Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 3 - Pagina 237
THE CENTRALISATION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY
On the eve of the creation of the single market, Community regulations and directives are harmonising norms and standards in a wide variety of areas. As a result the Community is increasingly assuming the characteristics of an institutional monster, displaying the defects of centralisation, impotence and anti-democratic practices. Indeed, while the Community demonstrates its complete inability to deal with the frightening centrifugal tendencies being revealed in Eastern Europe which threaten the whole balance of the continent, a growing number of areas in our daily lives are being regulated (often in a pedantic and intrusive fashion) by a European authority which the people are only vaguely aware of, which they do not consider as being their government, and over which they cannot exercise any democratic control. The Community is currently claiming the right to intervene in areas that even in the United States (which has been becoming increasingly centralised for a long time now) are not competences of the Federal government. This means, among other things, that national parliaments are being dispossessed of their prerogatives and hence the substance of their legitimacy, without the European Parliament gaining a commensurate increase in its prerogatives and legitimacy.
This is a paradoxical situation, which offers easy arguments to the enemies of Europe, starting with the British government, and whose real nature is not understood – the growing harmonisation pursued on a daily basis by the Commission and the Council of Ministers with the collaboration of the European Parliament being considered by many genuine supporters of a federal Europe as being the process of European integration itself. The decision-making capacity of an institution is being confused with the extension of its competences. In fact these two issues are separate, even if it is obvious that all decision-making mechanisms can only operate within a defined sphere of competences. In reality the ability to take and carry out decisions with speed and effectiveness (which in a democracy is heavily tied to consensus and the existence of a direct channel between governing and governed) can have a beneficial effect even in a framework of strictly limited competences. On the other hand a broad extension of competences is perfectly compatible with a slow and ineffective decision-making process. In a democratic European Union in particular, the federalist principle of “unity in diversity” will be more fully realised if the competences of the Union are restricted to controlling the currency (and, in the future, security policy) and only to such parts of other sectors for which pan-European regulation is strictly indispensable.
In fact, as regards European integration, the process of harmonisation represents an ersatz sort of political union, a substitute for real democratic power. The harmonising process represents a substitute for those who do not know how, or who lack the will, to unite. European Community governments are unwilling to relinquish sovereignty and grant supranational institutions the power to take necessary decisions that would be valid for all Europeans in the Community. Notwithstanding this, since Community governments are permanently confronted with issues of a pan-European nature that require pan-European solutions, they can find no other way out of the impasse than to increase the homogeneity of the legislative framework in which national institutions operate. It is in this way that in the minds of many genuine supporters of a federal Europe, the model of a European federation as a strong decentralised state with “limited but real powers” is being replaced with its complete opposite – a Community both weak and centralised.
This model should be rejected not only for its bureaucratic and inefficient characteristics, but also because it paves the way to blocking the entry of Eastern European countries to the Community. In order that the necessarily traumatic impact of the Soviet Union’s ex-satellites joining the Community (which is by now a both unavoidable and urgent step) can be absorbed without causing damage to the Community itself, two prerequisites are necessary. First, the institutional structure of the Community must be both strong and democratic; second, there should be no strategy to impose a standard socio-economic order, given that Eastern European countries are destined to retain, for decades, profoundly different standards and behavioural norms compared to West European countries – a situation which Eastern European countries are not, and for a long time will not, be in a position to alter.
It is clear that in the Community of the twelve, which lacks political union, the supplementary role of the harmonisation process is, for the moment, indispensable. It helps to make economic operators and social issues increasingly interdependent, and hence guarantees at the level of civil society that very cohesion which the political sphere is unable to provide for lack of a real democratic dialectic within the European Community. In this way, among others, the harmonisation process dramatically highlights the absurdity of the claim to govern an increasingly united economy and society with confederal institutional instruments which are structurally incapable of taking important decisions. But by now this contradiction no longer needs highlighting: interdependence within the Community has long since passed the point at which political union becomes both possible and necessary. The decision to achieve political union, then, no longer depends on achieving certain objective conditions (that moreover have largely been realised) but simply on the will of governments and political forces. As a result the further extension and acceleration of the harmonisation process does not bring political union closer but, in as much as it acts as a substitute, makes it more remote.
Paradoxically, the more remote unity becomes the greater the need to extend the scope of harmonisation, so as to preserve necessary cohesion within the Community (by reinforcing a false idea of unity). As a result European political union is destined to be less pluralistic the longer it is delayed. This situation is fully appreciated by the German Länder which raised fundamental objections along these lines to the plans of the Treaty approved by the European Parliament in 1984. With mounting concern they are now watching as the Community appropriates some of the prerogatives they currently exercise. Their disquiet should be given careful consideration since it could result in a serious loss of consensus over the aims of the European Union. But it will only be possible to keep the situation under control if it is understood that these fears have real roots, and that it is at the roots that solutions must be found.
A typical response to such disquiet is the proposal to create a sort of European Regional Chamber equipped with consultative powers or, in a similar vein, one that is given joint decision-making powers which are limited to issues that cut across the sphere of competence of regional or Länder administrations.
But even this solution is no more than a reflex of the confederal, or interstate, character of the Community in its present form. It is an attempt to divert general attention from the fact that the process of European integration is depriving regional and local autonomies of their substance where they already exist, and hindering their development where they have yet to emerge. In consequence a muddled and corporatist body is being created – one that can only strain further the current complicated and inefficient decision-making structure of the Community, without the slightest guarantees safeguarding regional and local autonomies in return.
Moreover, federalists should guard against the temptation of responding to this problem by resorting to a hazy vision of a “Europe of regions”, of a federation that “skips” the national level and bases federal institutions directly on the regional level. Beyond the difficulty, in itself decisive, of democratically representing an extremely high number of territorial units of small and varying size at the European level, the implementation of this model would (as an exact consequence of the abolition of the national level) cause all issues of a larger than regional scale to be transferred directly to the European level. Hence the implementation of this vision would lead to uncontrolled growth in Community competences and bureaucratic structures. A “Europe of regions” would in reality be the centralised superstate that many fear, since small territorial units with commensurately limited powers, faced with a pan-European federal power, would not give birth to a system of checks and balances – the system which in all genuine federal arrangements constitutes the ideal institutional framework for guaranteeing liberty and the rule of law.
In reality issues should be dealt with within the framework in which they emerge: European matters in a European framework, national ones in a national framework, regional and local ones in a regional and local framework. Hence this matter concerns giving Europe, at last, real federal unity. Under this arrangement territory would be divided into various democratically self-governing units. To each of these units the constitution would grant from the outset the power to deal with issues that emerge within it.
In this model of a federal state the national level would fully regain its legitimacy and completely lose its negative connotations; not simply by being divested of its sovereign aspects, but also because it would itself be a federation of regions. This model also resolves (albeit indirectly) the problem of defending regional and local interests against interference by the central European power – since the Senate, representing the national level, would by its very nature be a more effective support of regional and local interests, and a guarantee that these interests would be effectively negotiated at the European level.
This would represent the only effective implementation of the principle of subsidiarity. Many European politicians have recently discovered the subsidiarity principle and it is currently being used to justify even the least admissible plans, in particular that of retaining real power under state control – in other words continuing the substance of the current institutional structure of the Community. This concerns once again the (often purposely encouraged) confusion of two issues –widening competences and the sharing out of real power.
In practice the principle of subsidiarity (under which all government decisions must be taken in the smallest territorial framework in which the issue to be dealt with can be resolved,) only makes sense within a federal state, and should not be used as a pretext with which to hinder the creation of a federal state itself. Nor should it be adapted to defend the prerogatives of nation states that, as is the case for France and Great Britain, refuse any form of decentralisation in favour of their regions or local bodies whatsoever. Conversely, it should not be used as a pretext for justifying claims to regional autonomy within a framework that does not take into account the priority of the aim of European political union – because until the principle of the connection between sovereign state and nation (however it may be defined) is not fundamentally questioned, movements for regional autonomy are destined to degenerate into separatism and hence reproduce with greater virulence the ills of centralisation within smaller territorial units which will prove to be both weaker and more oppressive.
Federalism is a simultaneous affirmation of both autonomy and solidarity. It is based on the independence of local and regional communities – an independence which is to be exercised by each within its own sphere – but it must guarantee this situation by establishing peace and the rule of law, first in a European framework, subsequently in a global one. That the European Community is heading in this direction is far from certain.