Year XL, 1998, Number 3 - Page 255

 

 

AT THE CROSSROADS BETWEEN THE NATIONS AND EUROPE*
 
 
The end of the transitory period of the Common Market must be seen not just as an economic fact, but as a complex historical event, and as one whose significance, therefore, lies not only in its economic results, taken in isolation, but also in the nature of the political situation which allowed them to be achieved. It is, however, a significance which has not yet been fully grasped by our countries’ politicians and, for this very reason, has so far failed to become the driving force behind a political will capable of matching the opportunities which the market has created. Instead, the picture which emerges is one of light and shade, one of great uncertainty over what might be the consequences, both in the near and in the more distant future, of this historical event.
The Common Market can be seen as the most highly and the clearest embodiment of what must be considered the fundamental aspect of post war politics in Western Europe: the prevalence of European unity over any other general political orientation. In fact, this aspect, which represents an expression of Europe’s determination to recover, proved decisive in the evolution not only of the Six, but of the entire Atlantic area. It could, moreover, also prove decisive in the future as it represents the indispensable basis for the development of a political design whose ultimate objective is the total unification of Europe (in the pursuit of which the continent will achieve its definitive deliverance and contribute to the establishment of an international balance which is more receptive to the great social changes which are taking place everywhere).
Reflecting on a past now behind us, it is clear that the positive aspects of the period following the end of the Second World War are to be attributed to the growth of European unity, and to appreciate their real value, simply set them alongside the negative aspects (which appear all the more negative in view of their tragic consequences) that characterised the period after World War I: power conflicts and the predominance of nationalistic zeal were replaced by collaboration among states, and protectionism, economic self-sufficiency and impoverishment by a restructuring and expansion of the economy on a continental level. Indeed, it is thanks to the building of this embankment that the element of irresponsibility which still remains within our political forces has been contained and prevented from regenerating disastrous situations. However, we must not forget that there is everything still at stake. With a few commendable exceptions, the prevalence of European unity has been born of circumstance rather than of the will of men and, because of this, still needs to be transformed into an enduring order.
Even today, despite the events which seem to point to a European society in the making, European unity still depends more on circumstance than on the will of the democratic parties: indeed, while paying lip service to the European purpose, these parties in fact concentrate their efforts in other directions. They are still seeking, more and more in vain, to marshal support among citizens for anachronistic objectives which can never be achieved (the renewal of the state, of politics and of society along national lines), without appearing to appreciate the contradiction which exists between the building of Europe and the restoration of national states, failing to understand that a European federation represents the historical alternative to the irreversible crisis of the national states.
And this is where the picture becomes obscure, as the force of circumstance is no longer enough to guarantee the prevalence of European unity over all other general political orientations, and, hand in hand with this, a minimum of progressive order. European unity certainly appears to have all the traits of a historical necessity, but even if it is, this certainly does not exclude the possibility of periodic breakdowns in the dialectic march towards unity. In fact, nationalism has already reared up again in Europe and, by rejecting both the “federal budget” of the EEC Commission and the election of the European parliament by the people, has prevented any federal developments of the Community. If it is not defeated in time, it will prevent both the transformation of the customs unions into a full economic union, and its progressive enlargement to other countries, as soon as they are ready to join. And, more serious still, it will render impossible any solution to a problem which has already provided the first indications that a new and ruinous crisis of political power in Europe is possible: the crisis of political participation, and above all of its most important, even if less obvious aspect. Following the protests of the student movement, everyone agrees that this a very real crisis. But how many people really appreciate that, in order to resolve it, the first thing that must be done is to involve the citizens of Europe in the process of European construction? Most admit, albeit reluctantly, that in order to draw the citizens back into political and social life, they must regain control over their lives as students in school and over their communal lives, in the measure in which they prove capable of taking on the attendant responsibilities. However, no one seems to realise that there is more to it than this; that it is also, and above all, a question of placing, again, their historical destiny in their own hands.
This, in fact, is the point where the crucial heart of the matter — the border between the compression and the liberation of forces — lies: at the crossroads between the nations and Europe. In Europe, the destiny of men depends on the possibility of directing the European economy towards social and human ends, of contributing to a détente which is not sinking into imperialism, of taking real action to reduce the ever widening gap which separates rich and poor countries. it is not by enjoying citizenship of, and the vote in, national states that these ends can be achieved; on the contrary, these “assets” can be likened to watertight bulkheads which prevent the people from taking an active and direct part in the crucial happenings of our time. It is only by enjoying citizenship of, and the vote in, a federal European state that the people of Europe can be allowed to do more than acquiesce to the decisions taken by others, on which their very destiny depends. In fact, the national states, which have now been surpassed definitively (economic, social and cultural life is now played out on a much bigger stage) and crushed continental powers, have cast Europeans unjustly as lesser men with respect to Russians and Americans. There is a need therefore, to look beyond the national states and to establish, on the economic foundations already laid in the Western part of the continent, the first nucleus of a United States of Europe.
The obstacle that must be overcome in order to do this is no to be found in the objective situation, but in the human consciousness. The existence of an economic, i.e., social basis clearly makes a lie of the claim (heard even in pro-European circles) that a European state power is still a far-off objective, still beyond the real reach of the will of men because it is still extraneous to the interests and struggles of the people. In truth, it is still considered a remote objective only because no fight is made to achieve it, because it is placed outside the scope of our own action and, ipso facto, outside the framework of our knowledge. In fact, it is precisely because action can be taken in order to achieve it that the European state can be considered a realistic political objective. By demanding with conviction that the European parliament be elected by the people, (following the Treaty to the letter), and by reinforcing this demand through the direct election of European MPs in countries where there are no real obstacles in the way of such elections — a move that will help to remove obstacles which do exist elsewhere — the people and the grassroots of political parties can be drawn into and involved in the building of Europe.
Unless it is viewed as part of the fight for a European state power, it is impossible to appreciate the nature and scope of this action. On the other hand, when seen from this perspective, it is clear to see that mobilising, on an electoral level, the members of a community which is yet to become a state corresponds with taking the first — and at the same time, the most important — step towards the construction of that state. Simply think of the historical significance that such a vote would assume in the minds of men: by casting it they would acquire the dignity of being European citizens. In the sphere of political consciousness, if not in a fully fledged legal form, they would give rise to the people of Europe: a federal people, a people of nations, a people able to give full expression to the social and political potential of our countries in their current stage of development. A major point of reference would be created to direct political struggle and to guide our indolent politicians and our bewildered intelligentsia. The repercussions would be felt throughout Europe and throughout a world which is weary of Russian-American hegemony.
It is unlikely that this European people, mobilised through European elections and becoming aware of its identity, will falter before its democratic expression (i.e. the European federal state) has become a reality. In other words, before having come to the end, in its true domain (that of the exercising of its constituent power), of the process which will lead to the formation of a politically united Europe — an objective which the parties wrongly believe can be achieved without the direct intervention of the citizens, and outside democracy. History has brought Europeans face to face with a challenge: the question is, will they will take it up, or will they allow themselves to be defeated without even having the courage to put up a fight?
 
Mario Albertini


*This article was published in French in Le Fédéra!iste, X (1968).

 

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