for this new action, so different from and yet so profoundly consequent upon that which we have carried forward until today, is the task that faces us now.


* In L’Europa non cade dal cielo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1960.

 

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