Yaer XXX, 1998, Number 1, Page 18

 

 

THE EUROPEAN FEDERALIST MOVEMENT’S CRITICISM OF THE TREATIES OF ROME
 
 
Among the political forces favouring European unification the MFE was the one which, under Spinelli’s guidance, expressed the most radical criticism of the Treaties of Rome in the period of their genesis,[1] and differences on this theme were one of the fundamental reasons for the split in the UEF, a split which was only made up in 1972. It is now more than thirty years since the signing of those treaties (The Thirtieth anniversary was celebrated in 1987) and I think that it is useful to compare the criticism expressed at that time by the MFE and the development of the European integration so far achieved.
 
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At the outset it is essential to specify that the MFE’s criticism of the Treaties of Rome was really more than anything else criticism of the EEC, because, given the limited extension of its field of action, Euratom was not considered capable of advancing European unification in a consistent way, even though it could have achieved its own objectives. Attention was thus concentrated on the EEC, which had the very ambitious objective of achieving the unification of the whole European market, and to use this as a basis from which to work towards political unification.
Criticism of this plan was mainly directed at the principle behind it. The MFE maintained, on the basis of the fundamental teaching in The Federalist, and taken up by such important contemporary economists as Robbins, Einaudi, Ropke and Hayek, that effective economic unification of many state entities was impossible without first achieving a political union which would limit sovereign power and install a superstate federal power. There were two basic arguments which articulated this axiom which from the very beginning of the policy of European unification had guided federalist criticism to the gradualist-sectoral approach.
In the first place, economic unification of the European states seriously willing to progress in this direction presupposed the unification of their foreign policies and their defence policies. No state, in fact, would be willing to renounce its own economic self-sufficiency, the precondition for its political independence and its military security, as was implied in the concept of a single unified market, without strong guarantees as regards its security. But these guarantees could only be a reality if federal institutions existed that ensured both the independence and the defence of the territory of the member states in a unitary way. Further, since relations with other states could not help but influence the economic development of the states involved in the unification, a single foreign policy was necessary, which would only be possible on the basis of political and military unification, and which would allow an effectively unified economy to be built.
Secondly, only the existence, right from the beginning in the process of economic unification, of a supernational authority, founded with the direct democratic consensus of the people, could overcome the powerful and deep-rooted protectionist interests existing in the different states, and would allow the general interest of the European people to prevail in the creation of one economic system. Thus while no-one could seriously believe that a unitary economy could be instituted and maintained in a single country if it were under a council of provincial governors with the right of veto and only responsible to the provincial parliaments, at the same time it was senseless to say that a unitary European economy could be installed and maintained on the basis of the co-operation of sovereign national governments, which were structurally orientated to privileging particular national interests rather than the common European interest.
On the basis of this theoretical standpoint, the criticism of the EEC that arose was mainly institutional. The doctrine that considered the Community as constituting an intermediate category between the traditional international organizations and those of a federal nature, because it had some federal aspects, was strongly refuted. Above all, the autonomy of the supernational executive organ, the direct application of Community provisions and rulings, the majority vote in the Council of Ministers, the provision for direct elections to the European Parliament. The decisive element which, according to the MFE, made the Community basically similar to traditional international organizations was its lack of financial autonomy and autonomous power (which only political and military power could create) capable of imposing the common will on the national governments. This, moreover, denied the Community any power to impede the secession of the states which were not willing to accept the common will, and made it inevitable that the confederal practice of the unanimous vote was maintained, even though this runs counter to the letter of the Treaties. As far as direct elections to the European Parliament goes, it was stressed that, given this body’s lack of power, direct elections would be against the most basic democratic principles and would not change the fundamentally confederal nature of the Community.
This criticism of the institutions was reinforced when some fundamental inadequacies in the EEC’s project for economic unification were seen to derive from the inadequacy of its institutions.
First, this project did not contain any ruling on the creation of a common currency. This clearly derived from the fact that a real European government was not really wanted. Consequently, it was necessary to set aside the problem of giving the EEC monetary powers since these can only be possessed by a sovereign institution. On the other hand, this undermined the basis of the planned economic integration, since a common market could only function if there was a common currency in the unified area, not different national currencies with uncertain, fluctuating exchange rates. And this was the case for two reasons: in the first place, only a common currency would allow secure payments and forecasts throughout the common market and would eliminate the risks of currency restrictions at its source. Secondly, because only by the institution of a common currency would it be possible to overcome trade and balance-of-payment problems which would otherwise be unsolvable and would impose all sorts of restrictions, because of strong national interests.
This flaw was a particularly bad instance of a general lack of order in the field of political economics. The EEC provided, in a very precise, detailed way, for the gradual abolition of customs and quotas on industrial products and it contained the promise to achieve a common agricultural market and free movement of workers, capital and services. The Treaties were, however, very vague on political economics, i.e. on the tools which modern mixed economies must use to face the crises caused by the working of the economy, to correct territorial, sectoral and social imbalances caused by the uncontrolled play of economic forces, and more generally to orientate economic development towards specific priorities chosen by the democratic institutions. In this field two tools were provided for: the Social Fund and the European Investment Bank, which had too limited resources and powers to have a real balancing influence. Moreover, there were only vague promises to harmonize the social and economic policies of the member states, which were to remain under the control of the individual member states.
This also was a forced choice, given the confederal nature of the Community institutions. The transfer to the Community of aims relevant to the political and economic field, would be possible only if a federal European government were founded. Only this kind of government, in fact, would have the tools (the power, the democratic consensus and financial autonomy) to put effective political economics into effect at a European level, in some cases replacing and in other cases complementing national political economics. On the other hand, the incapacity to face this problem immediately compromised the prospects of real progress on economic integration.
Since it was not possible to institute and maintain a single market without strong unity among the economic policies of the member states, the achievement of this aim was still dependent on the spontaneous development of completely independent national policies. But this, in its turn, though possible during phases of positive economic development, would be undermined in moments of crisis, which would inevitably produce differences between the national economic policies, and would certainly cause restrictionist measures.
The lack of effective economic policies on a European level, apart from making the integration of the markets very precarious, meant that whatever progress was achieved in this field, would inevitably be greatly distorted. In particular, widespread free trade not accompanied by a vigorous economic policy on a European scale designed to achieve balance, would produce serious territorial imbalances, favouring more industrial concentration in the strong areas of Europe and continued underdevelopment in the weak areas. Furthermore, the struggle against the power of monopoly groups would become even more difficult because, while greater free trade would weaken the effectiveness of national economic policies, on the other hand it would not be possible to create valid European economic policies because of the limitations of the Community institutions.
The MFE’s criticism of the EEC led to a drastic conclusion. The Common Market, taken in the literal sense, was the commitment of the six governments to intensify the process of liberalization in the industrial sector, which had come to a dead end within the framework of the OECD. This commitment was made possible by the strong economic expansion which market economy countries had maintained for some years. This expansion made free trade desirable and hardly worrying for the national industries of the Six, and it favoured the harmonization between the economic policies. As long as this agreement remained favourable the EEC functioned, because the governments wanted it to work, but it would have fallen to pieces as soon as the situation changed, and the governments, or some of them, decided that it would be better to dispense with these links.
The political action which the MFE began as a result of this analysis was the launching, in great style, of a campaign aimed at mobilizing the European people in favour of the European Constituent and the European Federal Union and denouncing nation-states and the pretension of trying to build European unity through diplomatic treaties between the governments.
 
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It is necessary now to evaluate this thesis in the light of the subsequent thirty years’ experience.
The least valid part of federalist criticism of the Treaty of Rome is clearly the disbelief in the possibility of making real progress in the economic unification of Europe on the basis of the Community institutions. This opinion has been contradicted by the success of so-called negative integration, that is free trade, which has had a major influence on economic growth of the Community, has brought about the enlargement of the Community, has favoured the strengthening of the democratic system and its extension throughout Western Europe. It is necessary at this point to state that the MFE, correcting its rather schematic vision of the priority of political over economic unification in the light of experience, was able to give a very convincing explanation of the fact that notable progress towards economic unification was made, despite the postponement sine die of the creation of a European political authority of a democratic, federal nature. According to their analysis, this progress was made possible by the fact that, owing to the lack of a democratic, federal European power, the main integrating factor was a non-institutional (de facto) political power based on “the eclipse of national sovereignty” and “the non-institutional (de facto) unity of state policies”.[2] Thus it was recognized that the endemic weakness of the European nation-states forced them to co-operate in order to survive, and to cooperate in their foreign policies, in defence and in their economies (all within the American hegemony which the fall of the EDC had reinforced) — factors which were particularly marked for geo-historical reasons in the Europe of the Six. The federalist analysis showed that this political basis for European economic integration was structurally unsound, because the strengthening of the national states due to their economic integration was destined to undermine the bases of their agreement on state policy, if this was not stabilized by the power of strong supernational institutions.
Thus we can see that if historical experience has brought to light some overschematic areas in federalist criticism of the EEC, it does, however, substantially confirm both the theses on the inevitable distortions involved in an integration process without strong common economic policies and on a reversal of the process of economic unification, in the case of a serious change in economic trends.
With reference to the first thesis, we may merely stress that the great imbalances between different parts of the Community have always been, and still are, its worst handicap, and that the relationship between this handicap and the inadequacy of the Community institutions has become more and more evident. Experience has shown that only a European authority with real powers and direct democratic legitimation would be able to impose a satisfactory level of solidarity between the strong and weak states of the Community, in the same way in which, in the states, only the existence of a central democratic authority founded on the consensus of the poor and the rich regions can make national solidarity prevail over the particular interests of the different regions.
With reference to the second thesis, it is a fact that since the time when, at the beginning of the seventies, the world economic expansion and monetary stability phase, a period during which the Common Market went through its transitional phase, came to an end, and a difficult phase in development of the world economy began, economic integration came to, and still is, at a virtual halt. The attempt to go from negative integration to positive integration, or to the development of effective common policies, has not only been unsuccessful, but free trade has actually taken a step backwards.
With reference to the political aspect of the federalist criticism of the Treaty of Rome, it is worth mentioning the hope that there is a possibility of building an autonomous force of a supernational nature, capable of forcing national governments to accept the European Constituent. But it is important to remember that this judgment cannot be universal.
The main opposition to official European politics, which aims to rally the people of Europe to contest the legitimate nature of the nation-states, did not have the success that was expected. In fact, the campaign for a Congress of the European People and the other popular campaigns which followed it in the early sixties did not rally enough public support to change the balance of power in favour of federalist demands because of the organizational weakness of the federalist force.
This undoubted failure, while demonstrating a certain doctrinarianism which characterized the political line of the MFE in those years, should not make us overlook one very important fact. During a period of history in which the successes of economic unification tended to hide the structural limitations of the European Community, the popular campaigns of the MFE between 1957 and 1966 had great validity in that they kept alive the idea of the democratic, federal alternative to a European organization which was weak and precarious because it excluded the participation of the people. Even if only a small part of public opinion was capable of understanding the message of the federalists, these popular campaigns are the first example in European history of a grass-roots’ political movement capable of developing in a unified way beyond the national confines of the different countries of Europe. They showed that, every time the citizens were asked whether they were for or against a complete unification of Europe with the participation of the people, the response was mostly favourable. The fact that it had kept up its opposition to a poorly developed European constitution allowed the MFE to play an important role when the crisis of European integration brought the problem of political unification to light again.
This happened also because the excessively reductive vision of the Community institutions, which removed any federal characteristics whatsoever from them and thus excluded the possibility of seeing them as a lever with which to advance demands for the European constitution more effectively, has been rectified. In this context the commitment of the MFE to direct elections to the European Parliament emerged, based on the conviction that direct popular elections would open the way for the struggle to give the European Parliament an important role. Subsequently, support for the initiative of the Strasbourg Assembly for the institutional reform of the Community emerged, which led to the approval of the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union (February 14, 1984) and the reproposal of real reform of the Community institutions since the governments have approved the Single European Act.
 
Sergio Pistone


[1] For the MFE’s criticism of the Treaties of Rome see: A. Spinelli, L’Europa non cade dal cielo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1960; A. Chiti-Batelli, I trattati del Mercato comune e dell’Euratom visti da un federalista (two cyclostyled pamphlets published by the MFE in 1957 and 1958); L. Levi - S. Pistone (eds.), Trent’anni di vita del MFE, Milan, F. Angeli, 1973; L.V. Majocchi - F. Rossolillo, Il Parlamento europeo. Significato storico di un’elezione, Naples, Guida, 1979; W. Lipgens, 45 Jahre Ringen um die Europäische Verfassung, Bonn, Europa Union Verlag, 1986.
[2] M. Albertini, L’integrazione europea e altri saggi, Pavia, edizioni Il Federalista, 1965.

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