Year XLVI, 2004, Number 2, Page 91

 

 

 

FEDERALIST’S STRATEGY AND CAMPAIGN TOWARDS THE EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION*
 
 
1. The Congress of Genoa is being held at a time when the European Convention has finished its works. However, the European Constitution is at present in the hands of national governments, which use the right of veto in the attempt to reduce some of the progress that has been made, such as the double majority voting system in the Council. We are facing a political phase similar to the one in which the Treaty of the European Union, approved of by the European Parliament twenty years ago, 14 February 1984, was at stake. Spinelli’s Project never underwent the national ratification process because of the opposition of some governments, in particular that of Mrs. Thatcher. Altiero Spinelli was fully aware of this risk. It is not by chance that he reminded the European Parliament of Hemingway’s apologue of the old fisherman who, after having caught the biggest fish of his life, sees it being devoured bit by bit by sharks, so that when he reaches the harbour all he has left is a fishbone. The project for a European Constitution runs the risk of ending up in the same way: either it will be reduced to a meaningless fishbone, or it will be abandoned completely, if the major European governments move towards the formation of a Europe of “pioneer groups”, in the illusion that it will be possible to form a directory of strong countries to govern the Union of 25. Both these solutions would be disastrous for the future of Europe.
Without a European Constitution there does not exist a shared institutional frame to solve the dramatic problems of the Union, first among all the need to speak to the world with a single voice. An enlargement without a Constitution would open the way once again to the national divisions among the European nations as they were in the past. It is, therefore, important that the European federalists strongly maintain the course towards the transformation of the Union into a European Federation. During phases of transition, this is an extremely difficult task, because even the forces in favour of the federalist solution risk following the wrong routes, in the hope that there exist easy shortcuts for the achievement of the final objective. The revolutionaries’ task is to understand the historical process, analyse the forces at work and indicate the course that can lead to the defeat of the opposing forces. If the federalists want to win their battle for a European Federation, they must be just as realist as the national realists, transforming the aspirations for political unity of European citizens into action. The dialogue between the federalists and the citizens is the mysterious force that has so far advanced European unity — the national realists have not been able to understand this.
 
2. The present situation of Europe can be summarised with a simple formula: the European Union must become a federal state if it wants to face the challenges of world politics. The end of the cold war, the collapse of the USSR and the German reunification do not leave any other alternatives, except of course that of a dramatic return to the past. If the European Union wants to exist as a world political actor and not only as a passive ally of the United States, it must give itself the necessary means to speak on the same footing as the new and old protagonists of world politics: China, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil and, of course, the United States. Without political unity, the European nations — Germany France and Great Britain included — can only act as passive actors, without any real autonomy and sovereignty, in a world which is now dominated by states of continental size. In fact, the problems that the Convention had to face, unfortunately without solving them completely, concern the creation of a European government, legitimate before the European Parliament, and with the necessary means to act: a European budget sufficient for an effective European economic policy and a defence, to carry out a foreign and security policy.
To properly evaluate the results achieved by the Convention, it is necessary to clarify the nature of the problem that it should have faced, that is the formation of a supranational federal state. When one speaks of state, it is almost inevitable to think of Max Weber’s famous definition. “The state — according to Weber — is that human community which, within the limits of a specified territory, exacts for itself (successfully) the monopoly of legitimate physical force”. This definition also represents a reference point for the formation of a federal Europe. However, it is necessary to remember that the phenomenon empirically observed by Weber was the national state, not a supranational state. The national state arose through the concentration of power in a territorial space defined by the sense of belonging — real or imaginary — of a population to a specific national culture. The history of national states, in Europe and in the world, has accustomed us to consider the state and the use of force as two indissoluble entities. Even recently, except for rare exceptions, the struggle for the formation of states born from the collapse of the USSR and of Yugoslavia caused serious bloodshed.
Nonetheless, if we want to investigate the nature of the process of European integration more deeply, we must concentrate our attention on the problem of legitimacy. The ideal of European unity appeared in the course of the Second World War as a project of peace between European nations. The construction of a European federal state cannot be founded on force, by a violent revolution. In Europe it is a question of uniting democratic national states on the basis of popular consensus to guarantee the European people a common future of peace and prosperity. A federal Europe will be the result of a peaceful revolution.
The problem of the legitimacy of the European institutions is therefore fundamental. We can see its importance better by means of a negative example: the collapse of the USSR. After the October Revolution, the Tsarist Empire, a multinational empire, was transformed into the USSR, which adopted a Constitution that was only formally federal: in fact, the strong unifying element was represented by the Marxist-Leninist ideology and by the organisational formula of the single party. Marxism-Leninism never solved the so called problem of nationalities. The principle of self-determination of nations, sustained by Lenin, was not at all compatible with the formula of a single communist party, with a centralised administration. Indeed, the USSR was a communist empire dominated by the Russian nation. For this reason, when Gorbachev started the difficult process of democratising communism, the unresolved problem of nationalities exploded in his face. Once the principles of Marxism-Leninism and of the single party were questioned, the political and cultural pluralism allowed the political class, in search of new ideological pretexts to defend their own privileges and interests, to appeal to the principle of nationality, which would have allowed to obtain the consensus of the populations more easily. Thus, notwithstanding the enormous military apparatus of the USSR, the crisis of the principle of legitimacy on which the Soviet state was founded, caused the breaking up of the empire. Therefore, the legitimacy of the political power is the true force of a state. A power that citizens consider illegitimate will not be able to maintain the loyalty and unity of the armed forces for long.
 
3. After the end of the Cold War, the European Union had to face the problem of the democratic legitimacy of its institutions. In the past, after the crisis of the 70s, the European governments had accepted the direct election of the European Parliament to re-launch Europe. It was a first recognition of the principle of European democracy. But now, it was necessary to take a much more decisive step forward. The Maastricht Treaty had completed the formation of the internal market. With the European currency, a fundamental national function — the monetary policy — was transferred to European level. It was evident that the European Union now managed important powers, which conditioned the life and the welfare of European citizens. The new challenges of the control of European economy, of foreign policy and security, would have brought about, if faced adequately, the institution of a real European democratic government. The question of European democracy could no longer be left hanging in the air. The national governments, by considering the Commission a mere bureaucratic organ, had fuelled euroscepticism and the request of a return of “illegitimate” European powers to national level.
However, the problem of the legitimacy of European institutions could not be faced and solved within the frame of the traditional intergovernmental Conferences, by means of the diplomatic method. And, in fact, in Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice the national governments were not able to solve it. Only with the European Convention, to which the representatives of European citizens elected in the European Parliament and in the national Parliaments participated, did the problem begin to be solved. The change came about, even though not in a completely transparent manner, with the decision to draw up a Constitution. A Treaty is a pact among sovereign states. A Constitution is a pact among citizens. It is thus in the context of a Constitution that it becomes reasonable to face the problem of “supranational democracy” and its relationship with “national democracy”, the legitimacy principle that justifies the power of national governments. The formation of a European federal government consists in allocating the different functions and powers between two fundamental levels where the democratic will of European citizens can be organized: the national and European levels.
If we now examine the project of the European Constitution drawn up by the Convention, we must state that on important issues — such as foreign policy, the finances of the Union and the revision of the European Constitution — the right of veto has not been abolished and that, therefore, a consistent part of Union life continues to be run by means of the intergovernmental method. Nevertheless, we must also recognise that in some cases the principle of supranational democracy has begun to make its way in the intergovernmental fortress. To be concise, let us here remember three innovations. The first is that of the nomination of the President of the Commission which must come about “taking into consideration the elections of the European Parliament” (art. 26). The second concerns the principle of the double majority vote in the Council of Ministers (art. 24). Finally, let us recall the principle of popular participation in the legislative process of the Union (art. 46). With these three examples, the project of the Constitution introduces some improvements also compared to Spinelli’s 1984 Project, allowing European citizens to influence the Union’s political decisions with their opinions. It is true that the European democratic deficit will not be completely filled with these three innovations. But, once a breach has been made, it will be easier to overcome the last resisting forces towards a Federal Europe.
 
4. The European Constitution represents the indispensable legal pact for the formation of the European Federal State. Since 1950, Altiero Spinelli made clear this relationship, making it the cornerstone of his battle for Europe. Recalling the precedent of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, Spinelli wrote: “Let us not refrain from considering this procedure as specifically American, not applicable to Europe. In politics, as in other fields, there are inventions, methods, which cannot be avoided or ignored when certain problems occur. For example, from the time the French invented the method of the Constitutional Assembly during their revolution in order to create the basic laws of the state on a democratic foundation, no country could apply substantially different methods for the founding of the institutions of a democratic national state. Likewise, since the Americans invented the means to achieve a federal state without legal interruptions from a group of sovereign states willing to unite, it is necessary for us to utilise this very same method in order to solve the same problem.” However, the European Convention has not produced a satisfactory European Constitution as that of the Philadelphia Convention, in particular as far as the procedure for ratification and revision is concerned. This failure is attributed, by some federalists, to a strategic error. The UEF should have asked a group of countries, the Six founding ones, to immediately create a federal state. This point of view deserves to be taken into serious consideration. The issue that within the Union a group of countries should go more ahead than others is important, but it does not represent the heart of the matter. Often in the past, as in Maastricht, a group of countries decided to go ahead. With the other countries, necessary formulas of compromise are negotiated to allow them to reach the main group at a later moment. This problem has once again appeared just before the enlargement, and it has been faced by the European Convention which has studied the formula of structured cooperation in the defence sector in order to allow some countries to move further ahead than other ones. The sole controversial issue is the creation of an avantgarde group which should happen within or outside a constitutional procedure. In short, the problem is to establish whether the European Constitution represents the condition for the formation of the federal state. The historic precedent of the foundation of the United States of America has been a constant reference point of the strategy of the European Federalists. Without a federal Constitution there would not be an American Federal State today. The case of national unifications is different. In the XIX century, in Italy and Germany, political unity came about on the basis of the military force of a hegemonic state which exploited the widespread consensus for national unity over a vaster territory. The Constitution, as far as the Italian and German unifications are concerned, represented the corollary of political unity. However, for Europe, the way of hegemonic unification is not possible. The formation of the European State involves the transfer of powers from national democratic states to the Union. This process can only occur in a situation of legality, by means of an agreed constitutional method — Spinelli claims “without legal interruptions”, as he himself tried to do at the time of the EDC and in 1984 — not by means of forceful action. It is not conceivable that a group of European governments “agree to unite their states in a federal pact”, that they decide that “the national armies, navies and air forces, as well as gendarmeries, will form a single European army” and that, only at the end of this process, “the provisional government of the United States of Europe will call the election, through a uniform electoral system, of a Constituent Assembly”. It is an unrealistic project. The existing European governments do not posses this power, even if some of the heads of government really had the will to create a European Federation. This route involves considering the present European institutions as illegitimate, including the European Parliament. We must remember that the principle of supranational democracy, though it had asserted itself very weakly, should be taken into account: today, it is considered an acquis of European political life. The national governments can put into question national powers and the European order only within a constitutional legal framework. If France and Germany, in the European Convention, had wanted to venture as far as abolishing the right of veto, even in foreign policy, to create a European Federation, it would have provoked the indignant reactions of the souverainistes, but in the end a consistent group of countries would have supported the project of a European Federal Constitution. However, France, which considers the Franco-British-German intergovernmental military cooperation fundamental, was not prepared to venture that far. Today, in Europe there is the consensus to plan the construction of European defence within a constitutional framework. Outside this framework the intergovernmental method prevails, as is demonstrated by the directory that is being formed between France, Germany and Great Britain should Spain and Poland continue to create obstacles for the approval of the Constitutional project.
 
5. We must now try to understand what the federalist strategy will be at the end of the IGC. There are two possible extreme outcomes: either only the “fishbone” of the Constitution will remain, as happened to Spinelli’s Project, or the Constitution will be approved with insubstantial changes. In both cases, the UEF should consider the need to launch the proposal for a Constitutional Convention, that is a real Constitutional Assembly, with the mandate to draw up a project of a Constitution to be presented directly for the approval of European citizens, without a subsequent convocation of an intergovernmental Conference.
Should the present IGC fail, this request is evident and it does not require a particular justification for the federalists. On the contrary, should the project of the Convention be approved of without substantial modifications, it is however necessary to ask for a new Constitutional Convention to definitely override intergovernmental Europe. The need to reach a true federal Constitution does not depend on the desire for perfection of the federalists. In the present European Constitution two principles of legitimacy of political power coexist: that of national democracy and that of supranational democracy, which can come into conflict and cause the paralysis of the Union or its collapse. Let us consider for example the entry into the Union of the republics of former Yugoslavia. In recent years a fierce war burst out among them, which went as far as conceiving ethnic cleansing, as Hitler had. What will prevent groups of extremists in these republics or in other ones (there is talk of the possible entry of Israel, Palestine and Jordan after Turkey) from lighting up nationalism and ethnic and racial hatred once again? The European Constitution, contrary to the American Constitution, does not foresee anything to prevent a war between its member states. Within the Union the ideology of absolute sovereignty of the governments over their own armed forces still survives. It is an aberration that prevents European citizens and world citizens from thinking of Europe as a political union. This internal division is the other side of the weakness of Europe in the world. Europe will not be able to speak to the world with a single voice until it has the courage to submit all its armed forces to a single legitimate European power. What the Europeans have done with their currency must now be done with their armed forces.
To conclude, taking into consideration that the method of the Convention can now be considered a European political acquis, the UEF should consider the launching of a Campaign for a European Federation or for a European Federal government (the expression “European Government” is the dirty word that the conventionels did not have the courage to pronounce), indicating in the convening of a Constitutional Convention the way to give a future to Europe. We can only add that, should the European Constitution be approved of, the convening of a Constitutional Convention will be made easier by the exploitation of art. IV-7 of the European Constitution which allows the European Parliament ask for a new Convention. It is another case in which the principle of supranational democracy has managed to breach in the intergovernmental fortress.
 
6. The discussion on the strategy concerns the most effective means to reach a certain political objective. However, an agreement on the means is easier to reach if there is also an agreement concerning the aims. It is true that all federalists want a European Federation, but, once again, a European Federation to do what? The debate concerning European foreign policy, the institutional forms of European defence and so on, must now be made in relation to the role that Europe can and must have in the construction of a world of peace, justice and respect for the natural environment devastated by senseless industrial development. In order to produce new projects and new forms of action, these debate must be channelled into an institutional foundation. For this reason it is essential for the UEF to enter the World Federalist Movement in which some national sections of the UEF and of the JEF have begun to act. If the European federalists are capable of bringing to the WFM their wealth of experience accrued in sixt—y years of battles for European unity, world federalism will certainly become stronger. But, at the same time, the European federalists, in the WFM, will be able to exploit a higher observation platform in order to elaborate an effective foreign policy for the European Union. From the remote years of the Ventotene Manifesto the federalists in Europe were determined to unite Europe in order to unite the world. Today, the time has come to take another step forward.
 
Guido Montani


* In this section, we are publishing several papers presented at the Congress of the Union of European Federalists (Genoa, 19-21 March, 2004), which compare two different strategic standpoints. The texts contain references to the political situation at that time.

 

 

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