Year XXXIX, 1997, Number 1, Page 33
THE SOLID CORE AND REINFORCED CO-OPERATION
Since the beginning of the 1980’s, it has been perfectly clear that the European Community would not have been able to advance toward federal outcomes within a reasonable space of time until, ignoring all other possible obstacles, the decision was not made independent of the unanimous assent of all the member states, and in particular that of Great Britain and Denmark. The governments of these two states openly declared their refusal to abandon the intergovernmental method. They were aware that on this decision depended the maintenance of national sovereignty, which they had no intention whatsoever of renouncing. In the public opinions of the two countries, moreover, the pro-European attitude was much less widespread than in the rest of Europe, and the degree of interdependence between their economies and that of the other countries of the Community, while being very high, was sufficiently less than the degree of interdependence of the economies of the other member states among themselves, to render more credible, even if false, the declarations of those who argued that Great Britain and Denmark would have been able to remain outside the Community without suffering damage. The French government, it must be observed, did not find itself in this situation, though it nevertheless asserted vigorously its own attachment to national sovereignty, in as much as the long and profound involvement of France in the European unification process, in addition to having caused French public opinion to reach a much more advanced degree of awareness, forced its president and its government, above and beyond the official declarations, to be among the principal forces behind the process and hence to operate, when faced with practical choices, in such a way as to create the conditions for the overcoming of national sovereignty.
It was precisely at the height of the Thatcher era that the federalists launched the proposal, which at the beginning appeared to be a provocation, to create a federal-type union within the Community. It would have allowed a core of more advanced states to take the step of abandoning sovereignty without compromising the rights acquired by those states which were opposed to the project. These states would have been able to continue to remain united among themselves and with the federal union on the basis of the Treaties of Rome and the Single Act. It goes without saying that the implementation of this proposal would have brought about a radical transformation of the nature of the institutions (even though, among the possible scenarios, there existed also that in which the Union’s institutions and those of the Community could have remained formally the same, although acting with different compositions and procedures according to whether they were called on to operate as institutions of the Union or as institutions of the Community). At the time, the federalists certainly did not disguise the difficulty of the proposal, which required a unanimous vote in order to be adopted, yet they felt sure that it would have been able to contribute to the establishment, in the more advanced governments and in the political forces of the respective countries, of a more acute awareness of what was at stake, reinforce the negotiating position of these countries with respect to the opposing ones and perhaps even prepare the conditions for an immediate and real breaking of the mould.
The timeliness of the proposal became more evident with the improved prospects of enlargement in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Moreover, it burst forcefully into political debate when, in September 1992, it became the subject of the now famous Schauble-Lamers document, which launched the formula of the solid core. From that moment on the requirement that the momentum of the European unification process could not continue to be determined by the speed of the slowest member of the group became a recurring theme of the European political debate, and one of the points under discussion in the framework of the intergovernmental conference for the revision of the Maastricht Treaty.
It is precisely in this forum that difficulties are arising. The intergovernmental conference will not bring about decisive innovations. The creation of the core is not a matter under discussion. The opposing countries have no intention of allowing themselves to be placed at the margins of a Europe whose structure comprises of a centre and a periphery, however open to the entrance of the other member countries the centre may be. Since they do not wish to enter a federal-type core, neither now nor in the future, they see in its creation an event that will deprive them of the greater part of their current power to shape the evolution and the fundamental decisions of the entire Union through the exercise of their veto. The only alternative which currently seems to exist to an impossible unanimous decision, would therefore be precisely that of a breaking of the mould, that is, of the creation of a federal core through the stipulation of a new treaty among only those states which were interested in it. Yet this solution would require a strong political will; and we should recognise that today this political will does not exist.
On the other hand, the need remains; and this contradiction has stimulated the imagination of the diplomats, who have devised the formula of flexibility, or of reinforced co-operation. This concerns, in brief, providing for the possibility that in a certain number of areas, and at the request of the states involved, the Council, through a unanimous or majority vote, and subject to the favourable opinion of the Commission, allow the states which present a request to establish among themselves a closer form of co-operation than that provided for by the Treaties, so long as they submit to certain specific conditions, among which is that of the uniqueness of the institutional framework of the Union (even if it is expected that, in the framework of the European Parliament and of the Council only the members belonging to the states involved will take part in the vote, without however restricting the right of all states to participate at the discussion stage).
In substance, the proposals which we are dealing with when there is talk about flexibility or reinforced co-operation have absolutely nothing to do with the ideal of the core, but are variants of the old idea of a Europe of variable geometry, or of a Europe à la carte, according to which different relationships of co-operation can be established among different groups of states in the various sectors of the Union’s competence. The characteristics which distinguish the two approaches are the following: a) in the core scenario, there would be created among certain states a permanent, federal-type tie, with the corresponding cession of sovereignty and creation of an institutional system which, regardless of formal devices which tend to maintain the link to the preceding one, would act in full autonomy, even if, evidently, in respect of the already-existing Treaties. The federal core would be open to the membership of whichever states were prepared to accept its rules, yet would be extended to all the competences of the Union. The result would therefore be the creation of a real democratic European government, able to take decisions independently and rapidly in all the areas which are normally included within the competences of a government. In the case of flexibility or reinforced coperation on the other hand, we find ourselves in the presence of groups of states that could have a different composition in different sectors, which would be established anyway at the end of a long and laborious procedure, and which would take decisions exclusively in the specific sector of their competence. It is true that one can imagine that, over the long term, these groups would tend to link up primarily the states that are more deeply involved in the process, which would create the conditions for the birth of a true federal core at a later stage: yet the effective creation of the latter would nevertheless be delayed until the end of an indefinitely long process, which means that dealing with the problem of sovereignty would once again be avoided; b) while the solid core would create in the sphere of the Union a democratic political entity possessing a real legitimacy, flexibility or reinforced co-operation should have to be authorised on a case by case basis by the Council, through unanimous or majority decisions, and hence it would not in any sense bring about the abandonment of the intergovernmental method; c) while the solid core would have the power to change its own rules, albeit in respect of the already-existing Treaties, by following a normal procedure of constitutional reform, reinforced co-operation could not be extended to the reform of the Treaties, which would continue to be subject to the procedure of Article 236 of the EEC Treaty, and hence require the unanimous support of the national governments and the ratification of the respective parliaments.
Flexibility or reinforced co-operation would nevertheless represent progress along the path of the European unification process. Not for nothing is it strongly opposed by certain governments, and above all by the British, within the intergovernmental conference. Yet it would be, in the best scenario, a small step, and the era of small steps has gone for ever. In order to govern the European economy after the introduction of the single currency and in order to enable the Union to bear the impact of enlargement, it is no longer enough to achieve partial advances, which have the function of bringing to light with greater emphasis the contradictions of the process, since by now the decisive deadlines are at hand, and the only suitable answer to the problems which they pose is that of a real transfer of sovereignty from the nations to Europe, that is, the federal leap. This leap will not come out of the European Council in Amsterdam. Yet it remains the real problem to solve. It is necessary that this fact be appreciated by the more aware governments of the Union, that they understand that the intergovernmental method has definitively run its course and that they involve citizens in the process. Only in this way will it be possible to set off a great political debate which will bring out the true nature of the problem and force the governments and the political forces to line up in favour or in opposition to the abandonment of national sovereignty. If this debate is not launched soon, the very creation of economic and monetary union will be called into question and the entire process will risk being brought to a halt. The incapacity of the governments to free themselves of the myth of national sovereignty will condemn Europe to disorder, to underdevelopment and to its exit from the historical stage.