Year XLIV, 2002, Number 2, Page 76

 

 

Europe in 2002
 
UGO DRAETTA
 
 
1. The Convention and its Mandate.
 
2002 will be a crucial year for Europe. On March 1st, the Convention that, in December 2001, received a mandate from the Laeken European Council to do the groundwork for the next intergovernmental conference (IGC) on the revision of the Treaties, began its task. The said IGC is scheduled to take place in 2004 (or late 2003, if the Italian government manages to have the conference coincide with the semester of Italian Presidency of the European Union).
In reference to the revision of the Treaties, two preliminary considerations are warranted: 1) The Maastricht Treaty was followed by the start of an apparently ongoing process of general revision of the Rome Treaty. The first general revision came with the Single European Act of 1986, almost thirty years after the Treaty of Rome. The second came six years later, in 1992, as a result of the Treaty of Maastricht. Following Maastricht, and over a short period of time, further general revisions were agreed, in the Treaties of Amsterdam, and Nice — the latter, should it be overtaken by current events, may indeed never come into force — and now the member states are already working on a new revision. The messages that can be derived from this are: a) that the status quo, as far as the European Union Treaties are concerned, does not appear to be an option, b) that radical reforms are indispensable, and c) that such reforms, evidently, have not been satisfactorily achieved through the Maastricht, Amsterdam or Nice Treaty revisions. 2) Much has been made both of the new process by which we will arrive at the next revision of the Treaties and of the importance of the inclusion in the Convention of representatives of the European and national parliaments. Official rhetoric aside, however, it has to be borne in mind that the process of revising the Treaties is still firmly in the hands of the national governments. The Convention has an important, but purely advisory, function. The Convention will not take any decision; all final decisions will be taken by the governments at the IGC scheduled for 2004 (or 2003).
The national governments themselves, at the Laeken summit, defined the mandate for the Convention. The document revolves around two fundamental and long-debated problems that can now be put off no longer: a) to ensure a greater level of democracy in the European integration process, and b) to guarantee the continent’s citizens certain constitutional rights at European level. The Laeken European Council, though, in formulating the mandate for the Convention, avoided even hinting at possible solutions to the abovementioned issues. Furthermore, the mandate, seeking to identify the problems currently encountered by the European integration process, is, as we explain below, formulated in a rather ambiguous and contradictory way.
 
2. The Problem of the Democratic Deficit.
 
Let us start by clarifying what is generally meant when, in reference to the European Union, we refer to the democratic deficit, a problem that, for some time now, has been seen as one likely to undermine the very legitimacy of the Community institutions.
Theoretically, a democratic deficit is created a) when there is no or insufficient involvement of the citizens in the election of the bodies that have legislative power (in a democratic state legislative power obviously rests with a democratically elected parliament), and/or b) when the executive bodies whose decisions directly affect the citizens are not sufficiently accountable.
Is there a democratic deficit in the European Union? The answer can only be in the affirmative, insofar as: 1) the Council of the European Union issues regulations (legislative acts) that are directly applicable to the European citizens, but those same citizens do not elect the Council; the latter is, instead, an expression of the executive powers of the member states. The European Parliament, which is elected, has, at most, the power of veto. Consequently, in the European Union, it is the executive that wields legislative power, a situation similar to that prevailing in Europe prior to the French Revolution. 2) The Commission, which enjoys substantial decision-making authority in such matters as antitrust and structural funds, is not politically accountable to anything like the degree that similar bodies within the single member states are. In particular, the European Parliament’s power to force the Commission to resign, through a no confidence vote, is not comparable with the considerable power that the national parliaments wield over the national governments. The European Parliament is no more a legislative body than the Commission, being composed of politically independent individuals, can be likened to a national government. Furthermore, especially in the area of merger control, even the judiciary control that the European Court of Justice and the Tribunal of First Instance exert over the Commission is largely inefficient. This is illustrated by the recent decision of the Tribunal of First Instance to overturn, in the context of the Airtours case,[1] a 1999 decision by the Commission to block (for reasons the Tribunal considers illegitimate) the merger; it is a belated move that, three years on, can have little or no practical effect. The same applies to the powers enjoyed by the European Central Bank, whose political accountability is nothing like as great as that of the central banks in the various member states.
Some in Brussels argue that there is no democratic deficit in the European Union, since the European Parliament is elected by the European citizens, and the members of the Council of the European Union are representatives of the governments, that is to say expressions of the democratically elected national parliaments.
In answer to the first of these arguments, the fact that the European Parliament is elected by the European citizens certainly does not eliminate the democratic deficit in the European Union, as the European Parliament enjoys no legislative powers, but at best a power of veto over the decisions of the Council. It can paralyse Community action, not determine it. It is consequently no surprise that the elections of the European Parliament, which take place in the individual member states and not on a European-wide basis, are not based on debates of European-wide issues, but serve essentially the purpose of gauging the political situation within each individual member state, rather like the mid-term elections in the U.S. What is more, elections are meaningful when they are conducted within the framework of a true contest for power among opposing political forces, but at the level of the European Parliament there is neither effective power to compete for, nor, therefore, scope for a true political contest.
The second argument, i.e., that the control exercised by the national parliaments over the respective members of the Council of the European Union resolves the problem of the democratic deficit in the European Union, defies common sense. This control is too remote to render the Council representative of the European citizens, which is what a European legislative body should be. In actual fact, the national governments are, with regard to their national activity, collegially submitted to the control of the national parliaments, but the actions of their individual members at the level of the European institutions are subject to no such control. And neither is the Council of the European Union, in its collegiality, subject to any democratic control by the European citizens at European level.
But is this democratic deficit in the European Union tolerable or must it be eliminated? A few preliminary considerations will help us to answer this question:
1) When the authority that member states confer on an international organisation, created by them, empowers that organisation to introduce measures aimed at the member states themselves, and which the latter are required to incorporate into their own internal legal orders, then no democratic deficit can be said to exist — this is what happens with the majority of the international organisations, such as the U.N. On the other hand, there is necessarily a democratic deficit when the authority conferred by member states on an international organisation is the authority to adopt measures directly applicable to the citizens within those member states. This is because, by so doing, the international organisation acts in lieu of the member states in the territory subject to their jurisdiction. Examples of such activity, outside the European Communities, are understandably rare and essentially confined to technical matters, in the sphere, for example, of the International Civil Aviation Organisation or the World Health Organisation. It was only with the advent of the European Communities that the authority to decide measures directly applicable to the citizens acquired an unprecedented dimension, because of the vast array of functions delegated to the European Communities by the member states.
2) As long as the European Community remained solely an economic community (basically up to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty), the democratic deficit was tolerable — the aim was to create a common market first, followed (after the Single European Act) by a single market — and the democratic deficit appeared to be more than offset by the advantages the European citizens derived from the economic integration achieved. But since the functions delegated by the member states to the European Union began (from the Maastricht Treaty onwards) to extend to other areas: social questions, environmental protection, the protection of privacy, consumer protection, civil justice, etc., this wide delegation of authority and of legislative powers in the said areas has accentuated the problem of the democratic deficit.
3) Indeed, this wide delegation of authority led the Council, upon the initiative of the Commission, to adopt a large number of legislative measures in the above-mentioned areas, and this rendered the democratic deficit intolerable. The European citizens started to perceive these measures as “external” to them, since they had been adopted, in the absence of a democratic debate, by bodies that had not received any popular mandate. This has, increasingly, distanced the European citizens from the European institutions, a situation that is evident to all observers and that was acknowledged by the Laeken summit as one of the problems for which the Convention ought to seek a remedy.
4) Added to this, certain decisions reached by the Commission, especially in the area of merger control, have been widely criticised and even belatedly declared illegal by the Court of Justice, highlighting before public opinion the Commission’s lack of accountability.
We have now reached a point at which even the governments recognise that, if the European integration process is to advance, a solution to the problem of the democratic deficit must be found without further delay. Various considerations can be advanced in support of this view: 1) At the present time, the European Union’s common foreign and security policy is based mainly on an intergovernmental approach, that is to say on the use of traditional-type diplomatic contacts and on the unanimity rule. Instead, many believe that, to be effective, a common foreign and security policy can only be decided at European level and that achieving this objective is crucial to the future of the European integration process. 2) Equally, it is maintained that the single currency cannot continue to be supported by economic and budgetary policies decided at national level and coordinated only through an intergovernmental stability pact. It is widely held that the single currency needs a true common economic and budgetary policy that is decided at European level and covers levels of public spending and of taxation. Incidentally, many economists maintain that, in the absence of such a policy, the single currency cannot be regarded as an irreversible achievement. Let us not forget that for Delors saw the common currency as a bet that could be won only through the realisation of Europe’s political unification. Indeed, he described it as a bridge to the future, built in the hope that a politically unified Europe might provide the supporting pillars.
The Commission appears to recognise the need for truly European foreign and security, and economic and budgetary policies, a need to which it responds by claiming for itself the right to determine such policies. This, in fact, is what emerges from the Commission’s Communication of May 22, 2002, entitled A Project for the European Union.[2] However, it is immediately obvious that a solution of this kind would render the democratic deficit untenable. Establishing a common foreign and security policy could imply having to choose between war and peace and such decisions, in a democratic state, can only be taken by a democratically elected parliament. They cannot be delegated to a politically unaccountable Commission. Equally, a common budgetary policy implies decisions over taxation, an area that is a prerogative of democratically elected bodies. Consequently, an effective common foreign and security policy, as well as a common economic and budgetary policy, both of which are crucial to the progress of the European integration process, cannot be achieved without first solving the problem of the democratic deficit.
 
3. The Problem of the Constitutional Rights of the Citizens at European Level and the Principle of Mutual Recognition.
 
We come now to the second of the topics included in the mandate issued to the Convention by the Laeken summit, that of guaranteeing European citizens constitutional rights at European level.
It is a question that is interwoven with that of the democratic deficit and that, from different premises, leads us to the same conclusions. To clarify the terms of the debate it is worth recalling that the European integration process, so far carefully conducted to safeguard the sovereign prerogatives of the member states, has been achieved through the use of two mechanisms: the delegation of functions by member states to European institutions and the principle of mutual recognition.
We have already discussed the delegation of functions and its impact on the democratic deficit. But this delegation of functions creates not only problems in terms of the democratic deficit, but also the need to guarantee European citizens recognition of their constitutional rights at European level. For example, when the Commission, in antitrust matters, acts, at once, as prosecutor, jury and judge, and in the absence of effective judiciary control, the constitutional rights to a fair hearing, an appeal, etc., are violated, a fact already acknowledged in a decision reached by the European Court of Human Rights.[3] The Commission’s proposal, which now seems to have been abandoned, to extend its powers in the antitrust area so as to include the right to conduct searches at individuals’ private domiciles, would only, if accepted, render more urgent the need to give the European citizens adequate constitutional guarantees that the inviolability of their homes is a right that will continue to be protected.
The principle of mutual recognition, on the other hand, has played a key role in the common market’s evolution into a single market. It has allowed the rules concerning the free circulation of goods, people, services and capital to be harmonised on the basis of the requirements of the country of origin as opposed to those of the country of destination. In other words, by adopting the principle of mutual recognition, the member states, rather than delegating functions to the European institutions, have elected to maintain their own competences, undertaking at the same time to consider certain certification, authorisation and control procedures performed by the authorities of other member states as equivalent to those performed by their own authorities. The net effect has been that of causing a level of harmonization at the maximum common denominator of liberalization. In fact, those states that would have preferred to retain, internally, measures less liberal than the ones adopted by other states, would have ended up by discriminating against their own citizens.
For as long as it was merely a question of accepting bank or insurance practices, diplomas and other qualifications, food products, etc., applying the rules of the country of origin, the principle of mutual recognition worked well within the European integration process. Even when the principle was extended to the creation of a single space for civil justice and the recognition of civil awards, there appeared to be no significant drawbacks, not, that is, that were not offset by the advantages to be derived from its application.
The problem of the need to provide the European citizens with adequate constitutional guarantees arises, instead, when there is talk of extending the principle of mutual recognition beyond the functioning of the single market, for which it was originally conceived, to fields like that of criminal justice. The recent proposal for a European arrest warrant is a move in this direction. The problem with this proposal is that the principle of mutual recognition would end up by impacting on fundamental human rights such as that of personal freedom, which can only be assured within the context of constitutional guarantees provided by the true Constitution of a true state, and not within the framework of intergovernmental cooperation, where such guarantees are absent. In other words, the constitutional rights of the European citizens, when it comes to fundamental issues such as personal freedom, cannot rest on indirect guarantees provided by intergovernmental cooperation between sovereign states, but, to be effective, must be an integral part of the constitutional environment in which those citizens actually live and operate. A citizen of a member state deprived of his or her freedom by an act of a public prosecutor of another member state cannot rely on a set of guarantees established in an international agreement to which his or her state is party, but is, instead, entitled to be able to rely on constitutional rights established in a Constitution which has been approved by his or her democratically elected representatives.
In conclusion, all those who want to see the process of European integration progressing realise that such progress is conditional upon the realisation of an effective common foreign and security policy, as well as a common economic and budgetary policy, both of which must be freed from grip of the system of intergovernmental cooperation. A true common foreign and security policy would, as even the conclusions of the Laeken summit acknowledge, give meaning to the otherwise fragmented policies carried out on an individual basis by the member states, while a real common economic and budgetary policy would ensure the stability of the single currency. Finally, only a single space for criminal justice can meet the old and new challenges thrown up by the world of organised crime, including terrorist crime. In order to fulfil these objectives, however, the problems of the democratic deficit and of the constitutional rights of the European citizens at European level must first be solved.
 
4. Europe at a Crossroads; the Solution to the Problems of the Democratic Deficit and of the Constitutional Rights of the European People.
 
The truth is, Europe is at a crossroads. Either it can proceed along the path of integration, extending the process to the areas indicated above — which would mean having to find solutions to the problems just identified — or it can take a step backwards and adjust to lower levels of integration, where the democratic deficit is a problem of tolerable dimensions and the constitutional rights of the citizens at European level are not an issue. Maintaining the status quo does not appear to be a viable option.
We should not conceal the fact that the second alternative is the one preferred by at least some of the present members of the European Union, or the fact that, for reasons that will be made clear, this alternative is likely to be the one preferred by Europe’s prospective new member states.
Assuming, however, that the objective is to proceed along the path of European integration, and not to turn back, how can we rectify the democratic deficit and solve the problem of guaranteeing Europe’s citizens the constitutional rights at European level that are needed as integration advances? The answers are, in truth, very simple, even though they are not even hinted at in the Convention’s mandate, formulated by the Laeken summit, or in the proposals advanced by the Commission. And even though they represent the only possible way forward.
To solve the problem of the democratic deficit, the body that has legislative power clearly has to be elected by the citizens. Thus, either legislative power must be granted to the European Parliament, which is democratically elected, but has no legislative capacity, or the Council, which currently has such legislative power, must be appointed through democratic elections, transforming itself into a higher chamber, or senate, representing the states within a bicameral system in which the European Parliament would be the other chamber.
As regards the constitutional rights of the European citizens, what is needed, equally obviously, is a European Constitution, but this presupposes the existence of a federal state, since we have heard of states without Constitutions, but not of Constitutions without states. The said Constitution must not only list the fundamental rights of the citizens, to date the only aspect that has attracted the attention of commentators, but also, within the framework of Europe’s dearly-held separation of powers principle, establish the necessary organs and the decision-making processes at European level.
At this point the debate on the future of Europe runs into all kinds of difficulties. This is because, for the member states that currently control the process of integration, acceptance of the simple solution set out above would inevitably mean the loss of their sovereignty. Indeed, the transfer of legislative power at European level to a body elected by the citizens would mean a) the disappearance of the member states as sovereign entities, and b) the creation of a sovereign federal state, with its own Constitution, which would prevail over all other national laws or regulations. But due to an unwillingness to acknowledge this plain truth in unequivocal terms, the debate on the future of Europe has become confused and ambiguous, with misinformation prevailing. Many, including the governments of the member states, the Community institutions, and the media, share the responsibility for this.
We must not, however, judge too harshly the tendency to conduct in ambiguous terms the debate on the European integration process. It has to be considered that states, like individuals, possess the instinct of self-preservation and that as long as the states continue to control the process, they will not be ready to give up their sovereignty easily. This means that, unless there is some drastic change of direction, the democratic deficit will remain unresolved, the European citizens will not have constitutional rights guaranteed at European level, the European Union will not have an effective common foreign and security or economic and budgetary policy, or, finally, a single space for criminal justice. Added to this, the Community institutions, such as the Commission, will never favour such a solution since, in a process of federal integration, they would be superseded.
 
5. The Dangers of Misinformation.
 
All this has resulted in a shameful level of misinformation, and meant that the debate on the future of European integration rarely focuses on the truly important issues. In Italy for example, but also elsewhere, many debated who should represent the country in the Convention, but few were really keen to know the position of those representatives on the issues concerning the future of Europe.
No official source can — or indeed does — deny that the problem of the democratic deficit must be solved, but all are generally quick to add that “realistically” this must be done “gradually”. Evidently, fifty years of European integration have not been long enough to ensure a “gradual” transition to a democratic system. It is difficult to understand why the European citizens do not deserve to enjoy, immediately, the levels of democracy and of constitutional rights that are necessary at the present stage of European integration, and to which they are entitled. In truth, the main obstacle is only the member states’ jealous, although understandable, defence of their sovereign prerogatives.
The debate is thus steered, even by qualified sources like the Commission, in a way designed to generate hostility towards, for example, the so called “superstate”. It is frankly difficult to understand what is meant by superstate. If the term refers to a centralised — not federal — state, then it has to be said that nobody has ever, in fact, proposed such a solution, or deemed it desirable; it is thus hard to see why it should constantly be used in the debate, which it only serves to corrupt and to distract from the real questions.
To avoid referring clearly to a federal state, some talk about a “Federation of Sovereign States”, an expression that is inherently contradictory since the federal states that form a federation are not sovereign states. It is only in a confederation that the states remain sovereign, but the confederal structure is not adaptable to the present Europe. Others use the term “Federation of Nation-states”: if this formula implies a federation in which the federal states retain their national and cultural identity, then this is typical of any federation and is exactly what a European federal state should be.
The truth is, we are faced with two alternatives: either the current situation of fifteen states that continue to be sovereign states (a situation in which the European integration process has no real hope of advancing further and in which some of the existing achievements may even be in jeopardy) or a federation embracing those European states that are ready to accept such a solution (and, by implication, the loss of their sovereignty) tertium non datur. To believe, as some do, that Europe has found a new formula that will allow European sovereignty to be reconciled with national sovereignty is to indulge in a delusion that can only perpetuate the misunderstandings, and delays the solution of the problems that have been identified. In fact, no such intermediate formula exists; indeed even those who defend it cannot really say what it might consist of. The truth of this is evident in the fact that the problems faced, from Maastricht and Amsterdam through to Nice and now the Convention, have always been the same, and remain unsolved today.
Ambiguity also surrounds the question of a European Constitution. A constitution defines the supreme structure of a state (be it centralised or federal) and the fundamental rights of its citizens. It is often drafted by the most prominent of those citizens (the Founding Fathers of the Constitution), who are democratically entrusted with the task. A constitution cannot be described a priori using words such as conservative, liberal, competitive, or any of the other adjectives often used when talking about a desired future European constitution: it is simply the result of the political forces prevailing at a given time in a given community, and that is as it should be.
In spite of all the rhetoric that accompanied its adoption at Nice, the famous Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is not —nor ever could be — a constitution. This is because those who drafted it have no democratic legitimacy and because there exists no state to provide a setting for it. It is certainly appropriate to talk about the fundamental principles on which the European Union is based, such as the free circulation of people, but this is very different from talking about a constitution in which the various bodies of a state are identified, according to the principle of the separation of powers. A constitution must, indeed, guarantee a system of checks and balances among the various powers and guarantee the fundamental rights of the citizens. And this can only be done within a state.
 
6. A European Federal State as the Answer to the Problems of European Integration.
 
The answer to the problems faced by Europe in 2002 is political unification of the continent. Only a European federal state can, in the long term, justify Europe’s single currency. It is not true to say that the only alternatives open to European integration are the community method and the intergovernmental method. In truth, neither of these are equipped to meet the challenges of today. The intergovernmental method, conditioned by the unanimity rule, is no longer effective, while the community method is not able, beyond a certain point (already surpassed), to guarantee the European citizens an adequate level of democracy and constitutional rights. A European federation appears to be the only possible avenue, a “light” federation competent only for those few areas that are better handled — as many recognise — at European level: foreign and security policy and economic and budgetary policy.
The principle of subsidiarity implies that other matters would remain within national jurisdiction or within local jurisdiction inside each federal state. Indeed, the logic of the subsidiarity principle is that decisions must be taken at the level that is the closest possible to the citizens. While, clearly, certain decisions (those relating to problems of a European dimension) must be taken at European level, we could well discover that the national sphere, within which all powers are currently concentrated, is not the one most appropriate for many other problems that ) would, instead, be better handled at a local level. This way, local instances might gain the recognition they deserve, and separatist tendencies, which are, sometimes dangerously, present in many member states, might be contained.
Consequently, the fear that a federal state would imply the loss of national identity is groundless. On the contrary, national identity, together with local identity, would be fully safeguarded. A federal state would not be an entity foreign to the Europeans, but their own state, within which they would all be able to reconcile their European, national and local sense of identity.
At this point the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the mandate given to the Convention, as well as the confusion in the present debate over the future of Europe, emerge more clearly, and some brief considerations are warranted: 1) almost everybody acknowledges the need to solve the problem of the democratic deficit, but it appears to have become almost politically incorrect to mention what is, in fact, the only possible solution to this problem, namely the creation of a European federal state. The word “federation”, so frequently used by Europe’s Founding Fathers (De Gasperi, Adenauer, Spaak, Schuman) to define the final stage of the European integration process they had started, has been erased from the Community lexicon. 2) almost everybody acknowledges the need to proceed along the road of the European integration, but it is not explained how this is possible without solving the problem of the democratic deficit and creating a European federal state. 3) almost everybody acknowledges the need to guarantee the European citizens constitutional rights at European level, but it is not explained how this can be done while at the same time maintaining national sovereignty. 4) But the most hypocritical attitude — if we might be forgiven this crude term — is that of pretending that all these objectives can be reached, while at the same time expanding the European Union to 21 and maybe 28 members.
 
7. A Two-Speed Europe as the Only Possible Avenue.
 
In support of our arguments, however, we need to do more than simply state the glaringly obvious, i.e., that this kind of enlargement will, particularly given the fact that the unanimity rule still prevails in the most important areas (fiscal and social matters for example) paralyse the Community decision-making process. This so obvious that it is hardly needs saying.
It is necessary, instead, to consider that a greater level of European integration, which is the alternative to a regression of the process, would, as we have explained, require the member states to relinquish their sovereignty. Now, it cannot seriously be believed that the states of Central and Eastern Europe, which have just emerged from Soviet dominance and are only now fully enjoying their regained national independence and sovereignty, will be prepared to give these up again in favour of a more integrated Europe. It is essentially for economic, not political reasons that these states want to be part of the European Union and, incidentally, all of them harbour very strong nationalistic forces. The consequence of enlargement will be a dilution, not an acceleration of the European integration process.
It is not by chance that the member states pushing for enlargement are the ones, among the fifteen, that believe that there is already too much “Europe” and that, openly or less openly, would be content to see European integration regressing to nothing more than economic cooperation, forgetting more ambitious objectives. Enlargement, a historical mistake that future generations will lay at the door of the present one, will certainly grant them their wishes.
The truth is that the federal solution mentioned above is not a practicable alternative even within the fifteen present member states of the European Union. And since some of those states are openly opposed to it, the only possible avenue appears to be that of a two-speed Europe, an expression that, at Community level, corresponds to the term enhanced cooperation. We will, for the sake of convenience, consider these two terms as synonymous, even though the use of the word “cooperation” is not particularly appropriate when talking of federal-type solutions, which, involving the creation of a new state, actually go beyond the notion of cooperation among states. Only a two-speed Europe can prevent the pace of European integration from being that of the more recalcitrant member states and allow states that want to proceed faster to do so, together with those that share their ideals.
It is very surprising, in this regard, that the declaration following the Laeken Summit contained no mention of enhanced cooperation and that the Commission, in its previously mentioned Communication of May 22, 2002,[4] was openly hostile to such a solution. Equally surprising is the fact that the rules on enhanced cooperation established by the Nice Treaty are so restrictive: for example, there cannot be any enhanced cooperation in the area of foreign and security policy. Thus, we have some member states that are not only unwilling to proceed towards federal-type solutions, which is comprehensible, but also determined to prevent other states from doing so, which is less comprehensible. This hostility can only be explained by the fact that, as the few examples of enhanced cooperation so far realised (the Schengen Agreement, the single currency) have shown, this form of cooperation exerts such a strong force of attraction that it ends up by involving an increasingly large area. It is precisely this effect that the member states opposed to any form of further integration in Europe want to avoid. The question is whether these states’ jealous defence of their sovereign prerogatives is in the best interest of the citizens of all the states.
 
8. A Historic Opportunity for an Initiative by the Italian Government.
 
The process of European integration, if it continues to be controlled by national governments anxious only to preserve their sovereign prerogatives, is bound to remain paralysed by the obvious conflict between the interests of European integration and those bound up with the maintenance of these prerogatives at state level. A quantum leap is needed and the time available for it running out: the lack of an adequate response to the demand for “Europe” originating from civil society can, as we have all seen, only favour the insurgence in some member states of extreme forms of nationalism, often coupled with xenophobic and racist tendencies.
Moreover, the European states’ jealous defence of their national sovereignty appears somewhat anachronistic in the light of the globalisation process that has already eroded this sovereignty considerably. In other words the relinquishment of sovereignty needed in order to form a European federation would probably end up being a relatively minor sacrifice.
As the Convention searches for new solutions, there has never been a better time for an aggressive initiative along the lines of the great European federal design promoted by outstanding individuals such as Proudhon, Einaudi, Altiero Spinelli and others, an initiative capable of making a difference and of having a truly historic impact. The time has never been better for a European federation capable of asserting itself as the voice of civilisation in the world, a world presently dominated by a single superpower upon which we Europeans have no choice but to depend, even to deal with crisis situations close to home, like those in the Gulf and in the Balkans.
Following the precedent set by De Gasperi and Spinelli’s 1953 advocation of a European Defence Community — the EDC failed to see the light because of a handful of votes at the French National Assembly — the Italian government could now take it upon itself to promote this kind of initiative. Now, almost fifty years on, the time is far more ripe for a development of this kind, and the chances of success vastly higher, obviously within the context of a deeper form of enhanced cooperation embracing federal solutions. Certainly, the Italian government will need allies and these are most likely to be found among the six states that started the European integration process fifty years ago with great ambitions. Such an initiative would, as has been the case with previous forms of enhanced cooperation, undoubtedly have the effect of attracting other states. In the meanwhile, the European Union, having created a federal core at its heart, could be enlarged without difficulty to other countries, Russia in particular.
With vision lacking and the European integration process stagnating, the Italian government would do well simply to advance the idea, presenting it as the only possible solution to the problems of the democratic deficit and of the constitutional rights of the European citizens, of a federal core made up only of those states that are ready to be part of the same. Such a move would doubtless pay dividends in terms of the country’s image and would, at the same time, be perfectly consistent with the proposal for a European Union enlarged to include even Russia. The proposal would also wipe out any doubts over Italy’s commitment to the European ideals and force those states that are truly opposed to progress of the European integration process to come out into the open. Even were the proposal rejected in the short term, it would nevertheless be to Italy’s credit to be the country advancing, in a rather depressing scenario, what would be, to date, the only proposal of potentially historic significance a seed whose fruits might be reaped in the future. By associating itself with an initiative of this kind, Italy would not only be reflecting the noble ideals shared by the Founding Fathers of Europe, but also choosing a politically advantageous course, substantially free from drawbacks. It is an opportunity that we sincerely hope it seizes.


[1] Decision by the Tribunal of First Instance of June 6, 2002, Airtours v. Commission, case T-342/99.
[2] COM(2202)247 def.
[3] Decision of April 16, 2002, in the Colas case.
[4] COM(2202)247 def., p. 19.

 

Share with