Year XXXI, 1989, Number 2, Page 115
A HISTORICAL PRECEDENT OF GREAT IMPORTANCE
The referendum held in Italy on the occasion of the June 1989 European elections once more proposes the constituent method as the appropriate means of achieving a European federation, in conferring on the European Parliament the task of drafting a Treaty-constitution which would transform the Community into a genuine European Union with a democratic and effective government answerable to the European Parliament. This Treaty-constitution should be directly transmitted to the member states for ratification and should come into force when approved by even a limited number of countries. Italy has once more taken the initiative in the political unification of Europe, just as it did so forcefully in the days of De Gasperi.
It should be recalled that, if the constituent mandate is effectively conferred on the European Parliament, it will not be the first in the history of European unification. It is a little-known fact that there was a historical precedent of great importance: the decision taken on December 10, 1952 by the member-governments of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the first form of the EC.
The text of that decision reads as follows: “Considering that the final objective of the six governments was and remains that of achieving the constitution of the widest possible European political community; considering that, on the request of the Italian government, Article 38 was added to the Treaty establishing the European Defence Community (signed on May 27, 1952), with the object of charging the Assembly of the Community to study the possible constitution of a new democratically-elected Assembly so that this might constitute an element in a more complex federal or confederal structure, based on the principle of separation of powers and characterized in particular by a bicameral representative system; bearing in mind that, in resolution no. 14 adopted on May 30, 1952, the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe asked the member states of the European Defence Community to choose, by the most expeditious procedure, an Assembly that would be charged with drafting a constitution for a supernational Political Community, open to all member states of the Council of Europe, and which would offer associate-membership to all those not belonging to this Community; conscious that the constitution of a European Political Community with a federal or confederal structure depends on the constitution of a common basis for the economic development and the fusion of essential interests of the member states; the six Foreign Ministers of the Coal and Steel Community, gathered in Luxembourg on September 10, 1952, took the following decision based on preceding considerations and their wish to speed up research into the above-mentioned project, assuring it the greatest possible authority: A) The members of the Assembly of the ECSC are invited to draw up a Draft Treaty establishing a European Political Community, inspired by the principles of Article 38 of the EDC Draft Treaty and without disregarding any provision of this Treaty…; B) The Assembly… will determine the conditions under which some representatives of other countries, and in particular those belonging to the Council of Europe, can be associated with this work as observers; […] E) The governments expressly declare their debt to the proposals of the British government towards establishing the closest possible links between the future Political Community and the Council of Europe. In view of this, the drawing up of the constitution of this Community must be undertaken and completed in permanent liaison with the bodies of the Council of Europe…”
The situation was very different then from the one now. In the midst of the Cold War, the Americans had definitively acknowledged in the Truman doctrine (March 11, 1947) that the threat to their security and that of their sphere of influence no longer came from Germany but from the Soviet Union, and had committed themselves with the Marshall Plan (June 5, 1947) to reconstructing Western Europe, the main objective in the conflict of power and the most exposed front for American defence. Economic recovery was a prerequisite for military recovery, and was intended above all to fill the vacuum of power in the German area, the foremost bastion of the Western front. France, which had not forgotten the military defeats of 1870, the First and the Second World Wars, could not accept either of these German recoveries. It was in this situation that Monnet proposed founding the European Community, so as to devolve control over coal and steel, the main sources of energy (and hence of economic development), and heavy industry (and hence of military power) onto a supernational authority with institutions which were to be the forerunners of a genuine “European federation”. In substance this meant turning the Europeans’ fundamental attitude towards their neighbours upside down. In situations of international anarchy these neighbours had been seen as real or potential enemies, but in the Community became natural and close partners. This conception, which revolutionized the course of European events and which explains why the period following the Second World War was so different from that following the First World War, led Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, to propose the foundation of the ECSC on May 9, 1950. Countries associating themselves with this proposal were Italy, the FRG, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
In the summer of 1950, the outbreak of the Korean war and the need to move troops to the Eastern front, disengaging them from the German zone, led the Americans to speed up the pace of German rearmament. The French reaction was foreseeable and was not late in showing itself. In this impasse, Monnet again proposed the formula of a community (the European Defence Community), and Pleven, on October 24, the same year, adopted it, with the support of those countries which had joined the ECSC.
To set up a common army, postponing the foundation of a European state to a later date, i. e. a democratic power capable of controlling it, was not so easy. Without a European state, two alternatives were possible: the first was a European army with a single efficient command (and thus the power, conferred on the Commander in Chief, to declare war, levy military contingents and taxes, convert a peacetime economy into a wartime economy, etc.), which would mean subordinating the civil power of the six civil powers to their common military power. This would have been an aberrant form of government with respect to the principle of democracy affirmed by the war of liberation. The second was the supremacy of civil over military power, which would mean reducing the European army to nothing more than a traditional coalition of national armies, with all the inefficiency and precariousness which have always characterized them and which seemed peculiarly ill-omened in the face of the threat of Stalinism and the Americans’ reduced commitment to the European theatre. These were the considerations which the European Federalist Movement brought to De Gasperi’s attention in Altiero Spinelli’s memorandum of summer 1951 and which induced De Gasperi to recognize that “the federalists were right after all”, and to fight for the foundation of a European state. In a historic meeting of the six Foreign Ministers of the Community, held in Strasbourg on December 11, 1951, De Gasperi obtained the inclusion of Article 38 in the EDC Treaty, an article requiring the EDC Assembly to study how it could be elected by direct universal suffrage, what powers it should have and what institutional reforms would be necessary (“the definitive organization which will take the place of the present provisional organization must be of a federal or confederal nature”). Despite the compromise which De Gasperi was forced to accept (the “federal or confederal” nature of the institutions), the decision affirmed the democratic principle that the Political Community could not be formed except by popular consensus without ambiguity, in other words by the European vote and a constituent mandate to the representatives of the European peoples.
Since it had proved unexpectedly hard to get the EDC Treaty approved and hence Article 38 enacted, De Gasperi managed to have the Council of Ministers meet on the inaugural day of the ECSC Assembly, on September 10, 1952, and have the Council confer on the Assembly the mandate provided for in Article 38 of the EDC Treaty. Having received the mandate, the Assembly, henceforward known as the “ad hoc Assembly,” set to work without delay and, on March 10, 1953, presented the six governments of the member states with a Draft Constitution for the European Political Community.
As is well known, this adventure came to an unhappy end. The Draft Constitution was consigned to a diplomatic conference which was protracted by one thing after another until, on August 30, 1954, the EDC was thrown out by the French Parliament, taking with it the Political Community; this resulted in German rearmament, masked by the foundation of the Union of Western Europe, a traditional coalition of national armies, at the service of the United States, which, despite those who still hope to revive it, never really got off the ground.
However, no great struggle is ever entirely futile. Thus, while the prospect of a European army and European state vanished, nevertheless progress towards unification immediately once more got under way, taking the rather less direct route of economic integration with the Common Market project, which was openly provided for in the Constitution of the Political Community and which survived the latter’s downfall.
This series of events raises some considerations beyond its material outcome. The initiative of the constituent mandate is to be ascribed to Italy. Even then there was the problem of Great Britain, but De Gasperi did not let himself be put off by this difficulty: the Six would have continued along the path towards unification, right up to the foundation of the Political Community, keeping the door open and even explicitly inviting the other countries of the Council of Europe, the European institution which encompassed all the European countries subject to American protection, to send observers, in the hope that they would soon join in. Furthermore, De Gasperi knew that in democracy a state cannot be founded without popular participation, and he fought for the Community Assembly to be elected by direct universal suffrage and to have constituent powers. Nor was he afraid of the possibility of an intergovernmental, non-democratic confederation, emerging from the constituent proceedings: he knew that once the process of founding a democratic European state had got under way, the federal solution, linking European power to the European people, would come about sooner or later. It is wrong to see the United Kingdom’s obstructive attitude, or the uncertain attitude of other member states afraid of the consequences of a possible break with the British as an insurmountable difficulty. And it is equally wrong to see Italy’s policy in putting itself on a collision course with the United Kingdom by having the referendum, as wishful thinking or even quixotic. In democracy, the democratic course is never quixotic.
But that is not all. It is true that that initiative, which, while born in the lap of Atlantic solidarity, objectively had the sense of a struggle for European independence, was possible in the face of the exceptional problem of German rearmament, a problem whose cogency eludes us only if we forget the tragedy of the Second World War and the horror of Nazi violence. And it is also true that the aggression of Stalinism had provoked an obsessive fear in Western Europe, as if Attila the Hun were about to descend. Finally, it is true that in that extraordinary situation the federalist initiative was able to avail itself of the extraordinary stature of Spinelli, as the governments could of the equally extraordinary stature of De Gasperi. Nor should it be forgotten that all that took place in a Europe deeply scarred by postwar poverty and above all by the bipolar balance of power which was reflected in internal political balance, aligning on the anti-European front great popular masses organized by parties like the socialists and communists, subordinated to Soviet power, or, as in the case of the SPD, fascinated by the siren-call of neutralism and national reunification. Today, we have thirty years of the Common Market behind us and powerful economic growth which has practically cancelled those social scars. We first had Eurosocialism and then Eurocommunism, the failure of intergovernmental co-operation in the face of the oil crisis and the openly imperialistic manipulation of the dollar, the direct elections to the European Parliament, the EMS, the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union, the battle to get it approved, the Single European Act committing us to achieving the Economic Union by 1993, and the work of the Delors Committee in trying to create the Monetary Union.
And above all it should not be forgotten that through the referendum the overwhelming majority of the citizens of an entire country have taken sides on what in 1952 was only the position of the federalists and De Gasperi. This should incite to action even those who, while sharing the federalists’ objectives, remain irresolute about the outcome of the struggle they propose. It should be emphasized that there is no alternative for democrats.
Luigi V. Majocchi