Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 2 - Page 131

 

 

POLITICAL REPORT AT THE 15thCONGRESS OF THE UNION OF EUROPEAN FEDERALISTS
(Milan,May 15-17,1992)
 
 
This Congress is taking place in an uncertain phase in the history of European unification. On the one hand, federal Union is now accepted as a goal by an increasingly greater proportion of the political forces throughout Western Europe. Federalism has become for the first time a word capable of arousing strong emotions. The Maastricht agreement has been an important step forward, at least as regards Monetary Union. The external influence of the European Community is impressive, as measured by its capacity to attract other states in Eastern Europe, the EFTA zone and the Mediterranean. There is widespread awareness that enlargement cannot be indefinitely delayed, and that this formidable challenge cannot be met without radically strengthening the Community’s institutions.
On the other hand the political climate in almost all European countries is deteriorating to the extent that the ratification of the Maastricht agreement is under threat. In France, the resolute involvement of President Mitterrand and the result of the National Assembly’s vote two days ago are encouraging; but the defeat of the Socialist Party in recent regional elections, the striking gains of the National Front and the ambiguous stance of a section of the moderate right, added to the uncertainties bound up with the constitutional problems linked to ratification, are creating tensions which justify some residual fears. The German government (in spite of recent reverses for both major parties in two important regional elections, and the political difficulties relating to the costs of unification and the recent wave of strikes) seems to be able to ensure that the ratification procedure will reach its conclusion; but considerable objections are being raised in industrial and financial circles and by the Länder, not to mention the extreme right. The Italian elections have provoked political confusion, which does not favour quick ratification. In Ireland and Denmark the issue hangs on the results of an unpredictable referendum process, even if recent opinion polls in Denmark show that public opinion is moving in favour of ratification.
We are confident that the Maastricht agreement will be ratified. But we should keep in mind that failure to ratify it would set European history back ten years. Thus ratification should be the first European priority of the national Parliaments, and the federalists should mobilize so as to put pressure on them to facilitate and accelerate the process.
If the new Treaty is not to remain simply a piece of paper, it will cause the Community to face important new responsibilities in the fields of external economic relations, internal cohesion and the creation of an environment favourable to an increase in the competitiveness of its industrial system. Thus the national governments have the duty to endow the Community with the financial means necessary to implement the agreement, by approving the Delors package.
Ratification of the Maastricht agreement and adoption of the Delors package should be the most immediate aims of our strategy. We must denounce the scandal of those governments who solemnly declare their support for the goals of European monetary and political Union but refuse to provide the means to achieve them.
But these decisions, difficult as they may be, are but the beginning of the story. The governments of the Community must urgently go beyond Maastricht if they do not want to lose power and see the countries they rule plunge into chaos. The end of bipolarism and the fall of the Russian Empire seem to have weakened the bonds that held the national states of Western Europe together, by undermining the legitimacy of the democratic parties that traditionally represented citizens in the national institutions. Instead, new parties have arisen, and some hitherto marginal groups have gained in importance, that preach intolerance and division. More generally, the party line-up has grown more complex in many countries, creating problems for democracy and making effective government difficult. A new aggressive regionalism is on the increase everywhere, putting the very unity of the nation-states in question.
Thus Western Europe risks being caught up in the whirlwind of nationalism and micro-nationalism which has been devastating Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Empire.
But this trend can be challenged. The Community possesses the material and moral resources to reverse these tendencies and make the arguments for unity win through against those for division. But it must present to the citizens of both halves of Europe a vision of the future which is capable of inspiring hope and mobilizing support. To this end, it must achieve its federal unification without further delay and begin the process of enlargement to include Central and Eastern European countries (as well as those of the European Free Trade Area).
These two problems are strictly interrelated. The goal of European Federation can no longer be viewed as something to be achieved in relative isolation from the outside world, as was the case when the Soviet-American condominium seemed to be indefinitely freezing the world balance of power. Now the world balance of power is in flux. The Eastern European countries, freed from the Soviet grip, are looking to the Community. So are the EFTA countries, since the concept of neutrality has lost all meaning. The EC is being forced to take on responsibilities towards the rest of the world, which is something that has never happened before. The problem of European unity is no longer a regional issue, but needs to be set against the background of a much wider historical movement and tackled within the context of a comprehensive strategic design.
In particular, the process of European unification should be viewed as part of the process of world unification. This is no longer an abstract ideal. The awareness of the global dimension of ecological problems is increasing; the dismemberment of the ex-Soviet Union has dramatized the problem of world-wide control of nuclear armaments; the increasingly strong sentiment of men and women to belong to a single community of destiny has shaken the ideological foundations of the principle of non-interference in states’ internal affairs, thus bringing into question the concept of sovereignty itself; the United Nations is actively involved in trouble spots all round the world as never before, from Yugoslavia to Lebanon, Cambodia to Iraq, Cyprus to Somalia. The problems of funding and democratic control of the organisation are becoming acute. Moreover, attempts to build up regional groups of States are being made in North and Central America, West and sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, etc. The experience of the European Community is being closely studied and used as an example throughout the world.
Decisions taken in Western Europe now affect the rest of the world and must be made with a view to the consequences they will have on the security and welfare of mankind as a whole. This relates in particular to the problem of completing and enlarging the first federal core within the Community. Enlargement cannot be considered a step-by-step process, in which each advance should be pursued on its own terms, but as a comprehensive design requiring an overall concept and a general strategy.
One point, to start with, is clear to everybody: a substantial enlargement of the Community without a prior strengthening of its institutions will result in its being diluted into a huge free trade area and ultimately lead to its disappearance. As a result, the trend towards fragmentation in Eastern Europe would continue and extend to Western Europe, where it would find very fertile ground. On the other hand, simply arguing that enlargement be postponed until the European Federation is established would be ungenerous towards the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe who are threatened by economic slump and political chaos, and who are looking to the Community for a brighter future through unity; not to say unrealistic, because the process of enlargement has in fact already begun, and stopping it will be impossible. The only matter left to decide is the manner in which it will be carried out.
We must be clear about the two available options from which we have to choose. One is a large Deutschmark zone, with Germany wielding an imperfect hegemony over an increasingly fragmented, chaotic and powerless Europe. Very clear signs of this tendency are already visible, because of economic, and hence political, strength of unified Germany, in spite of its current difficulties. But undoubtedly, the responsibility for this development does not lie with the German government, which indeed is sincerely European and mistrusts its own power, but with the incapacity, or the unwillingness, of the other member States of the Community to renounce their sovereignty. The other option is the establishment of a democratic and federal core, which would be capable of integrating new countries on an equal footing, of giving substantial help to the ex-Soviet Union and of being an example for the many areas in the world that are striving towards new forms of unity. There is no third option, and the time is very short. This is the reason why the federalists have chosen the slogan European Federation Now for this Congress.
This means no less than giving the European Parliament powers both to legislate and to control the European government; with the Commission being transformed into a real government and the Council of Ministers into a democratic second Chamber, in which the member states are represented. Proposals in favour of any further intermediate goals, after the Maastricht agreement has been ratified and implemented, can only be a pretext for slowing down or diverting this process.
What is still lacking in Europe, despite some laudable exceptions, is a sense of urgency with regard to the federal objective, and it is a paramount responsibility of federalists to convey this point to politicians and public opinion. But in order to accomplish this task, we must have an overall scheme. Asking for a European Federation now requires us to answer a number of questions.
It is probable that full awareness of the need to establish a federation immediately will not develop simultaneously in all the governments of current EC members. At the same time, it is unthinkable that those possessing such an awareness will be ready to break the Treaties of Rome in order to establish a federal Union among a group of States which comprises only a part of the Community’s members. Moreover it is unlikely that the candidate states, whether because of the difficulties they will have in integrating their economic and political systems immediately into the new Federal Union (as will be the case with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe) or because they are squarely against giving up their sovereignty (as will be the case with most of the EFTA states), will be ready to become members of the Federation without delay. This will oblige the Community to show considerable institutional inventiveness in thinking out a system in which Federation and Community can coexist, the former being a member of the latter. A two-tier Europe is the only possible device that enables the enlargement of the initial federal core, by immediately admitting into the outer tier all those wishing to enter, and subsequently enlarging the inner tier to include those ready and able to abide by the much more stringent rules that full membership implies.
The issue of enlargement should also be considered against the background of relationships between the European Union and the area of the ex-Soviet Union. The main imperative in this regard is that the enlargement of the European Union should not continue to encourage fragmentation and nationalism inside the CIS, which will only serve to create the conditions for a resurgence of pan-Slav tendencies in Russia and its estrangement from the rest of Europe, and to revive the temptations of militarism and imperialism; on the contrary, the Community’s enlargement should reinforce the momentum towards democratic unity inside the CIS, and the establishment of close links between the CIS and the European Union: preferably through a large confederation between two federal poles (if the peoples of the CIS have the capacity to build one) or, should that not be the case, through the accession, in the long term, of Russia and the other CIS Republics to the European Union. Whichever the path the historical process follows, the European Community must immediately abstain from any action which may widen the gulf between Russia and the other republics, and seize all initiatives that are likely to encourage CIS members to pool their resources and energies, with a view to re-establishing the institutional basis of new forms of political solidarity and economic co-operation within that region.
A European Federation stretching to the western borders of the CIS cannot be based on a high number of small and weak units, plagued more often than not by nationalistic tensions with their neighbours. Yet this will happen if the Community is enlarged, without precise institutional guarantees, to include all the internationally recognized states currently existent in Central and Eastern Europe, the ETFA area and the Mediterranean, and if the demands of the separatist groups in Scotland, Northern Italy, Catalonia, and so on, are satisfied. Such a federation, provided it came to pass, would be the legal cover for the hegemony of a few large and powerful states, principally Germany. It would in fact be the opposite of true federalism. True federalism relies on a balance between the power of the global government and that of the regional ones. The difficulties German federalism is experiencing on the wake of unification, due to the weakness of the new Länder, prove the validity of this statement. The member states of an effective federation must represent a small number of large and responsible units, capable of perceiving, and acting in favour of, the general interest; and not a multitude of small units squabbling with each other, in an effort to make their individual interests prevail. A “Europe of the Regions” would be completely ungovernable. That is why the federalists should strongly oppose any dismemberment of existing states (both in Eastern and Western Europe) into sovereign sub-units, and should, moreover, encourage with all available means the creation of regional groupings of states as potential future direct members of the European Union.
Notice that this would be the only strategy which would lead to a real measure of self-government, even in the smallest territorial communities that make up the very richness of European society, since otherwise all decisions beyond the regional dimension will be taken by the federal government, whose power would expand correspondingly and no longer be balanced by that of the member units.
In the muddled ideological times in which we live, where liberty is confused with sovereignty, and federalism interpreted by many as either centralism or separatism, the federalists need to elaborate and present a clear model of the state. They must emphasize that all people belong, by nature, to a multiplicity of territorial communities of different dimensions, ranging from the city neighbourhood to the entire planet, and that federalism provides the institutional instruments to give political expression to all these loyalties, while giving none of them the privilege of exclusiveness. At the end of the 20th century federalism can only be of a multi-tier type, through which current states will not be abolished, but stripped of the attribute of absolute sovereignty and put on the same footing as other political communities, both larger and smaller. The traditional “nation-states” have a right of citizenship in the European Federation, but they will be federations of regions, one level among the multiple levels of government which will form its institutional structure. It would be the worst of historical blunders which could be made today if the national states were to be deprived of their sovereignty only for this to be endowed to smaller units, which are culturally poor and jealous of their uncertain identity – and thus replace the nefarious traditional nationalism with a much more devastating regional nationalism, that will have all the vices of the former and none of its historical merits.
We have no more time to lose. The European Community is heading towards crisis: either it will rapidly turn into a full-fledged federation, capable of expanding and mobilizing important resources in favour of the East and the Third World (even if some of its members initially abstain from taking part in it); or it will dissolve. But its dissolution will go hand in hand with serious internal difficulties in its member states, which are currently plagued by economic crisis and immigration, and which are incapable of offering their citizens a vision of the future for which they could reasonably be asked to make substantial sacrifices. The prospect of ungovernability would become increasingly real, and the upsurge of the far right irresistible. Never has it been so evident that the political unification of Europe is the condition not only for redressing the democratic deficit in the Community, but also for salvaging the democratic institutions of each individual member state.
Yet crisis are the moments in which great historical changes have the biggest chance of being accomplished. The main brake on the process of European unification has always been the unwillingness of national governments to yield their power to a European federal state. Now some of them are threatened with the real possibility of being obliged to yield their power anyway, while at the same time appearing as those that are suffocating democracy in their own countries. Europe, for them, could become the only way to retain part of their power, by pooling it in a wider context.
The historical leap towards a European Federation cannot be made without the involvement of the people, as represented by the European Parliament. The core of the federalist strategy must therefore be to demand that the European Council should give the European Parliament a mandate to draft a constitution for European Union in co-operation with the national Parliaments, since collectively these bodies represent the European federal people in their dual expression, European and national. Yet this should not make us forget that for the European Parliament to play such a role it has to be strengthened. Direct elections have undoubtedly increased its power. So have the Single European Act and the Maastricht agreement, in spite of their timidity on the issue of institutional reform of the Community. The right, obtained in Maastricht, to confirm or sack the Commission by a vote of confidence could prove of strategic importance in the future, if it is properly used. But on top of the fact that the formal competences of the European Parliament are still lamentably insufficient, of even more significance is the consideration that for it to be a really decisive element in the federative process, it must become the arena for real political confrontation between European political parties. Until now, with the notable exception of Great Britain, traditional democratic parties throughout Europe have shown a complete lack of interest for the European Union. European elections have mainly been an opportunity to check the parties’ popular support at the national level. Yet now the trend can be reversed. The democratic parties have an urgent need to develop a new look, revitalize their activities and regain touch with a society and an economy which have for a long time now been European and which have cut all moral links with a political class that has stayed largely national. In the national context, as recent elections in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy have shown, the democratic parties are destined to lose power in the face of the rising tide of destructive protest, nationalism, separatism and racism. The increasing disablement of both national and European Parliaments, (due to the national Parliaments’ powers being transferred solely to the European Council and the Council of Ministers) saps the role of the parties as places where democratic debate occurs and political will takes shape, and risks transforming them into cliques that serve only for politicking and buying votes. In a European context the traditional democratic parties would recover their capacity to harness moral dynamism and their functions as interpreters of the general interest and supporting pillars of the democratic system. Moreover, they are the only political groupings present in all, or almost all, the member states of the Community; whereas nationalism, separatism and racism are by-products of the death-throes of the nation-states, and as such will have no place in a strong and self-confident Community that is progressing towards the goal of a European Federation.
This is why the federalists should exert strong pressure on democratic parties at all levels. We must insist on the issue of a uniform electoral system for the European Parliament, which will oblige national parties to work out a joint European strategy and present common European lists. We must encourage the existing European parties and the national parties that compose them, to strengthen and democratize their European structures, by setting up European congresses. We must focus our activities also at the local and regional levels, and urge the local sections of democratic parties to address resolutions to their leaders advocating the same reforms.
The UEF is a small group of volunteers, which is permanently under-funded and weakly organized. But it has a strategic function in the European political landscape. Being the European standard-bearers of federalism we make demands, and are sensitive to issues, that are bound to have an increasingly important impact on European politics and to be of an increasing concern to politicians and public opinion throughout the continent. There are plenty of ears ready to listen to our message, provided that we are able to express it clearly. The message, not the medium, is our real force. We must be proud of being federalists and aware of our unique historical function, which is that of showing the way forward and being the active consciousness of the process of European unification. The debates in this Congress should provide each one of us with ideas and motivation, so that we can continue our work at home with increased energy and effectiveness.
 
Francesco Rossolillo

 

 

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