Year XLVIII, 2006, Number 1, Page 64

 

 

The European Election, European Government and a European State*
 
MARIO ALBERTINI
 
 
I. The European election, and the consequent strengthening of the European Parliament, raise the question of the strengthening of the decision-making capacity of the Community. Both the parliamentary function and the executive function are under discussion, and these are problems that can be examined only in the context of constitutional thought. There thus reappears, on the horizon of political life, the question of the European constitution, which takes old militants like ourselves right back to the start of the process of European integration, and to the debate that shaped the aspirations of Europe’s pioneers at a time when European integration was just a project supported, in its bid to affirm itself and to become part of historical reality, only by the force of ideas. I refer to the debate between the constitutionalist theory, which in Italy can be linked to Luigi Einaudi, and to the functionalist theory of Jean Monnet, which, while not being enough to allow completion of the construction of Europe, nevertheless managed to get the process of unification started and to develop it to a point at which the question of European Union is being posed in concrete terms.
To re-examine the constitutional theory today, one must apply both realism and imagination. And I do not use the word “realism” casually. I know very well that many, indeed most, people believe that it is unrealistic to think, already, in terms of the creation of a European state. But sometimes those who profess realism are the very ones who fail to be realistic. In this regard, and also in order to focus attention on the problem, it is perhaps worth recalling a historical example, drawn from our own Risorgimento, that, like European integration, also involved the founding of a new state over an area encompassing many states. Nowhere in the history books does it say that the Italian state came about suddenly and unexpectedly. Even in 1857, Cavour said, in the Subalpine Parliament in reference to the designs of the Mazzinians, that it was “nonsense” to think of the Italian state as a possible and imminent reality, that is, as the concrete objective of the political process in progress. But this “nonsense”, in fact, corresponded to reality. In 1860, the Italian state was born. And, in truth, it has to be said that this had been a possible outcome of the political struggle ever since the reasonable Mazzinians had decided to act in concert with the reasonable moderates.
Indeed, the founding of the Italian state cannot be explained except in the light of the formation of its national society. But normal political thought was unable to grasp the significance of this aspect of reality because it considered the momentum for unification and the creation of the state entirely separately. Thus, thoughts of unification were not accompanied by thoughts of the Italian state (the latter was projected forward to some indefinite, far-distant time, in the same way as the European state is today). Just as in Italy in the Risorgimento, in Europe today there is difficulty making this connection, which requires that European integration be viewed as a state-building process. There are practical reasons for this difficulty, and one could evoke, in this regard, Croce’s idea of the practical nature of the theoretical error. That said, the error exists and it needs to be identified. If one listens to the accusations of simplification that have always been levelled at the federalists, one might seem justified in asserting that the conception of European integration as a European state-building process is rejected on the basis a sophism: it is argued that this conception claims to furnish, in advance, knowledge of the process, whereas, in truth, it is clearly only a guiding concept, a broad criterion against which to evaluate events, and the only one that allows them to be examined in all their complexity. Indeed, unless one applies this criterion, one will never be led to ask oneself about the possibility of founding a European state; hence, when this possibility emerges, in reality, thought fails to grasp it, and failing to grasp it, dismisses it. In reference to European integration, it is, in any case, worth recalling that Western Europe has, in the past (between 1951 and 1954), already been on the brink of founding a European state.
 
II. The basis of the constitutionalist theory is very simple. It is banal to say that the creation of a state requires the convening of a constituent assembly. It is perhaps less banal to recall that European unification will cross the threshold of irreversibility (often said to be reached already) only upon the acquisition of statehood. But what is more difficult, and I apologise in advance if all that I am about to say seems audacious, is to monitor what we might call the “constituent degree” of the process of integration, particularly, if we conclude that this “constituent degree” is already well advanced — advanced enough to allow the taking of the first steps towards a European state. In this case, we are no longer in the realm of theory, and thus of a priori knowledge of the relations that exist between the state and the constituent power, or of those that exist, respectively, between federation and irreversible unity, and confederation and precarious unity, in the framework of associations between the states. Instead, we are faced with a historical reality (the current phase of European integration) that we are actually living through, and whose meaning, character and direction we are striving to understand. This task is so difficult that it might seem wise to keep quiet. But exercising caution, in these cases, is tantamount to giving up or, in a political sense, to surrendering. Political action, if it is not to remain restricted to the here and now, demands that, to some extent, we verify the meaning, or course, of history, and the only way to do this is through dialogue, providing there is someone willing to formulate clear ideas, so that errors might become easily recognisable, and so that we might, through the correction of errors, draw closer to the truth.
No fully mature part of current political debate provides grounds for affirming that Europe is, for the second time, on the brink of founding a European state. Indeed, all prudent players and observers rule this out. I, on the contrary, think that we might say that the political — and, by definition, the constituent — phase of the process of European integration has already begun. I will explain: I do not say this because a constituent assembly is, in theory, necessary, but because it has become a real possibility as a result of the character assumed by events, by the power situation. I can also say that we federalists had already foreseen this possibility, referring to it, in our language, as an “inclined plane”, meaning a situation brought about more by events than by the will of the political forces. After the collapse of the EDC, and when the Common Market was still in its early stages, we tried to understand how, just as it had taken shape, the process of European integration would now unfold, and we felt able to say, at that time, that European integration, having completed its first stage — we defined this first stage “psychological” because it was autonomous only at the level of feelings and aspirations, which are also important, as shown by the founding of the European Council (a symbol, precisely) and, above all, by the Atlantic Pact, with its strong support for European unity — , would, with the Common Market, go on to complete an “economic” phase (“economic” not because economic unity is achievable at a purely economic level, but because it excluded the autonomy of politics and restricted itself to the autonomy of economics, a sphere that, as events have shown, cannot stand alone), and, by the very dynamics of this evolution, then reach the political-state-constitutional phase.
 
III. Today, however, we can concern ourselves with facts, and not only with forecasts. Nevertheless, it is a good idea first to remove an obstacle. One difficulty that could impede efforts to consider the question of a European constituent assembly is the fact that the constitutional foundation of Europe cannot, in any case, be likened to the constituent works of the past. In the latter, it was always a question of giving, through the efforts of a constituent assembly, a constitutional form to a state that already existed. This does not apply in the case of Europe. For this reason, the constitutions of the past have always, to an extent, been something bestowed, if not by the sovereign on the subjects, then at least by the politicians on the citizens, and this has naturally had direct consequences not only on a political level, but also on theoretical and cultural levels, and, basically, on the way in which we perceive and view the events in question.
But we cannot see, or think of, the European constitutional question in these terms. Because of its very nature, the European constituent effort cannot correspond to the work of a constituent assembly entrusted with drawing up, in the space of just a few months, a definitive constitution. In Europe, there is no European state to which to give a constitutional form. In Europe, the state still has to be created, literally; and therefore a power must be entrusted with the task of creating it. And the thing that the events of the process of European integration should, by now, have taught us is that it is only from an initial form of European state (to be instituted through an ad hoc constituent act) that we can begin the process of forming a European state that we might call definitive. This paradox of “creating a state to create the state” need not worry us. Kant faced a similar paradox (a state of states), but this did not prevent him from formulating, through this very paradox, his theory of perpetual peace.
We should instead remember that the process of European integration has already brought us face to face with a situation of this kind, with the question of the European currency and of economic union, which, in fact, cannot properly be considered until it is seen to represent the creation of an essential aspect of the European state — economic sovereignty — and until it is appreciated that this creation: a) cannot be achieved through a simple act; b) requires a process; and c) can reach completion only at the end of this process (with the reaching of military sovereignty and of a definitive constitutional order); but also until it is appreciated that while this process will culminate in the state, there must also be a state, in a different form, at the beginning of it, because a process of this kind can be set in motion only in the presence of a power of state level.
These are not subtle disquisitions. They concern, in one way, the stage reached in the process of economic integration (which, at the end of the transitional period of the Common Market, can advance only in the context of economic and monetary union); and in another, the failure of the Werner Plan, which failed because it put the horse before the cart, making provision for the crucial “decision-making centre” only at the end of a new transitional period, rather than at its beginning, too.
In fact, the problem of the European currency illustrates perfectly the arguments that I have set out. There cannot be a currency without a government because it is only at this level — at state level — that there exists the essential power needed to issue a currency, to regulate its quantity, to control the economic consequences of monetary policies, etc. Currency and government are, in truth, two sides of the same thing: sovereignty. Thus, a currency is either national or it is European, just as a government is either national or European. There are no middle ways: a currency that is part national and part European, or a government that is part national and part European. It follows that until there is a European currency, the factors — starting with balances of payments — that force governments to favour national aspects of the economy over European ones, and prevent them from creating the common or coordinated economic policy that would, hypothetically, be needed to launch and develop economic union, will, together with the currencies, continue to be national.
Obviously, these considerations do not undermine the principle of progression by stages, but they do exclude it in one case, that of the European currency, which cannot come about gradually, but only through a single act, which must be accomplished at the start of the process of economic union so as to remove the obstacles that lie in its way. We may thus conclude that a European government has to be created right at the start, to allow the creation of a European currency. But it does not end there. Having created the currency, it will be necessary, gradually, to develop economic union, and this means starting with one state (the initial state) before reaching, through this means of power and its policies, another state (the definitive one). It is clear that progress towards economic union will have to be accompanied both by the gradual construction — always reflecting the degree of union achieved — of a European political and administrative apparatus, and by the gradual coordination of this apparatus with those existing at national level, and that this process, in view of the interrelation between defence and economic problems, may in theory be considered finished only when the initial European state (endowed with sovereignty in the monetary sphere, but not in that of defence) has been transformed into the definitive European state, endowed with all the competences needed to act as a normal federal government.
 
IV. These conclusions clarify — assuming they are correct — the nature of the fact that must be ascertained. To assess whether the creation of a European state is possible, it is not a question of seeing whether it is possible to convene a constituent assembly, understood in the traditional sense of the term, but of verifying whether a process like that which I have described, which should be made up of single constituent acts that strengthen its constituent degree, progressively paving the way for further constituent acts (and in which a European Parliament would effectively take on the character of a “permanent constituent assembly”, to use Willy Brandt’s expression), is about to begin or has already begun. It is thus necessary to examine, from this perspective, the current situation of European integration.
For several years now, the question of European integration has been characterised by three ever-present issues: the European election, European Union, and economic and monetary union. It must nevertheless be remarked that these three issues emerge more in the actions of the governments than in the actions and sensibilities of the political parties, the unions, the social forces, and the press journalists, intellectuals, commentators and so on). As regards the European election, a date has already been set. The question of European Union remains open, and has taken, through the task entrusted to Prime Minister Tindemans, which also made provision for consultation of sectors representing public opinion, its first tentative steps in the direction of a debate open to the political parties, the social forces and the citizens. And as regards economic and monetary union, it really has to be said that events have rendered this essential, if the governments, despite the failure of the Werner Plan, and the abandoning of fixed parity rates, are — rather than no longer raising the question — instead to go on reiterating that this is an objective that must still be pursued.
I have already spoken of economic and monetary union as the way to create a European state. I return to it now because it also serves to show the point that both Europe and the states have now reached, a point beyond which there lies a crossroads. For years now, Europe has been on the threshold of this crossroads, where the two ways are those of unity or division, and this situation cannot go on forever. Europe must once more take the pathway of unity, which is also the pathway of economic, democratic and social development, otherwise it will inevitably find itself irreversibly plunged into the divisions of the past, and the consequences of this, on freedom, wellbeing, and social justice, are all too easy to imagine. A third way (a good Italy in the absence of a good Europe) simply does not exist, and is merely an illusion born of mental or moral laziness. And unity after the end of the transitional period of the Common Market, that is to say after the creation of the customs union and the agricultural union, lies only in economic and monetary union, and in its political prerequisite: an initial government that will start and carry through to completion Europe’s new transitional period, during which what remains to be integrated will be the political and social forces.
In view of all this, it is clear why we talk of a two-speed Europe, and why the two-speed Europe, as soon as it manifests itself, becomes a many-speed Europe, capable, indeed, of as many speeds as it has nations. The fact is that at the stage currently reached in the development of European integration, and of international political and economic relations, economic and monetary union is the condition on which European unity depends. And without unity, all that remains is division by nations. The splitting of Europe into two parts, as we have already seen with the franc’s exit from the European “monetary snake”, would just be a step closer to the only division likely to become entrenched: national division.
 
V. I must now illustrate a peculiar aspect of this situation, whose true character, when all is said and done, is better recognised by the governments than by the political, social and cultural forces (the forces, that is, that produce political debate). This is the reason why, in political debate, it is the individual aspects of the situation that are taken into consideration, and why the situation is never considered as a whole, that as the field in which to make important choices, or the framework of the alternatives that have to be faced. I will give some examples. If one considers only Italy, or the “Italian case”, one will certainly fail to see that a solution (the best solution) to the Italian case lies in completion of the process of European integration, that is to say, in Italy’s transformation into a member state of the European federation (as an aside I point out that this transformation implies relinquishment of exclusive sovereignty but not of effective sovereignty, even though, in terms of competences, the latter is limited; and I would add, too, that sovereignty is one thing, and autonomy another: Italy has military and monetary sovereignty, but it certainly does not have military and monetary autonomy). And for the same reason (i.e., the reducing of the question of the possible alternatives to the level of the Italian situation, in spite of European integration), the question of the Italian political left is considered as though the terms of the problem were dictated purely by the power relationship between the socialists and the communists in Italy, and not also by the picture that will emerge in two years’ time, after the European election, in the framework of the European Parliament, a picture that, whether or not it is taken into consideration now, will undoubtedly strongly influence the Italian situation.
There is an explanation for this peculiar blindness, and for the fact that the governments are less blind than the political parties and the cultural forces. The parties, and following in their wake, the social and cultural forces, concern themselves mainly with the political and social struggle. It is in this field, with the fortune or misfortune of one political doctrine or another, that political action acquires its cultural dimension. Political debate reflects this perspective, which brings into focus the evolution of the forces (in a sense, “history”), but not the decisions that must be taken in relation to real and immediate problems, which, in this context, are not followed and studied with the same interest.
Governments, on the other hand, have to concern themselves, above all, with real and immediate problems. It is in this regard, and not in relation to ideological questions, like the debate over democracy and socialism, or predictions regarding the clash, confrontation, or accord between Christianity and Marxism, and so on, that the behaviour of governments is determined. And reality is more accurately reflected in the action of governments than in that of the parties, precisely because it shows itself more in the problems than in the processes. What is under discussion here is not a precedence of problems over processes, but: a) the fact that the biggest contradiction of our times lies not in class (social or power) conflicts within the nations, but in the unequal distribution of power and wealth among the nations, and in its consequence: the supranational nature of the most important economic and political problems; and b) the fact that we encounter this reality when decisions have to be taken over issues linked to the contradiction between the supranational nature of the problems and the national dimensions of the centres of decision making, but avoid it (reducing it to the level of foreign policy) and pay more attention to less important contradictions (the domestic conflicts within the single states) when it is a question of reaching decisions in order to direct the political processes (which are kept, by the institutions, at national level). And, as an aside, it has to be said that ultimately the contradiction is between the real historical process, now completely global, and the political processes that are the manifestations of consciousness and will, which remain trapped, by the national institutions, within the narrow confines of the nations; it must also be said that European integration, which is otherwise unexplainable, is nothing other than the most advanced manifestation of this contradiction.
This reality, this contradiction between the scale of the problems and framework of the decision-making centres, is universally recognised, even though this recognition is hardly ever followed by an attempt to adapt one’s own thought (considering the historical process as a global process and not as the sum of national processes), and action, to this new aspect of history. The men of government, on the other hand, see things differently. For the men of government, it is not so much a question of analysing reality as of confronting it, and the problems posed by the real historical process. As far as they are concerned, the contradiction between the scale of the problems and the framework of the decision-making centres is a personally experienced, everyday, and often difficult reality. From this, there follows a paradox: compelled by the supranational dimension of things, and conditioned by the point reached in the process of European integration, the governments, just as the federalists do, concern themselves with the questions of economic and monetary union, the European election, and European Union, and are therefore more realistic than the parties, which occupy the positions of power but are unable to direct power correctly, because they pursue goals (all of which correspond to the idea of a better Italy, in the sense of a better Italian nation state) that cannot be realised. Furthermore, while the parties mobilise social energies in the pursuit of certain ends (theoretically good ends), the results they actually achieve — not only unexpected (most recently, in Italy, the failure of the centre-left), but even bad, and sometimes dangerous — are the opposite of these ends.
This paradox is nevertheless the sign of a pathological reality that must be eliminated. The governments have identified the European objectives that must be pursued, but this is not enough because they have neither a full awareness of their significance (which can come only through political debate), nor sufficient force to carry them through completely — that is, in the current situation, or until such time as they are supported or stimulated by a more effective European will at the level of the parties, and by a true debate on Europe. This, thanks to the force of events, will be rectified by the European election; but in the meantime, and also in order to prepare properly for the European election, we need to examine the European objectives shared by the governments and the federalists, so as to stimulate, starting now, discussion of them in the context of political debate. This will also serve to establish whether European integration really has reached the constituent phase.
 
VI. Considered singly, the three objectives in question are meaningless and contradictory. As I have said, and as the failure of the Werner Plan shows, the idea of creating a European currency without first creating the European power capable of launching a European economic policy is contradictory. There is no sense in holding a European election for a European Parliament that has no powers, just as it is meaningless to have a Union without a proper European government.
But it is, in fact, wrong to consider these three questions singly. In truth, they all refer to the same state of affairs: the current level of European integration. Together, they constitute the platform for the relaunch of Europe. And, what is more, it is only as a whole that they take on their true nature and reveal their significance. In itself, the right to vote is a constitutional right, the clear sign of the existence of a democratic people. With the European election, we must thus talk of the European people, or more precisely of the people of the European nations. And with the election, we can also establish the meaning of Union. A Union in which the right to vote for the Union (rather than only for the states) has already been established is practically a federation, that is, a constitutional system that determines the existence of a people. Moreover, viewed from the perspective of the creation of a federation, the idea of creating a European currency and an out-and-out European economy ceases to be contradictory.
I will have to return to each of these questions. But in the meantime, I wish to remark that, from the perspective of the idea that taken together they reveal their true significance, we can in fact say that, with the fixing of the date for the European election, the first formal constituent act has already been accomplished. The proof of this lies in the fact that this “formal” decision has had a series of “material” consequences: the announcement of the candidature of important personalities; the formation, already completed (Christian democrats and liberals), or still in progress, of European political parties; debate over the drawing up of European political programmes. These are facts that cannot be understood, or described, in terms other than those of a strengthening of the constituent character (or degree) of the process of European integration, a strengthening that heralds new, more advanced, formal constitutional acts, and thus a further strengthening of the constituent degree of the process, and so on.
We may therefore say that the European constituent process has already begun. This is not to say that it will certainly be completed. No historical process, and no human act, as it evolves, possesses this mechanism. What it does mean, however, is that it is now up to men to act in order to stop it, or in order to prevent it from stopping and to carry it through to completion. I wish to point out, once again, that, to this end, it is no longer enough to pursue the construction of Europe as though this were a particular political task, in a way divorced from politics proper. Until sometime ago, the construction of Europe was in fact kept separate, on the fringes of political struggle, like a flower in a greenhouse, but this is no longer possible, given that there is now no political or economic event whose consequences do not include the strengthening of Europe’s division, or unity. All national policies have now become European policies, too, and vice versa. It follows that either we plan national and European policy together, as a single policy, or we effectively choose, often even without realising it, division, the worst European policy. This is why European division has once more become, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, a dangerously active phenomenon.
This, then, is the meaning of what is happening, and of what we all see before us. In the Community, we no longer have fixed parity rates, and there is not even the possibility of returning to fixed parity rates with the current national policies and the current European policy. Monetary chaos in Europe is damaging the European agricultural market and, in the industrial sector, is rendering the customs union increasingly fragile. In short, we still have the Common Market, but for how long? Ensuring its survival seems increasingly difficult. What we are seeing is that monetary policy, which was European with the fixed parity rates, has once more become nationalistic. We should be aware that if we conserve the national currencies this is inevitable, because the different levels of growth — these obviously emerge between the different states just as they do between different regions of the same state (and can be corrected only by the political power, which Europe still does not have) — are reflected in the balance of payments, making the European position subordinate to national and protectionist positions. This is why, now that the crisis has hit, in different ways, the European countries, every provision — and not just the overall political direction, as was once the case — has direct and immediate consequences on Europe’s division or unity. We must thus bear in mind that, just as we are close to the point at which unity would become irreversible, with the strengthening of the constituent process and the direct intervention of the people in European politics, so we are dangerously close to the point at which division could become irreversible, because monetary nationalism, unless it is stopped in time, cannot fail to extend first to the economic sector and subsequently to that of politics.
For the moment, the two trends balance each other out, generating, as regards the threat of nationalism, a false sense of security, but this situation cannot last forever. Either we react now, carefully preparing for the European election and exploiting the mobilisation of the European electorate in order to obtain an initial form of European government and re-launch economic and monetary union, or the nationalistic trend will be bound to prevail, because problems do not wait, and in the absence of European answers, we are forced to find increasingly national answers, thereby bringing closer the point at which nationalism, even before it has destroyed everything, will have won. All that I have said thus far shows that the binding together of European construction (or destruction), European policy and national policy, has already taken place; it follows that the decisions made today are ones that will determine the character of a whole historical cycle, and not just the situation for the coming years. Since Europe’s unity or division is at stake, it is clear that the destiny of the European nations themselves is also at stake, and to an extent, that of all the states in the world.
It also follows, from the binding together of national policy and European policy, that the European action of the federalists, of several enlightened statesmen, and of a few intelligent officials is no longer enough. European policy is now dependent on all the political, social and cultural forces active in national policy. Until now, these forces have submitted to, rather than created, European policy. But at the point we have now reached, passivity, doing the same things today as we did yesterday, amounts to an absence of European policy, to national policy pure and simple, in short, to ruin. It is now necessary — and, through the European election, this is perfectly possible — that all the forces, as they face up to the problems presented by the cultural evolution of society and by the crisis of many aspects of political and economic life nationally and internationally, gradually replace (bit by bit as they build a political Europe) national objectives with European objectives. Any other route, which can only be a variation on the re-establishment of nationalism and division, would lead first to the worst possible solution to the problems on the table, and subsequently to the defeat of the forces for freedom, progress and social justice.


* This is the first part of a lecture given by Mario Albertini at the convention “Le elezioni europee: 1978” (Rome, May 20th, 1976), organised by the Istituto europeo di studi e ricerche, in collaboration with the Italian Office for the European Communities.

 

 

 

Share with