Year XLIV, 2002, Number 2, Page 114

 

 

AGAINST EUROSCEPTICISM
 
 
A major phenomenon has emerged in recent times that has been particularly marked in Italy, but that has also had important repercussions in other EU countries. Until a few years ago, diffidence, or even open hostility towards European integration (towards European integration as a whole, and not just towards the current community mechanism) was a prerogative of the political left in general, and of the far left in particular; conversely the attitude of the moderate right wing factions was more favourable, with only the most nationalist right wing groups, from Thatcher to those in France now called souverainistes, remaining rigidly anti-European. Now, on the other hand, it is not unusual to find moderate left wing factions that are relatively pro-European, or at least less mistrustful than they once were of the question of European unity. In Italy, for example, the communists are doing all they can to distance themselves from their vehemently anti-European past, in Germany the name Schumacher is now associated only with a Formula 1 racing driver, while a similar trend is, to a degree, emerging in Great Britain, too. The right, on the other hand, is (in a tendency exemplified, in Italy, by the first and the present Berlusconi governments) assuming an increasingly strong anti-European stance — a stance that, indeed, continues to characterise much of the Italian right wing press.
But the characteristics of this euroscepticism — characteristics that in our view only confirm it as unproductive and insubstantial — are broadly similar whatever the political colours of those expressing it. Here, we examine this scepticism and the arguments it advances, which we regard, almost without exception, as pretexts. We deliberately attach no importance to the provenance of those who, with a common intent that is far from commendable, develop these arguments, which can be taken to represent as much the view of one faction as of another.
 
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As I have mentioned, the attitude of those who criticise European federalism, attacking both its supranational character (the many partial EU institutions, which they would like not to improve or complete, but to abolish, along with the organisation in its entirety) and its internal structure (that is to say, infranational federalism, which goes so far as to propose the creation of large regions as direct members of the future European federation), presents, almost without exception or variation, certain salient features, which emerge in practically all the writings of those who question the advantages of European integration and, more or less openly, oppose the same. These salient features are examined below.
1) The first is a disregard, deliberate and systematic, for the thought of leading liberal scholars (Luigi Einaudi, Lionel Robbins, Benedetto Croce to name but three) on the subject of European unification — views these critics do not even feel the need to refute, having erased all memory of such individuals. This is clearly anti-liberalism bordering on the irrational.
And this disregard, displayed by those whom we will continue to define euphemistically as “eurosceptics”, echoes — perhaps by chance, but significantly nonetheless — the criticisms of European integration expressed by the communists in the first decades following the end of the Second World War (and also by communists surviving today), as well as those that were and still are raised, in terms paradoxically not dissimilar, by the most extreme and illiberal political right (whose view is that pro-Europeans should void and cancel out the nations, their traditions, and all their history in favour of an insidious Americanisation of European life).
2) Particularly striking is the close similarity between the attitudes of some of these critics and the communist propaganda machine of old, according to which the European Community, having been created for the purpose (upon the orders of warmongering Americans — enemies of peace and of Europe), was solely responsible for the Iron Curtain and the “sequestration” of the countries of eastern and central Europe, the Soviet Union, Stalin and “limited sovereignty” having, in their view, played no role whatsoever.
3) Similarly, the EU, and the governments and political forces that support the EU, are deemed responsible for the difficulties and delays that have impeded the expansion eastwards of the European Union following the collapse of the Soviet Union: difficulties that undoubtedly stem from the selfishness of the EU member states, but which are also, and to a far greater degree, attributable to the dreadful economic, social and political conditions created in these unfortunate countries by regimes imposed for half a century by the Soviet Union, conditions that have precluded and could still preclude their membership of the EU (a fact borne out by the difficulties that have followed Germany’s reunification).
These critics certainly have a point when they complain of the indifference and slowness that have characterised Europe’s embracing of — or rather failure to embrace — the countries of the former Soviet Union (and, in more general terms, of its inability to develop an Ostpolitik worthy of the name), an indifference and slowness that has had serious consequences for peoples who, freed from the Soviet yoke, had hoped to be welcomed more quickly and generously into the Union of their more fortunate Western brothers. But the main, and most important, reason for this failure lies in the weakness and inadequacy of the European institutions: and yet it is precisely these that our eurosceptics do not want to see strengthened through federal unity, but rather (seen as structures utterly anachronistic and linked to the Cold War) eliminated and suppressed at root level, or at least drastically cut back and cleansed of all traces of supranationalism.
4) Another, almost equally absurd accusation that these anti-federalists (whom I would term, pure and simply, anti-Europeans) level at the EU is that of failing to solve all the problems of Europe (and the world) and of excluding from the Union ambit a large area characterised by disorder and underdevelopment, almost, it is insinuated, as though this disorder and underdevelopment were useful, even indispensable, to the development and order of the Union. The European Union is, in short, accused of not being a global union: an accusation that betrays ignorance of the principle that pursuit of that which is better can cancel out that which is good, and fails to recognise the need for gradualism, that is, the fact that historical processes of great import take a certain time to run their course.
5) But this attitude of hostility to European unity presents a more serious weakness: the absence of any alternative plan or project. What other course of action, we might demand, should have been taken fifty years ago, when Luigi Einaudi, in Italy, declared that the nation-states had become “dust without substance” and Robert Schuman, following the suggestion of Jean Monnet, proposed his plan? And what, today, is the alternative to deepening and democratising the Union, to endowing it with political and military competencies, thereby creating the institutional conditions that are essential if it is to expand eastwards with more courage and altruism than the present EU structures allow?
And given the present impossibility that such a Union can ultimately embrace the entire planet, what other form should we wish it to take, if not the form of a state? The state is a fundamental and irreplaceable instrument of order, justice and freedom, providing (and this is the crucial point) that it has already acquired continental dimensions. Such dimensions are necessary if it is to guard against the risks, already identified by Einaudi, that are today represented, among other things, by so-called globalisation, which is not something that should be tackled head on, but something that should, rather, be controlled. Only a state of continental dimensions can truly do this.
Whoever fails to recognise the truth of this shares the view of Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, who, having defined internal federalism as “a virus like AIDS” [sic],[1] more recently expressed, though less crudely, the analogous view that European federalism has been definitively surpassed. In his opinion, indeed, Europe does not need a supranational state: it would be preferable to see a return to the Middle Ages [sic], to numerous centres of power, accepting without reservation the growing anomie produced by globalisation.[2]
6) In short, a positive aspect to all this intransigently anti-European literature[3] can be found only by interpreting the views it embodies — and this often requires a great effort of good will — as expressions of dissatisfaction (certainly justified) with the shortcomings, failures and inadequacies of the current process of integration.
Just as some theses that condemn internal federalism outright (lumping together all forms of it and viewing all movements that promote it, without exception, as hideous and degenerate expressions of micronationalism, tribalism, racism, and the rest) do at least serve to highlight the fact that Europe and the nation-states will, in the absence of a defining moment of unification, of a solid supranational aggregation, run the risk of disintegrating, so the euroscepticism that is so fashionable today can at least be credited with drawing attention to the many — too many imperfections that still characterise the European Union (which federalist thought — deliberately ignored by these authors — strives unceasingly to highlight), as well as to other failings that even European federalists sometimes neglect (for example, the need, mentioned earlier, for a profound internal federalisation of our states).
But here again, no indications are given as to how these failings might be corrected. By trying to make the transition from the hybrid community formula to a genuine European federal state, or by wiping the slate clean and going back to the old collaboration of European sovereign states (which are, in reality, less and less sovereign, and as divided as they are dominated by foreign influences in the form of large existing or potential continental-size powers)?
Federalists, at least, unlike eurosceptics — and herein lies the greatest shortcoming of the latter — answer this question in unequivocal terms. Even De Gasperi once remarked pertinently that it will take far more destruction than construction in order to build Europe. This is not to say, of course, that we should limit ourselves to the destructive part, as this would merely amount to “Luddism”.
7) One particular aspect worth looking at here concerns the criticisms levelled at the euro, which its critics would like to see ditched, not strengthened through a transition to a political union, as opposed to just a monetary one. A baby born prematurely can be placed in an incubator or abandoned to the elements. Our eurosceptics are in no doubt as to which course of action they would choose.
I wish at this point, and by way of an exception, to personalise our adversary, citing an individual who is both extremely well informed and correct in his approach, and who embodies, essentially, the criticisms advanced by all eurosceptics. I refer to the German economist, and naturalised American, Hans F. Sennholz, and to an essay of his that appeared in an Italian journal.[4] Sennholz does not declare, or even imply, opposition to European integration or to the euro, but merely observes that the weakness of the single currency stems, among other things, from the lack of social reforms in the various European countries and from the power of attraction that America’s high-tech new economy exerts over European investors. This, however, is only part of the truth. What he fails to observe is the fact that there was, at least among the most farsighted authors of the single currency programme, a full awareness that, as the English say, “money does not manage itself”, and thus that, in the medium-long term, a European currency could be deemed sensible and durable only if it were supported by a European government of the economy. It is the lack of this that constitutes the real weakness of the euro.
It is worth bearing in mind, at this point, the opinion of a leading American technocrat, Lawrence B. Lindsey,[5] whose comments, let us stress (to parry any criticisms we may attract), stem not from his strongly pro-European ideological and political leanings, but are purely an expression of his considerable expertise and political acumen. Having remarked that Europe, unlike the United States, lacks a system guaranteeing flexibility of the labour market and a fiscal federalism worthy of the definition, as well as, in more general terms, fiscal institutions engaged in the correction of economic cycles, he adds (and this is the decisive point) that if the euro is to succeed, Europe needs to have a centralised decision-making mechanism capable of taking decisions in the field of fiscal and economic policy. It is, in the end, strong and reliable institutions that give a currency strength and stability: in other words, an out-and-out federal state, like America has.
From this perspective, we must clearly ask ourselves whether the difficulties currently impeding the structural reforms that Lindsey rightly advocates might more easily be overcome were politics — or at least the most important political questions — dealt with at European level; and, in particular, whether the scientific and technological research that is needed to kick-start the European economy and reduce the gap that separates it from the US economy — something also highlighted by Sennholz — is possible only through a programme coordinated at European level, and promoted and supported by a European government. This is another view that federalists (economist Alberto Majocchi of the University of Pavia, to name but one) have long been elaborating.
8) Deserving of even harsher criticism are those responsible for formulating, often fully convinced of their argument, the sophism: European Union = a socialist Europe = closed markets. It is an argument that gives rise to the view that policies can only be changed by destroying the Union institutions, and not, as we maintain, by developing and perfecting them, and giving them a political character through their transformation into a federal state, within which the alternation of right and left, of forces that are more or less statist, would be an entirely normal phenomenon.
In this case too, this iconoclastic conclusion appears to stem not from objective appraisal, logical reasoning and argued points, but blind ideological prejudice (which I attribute to the historical absence in European culture of a federalist tradition — leaving aside the exceptions that prove the rule — and thus of a deep understanding of the nature, workings and possibilities of a federal state), an absence that is bound up with the mistrust of change inherent in petty conservatism. And this prejudice and ideological closure leads, as I have indicated, not to the overcoming the Hegelian Aufhebung — of the European Union’s current political structures, but only to their “simple negation” — unproductive and frustrating.
Hence the need to criticise this euroscepticism harshly and without any mincing of words, given its purely destructive character and its failure to offer any project for Europe as an alternative to the one it opposes. And its incapacity to propose alternatives constitutes an intellectual weakness that goes hand in hand with its moral weakness, i.e., its utter lack of sincerity.
 
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Nevertheless, to be fair, we must ask ourselves whether those most responsible for this euroscepticism, and who in some way justify it, are not in fact the “official” pro-Europeans who, demonstrating the fatuous optimism of amateurs, are happy with the EU as it is, since “all things considered, it has produced extraordinary results”. Those who are happy to accept, by way of an example, that Europe, faced with the repeated bloodshed in the Middle East, should — and given the current state of things, how could it be otherwise? — be nothing more than a passive spectator.
In the light of all this, we can only ask ourselves whether the European Union, looking at the limitations to which it has been subject and the forms it has taken over its half-century existence (a long period of time for institutions too), has not gradually become qualitatively and increasingly different from the federalists’ original project, the project that surviving federalists — voices in the wilderness — still defend, and assumed characteristics that are now irreversible.
My inclination is to answer this question in the affirmative — I say inclination because I certainly do not regard myself as a prophet. The Europe of federalist dreams was and is necessarily a political and cultural project.
Instead, today’s Europe is merely an economic enterprise, founded solely on interests and motivated, not infrequently, by selfishness, and it is all the younger generations — and even the middle aged — have ever known. Meanwhile, the nation-states, diminished and demoted to the rank of medium or small world powers, excluded from important international decisions, have somehow adapted to their decline and, albeit wearily and ingloriously, continue to survive.
Perhaps, then, we should be asking ourselves whether the desire to inject fresh energy into a European Union that has long since given up on itself is not in fact tantamount to wishing to breathe new life into a corpse. In other words, whether the European Union — the entire European Union — should not be allowed to go stumbling on, poised between life and death (to paraphrase Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli), while the federalist ideal is re-launched — providing this is possible — through an entirely new project and by an entirely new political force. Or whether, on the other hand, the opportunity that presented itself in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War has not in fact been lost for good, the Europeans having definitively resigned themselves to being, as the Nazis would have put it, geschichtspensionierte Völker, peoples that have retired from history.
Certainly, as Benedetto Croce said, history is an ever-open process and, in the words of Horace, multa renascentur quae jam caecidere. But, Max Scheler would continue, the long interval that precedes an uncertain rebirth of this kind is characterised by a sittliche Stagnation, by a moral inertness in which important victories are, for entire generations, completely lost from view.
Is this to be the Europeans’ fate? Or might we still witness, as the French say, un sursaut of pride and resipiscence?
It is in this that, in spite of everything, we continue to trust.
 
Andrea Chiti-Batelli


[1] A comment in an interview with Gad Lerner published in La Stampa, on 14th October 1996.
[2] Article in La Repubblica, May 21st, 2001; interview with Franco Venturini in Il Corriere della Sera, July 4th; conversation with Barbara Spinelli in La Stampa, 13th July.
[3] A detailed examination of all this appears in my book Letteratura pro e contro Maastricht, Rome, Ed. Dimensione Europea, 1995, pp XLIX, 270.
[4] The journal is Federalismo e Libertà (until a few years ago Federalismo e Società), Bologna, and it appeared under the heading “Euro incerto e deboluccio”, issue 3-4, 2000.
[5] I refer to an article by Lindsey — until mid-1997 Lindsey was a member of the United States’ Reserve Council — that appeared in a 1997 volume published (in several languages) by the Philip Morris Institute in Brussels, What is the EU’s global role? The economic and political concerns of Lindsey and others are fully and well presented — albeit from only a mildly pro-European perspective — in contributions published in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (November 14th 1997 issue), produced as a supplement (devoted entirely to the problems and difficulties faced by the EU in the wake of the Amsterdam agreement and as it approached the coming into effect of the single currency) to the Bonn weekly Das Parlament; and repeated, in more harshly critical terms, by Milton Friedman (in Dossier Europa, Rome, 21st December 1997, edited by the European Commission) and by various other American authors (resumed by Richard Lambert in the Financial Times, 19th November, 1997). A more in-depth discussion of the topic, and a detailed examination of the arguments in favour of and against the single currency, can be found in my book Letteratura pro e contro Maastricht, cit.

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