Year LV, 2013, Single Issue, Page 10
European Federalist Movement (1943-2013)
The 70th anniversary of the European Federalist Movement (MFE) comes at a time when the survival of European integration is in real danger — a situation that risks undoing the great achievements that the process of European unification has brought in terms of the pacification of our continent and the evolution of the economic-social and political-civil spheres. It is now desperately urgent to start a constituent process that will culminate in the creation of a European federation embracing all the countries willing to make this choice, countries that can only come from among those belonging to the eurozone or seriously intending to join it. Failure to take this step — and the European elections of May 2014 are the last opportunity — will inevitably result in a process of disintegration that is already clearly foreshadowed by the depth of the euro crisis and the rise of nationalistic tendencies.
European unification is in the grip of an existential crisis and the MFE is at the forefront of the struggle to turn this crisis into the springboard to make the definitive federal leap forwards that will result in a consolidated united Europe capable of meeting the fundamental needs of the European citizens. These include European economic development that is environmentally and socially sustainable and territorially balanced; true democratic representation of the European citizens in European institutions and policies; and a real capacity to act on the international stage, allowing Europe to contribute to the building of a world that is more peaceful, more just, and more respectful of the global ecological balance.
Against this background, we feel it is worth outlining, for the benefit of anyone involved in, or wanting to join, the federalist struggle (especially the young), what the MFE is, what is has done, and what it is still doing in pursuit of the objective of European federation.
The Birth and Organisational Evolution of the MFE
The origins of the MFE can be traced back to the Ventotene Manifesto, written in August 1941 by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi during their captivity on the Italian island of Ventotene, together with around a thousand other antifascists. The text of the Manifesto was also the result of an extensive, months-long debate with Eugenio Colorni and his wife Ursula Hirschman, which also saw the participation of a group of other captives who went on to sign up to the Manifesto, namely Dino Roberto, Enrico Giussani, Giorgio Braccialarghe, Arturo Buleghin and a Slovenian student called Lakar. The ideas enshrined in the Manifesto, and their dissemination in Resistance circles, partly through the underground journal L’Unità Europea, led to the formal foundation of the MFE during a clandestine meeting in Milan, held at the home of Mario Alberto Rollier on 27-28 August 1943. This meeting was attended by 31 people: Arialdo Banfi, Giangio Banfi, Ludovico Belgioioso, Giorgio Braccialarghe, Arturo Buleghin, Lisli Carini Basso, Vindice Cavallera, Eugenio Colorni, Ugo Cristofoletti, Alberto Damiani, Vittorio Foa, Giovanni Gallo Granchielli, don Ernesto Gilardi, Leone Ginzburg, Enrico Giussani, Ursula Hirschman, Willy Jervis, Elena Moncalvi Banfi, Guido Morpurgo Tagliabue, Alberto Mortara, Bruno Quarti, Dino Roberto, Mario Alberto Rollier, Ada Rossi, Ernesto Rossi, Manlio Rossi Doria, Altiero Spinelli, Fiorella Spinelli, Gigliola Spinelli, Franco Venturi, Luisa Villani Usellini. Guglielmo Usellini and Cerilo Spinelli were unable to take part because they had been arrested a few weeks earlier while distributing a federalist leaflet calling on the citizens to prepare for war with the Nazis.
Thereafter, the MFE became involved in the armed resistance against fascism and Nazism — which cost Ginzburg, Colorni and Jervis their lives — and also liaised with other Resistance movements across Europe. These exchanges led to the drafting, in Geneva in July 1944, of a Federalist declaration of European resistance fighters that incorporated the key ideas of the Ventotene Manifesto. This document, together with a federalist congress that Spinelli, having left occupied Italy for France (already liberated), organised in Paris in March 1945, were among the premises for the birth, in December 1946, of a supranational organisation of European federalists, i.e. the Union of European Federalists (UEF). Ever since its foundation (if we exclude the period 1959-1972, during which there existed two European federalist organisations: the supranational MFE and the Azione europea federalista) the UEF has been the supranational political-organisational framework for the action of the MFE.
As well as being involved in the formation and activities of the UEF, the MFE also took part, within the UEF, in the organisation of the Congress of The Hague (7-10 May 1948) that led to the formal creation of the European Movement (EM), the body serving to coordinate and liaise between Europe’s different pro-unity movements and European-minded parties, trade unions and cultural associations. The Italian branch of this movement, named the Italian Council of the European Movement (CIME), was created in December 1948 on the initiative of the MFE, which, in the same year, had also promoted the formation of federalist intergroups within the two chambers of the Italian parliament. The first intergroup presidents were Enzo Giacchero (subsequently a member of the High Authority of the ECSC and president of the UEF) in the Chamber of Deputies and Ferruccio Parri in the Senate. Ever since, the federalist intergroups have been a substantially stable presence in the Italian parliament. Several years later, in 1956, the MFE, being profoundly critical of the national governments’ Europeanist policy, which, at that time, revolved entirely around the drafting and implementation of the Treaties of Rome, declined to take part in the refounding of the CIME. However, exactly a decade on (1966), the MFE joined the new CIME and has been one of its main pillars ever since. In 1995 the MFE also became an ordinary member of the World Federalist Movement (which had been founded in 1948), thereby paving the way for the UEF to join this organisation in 2004.
The MFE (including its youth section) recorded its peak membership (50,000 members and 1,000 sections) in 1954, a time when the campaigns for a European Defence Community (EDC) and European Political Community (EPC) were creating the impression that the objective of European federation was within reach. In the 1960s, the number of MFE members plunged to around 2,000, before rising to 10,000 in the 1980s, the period when the direct election of the European Parliament made the European integration project, once again, a more high-profile topic. Although the MFE currently has only 3,500 registered members, it actually has as many militants as it did when its membership was at its peak levels. It should be pointed out that the relatively low number of registered members is linked to the fact that involvement in the federalist struggle, because of the nature of the objectives pursued, is a complex and long-term commitment; this is indeed why the MFE is essentially a movement of militants, whose members include a relatively small proportion of general supporters.
It must also be underlined that the MFE, thanks to the political and theoretical expertise of its leaders, its number of active militants, and its remarkable capacity to organise campaigns geared at mobilising public opinion, has constantly been a more prominent presence at European level than all the other organisations that champion European federal unity. Analysis of the action carried out by the various Europeanist movements, from the Resistance on, seems to provide confirmation of Giuseppe Mazzini’s view that Italy leads the way in terms of real commitment to European unification.
The Guiding Principles of the MFE’s Action
For a proper understanding of the action carried out by the MFE and of the role it has played in the unfolding of the European integration process, it is necessary to have a clear appreciation of the basic principles that, upstream of its concrete actions, which are linked to changing political scenarios, have always been the MFE’s source of guidance. These principles first emerged, in their essence, during the Second World War (in the Ventotene Manifesto, in the documents approved at the time of the founding of the MFE, and in other texts) and were progressively defined and clarified over the years that followed. Spinelli must certainly be considered a key point of reference in this regard, although the contribution of Albertini was equally important. The MFE has been actively and uninterruptedly engaged in this field for seventy years without, unlike other political forces, ever changing its name; this is explained by the fact that its theoretical and strategic line (despite of course evolving) has remained substantially unchanged, and also by the fact that its fundamental objective has not yet been reached (indeed, this is still Europe’s most important political problem).
That said, the guiding principles of the MFE’s action can be summarised schematically in two ideas: first, that the struggle for European federation has priority over the struggles for internal reforms of the nation-states, and second that the democratic national governments are both instruments for and obstacles to the creation of the European federation.
The first of these affirmations is based on the federalists’ recognition of the need to overcome internationalism, in other words the tendency, shared by the main universalistic ideologies of the Enlightenment (liberalism, democracy and socialism, i.e. the ideological foundations of Western and Western-style democracies), to consider the elimination of violence at international level and, therefore, international collaboration and ultimately the peaceful integration of nations, as almost automatic consequences of the nation-states’ full embracement, internally, of the concepts of freedom, democracy and social justice. The MFE, on the other hand, completing a line of thought begun by the fathers of the American Constitution (in particular Alexander Hamilton) and by Immanuel Kant, and developed in the twentieth century mainly by the English federalist school (in particular Lord Lothian, Lionel Robbins and Barbara Wootton) and by Luigi Einaudi in Italy, holds that lasting peaceful cooperation between nations can be achieved only by overcoming, through federalism, the international anarchy that stems from the absolute sovereignty of the states. It further explains that absolute state sovereignty is, in general, the structural cause of wars and acts of imperialism, phenomena that have always been a part of the history of the European system of states and that were exacerbated in the first half the twentieth century by the historical crisis of the nation-states, that is to say by the structural impossibility (with each country retaining its absolute sovereignty) of governing, in a peaceful and democratic fashion, the growing interdependence between the nation-states brought by the Industrial Revolution.
This imbalance between the level of interdependence and the capacity for governing it produced a heightening of international unrest and expansionist tendencies that eventually led to the two World Wars, which, on closer analysis, can be interpreted as attempts at hegemonic unification of Europe. In this setting, progress towards freedom, democracy and social justice was inevitably arrested and replaced by a drive towards pathological centralisation of state power, authoritarianism and ultimately totalitarianism, in other words by an organisation of the state based exclusively on its pursuit of power rather than on the needs of the person. The effects of the exercising of absolute state sovereignty in the era of interdependence were, in short, catastrophic, but they opened up the way for Europe’s peaceful unification; indeed, in a situation in which it was clear that the fundamental problems could be tackled only at supranational level, European unification emerged as the indispensable condition for resuming the journey towards freedom, democracy and social justice. Moreover, since the interdependence produced by the Industrial Revolution is clearly destined to extend progressively to the whole of the world, the MFE has always seen the federal unification of Europe as a fundamental historical step towards global unification, meaning a federation of large continental or subcontinental-size federations.
These considerations are the basis for the MFE’s conviction that any internal reforms of the nation-states occurring outside the context of a process of European unification moving in a federal direction are destined to be impossible or, at best, precarious; they are also the basis for the identification, since the time of the Ventotene Manifesto, of a new dividing line between the forces of of conservation and those of progress. This line no longer coincides with the traditional ones that, within the framework of the nation-states, distinguish between greater or lesser levels of freedom, democracy and social justice, but rather with the line that separates the defenders of absolute national sovereignty from those who advocate its overcoming through the federation model.
These considerations on the priority of the struggle for European federation cannot be separated from considerations regarding its strategic-organisational aspects, which are based, as indicated earlier, on the view of the democratic national governments as both instruments for and obstacles to the creation of the European federation. They are instruments in the sense that the European federation can be created only on the basis of decisions reached freely by democratic governments (given that any form of hegemonic-imperial unification must, on principle, be excluded), but also, indeed above all, in the sense that the governments are, objectively, obliged by the current historical situation (characterised by the structural crisis and impotence of the nation-states) to implement European unification policies. Basically, in the wake of World War II, the emergence of the alternative “unite or perish” (an expression used by French foreign minister Aristide Briand in 1929 when he presented what was the first proposal for European integration to come from a government) prompted the start of a long and coordinated drive, on the part of governments and democratic forces, for a policy of European unification. But it has to be understood that such a policy will not automatically lead to European federation. The governments are, in fact, obstacles to this outcome given that the holders of national power, even in the framework of democratic systems, are objectively impelled — in accordance with the law of self-preservation of power explained by Machiavelli in chapter six of The Prince — to impede the irreversible transfer of a substantial part of that power to a new sovereign supranational system. This tendency — Machiavelli specifies — inevitably manifests itself more strongly in permanent bodies of executive power, such as diplomatic corps and high-level civil and military bureaucracies, than in relatively transitional political figures (heads of state and of government, ministers, parliamentarians). For the former, a transfer of sovereignty would imply a more marked loss of power and status and this is the reason why they are (albeit with exceptions of course) the natural custodians of nationalist traditions. For the latter, the situation is less clear-cut: they are the expression of the democratic parties; furthermore, having ideological platforms containing an internationalist component they tend to be more or less vaguely Europeanist; in addition, they have an organic relationship with public opinion, and public opinion, when forced to confront the fundamental problems of the contemporary world, remembers the disasters produced by the different forms of nationalism and by the impotence of the nation-states and is increasingly inclined to favour the idea of European unity.
The existence of this complex and structurally contradictory attitude, on the part of the national governments, to the question of European unification has several fundamental implications for the federalist struggle.
The development of an effective struggle for the European federation depends absolutely on the creation of a federalist political force that, independent of the governments and of the national parties, has the capacity to drive them to make the choices, in favour of federal unification, that they themselves are unable to make spontaneously. The principle of federalist autonomy is clearly set out in the Ventotene Manifesto and it took a laborious process to render it tangible. A decisive point in this process was the decision that the federalist force should be a movement rather than a party fighting with other parties to win national power; this decision was dictated by the awareness that pursuit of the objective of European federation demanded a transverse organisation able to represent all political forces and economic and social environments that identify with the democratic system, and that this organisation should steer clear of factions defined by traditional distinctions between progress and conservation. The practical and theoretical work of Albertini, during his time as leader of the MFE, was another decisive contribution to this process. Indeed, Albertini’s commitment to promoting the principle of federalist autonomy, which followed on from that of Spinelli, but was much more systematic, culminated in the concrete conceptualisation and implementation of three fundamental principles: one political, one organisational and one financial.
The first principle, namely that of political autonomy, is illustrated by the refusal of the body of militants leading and managing the MFE to identify with any single national party. This choice allowed them, at opportune moments, to establish extremely useful relationships (collaborations and tactical alliances) with the democratic parties, yet without ever jeopardising the movement’s complete autonomy. The second principle is related to the selection and training of militants. The main concern was to avoid the conditioning influences to which a cumbersome and costly administrative apparatus would have exposed the movement; indeed, had it had such an apparatus it would inevitably have depended largely on external funding in order to survive. It was thus decided that all federalist militants should be “part-time” militants, in other words, individuals with jobs of their own that guaranteed them economic independence but that also left them sufficient free time to devote to their federalist activities. In this way it proved possible to create an inexpensive organisation that was thus totally immune to pressure or coercion by political or economic forces. The third and final principle is that of the movement’s financial autonomy. What this meant, in real terms, was that MFE members were always aware that their federalist work would never bring them financial reward and, indeed, would likely cost them money. This understanding, which was the financial basis of the MFE’s autonomy from the start of Albertini’s leadership, did not preclude it from receiving external funding, but it wasestablished that such funding would be used above all, to pay for specific actions. Meanwhile, the organisation’s permanent structure has always run on its “own resources”, a fact that has strengthened its impermeability to external influences.
Going beyond all this, however, Albertini’s great insight was to see that this autonomy (political, organisational, and financial) enjoyed by the MFE actually stemmed from its cultural autonomy, which he went on, brilliantly, to define. He realised that only a strong cultural motivation (together with a strong moral compass of course), in other words, only the absolute conviction that the federalist doctrine (compared with prevailing political ideas) really did have something new to say — something of real value, capable of furthering understanding of the historical situation —, could, in fact, sustain a long-term, often burdensome and difficult endeavour, conducted not for power or financial reward, in a number of militants great enough to constitute an independent federalist force with the capacity toinfluence reality. The remarkable contribution of Albertini,together with his followers, consisted of a detailed theoretical analysis of federalism that highlighted this motivation and enriched, beyond measure, federalist thought.
Here, it is necessary to point out, albeit briefly, the two most significant results of this theoretical analysis.
First of all, Albertini levelled a radical criticism at the concept of nation. Indeed, developing some of Proudhon’s ideas, he showed that nations are not entities that pre-date the nation-states, but rather an ideological reflection of people’s sense of belonging to the states, bureaucratic and centralised, that emerged in continental Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. In short, the sense of nation that is prevalent in populations was not a premise for the formation of the nation-states, but rather a consequence of their creation, and of the creation of political programmes designed to impose unity of language, culture and traditions across state territories. The result of all this was the systematic destruction of spontaneous nationalities, in other words, of the sense of belonging to natural communities (meaning the territorial dimensions of individuals’ birth, life and death — the nations in the etymological sense of the term), and the transfer, to the state, of the individual’s sense of belonging, in order to createanexclusive loyalism and, therefore, the basis of aggressive foreign policies.
By criticising the idea of nation, Albertini was trying to overcome a major limit of the political ideologies — liberal, democratic and socialist — held by the democratic political parties of Europe. These ideologies are universalistic and therefore, in principle, favourable to supranational unification. At the same time, however, they tend to mythicise the nation-states, which are seen more as “natural” institutions, in that they are founded on “pre-existing” nations (but as pointed out this is an ideological self-mystification), than as historically determined and thus historically supersedable institutions. Thus, in a structural sense (but also because of the tendency of national parties to cling on to the power they hold), these ideologies tend to interpret supranational power more as cooperation between nation-states than as the overcoming of absolute national sovereignty.
It must be underlined that Albertini’s theoretical work — his demystification of the ideology of nation — constitutes a hugely important development of Spinelli’s federalist thought. Indeed, although Spinelli’s ideas revolve around the concept of the historical crisis of the sovereign nation-state and what he considers the instruments and concrete political actions through which to pursue the overcoming ofthis institutional system, the founder of the MFE actually failed to provide a scientific criticism of the idea of nation, which is its ideological basis. In addition to this important contribution to federalist thought, Albertini made another even more significant one, which also overcomes a limit in Spinelli’s argument. I refer to Spinelli’s excessively narrow idea of the federalist doctrine,which he sees essentially as the theory of the federal state, in other words as a constitutional method allowing the peaceful coexistence of a group of independent and coordinated governments. This framing does not really match up to the conviction that federalism represents the path of historical progress. This latter affirmation, to have a solid basis, needs to be supported by a definition, in the body of federalist doctrine, of the specific guiding value of federalist engagement and of its relationship with the values upheld by the emancipatory ideologies from which federalism is descended. This doctrine should also contain a clear and strong vision of the historical process, which brings out the value of federalism as a valid political response to the crucial challenges of our times and indicates the conceptual instruments that can be used to tackle, in a rigorous manner, the problem of understanding the historical process. Here, once again, Albertini offers clarificationfirst of all through a radical a critical revision of Marx’s concept of historical materialism which, in its revisited form, seems to lend itself to a scientific analysis of the historical process. Albertini retains the theoretically valid core of Marx’s theory — his recognition of the deterministic link between the evolution of the mode of production and several fundamental social phenomena, including, in particular, the increase, in depth, of interdependence in society (i.e. the progressive involvement of increasingly large sectors of the population in decision-making processes) — and, for this reason, is able to show how the same link emerges in relation to the growing interdependence, in breadth, of human society. The evolution of the industrial mode of production and the birth of what is known as the scientific mode of production thus emerge as the ultimate objective causes of the start of the supranational phase of history, which in turn explains why the barycentre of political struggle, if the new processes are to be governed and placed at the service of progress, has to shift from the national to the supranational setting.
At the same time, Albertini shows that federalism, far from being merely the theory of the federal state, is itself a fully-fledged political ideology and thus on a par with liberalism, democracy and socialism. Federalism, however, not only contains, in the body of its doctrine, the fundamental ideas proposed by the modern world’s great emancipatory ideologies, it also manages to overcome their limits and to arrive at a more satisfactory understanding of the fundamental problems of our age. According to this vision, federalism, like the other ideologies, is characterised primarily by a value: whereas liberalism has freedom as its ultimate objective, democracy has equality, and socialism social justice, the ultimate objective of federalism is peace. And peace is not an alternative to these other values; on the contrary, it incorporates them at a higher level, given that the elimination of international anarchy (which implies the subordination of all other values to the need for state security) is the essential condition for the full expression of freedom, equality and social justice (which must be understood as consubstantial) andin short, for the possibility of eliminating all forms of subordination of men by men. In this way, Albertini takes up the fundamental political, legal and historical-philosophical ideas of Kant (the height of the Enlightenment), which have been made relevant to our times by the crisis of the nation-states and the growing interdependence of human action beyond national boundaries, of which European integration is the most advanced manifestation. Albertini regards these phenomena as the premises for the pursuit of world federation, in other words, for the realisation of perpetual peace. And he also adds, with searing clarity, that the overcoming of exclusive national loyalism through European federation would put an end to the culture of the political division of mankind, which implicitly legitimises the duty to kill for the nation, and constitute, rather, an affirmation of the right not to kill, with a view to its full affirmation through world federation. The World Wars, the discovery of nuclearweapons, and the growth of international interdependence all suggest that Kant’s prediction is coming true: he believed, in fact, that only direct experience of the devastation of war, combined with mankind’s innate commercial spirit (implying the growth of interdependence), would induce states to renounce their “wild freedom” and submit to a common law. Federalism also has a characteristic structural aspect, the federal state being indicated as the form of organisation of power that makes it possible to overcome the closed and centralised structures of the nation-state. This can be achieved both below and above the level of the state: in the first case through the formation of truly autonomous regional and local bodies of government, and in the second through the creation of effective supranational forms of political and social solidarity. In addition, it is necessary to consider a historical-social aspect of federalism. Briefly, the overcoming of mankind’s division into antagonistic classes and nations creates the possibility of realising the pluralism typical of the federal society, summed up in the principle of unity in diversity; in this way, the historical setting is seen to be capable of allowing the realisation of a value through an appropriate power structure. Indeed, in federal societies, loyalty to society as a whole co-exists, in a non-hierarchical relationship, with loyalty to smaller territorial communities (regions, provinces, cities, districts). The fact that this social balance has been developed only partially in the federal societies that have existed to date has two explanations. First, the class struggle (which can be overcome only through the full development of the scientific revolution, and thus the overcoming of the proletarian condition) has caused the sense of being part of a given social class to prevail over all other forms of social solidarity, preventing other, deep-rooted strong bonds of solidarity from forming in regional and local communities. Second, the struggle between the states on the international stage (which can be eliminated only through the unification of the whole world, a process beginning with European federation) has resulted in a strengthening of central power at the expense of local powers.
The creation of a European federation thus emerges as the crucial event of our times, or rather as the first affirmation of the federalist course of history that will culminate in the full realisation of peace through the federation of the world. Federalism is thus called upon to play, in our times, a role similar to that played in the past by the liberal, democratic and socialist ideologies: through its development and affirmation of the culture of peace, federalism offers society a model capable of providing an answer to the greatest problems of our age and thus makes it possible for us, once again, to envisage the future, a future that the traditional ideologies, having lost their revolutionary impetus, no longer allow us to see.
Ever since the 1960s, this concept of federalism has been the cornerstone of the cultural identity of the MFE militants (together with their criticism of the idea of nation).
To wage its struggle effectively, the federalist force, in addition to being absolutely independent, must also know how best to act in order to push the governments towards the goal of supranational federal unification. In this regard, the following are crucial points: i) the federalist force must have a supranational structure, so as to be able to operate jointly at European level; ii) it must be capable of mobilising public opinion, without however using elections for this purpose, which is instead the way parties operate; iii) it must systematically denounce the limits and contradictions thrown up by the European integration that the governments, adopting a structurally confederal approach, pursue: namely, the inefficiency that derives from the need for unanimous decisions on fundamental questions and the democratic deficit linked to the fact that integration in the absence of federal institutions empties national democracy of substance yet fails to fill the void that is left with supranational democracy (i.e. crucially important decisions are referred to supranational level, in spite of the fact that no fully democratic system has been created at this level); iv) it must be capable of exploiting these contradictions, especially when they become acutely evident, in order to push the governments in the direction of federal-type choices.
Finally, clarification of the contradictory attitude of the national governments to European unification has another implication for the federalist struggle: it raises the idea of ademocratic constituent assembly (along the lines of the Philadelphia Convention, which, in 1787, drew up the Constitution of the United States of America — history’s first federal state). Basically, ever since Spinelli’s era, the MFE has argued that there is really only one way to arrive, finally, at the European federation, and that is to implement a democratic constituent process, in other words, to entrust the task of defining the supranational institutions to a parliamentary-type body, i.e. a body that acts by majority, in a public setting, and whose proposals enter into force among the ratifying states, without the need for ratification by all of them. This is the only kind of procedure that can allow the achievement of federal results, first because it implies the governments’ renunciation ipso facto of the right of national veto (i.e. the unanimity rule that produces results determined by the least common denominator), and second because, by involving the representatives of the people, it can foster a growing democratic awareness of the political and institutional changes needed to complete the European process. The constituent method is thus the alternative to the approach based on IGCs whose decisions, taken by secret vote, must be unanimous and then ratified unanimously; it is an approach far more suited to choices of a confederal nature. The need to start a democratic constituent process has, in fact, always been at the centre of the MFE’s action, even though its views on the best course to follow have changed over time according to its perception of the opportunities offered by the different political situations (directly elected constituent assembly entrusted with drafting a European constitution; transformation of a consultative parliamentary assembly into a constituent assembly, of its own volition or following the conferring of a specific mandate by the national governments; direct election of the European Parliament; referendum on the conferring of a constituent mandate on the European Parliament).
On the basis of these guiding principles, the MFE has influenced the process of European integration in two ways.
First, the thought and action of the MFE, spearheading the European federalist front, have been crucial in sustaining, throughout the European unification process, the demand for a European federal constitution, and for popular participation in the building of Europe. It is quite clear that the idea of European federal unity, without the presence of a movement constantly and exclusively engaged in its promotion — obviously the attention of the parties to this issue can only be superficial and discontinuous —, would have disappeared from arena of political and cultural debate and, as a result, the prospect of a democratic and federal outcome to the integration process would have lost all practical relevance.
In addition to this general influence, the MFE has also succeeded in exerting a specific and decisive influence, albeit only at particularly testing times when the historical situation, bringing the governments face to face with problems that could not be tackled without implanting federal democratic seeds into the (European) integration bodies or resorting to true transfers of sovereignty, prompted them to tailor their European integration policies accordingly. At such times, when the governments are forced to confront the limitations of their approach to European integration, the federalists find themselves with far more scope for exerting a decisive influence on the process. In this regard, it is worth remarking that the MFE’s action has been bolstered considerably by a strong convergence of the national interest with an advanced form of European integration — a situation particularly evident in Italy where, for objective reasons (primarily the weakness of the state), it shaped government policy for some considerable time.
In the light of this introduction, let us now take a look at the concrete action of the MFE over the years.
The Action of the MFE
The action of the MFE from 1945 to the present can be divided into six phases.
From the Liberation to the Collapse of the European Defence Community (1945-1954).
In the years immediately after the end of the Second World War, the MFE was engaged mainly in establishing its own organisational structure. However, it lost no time in introducing the European constituent assembly as a political watchword, first through an Italian University manifesto for European federation (signed, in the first half of 1946, by 266 university lecturers, including Calamandrei, Devoto, Campagnolo, Rollier, Giovanni De Maria, Gino Cassino, Ezio Franceschini, Felice Perussia) and then through an appeal addressed to the candidates in the April 1948 general elections, which was heeded (signed) by 630 of them. The MFE (on the volition of Calamandrei in particular) was also instrumental in the Italian Constituent Assembly’s decision to include, in the new Italian Constitution, an article (art. 11) that, while not referring explicitly to European unification, nevertheless envisaged possible “limitations of sovereignty necessary for an international order that ensures peace and justice among peoples” and made it possible for Italy to ratify all the European Treaties without the need to revise its Constitution.
The launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, and the resulting introduction of a European unification policy, allowed the MFE, under Spinelli, to mount a hugely influential political action that culminated in the battle for a European Political Community (EPC) to flank the European Defence Community (EDC). Faced with the Cold War situation, characterised by the division of the world’s major powers into two opposing blocs, Spinelli immediately realised and declared that the process of European unification could be launched only within the Western bloc (partly because the USA, knowing that it would help to strengthen its bloc, was strongly in favour of European integration). He pointed out that unification, providing it were effective, would allow Europe, entering into a partnership of equals with the USA, to recover its independence, and would also ultimately prove to be a decisive element in overcoming the situation of opposing blocs, opening up the way for the unification of the whole continent. Along these lines, and gaining leverage from the deficiencies of functionalist (confederal-type) integration, he developed a strategy designed to obtain, through a twofold action (mobilisation of public opinion and contacts with government and political party members less conditioned by nationalist traditions), decisions capable of triggering a constituent process linked to the objective of European federal unification.
In the phase here considered, the first important practical application of this strategy came when the MFE (and the UEF) tried to get the Council of Europe to introduce a constituent role for the Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg. It was felt that this assembly, despite having no power, might prove able to exert continuous pressure on parliamentarians and party leaders interested in European unification and, therefore, like any parliamentary assembly, have the capacity eventually to acquire real powers. The thinking was that, in such a situation, the MFE, highlighting the need for democratic control of the integration process, which was then taking its first steps in the economic field (through the OEEC and the first attempts to establish a customs union) and the military field (through the Brussels Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty), might manage to convince the Strasbourg assembly to spearhead the campaign to create European federal institutions. This was, indeed, attempted, both through advisory work targeting MPs, and through a petition for a pact on European federal union organised in 1950. This petition, which was a considerable success especially in Italy (where it was signed by over 521,000 citizens, including 246 MPs, adopted by 493 town or city councils and by 39 provincial administrations, and also signed by prime minister Alcide De Gasperi, the President of the Republic Luigi Einaudi, and numerous ministers), appealed to the Consultative Assembly to draft a federal pact — it was hoped that this might be used as the basis for implementing gradual economic unification and a common foreign and defence policy among the countries entering into it —, and to recommend that it be ratified by the member states of the Council of Europe, which would have to undertake to bring it into force among the ratifying countries upon its ratification by a group of states with a total population of 100,000,000 people. It is worth noting that the method proposed was that of the vanguard (i.e. the method of allowing those countries willing to take part to press ahead with the initiative), which was subsequently applied first in the construction of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and then in that of the other Communities, which initially had six members.
Although this first attempt failed, another opportunity soon arose with the negotiations on the EDC between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries. As soon as it became clear that the governments of the Six had a concrete plan to create a European army, along the institutional lines of the ECSC, Spinelli saw that basic contradiction inherent in the functionalist method (which pursues European unity in the absence of a European state) was, in this case, so dramatically apparent (an army without the political guidance of a democratic government) that it provided plenty of scope for demanding federal unification and application of the constituent method; he did his utmost to exploit this opportunity, in particular through the relationship he managed to establish with De Gasperi. The main product of this action was the preparation, by the enlarged ESCS Assembly (the Ad Hoc Assembly), of a draft statute for the EPC. This was a very advanced document and its approval would have opened up the way for the realisation, in a relatively short space of time, of federal unification. However, this did not happen because the governments, in addition to having the text redrafted by a diplomatic conference, tied it to ratification of the EDC. As a result, when this collapsed on August 30, 1954, following a vote by the French parliament, the EPC project collapsed with it, thereby removing, for decades, the prospect of a qualitative transition from functionalist integration to federal integration.
Criticism of the Common Market and Popular Campaigns for a European Constituent Assembly (1954-1966).
Following the collapse of the EDC, the European governments fell back on the creation of the European Common Market (an objective already envisaged by the EPC project) and Euratom. The authors of the Treaty of Rome were guided by the firm belief, which defines the functionalist approach, that economic integration would automatically lead, sooner or later, to political unification. The MFE denounced this illusion and, more generally, argued that the situation after the collapse of the EDC no longer presented three fundamental conditions that had previously put the governments of the Six in a situation seemingly offering real scope for federalist intervention in pursuit of the objective of the European federation, namely: (i) active American support for integration, (ii) an acute fear of Soviet expansionism — Stalin’s death and the first timid signs of East-West detente had been key factors contributing to the collapse of the EDC —, and (iii) the need to avoid German rearmament. In the new setting, they argued, European unification was, on account of the irreversible crisis of the nation-states, still as necessary as ever, but it was no longer realistic to expect, in the short term, the emergence of a Europeanist policy comparable to that which the EDC project had put on the table. For these reasons, it was decided that the MFE’s priorities should be to demand, in uncompromising terms, European federation and a European constituent assembly and, by fiercely criticising the governments’ Europeanist initiatives, to keep these demands alive in public opinion until such time as the inadequacy of the governments’ approach became so glaringly obvious that they might once again be expected to make more advanced choices, with the potential to evolve in a federal direction. The concrete result of the adoption of this line, which opened up a considerable divide between the MFE and the democratic parties and also led to a split with the federalist organsiation at European level, was a major Europe-wide campaign calling for the European people to be given constituent power. This period saw two campaigns for, respectively, the European People's Congress (EPC) and the Voluntary Census of the European Federal People.
The EPC campaign was conducted under Spinelli’s guidance in the period 1956-1962; taking Gandhi’s Indian National Congress as an example and source of inspiration, it involved the organisation of “primaries” (the first example of elections of this kind in Europe) in various European cities. The aim was to create a permanent congress of representatives of the European people, which, by involving an ever-increasing number of European citizens, would eventually reach the level of democratic legitimacy and political influence required to force the governments to convene a European constituent assembly. The number of citizens voting in the EPC elections peaked at 650,000 (they numbered 455,000 in Italy alone), after which the campaign ran out of steam. Renewed efforts to mobilise public opinion behind the demand for a European constituent assembly were mounted in 1963-1966 under the leadership of Albertini (who had succeeded Spinelli at the helm of the MFE), this time through the Voluntary Census of the European Federal People campaign, which was intended to be a re-run of the EPC campaign but on a larger scale. This campaign, too, ran its course, having attracted around 100,000 supporters, again mostly in Italy. It should be pointed out that while the Italian section of the MFE was largely involved in the Voluntary Census campaign, most of the supranational MFE members were engaged in an action being conducted by the European Democratic Front — Italy’s man at the forefront of this campaign was Umberto Serafini, MFE member and general secretary of the Italian Section of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions of Europe —, which was targeting those sectors of society and of the political system in the European states that were unwilling to passively accept the antidemocratic features of European integration, and seeking to involve them systematically in the federalist struggle.
The EPC and Census campaigns did not lead to the creation of a European constituent assembly, but they can be credited with having kept alive, in a historical phase in which the successes of economic integration were tending to mask the structural limits of the European Communities, the democratic federal alternative to a European construction project whose weakness and fragility stemmed from its failure to make provision for popular participation. Even though the federalist message reached only a small section of public opinion, these popular campaigns provided the first example, in European history, of a grassroots political action capable of crossing national boundaries and growing, in a unified manner, in different European countries; they also showed that, whenever the citizens were asked to show their support for a completely united Europe and for popular participation in the process of achieving it, their response was largely positive. All this hard work and commitment proved crucial in the building of an independent federalist force and, therefore, in the creation of a resource, in terms of mobilising capacity, that was subsequently to prove enormously useful in the presence of other circumstances and conditions.
The Fight for Direct Election of the European Parliament (1967-1979).
From 1967 onwards, the MFE decided that its strategic efforts should be focused on the struggle to obtain the direct election of the European Parliament (EP), which was seen as a stepping stone to the much sought-after European constituent assembly. To this end, it indicated the direct unilateral election of the Italian representatives to the EP (and possibly those of other countries, too) as a practical means of moving closer to the objective of European elections by direct universal suffrage, and also a way of overcoming de Gaulle’s opposition to this objective. It should be pointed out that the direct election of the EP was a cause already espoused by the federalist organisations that did not share Spinelli and Albertini’s radical criticisms of the Treaty of Rome. The MFE’s decision to add its support was based on three firm convictions, deriving from an analysis of the effective development of the European integration process.
First of all, the success of the Common Market was creating a situation that, while seeming to confirm that the governments had been right to choose the functionalist approach, was actually creating an increasingly marked discrepancy between the advance of economic integration and the lack of evolution of the Community institutions (the Luxembourg Compromise of January 1966 had effectively blocked a proposed transition to majority voting in the Council of Ministers and a strengthening of the EEC Commission). This situation was exacerbating Europe’s inefficiency and democratic deficit, but above all it was exposing the weakness of the argument that political integration would automatically follow economic integration — to the point that the conditions were becoming ripe for a convergence, on the issue of the European elections, between the Europeanism present in the democratic parties and federalist action. Furthermore, direct European elections, albeit not implying the attribution of real powers to the EP, would, objectively, have had constituent value. Indeed, by inducing the formation of a European system of parties and giving the EP legitimacy before the people, they would have prompted the parliament to assume, in practice, a constituent role, given that the advances in the process of economic integration were presenting the governments with problems (economic policy, monetary unification, planning at European level, agricultural prices, and so on) that could not be resolved effectively without starting the construction of a democratic European government. Finally, the increasingly real prospect of the UK joining the Community — Britain clearly wanted to join in order to prevent the Community from evolving in a political direction — was making it essential, gaining leverage from the contradictions thrown up by the functionalist approach to integration, to pursue a strategy based on the identification, as intermediate objectives (i.e. ones compatible with the existing power situation), of institutional transitions with federal potential that the governments might, upon the emergence of the first inevitable impasse, prove ready to embrace.
The objective of the direct election of the EP, and the launch, in Italy, of the campaign for the direct unilateral election of its representatives, marked the start of the strategic phase known as “constitutional gradualism”, which envisaged, as the next stage, the creation of a single currency, another key step towards the possibility of creating a true European government.
Having decided to fight for the direct election of the EP (starting with direct unilateral elections in Italy), the MFE showed itself to be resolutely committed to this objective, above all striving to organise a substantial level of popular mobilisation around the issue. The landmarks of this mobilisation were:
— the submission to the Italian Senate, in 1969, of a proposed bill of popular initiative (the bill carried 65,000 authenticated signatures) for the direct election of the Italian representativesin the European Parliament; this initiative was picked up again in 1973 by the Italian regions of Piedmont, Umbria and Abruzzo, which presented both chambers of the Italian parliament with proposed bills of regional initiative identical to the one the MFE had presented to the Senate;
— The 1975 campaign of information and debate on the European elections and the European Union (linked to Belgian prime minister Tindemans’ “mission” to advance European integration), which included, notably, a popular petition, signed by 150,000 citizens, calling on the EP to assume a constituent role, and a demonstration in Rome during the European Council summit of 1-2 December 1975 (which decided that the European elections would be held on a single date in 1978, even though this date was subsequently put back a year). The Rome demonstration was attended by 4,000 federalists, a delegation of whom (led by Albertini and by Giuseppe Petrilli, president of the CIME) was received by the then president of the European Council, Aldo Moro. During the summit, the Italian government, spurred on by the federalists, was instrumental in securing the decision to hold the first European elections, even possibly without the participation of United Kingdom and Denmark (these countries, to avoid being isolated, subsequently fell in line with the decision);
— the organisation (between 1976 and 1978) of a systematic action designed to encourage the parties to include, in their European election manifestoes, a commitment to federal reform of the Community system;
— the demonstration in front of the EP building in Strasbourg on July 17 1979 during the parliament’s first session following its election in June that same year; 5,000 young Europeans representing federalist organisations and democratic forces took part in this event, demanding commitment, from the EP, to the objectives of a European government, a European currency, and a strong Community budget.
All this endeavour was undoubtedly a key factor in bringing about the direct election of the EP (and also contributed to the success of the first European elections). It is no coincidence, however, that the introduction of this milestone by the European governments came during the crisis of European economic integration of the 1970s (a period characterised by monetary instability, the energy crisis and the collapse of the European “currency snake”), in other words, a time when the need for a strong relaunch of integration — and thus for involvement of public opinion — had become imperative, in order to prevent the whole project from collapsing. It is also worth underlining that the crisis of the 1970s showed that the MFE had been right when, in its harsh criticism of the Treaties of Rome, it had argued that, because of Europe’s institutional deficits, the process of European integration would inevitably grind to a halt at the first signs of a serious economic crisis.
From Spinelli’s Draft Treaty to the Maastricht Treaty (1980-1993).
Once the first EP (1979-1984) was instated, the MFE began to focus on how best to exploit its constituent potential. In this context, the efforts of Spinelli, working within the EP, and of the federalists, outside it, became combined in a joint action geared at mobilising (in public opinion, the parties, local authorities and economic and social organisations) massive consensus around the EP’s drive for an overhaul of the institutional framework of the Communities.
In the 1970s, Spinelli had decided to resign as leader of the MFE (he nevertheless remained a lifelong member) in order to conduct his federalist struggle from within the European institutions. By founding the Italian Committee for European Democracy and the Institute for International Affairs he succeeded in establishing organic relations with the political class that allowed him to become a member of the European Commission (from 1970 to 1976) and then a member of the EP (first, from 1976 to 1979, as a member of the delegation of the Italian parliament to the EP and then, from 1970 until his death, as a directly elected member). It should be pointed out that he decided to stand as an independent candidate in the electoral list of the Italian Communist Party in order to encourage the full integration of this party not just into the liberal-democratic system, but also into the sphere of Europeanist politics in Italy. As a directly elected member of the EP, Spinelli, together with the other parliamentarians who founded the Crocodile Club, gradually managed to secure the commitment of the entire EP to the idea of a new treaty on Europe. Spinelli’s draft treaty envisaged a transformation of the Community into a federation with effective powers of government in the field of economic and monetary policy and made provision for a mechanism that would allow the transfer to federal level, without the need for further treaties, of powers in the field of foreign and security policy. It was envisaged that this treaty, inspired by the Philadelphia Convention, would enter into force in the ratifying countries, provided they were in the majority and had an overall population corresponding to 2/3 of the Community population. The draft Treaty establishing the European Union was adopted by the EP on 14 February 1944 by a very large majority.
The MFE’s systematic campaign support of Spinelli’s draft treaty began with the founding of the Crocodile Club in 1980 and its high point came with the mass demonstration in Milan on 28-29 June 1985 (during the European Council that convened the IGC that drew up the Single European Act – SEA), which attracted 100,000 participants from all over Europe. Although even this was not enough to get the governments to accept the EP’s most advanced requests, the fact that the EP, taking on a constituent role, had proposed a federal-type overhaul of the whole the Community system was undoubtedly a factor that contributed decisively to the highly evolutionary phase of European integration that followed, and culminated in the Maastricht Treaty.
The decision to convene the IGC that drew up the SEA was adopted — on the initiative of the Italian presidency (led by prime minister Bettino Craxi and foreign minister Giulio Andreotti) — by a majority, overcoming the opposition of the British, Danish and Greek governments. The SEA not only ushered in some significant institutional reforms (namely an extension of the principle of majority voting in the Council of Ministers and a strengthening of the powers of the EP), but also marked the start of a programme designed to complete the establishment of a single market. In this way, the foundations were laid for relaunching the objective of monetary union. The MFE’s efforts to raise awareness of this objective among the political and ruling class and among the governments, also through initiatives at European level, actually dated back to the start of the 1970s. Indeed, then, with the governments and diplomats struggling to work out confederal solutions to the contradictions (exacerbated by the end of the Bretton Woods system) that inevitably arose within the Common Market as a result of the co-existence of different national currencies governed by monetary and exchange rate policies dictated by different national agendas, the federalists had been the first todenounce the limits of the intergovernmental approach and to introduce the issue of the creation of a single currency and, by implication, that of the creation of a European federal state. The fact that they had framed the issue in clear terms and had gathered support in authoritative quarters was to prove decisive when, subsequently, the start of the process of constructing the single market exposed even more clearly the need to examine the question of monetary union. Indeed, as realised by European Commission president Jacques Delors and his advisor Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, among others, the free movement of capital (scheduled to be introduced in 1990) was an objective incompatible with a fixed exchange rate system, being liable to induce speculative currency movements on a vast scale. The switch to a single currency was therefore essential to guarantee the survival of the single market. In 1989-91, it was this intrinsic movement towards the creation of the single market, facilitated by a changing global scenario — the end of the bipolar system had created a pressing need to set the strengthening of the newly reunified Germany in the framework of an irreversible deepening of the process of European integration, while the end of Europe’s division into two opposing blocs had raised the urgent need to integrate the countries of central and eastern Europe into the Community system and radically altered the terms of Europe’s relations with the USA —, that led to the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty. And this was the treaty that, as well as significantly increasing the powers of the EP and launching cooperation in the fields of external and internal security, established the fundamental objective of creating a single European currency.
In this setting, the MFE was active, mainly, in two areas.
First of all, strongly committed to the objective of monetary union, it continued and developed the systematic political work that it had been doing in this area ever since the creation of the customs union in 1968, and another key part of which had been its campaign to have Italy join the European monetary system at its inception in 1979. This commitment was based on the firm belief that monetary union, by completing the process of voiding the national governments of their capacity to implement macroeconomic policies, would make it even more difficult to defer the creation of a European federal government. Second, it remained committed to the objective of a European constituent assembly and, in this regard, the high point came with its proposed bill of popular initiative (organised in 1988 and signed by around 120,000 Italian citizens). This led to the consultative referendum of 18 June 1989 (held in conjunction with the European elections), which saw 88 per cent of the Italians who voted in the European elections expressing their support for the European federal constitution and a constituent role for the EP. This result — together with the demonstrations, attended by thousands of federalists, held in Rome during the European Councils of 27-28 October and 14-15 December 1990, chaired by Andreotti — undoubtedly had the effect of making the commitment and action of the Italian government during the process of adopting the Maastricht Treaty more convincing and more effective.
From the Maastricht Treaty to the Lisbon Treaty (1994-2007)
In the period following the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty, the MFE’s work was geared mainly at supporting the actual implementation of monetary union — seen as a strategic step towards a European federal constitution — and Italy’s participation in this project. Its action in these areas was flanked by an increasingly strong and systematic commitment to the idea that Europe should assume an active and independent role on the global stage in order to respond effectively to the challenges being thrown up by globalisation and the post-bipolar world order.
The MFE has always (ever since the time of the Ventotene Manifesto) seen the European federation as a fundamental step towards the global federation envisaged by Kant, a view based on the conviction that the growth of international interdependence — produced by the development of the Industrial Revolution and considered a fundamental factor in the historical crisis of Europe’s nation-states — would, in the long run, inevitably render even continental-size states inadequate, thereby bringing the ideal concept of global unification out of the realm of utopia and into that of historical possibility. This view became particularly strong in the period spanning the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s, and was summed up very effectively in the slogan “Unite Europe to unite the world”, launched at the MFE congress in Bari on 23-24 February 1980. Basically it represents a translation, into political terms, of the realisation that the expansion of human interdependence beyond national boundaries (in the setting of the transition from the industrial to the post-industrial society underpinned by the technical and scientific revolution) is reaching a level at which all fundamental problems assume a global dimension, and there emerge real threats to the survival of mankind (the risk of nuclear and environmental destruction, the huge divide between the North and South of the world, most tellingly exemplified by the fact that 80 per cent of the world’s resources are in the hands of 20 per cent of the global population, ungoverned global economic interdependence); and that all of these problems will find valid responses only through the gradual but effective building of global unity.
In a world that is becoming a community of destiny and in which “unite or perish” (a decisive factor at the root of the process of European integration) is becoming an increasingly globalised concept, there is, more than ever, a need for a Europe equipped with the capacity to act on the international stage, so as to be able to implement — in accordance with its own vital interests — a policy of global unification. In the current historical setting, this is an objective that may be pursued: i) by exporting the European experience of integration and pacification to other parts of the world (through the formation of regional integrations); ii) by rethinking and strengthening the global international organisations, starting with the United Nations. This need, already strongly felt also by the United States and the USSR in the second half of the 1980s (the time of the agreements on disarmament and the start of Gorbachev’s perestroika in the USSR), has become particularly pressing following the emergence of the monopolar world order, which has left the USA shouldering increasingly unsustainable burdens and at the same time fuelled a temptation to respond to the problem of global unification with hegemonic-imperial solutions. For Europe, whose global economic importance has grown considerably with the creation of the single currency and the progressive enlargement of the EU, it has become urgently necessary, according to the MFE, to introduce a common foreign, security and defence policy— going much further than the mechanisms of intergovernmental cooperation introduced in these areas by the Maastricht Treaty and subsequently by the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties — in order to create a partnership of equals with the USA and, in this way, form a vanguard spearheading a policy of global unification.
The creation of the single European currency (with the self-exclusion of the UK), the enlargement of the Community system to the countries of central and eastern Europe (which see it more as an economic opportunity than as a political objective), the need (no longer deferrable) for a united economic government to complete the monetary union, and the need for Europe to play an active role in promoting progress and peace in the world, all had the effect of pushing the issue of a European federal constitution between the members of the nascent eurozone (necessary in order to ensure efficient, democratic and irreversible European unification) higher and higher up the agenda. One of the most significant initiatives in this sense was the document published in 1994 by Wolfgang Schäuble (chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, the governing party in Germany under Chancellor Kohl), and Karl Lamers, which reiterated the urgency of the need to create the single currency (at that time still in the balance), starting with the countries already ready, in terms of the state of their public finances, to do so, and underlined the need to combine the launch of the single currency with the creation of a political union, so as to render Europe’s unification irreversible and capable of guaranteeing the whole of Europe political and economic stability. The MFE, for its part, kept up its efforts to spur on the politicians and mobilise public opinion around these issues, organising, among other things, demonstrations (attracting thousands of participants) to coincide with the European Council meetings in Turin on 29 March 1996 and Florence on 22 June 1996. The following year it launched its supranational Campaign for a European Federal Constitution. A particularly important moment in this campaign was the demonstration held in Nice on 7 December 2000 to coincide with the European Council meeting that approved the Nice Treaty together with an annexed protocol, desired by the Italian and German governments, that gave rise to the decision, taken in Laeken on 15 December 2001, to convene a Convention on the future of the European Union. The 10,000 people who took part in this demonstration were calling, essentially, for a federal constitution drawn up using a democratic constituent method.
The governments’ response to the request advanced by the federalists and the EP was to convene the European Convention chaired by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. In this way, some of the aspects of the democratic constituent model were embraced, namely participation both of MEPs and of national MPs (as in the drawing up of the Charter of Fundamental Rights that was formally proclaimed in Nice), transparent meetings, and a chance for the voice of civil society to be heard. However, the principle of unanimity was still applied throughout the process, from the resolutions of the Convention through to the governments’ final approval of the text prepared by the Convention and the ratification of the same by the states. Although the MFE did its utmost to encourage the adoption of a draft constitution that was as advanced as it possibly could be, a significant minority of its number, led by the Pavia section, already highly critical of the re-nationalisation process by that time under way in the EU, had little time for the Convention, having been certain since it was convened that its results would inevitably be disappointing, given that efforts to study a reform of the Treaties (considered desirable in view of the EU’s imminent enlargement) had failed to take into account the need for differentiated integration, in other words, different forms of integration for countries with different levels of commitment to Europe; the Pavia federalists maintained that a constitution could be created only by starting with a vanguard of Europe’ founding states. The MFE, on the other hand, while also judging the Convention’s draft constitution unsatisfactory, neverthless felt that the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe contained elements that constituted steps in the direction of federalism and democratic participation, and also that the use of the term constitution (with all that it symbolises) would, albeit without marking the creation of a federal state, provide important leverage for demanding the immediate implementation of further decisive steps towards full federalisation of Europe (given that a constitution without a state would be an unsustainable situation). For these reasons, the MFE supported and worked to promote ratification of the Constitutional Treaty. Although, the ratification process ultimately failed because of the negative results of referenda held in May-June 2005 in France and Holland, it is worth remembering that the draft Constitution was ratified by the majority of the EU states, representing a majority of the European population.
Following the impasse reached in 2005, the MFE attempted to relaunch the constituent process. Identifying the principle of unanimity, i.e. the national veto, as the obstacle to the desperately needed advances, the movement decided to focus on resolving this crucial issue. While a minority of its members (still harshly critical of the new directions taken by the EU following its enlargement, which had seriously undermined any political vocation it may have) continued to campaign for the creation of a federal vanguard within the EU through the signing of a federal pact between the founding countries, the strategic objective of the MFE’s action at European level in the period 2006-2007 became that of having the draft Constitution (revised and improved to take into account the results of the French and Dutch referenda) submitted to a Europe-wide consultative referendum to be held on the same day as the 2009 European elections; a further aim was to have it enter into force, among the ratifying countries, subject to its approval by the “double majority” of member states and voters. It should be pointed out that the idea of holding a Europe-wide referendum, which was a key point and a strength of the campaign for the Congress of the European People, was based on the view that national referenda are not transparent, as they allow the choice on European unity to become conditioned by internal political struggles and do not allow the European citizens to speak as such.
At the end of 2007, the governments responded to the federalist demands — these were also backed up a signature campaign, which, however, ran out of time before reaching its full potential — by signing the Lisbon Treaty, whose formal entry into force was scheduled for the end of 2009. This text still contained, albeit in a somewhat watered-down form (and with additional derogation clauses to meet demands from the Czechs, Irish and Polish), the main reforms included in the Constitutional Treaty, but all reference, even symbolic, to the concept of constitution had been erased; this had been done with the precise intention of reducing, as far as possible, any expectations that the process of institutional change in a federal direction might rapidly be resumed. In short, the institutional system resulting from the process that began immediately after the monetary union came into force contains some important federal characteristics — I refer, in particular, to the relative autonomy of the Commission, the supremacy of Community law guaranteed by the European Court of Justice, the role of the directly elected EP, and the use of majority voting for some of the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers; however it is also weighed down by many other features that constitute a hard core of a stubbornly confederal nature, namely: the need for unanimous decisions in key areas (finance, foreign, security and defence policy and institutional reform), the right of secession, and the fact that the EU’s true government is a body, the European Council, that can be likened to the congresses of the Holy Alliance.
The EU Faces a Stark choice: European Federation or Disintegration (2008-2013).
The year in which the governments signed the Lisbon Treaty (2007) was also the one that, following the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States, marked the start of the most serious global economic crisis since the one that began in 1929. Federalists maintain that the deep-rooted cause of the great recession, which is still not over, lies in the contradiction between, on the one hand, the phenomenon of globalisation, which has taken the interdependence between the countries of the world to a level at which the market and society have already become, in many ways, global, and, on the other, the lack of a global order able to govern this reality. For this reason, the need to create an international system capable of starting the transition towards peaceful and democratic unification of the world (a need already fuelled by threats to the survival of mankind, especially with regard to the environment and weapons of mass destruction) and, consequently, of completing (as the first and decisive step in this direction) the federal unification of Europe has become one that can no longer be deferred.
Before looking at the recent situation as regards European integration and the work done by the federalists in this setting, it should be underlined that the crisis that began in 2007 has laid bare the structural weakness of the American economy; indeed, the US economy is characterised by an extremely serious fourfold deficit (trade, budgetary, banking and private) that is, essentially, a reflection of the impossibility of reconciling healthy and sustainable economic development with the burden of responsibilities that comes with being the world’s leading political-military power. Another point worth remembering is that recent years have also seen the emergence of new global economic powers that are showing a strong growth momentum despite being countries that still have large pockets of poverty (I refer, in particular, to China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa). What we are, in fact, witnessing is the progressive establishment of a multipolar system and the end of the end of the undisputed domination of the West.
As far as the European project is concerned, the main thing to emerge from the world’s present financial, economic and social difficulties has been the existential crisis of European integration. Basically, the European “edifice”, which is still only half-built, today runs a very real risk of collapsing. Indeed, there is currently a force, of an economic nature, that is driving Europe towards disintegration, and it stems essentially from the depth of the euro crisis. The attacks, by financial speculators, on the sovereign debts of the European countries and the costs, to the most indebted and economically struggling countries,of borrowing on the markets, are unsustainable and have the effect of counteracting economic recovery policies, paving the way for insolvency and recession; but they are also a clear sign of the contradictions inherent in a monetary union that was created without also creating an economic union, and of the dramatic political and economic divide that has, as a result, opened up between the northern and southern eurozone countries. It must, first of all, be quite clear that should the euro collapse, the return to the national currencies would not only imply huge financial costs, but would also bring a return to competitive devaluations and different forms of protectionism and therefore spell the end of the Common Market. In short, it would mark the end of a sixty-year historical cycle that has guaranteed the Europeans conditions of peace and civil-political and socio-economic progress never previously experienced. A catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions for all Europeans, it would also have terrible consequences for the world as a whole, given the exemplary nature of the European pacification process and the decisive role that a united Europe is called upon to play in the building of a more just, more peaceful and more environmentally sustainable world. What the crisis has also shown (and this is something that the governments themselves and the European institutions have realised) is that the single currency cannot survive unless the monetary union is consolidated and completed with the creation of an economic union and a political union (which imply, as the first step, alongside the banking union that is currently being finalised, the creation of a separate and additional budget for the euro area financed with own resources, and thus the introduction of an independent power of taxation in the eurozone).
However, it must be realised that there is also another force, this time political, that is driving Europe towards disintegration, and it is generated by a strengthening of opposition to European integration, together with the emergence of clashes of a nationalistic nature between European countries: the economically strong countries are accused of selfishness and, in turn, accuse the economically weak ones of parasitism and of failing to implement economic discipline. In this setting, there are widespread concerns over the hegemonic role of Germany within the EU, raising uncomfortable memories of a time when Germany’s hegemonic ambitions were the main factor leading to two world wars. There can be no underestimating the dangerousness of a spread of these eurosceptic and nationalistic trends, as opposed to the preservation and advancement of European unification.
The problems at the root of the forces now pushing Europe towards disintegration are the inefficiency and democratic deficit that have always characterised the process of European integration but were accentuated by the establishment of the monetary union and have been exacerbated by the financial crisis and economic-social crisis that began in 2007. In the current phase, this inefficiency — linked to the fundamentally confederal nature of the European institutions (and the impediment represented by the national veto) — translates, above all, into slow and inadequate interventions; meanwhile, the democratic deficit makes it extremely difficult to exercise solidarity between the nations and therefore impossible to address the crisis properly, i.e. by combining the necessary financial recovery with economic development that is environmentally and socially sustainable and territorially balanced.
The crisis has therefore highlighted the need to create, in the eurozone, a state power that is democratic (directly legitimated by the citizens) and efficient (equipped with its own recources), both in the financial and in the administrative field.
The economic imbalance (accentuated by the current crisis) gradually created between the weak and strong members of the eurozone, i.e. between the core group led by Germany (which includes Finland, Benelux and Austria, with France an intermediate position) and the peripheral countries (the main ones being Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland), is one of the most disruptive influences to have emerged in this general framework of inefficiency and democratic deficit. This imbalance (which clearly goes against the commitment to economic social and territorial cohesion enshrined in the European Treaties as a factor able to contribute to expansion of the internal market) is reflected in a number of differences in terms of growth rates, unemployment levels, the states’ internal imbalances, poverty belts, levels of productivity and competitiveness, trade and balance of payments imbalances, borrowing and bond rate spreads; and the reason for it is the precarious state of the euro. Crucially, there is a very real risk that it could cause struggling countries to default on their sovereign debts; this would inevitably lead to their withdrawal from the single currency and trigger the start of Europe's economic disintegration.
In the same way as the presence of internal imbalances generates regional nationalism within the states (Italy is a case in point), the presence of economic imbalances within Europe is, more than anything else, the factor responsible for growing nationalistic tendencies that are undermining European integration on a political level. As already mentioned, in the struggling countries there are inevitably emerging nationalistic grievances against the strong countries, which are felt to benefit from integration at the expense of the weak ones (in this sense, Germany, the strongest of the strong and suspected or openly accused of having hegemonic tendencies, is a particular target). Nationalistic tendencies are emerging in the strong countries, too, both as a reaction against the accusations levelled by the peripheral countries, and because the struggling countries, on account of their economic inefficiency, are seen as a millstone around the necks of the strong ones and an obstacle to the growth of Europe as a whole.
Having clarified all this, the priority must be to specify the route that needs to be followed in order to overcome the inefficiency of European unification and, therefore, the unacceptable economic and territorial imbalances that characterise it and are hastening its disintegration. Clearly, the challenge is to succeed in switching from essentially negative economic integration (meaning the elimination of obstacles to the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital) to a form of economic integration that can also be defined positive (i.e. based on the introduction of strong supranational policies designed to address the imbalances that are inevitably produced by a market that is not adequately governed). The creation of the single market, of which the monetary union is an absolutely necessary part, above all because it eliminates the protectionism related to exchange rate fluctuations, has certainly been a key factor in the economic development and, therefore, progress linked to the enlargement of the European market. But, while the formation of an economy of European (and, in many ways, global) dimensions has, inevitably, substantially reduced the efficacy of national instruments of economic governance, this trend has not been countered by the establishment of European instruments capable of implementing an effective policy of economic, social and territorial cohesion or a counter-cyclical policy, which could prove extremely effective only in a system that is integrated at European level. In short, creating an economic union of countries with vastly differing growth, productivity and efficiency levels, without also introducing the structural solidarity that is represented, albeit in an very embryonic form, by the so-called structural funds, was always bound to result, even in a context of overall growth of the European economy, in the severe imbalances that we are now seeing and that, as mentioned, are at the root of the instability of the euro and the spread of nationalistic tendencies.
It has to be pointed out that some of the blame for the imbalances between the European countries lies with the states themselves (being linked to phenomena such as waste, parasitism, corruption, tax evasion, widespread illegality, and inefficient public administration), which therefore have no choice but to embark on a serious process of restructuring and reform. However, as shown by all rigorous and objective studies dealing with the issue of the states’ internal imbalances (i.e. studies not tainted by national or regional prejudices), these problems are actually an additional factor with respect to the central (and systemic) problem that is the lack of true positive economic integration. It should also be pointed out that a European system of structural solidarity would (for example by establishing the conditions for rebalancing interventions) be able to put pressure on the states to implement national restructuring and recovery programmes.
In concrete terms, switching to positive economic integration would today amount to going beyond stopgap measures, such as the bailout fund, the fiscal compact, a more active role for the ECB, the provision of aid to countries in difficulty, and so on, all of which fail to get to the root of Europe’s weakness. In other words, it would amount to overcoming the situation of a monetary union without an economic government — which is the same as saying without a state, given that structural redistribution is a fundamental aspect of democratic statehood —, which the federalists have always recognised as untenable. Having a European economic government means creating a fiscal union among the eurozone countries, equipped with a European treasury that can act as a lender of last resort. It also means having a supranational budget to allow the adoption, at European level, of measures geared at bringing about a revival of environmentally and socially sustainable and territorially balanced growth, and therefore European taxes and eurobonds capable of at least tripling the EU budget, which currently does not even amount to 1 per cent of the European GDP. It also entails close European supervision of banks. In short, it means having the capacity to impose strict financial discipline in a context of solid and consistent growth and effective solidarity. Obviously, a true European economic government implies a substantial transfer of sovereignty, in the macroeconomic and fiscal sectors, from the states to Europe and, therefore, an efficient and democratically legitimate supranational institutional system. In short, what is needed is an executive power legitimised by the vote of the European citizens, a legislative system based on full codecision between the EP and the Council, and the elimination of all forms of national veto.
In short, the federal solution is the only one that, by resolutely addressing the imbalances between the strong and the weak countries that are undermining the single currency and fuelling opposing nationalistic tendencies, can save the process of European integration. It also represents the framework for overcoming the issue, fraught with dangers, of relations between Germany and its European partners. Indeed, the emergence of a real prospect of harmonious development for all the European countries would inevitably lay to rest the concerns over Germany’s economically dominant position. Moreover, upon the transition from a prevalently confederal to a federal system the political problems linked to demographic size would be relativised (it is not Germany’s fault that it has the largest population of all the EU countries), since decisions would, without exception, be taken by a majority (there would be no national vetoes), albeit with the application of the weighting systems typical of federal voting mechanisms.
While there can be absolutely no doubt that European federation is both necessary and urgent, the problem now is how to secure, from the governments, the decision to accomplish this objective, which was indicated as far back as the Schuman Declaration and has been deferred ever since. In this regard, it must be specified that Germany, although more or less directly accused of having a selfish attitude and being opposed to the provision of aid to the weakest countries, is actually openly in favour of the federalist route. Moreover, the great majority of German politicians maintain, quite rightly, that federal political union is the crucial precondition for the creation of a European economic government, which would imply the creation of structural solidarity by the strong countries for the weak ones. They in fact make it perfectly clear that the transfer of resources implicit in the concept of effective and solidarity-based governance of the European economy must be accompanied by a transfer of powers to supranational level, so as to make it possible to monitor the correct use of aid granted and avoid instances of parasitism; this would clearly encourage greater commitment to internal restructuring, rather than a perpetuation of the current waste and inefficiency.
On the other hand, it must be pointed out that resistance to the federal leap forward comes, if anywhere, from France. Indeed, at the time of the negotiations that led to the single currency, there was quite widespread opposition in France to Kohl’s request that the construction of the economic and monetary union be accompanied by serious steps towards political union. Today the French government insists on the absolute need for a European economic government, and thus for the transition to positive integration that implies solidarity-based growth, but it will not go so far as to accept, unequivocally, the transfer of sovereignty to a supranational democratic (i.e. federal) system, instead displaying its usual attachment to confederal intergovernmentalism. In this setting, a fundamentally important role could be played by Italy, which at decisive points in the European integration process, has repeatedly proved able to strengthen the initiatives launched by the Franco-German leadership and render them more advanced in a democratic-federal sense. The current phase, which sees the destiny of Europe hanging in the balance, lends itself absolutely to a decisive intervention on the part of the Italian government, which should put pressure on the French and German governments to agree to launch, between the countries of the eurozone and those that intend to join it, a constitutional pact to introduce financial restructuring, solidarity-based growth and a democratic-federal framework.
Obviously, such a role, on the part of Italy, will be effective only it is accompanied by strong and concrete commitments to internal restructuring and reform (in particular to reducing the national debt, combatting waste and tax evasion, increasing efficiency in the public sector, and rationalising the political institutions). It is a real problem for the governments of the strong countries, the German one in particular, to get public opinion at home to accept the idea of solidarity-based European federalism, given that they have to overcome the kind of reactions typically displayed by strong regions towards weaker ones (one need only think of the attitude of public opinion in northern Italy towards southern Italy). For this reason, it is crucial to ensure that public opinion in these countries is able to appreciate that the introduction of such a system goes hand in hand with the achievement of real advances (in terms of restructuring, reform and modernisation) in the more backward countries.
The final point to underline is that, while the depth of the crisis facing Europe is undoubtedly a fundamental factor in creating the conditions for highly advanced choices by the governments, there is another factor that must also be present and active: namely the application of pressure from grassroots level.
In the present phase, in which “European federation now” is the only valid response to a crisis that threatens to spell the end of European integration, the federalists have decided to press for a constituent process that radically overcomes the unanimity rule. This implies the taking of three crucial decisions: i) the states willing to take part, and those in whose vital interests it is to do so (namely, the eurozone member states and the countries wanting to join the single currency), must make the decision to start this constituent process and, thus, to create a federation within the confederation (i.e. within the broader EU comprising all the member states, which would obviously all retain the rights already acquired and would be guaranteed the possibility of joining the federal vanguard at a later date, should they wish to do so); ii) it must be agreed that voting within the constitutional convention that these countries will be required to convene will be by majority and not by consensus; iii) it must also be agreed that there will be no modification of the draft Constitution by ICG prior to starting the process of its ratification, and that its ratification will be by a referendum to be held simultaneously in the countries that participated in its drafting.
The EP also has a decisive role to play in getting the governments to start the above-outlined constituent process of the federal union. Indeed, the EP must show that it is absolutely committed to the implementation of a European plan for environmentally and socially sustainable economic growth based on investments in infrastructures, environmental reconversion of the economy, the use of renewable energy sources, research and innovation — a plan to be financed from European own resources (generated by taxes, such as the proposed taxes on financial transactions and on CO2 emissions, and by the issuing of euro project bonds). At the same time, the EP should submit an exhaustive proposal for modification of the EU Treaties that amounts to the introduction of a European federal Constitution for the eurozone. In addition, it must also organise interparliamentary Assizes through which to win support for this proposal among national MPs, in such a way as to turn the 2014 European elections into an opportunity to obtain popular legitimation of the constitutional proposal. These initiatives would favour the convening of a Constitutional convention to ratify the draft Constitution.
To encourage these developments (made extremely complex by the need to work out differentiated forms of European institutional integration for the eurozone and non-eurozone countries and, in particular, to resolve the issue of the differentiated functioning of the European Parliament), the aim of federalist action now is to try to achieve systematic mobilisation of all those (in the parliamentary groups, political forces, social and economic forces, general public, local administrations and world of education and culture) who are in favour of the European federation. This mobilisation is being sought through an extensive campaign for European federation now.
On the basis of the experience acquired over seventy years of unwavering commitment and unstinting effort, we know that the MFE will, as ever, do its duty and are confident in its reaching the final victory.
FOR RECONSTRUCTING THE HISTORY OF THE MFE
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