political revue

Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Page 77






 The European Federalist Movement (Movimento Federalista Europeo, MFE) is this year preparing to hold its 30th national congress, which coincides with the 80th anniversary of the Ventotene Manifesto. Founded in 1943, the Movement, too, is now nearly 80 years old. Considering that it is a small vanguard movement with a revolutionary attitude to the established political system, it has managed to be, over its lifetime, an extraordinarily permanent presence, consistently playing a role of political initiative within the European process, as confirmed by the feedback and the level of attention it constantly enjoys in its relations with politicians at all levels.

The Bologna congress, two years ago, saw us preparing our campaign ahead of the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe. This time round, in Vicenza, as we conduct this much-awaited and assiduously prepared campaign in a setting no one would ever have anticipated (i.e., in the midst of ongoing pandemic-related protests and fallout), we need to take stock of our priorities in the face of very grave and still persisting challenges, and also pause to reflect on our particular responsibilities and struggle, evaluating them in the light of our objectives and the frames of reference before us.

The present analysis and remarks on the crucial European and world geopolitical issues currently at the centre of political debate are not to be considered exhaustive. The theses set out herein aim simply to get clearly in focus, in today’s complex scenario, the political battle we are called upon to wage at this time, given that we find ourselves faced with an extraordinary, yet transitory, window of opportunity: one that could well prove decisive and must therefore be fully exploited.

A Look at the International Scenario

Looking at the global situation, it is currently difficult, if not impossible, to detect any clear trend. The past two years have undoubtedly caused profound fractures in the international system and left it deeply rocked; and yet, so far, no plan has even been sketched out for solving the huge challenges we discussed in Bologna[1], namely the need to revive democratic politics, build a new world order, and govern globalisation. What is more, we must now reckon with even more pressing threats that concern the whole of humankind: the climate emergency, primarily, and now also the pandemic; added to this, there is a desperate need for proper governance of economic interdependence. All these are existential challenges that no country can overcome alone, and what is more they are additional to the challenges of digital transformation and (the “mother of all challenges”) the radical structural change that society is undergoing globally. Also in the mix are the conflicts of interest and influence between the major powers, primarily the United States and China, and their race to gain supremacy (technological, economic, geopolitical and military), not to mention the interests and objectives harboured by the regional powers. The present historical phase is witnessing deepening divisions and heightened competition, both of which are being exacerbated by the upheaval caused by the pandemic. And the pandemic, instead of encouraging new and solid ways of uniting efforts, is being treated, rather, as a very delicate strategic phase in which the foundations of power and supremacy are being laid for the coming decades.

In this whole scenario, we no longer have (or even any sight of) a hegemonic state or coalition with the strength necessary to lead the world by imposing common cultural and political rules, organised and implemented through all-important multilateral institutions. Consequently, theatres of crisis are multiplying, and tending to expand as they become the terrains of proxy wars that test the aims and interests of the various powers; nationalism, too, is on the rise, even though it offers no solutions compatible with the situation of global interdependence, and therefore cannot usher in any form of progress, in any field.

Added to all this, we have the coexistence of competing democratic and autocratic models, with the latter continuing to gain ground. That said, the fact that they are in competition with each other, but at the same time economically interdependent, makes it inconceivable that the world will see, as in the Cold War era, the formation of two opposing blocs, each economically and ideologically homogeneous internally. Indeed, whereas the struggle for global supremacy between the West and the USSR was a fight between two incompatible economic systems (as well as between two radically different sets of values, corresponding to two types of political regime), the situation today is entirely different. The real problem now is the absence of a democratic political vision capable of offering guidance on how to govern, in a positive way, the processes under way. In the past, liberal internationalism, despite all its ideological limits and its self-mystifications, made it possible to identify some key points around which to build a system of international relations. Now, however, that ideology is clearly struggling, and yet no positive system of thought is emerging that might take its place.

In short, never before has it been more necessary to nurture a new vision, while also moving forward with great pragmatism. And in this setting, it is, as ever, up to us to reiterate that now is the time to establish a new system of values and a new political culture in the world, through the creation of a federal Europe.

The European Union and the United States.

At present, the United States is the main victim of the crisis of its own driving ideology: liberal internationalism. Although, three decades ago, it won the cultural and political battle against the ideology based on collectivisation and on the abolition of private property, free enterprise and the market, the past two decades have seen America’s vision of history, based on a belief in the existence of a route to freedom (“History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.” — George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address), severely undermined by a series of crushing and self-damaging defeats and failures. As shown by Biden’s response to the Afghan situation, it is even losing faith in the idea that it can “export” democracy and human rights, and indeed the desire to do so. That said, Biden finds himself having to pick up the pieces after the Trump era, which was characterised in particular by the former president’s personal interpretation of the theory of political realism (namely, that the struggle for power has always been a feature of history, and today is no different) that, notwithstanding the huge expenditure borne by the US in implementing its foreign policy of the late 1990s and 2000s, he exploited as an excuse for his crude foreign policy and “America first” agenda.

Internally, the country is deeply divided, torn apart, and therefore, as explained by Francis Fukuyama in The Economist, incapable of promoting a coherent foreign policy design.

The most striking illustration of this failure on two fronts, domestic and foreign, is the tragedy in Afghanistan, which is unfolding as I write. In this regard, readers are referred to the MFE press release of 23 August[2] and to the declaration on this tragedy issued by the president of the Union of European Federalists (UEF)[3]. Quite apart from the very serious mistakes made during the twenty years of occupation (the absence of a proper plan, of any political capacity, and even of the political will to manage the situation without letting the vices of a corrupt society undermine much of what was done), the key point is that the United States started the war not only to defeat Bin Laden and destroy the physical infrastructure of terrorism, as Biden now clumsily maintains, but also as a way of launching a great plan to “win” the area for democracy (and bring it under American influence), a plan to which even Obama acquiesced. To appreciate all this, it is enough to consider the following lines from the 2006 US National Security Strategy document: “The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people.” The United States has failed spectacularly in this intent, bringing shame upon itself and, with it, the whole of the West. While Trump, driven by his cynical disdain for values of any kind, negotiated a “peaceful” withdrawal in exchange for the return of the Taleban, which is to say surrender to the enemy, Biden, for his part, has shown the US to be a country that pulls out of wars meant to bring stability, and exposed himself as too weak even to acknowledge the mistakes that have been made. He even claimed, implausibly: “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralised democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”

How can this United States possibly continue to lead the world, or even just the West? Indeed, even though some Democrats still cultivate the illusion that the country can go on being the bearer of a system of freedom, the truth is that America is no longer strong enough to base its foreign policy on this ideology, as it has, instead, often done in the past when attempting to shoulder responsibility for “governing the world” (attempts that, let us not forget, also had flaws and/or weaknesses). In the past, when liberal internationalism was a widely supported approach, it was decisive in guiding the choices of American politics, even though it was often espoused almost automatically and without too much reflection; then, the mission was to build a global order by planting, everywhere, the seeds of liberal democracy and the free market. Today, however, no longer able to use this ideology with confidence, the US is left weak, unsure and lacking a theoretical guide. Thus, while (at times) aware of the need to relaunch multilateralism, it lacks the framework of reference it needs in order to do so. All this was excellently shown by Gideon Rose in his final piece as editor of Foreign Affairs; the main problem is that the US lacks the resources to find a new way to rebuild its position and role in the world. And in the face of this inadequacy, the price to be paid by that part of the world that still looks to, and depends on, the United States risks becoming very high indeed. Because, while it is true that the Americans have lost their hegemony, they are nevertheless still the strongest players on the global stage; albeit now challenged by a new power, they are still capable of influencing the international system. Moreover, in the face of all this, and above all, of today’s various global challenges, they find themselves hampered by dramatic internal weaknesses. As neatly put by Gideon Rose, democracy did not “prevail” at the last US elections, it got lucky. And now America’s erratic and temporary assumptions of leadership have the potential to cause dangerous backlashes. 

For the Europeans, the lesson to be learned in this context, on the relationship they should develop with this ally and partner, ought to be patently clear. Even from this brief, schematic analysis, it is clear that the EU could carry decisive weight in the development of a more coherent US foreign policy, even just by becoming a far more solid and authoritative partner than it is right now; but the Europeans, for their part, are still midway through the delicate process of building their own identity and role (both still somewhat ambiguous), and are therefore, in many ways, unreliable. So, all the US can do in this situation is attempt to shore up its weaknesses with political realism, i.e., the rule of power, but this criterion, on its own, is certainly not a sufficient basis for building a solid system of international relations and for understanding how to orient and align foreign policy in today’s highly complex word — an interdependent world whose reorganisation demands so much more than regulation of competing national interests.

The United States’ difficulties are reflected in Biden’s largely hesitant (although at times resolute) stances on foreign policy issues beyond the Afghan situation (and the consequences it will have over time). In today’s setting, calls to build an alliance of democracies against autocracies, and plans to revive the old concept of the West, are neither right nor useful; similarly, it serves no purpose to issue bombastic statements aimed at “isolating” China. The US needs to behave realistically, without ever forgetting the need to use the compass of liberal-democratic values to get its bearings. There are plenty within the country who are speaking out along these lines. As far as China is concerned, for example, many (including Zack Cooper and Adam Liff, writing recently in Foreign Affairs) feel that it would be important, first of all, to focus on building the network of relations and alliances that previously failed to get off the ground in part due to America’s withdrawal from the TTP, as this would create the conditions to structure the weight of the United States’ presence in this now strategic continent. What is called for is “a positive agenda and strategy for the region”, conceived not merely “as a response to China”, but designed to boost trade and strengthen economic integration, also “increasing American diplomatic and military resources in the region”, in such a way as to contribute actively to securing America’s own interests in terms of peace, security and prosperity there. Similarly, on a global level, the US should strive to reach agreements that develop international trade and investment, while also strengthening its network of alliances, starting with the European Union.

Europe, if it is to succeed in launching a new global strategic agenda, must also push for this, while understanding very clearly that the United States is no longer strong enough to be the world’s leading power, and that even if it does manage to recover and re-establish itself (in part thanks to the support of a more responsible Europe, more present on the international stage), it will still be only one of a number of powers. In short, we cannot look to the United States to provide the capacity to design a new international order for today’s interdependent world — a world whose reorganisation will take far more than just faith in individual freedom and in the formal democratic mechanisms underpinning the liberal internationalism that America has always espoused.

The European Union’s Global Responsibilities

The European Union is, quite simply, a unicum, not just in the current political landscape, but in history as a whole. Its institutional system is a hybrid construct that has been, and continues to be, the focus of extensive analyses attempting to define its legal nature. To date, it is the only system capable of allowing federal competences and institutions (the single currency and the European Central Bank) to exist in a setting where political sovereignty remains firmly in the hands of the member states; in the areas falling within its competence, the EU’s operating machinery is of probably unprecedented complexity. However, the EU can proudly boast a series of extraordinary successes, first and foremost its single market and currency, and it is no exaggeration to say that, despite the depth of its current crisis and the clear need for a qualitative leap in its decision-making system and its capacity for political action, the EU repeatedly shows itself to be an essential framework of reference for its member states, which owe their progress entirely to their participation in the Community project. In the current legislature, the acceleration of the large programmes for ecological and digital transformation, which have drawn further impetus from the remarkable decision to implement the Next Generation EU recovery package — albeit prompted by exceptional circumstances, this must be acknowledged as a courageous move —, indicates a willingness to spur member states into committing to ambitious goals (even though these are complex and could well have  negative social repercussions, and will therefore require close political monitoring). In view of all that the EU has achieved, it is hardly surprising that many allow themselves to fall into the trap of believing, more or less in good faith (i.e., out of inertia or a desire for the power of political control to remain at national level, or because they lack a real understanding of the nature of the political processes and, above all, of the categories of federalism, which are the only ones really able to explain Europe’s institutional system), that the Union is capable of evolving, without ruptures and without paradigm changes, in the direction of a closer political union. As we have said — it is definitely worth repeating this point —, it should come as no surprise that people struggle to grasp the nature of the federal leap that the EU still needs to take, given all that the process of European integration has thus far delivered:

— 71 years of peace, an achievement that must be attributed to the presence of common institutions, and cannot merely be put down solely to favourable external or internal circumstances, which by definition are not directly controllable, and could never have been relied upon to produce this result;

— almost 65 years of functionalist integration, which has made the European Union the number one commercial power and led four of its member states (including the United Kingdom in this case) to be counted among the world’s seven most industrialised countries;

— the single currency, created to set the seal on the construction of a single market that, now embracing over 500 million citizens, has allowed the European member states, albeit with difficulty, to withstand the phenomenon of globalisation (which would have crushed any European country left to its own devices);

— the world’s first and only direct elections of the members of a joint supranational parliament;

— continued attention to and support for values, rights, the principle of social justice, and the goal of environmental sustainability;

— regulations to protect the rights of the citizen-consumer; and the list goes on.

This brief analysis sets out the reasons for the resilience of the EU, and for the leading states’ determination to save it in the darkest moments of the various crises that have threatened its survival. It also shows why Brexit, despite coinciding with the peak of the wave of anti-European nationalism, failed to have the “snowball” effect that populist and nationalist forces were counting on. Basically, all the European states realise that without the single market and without the euro they do not have the resources necessary to withstand today’s increasingly fierce international competition. On this basis, Europe’s institutions and political forces have quite rightly chosen to include strengthening and further development of the single market (starting with fiscal harmonisation to prevent fiscal dumping between European partners) among their “ordinary” policy objectives. Moreover, in the broader global setting, the leaders of the world’s largest economies have now pledged to introduce a global minimum tax of 15per cent on corporations, an agreement that currently appears to be the main victory secured by Biden, together with like-minded European partners, at the recent G20 summit.

Nonetheless, there can be no denying that this EU, too, has its shortcomings. In particular, the most politically sensitive competences still lie outside the EU’s remit, while its means of intervening vis-à-vis the member states on matters pertaining to Community competences allow it to do little more than lend support to what essentially amount to national policies. Together, these shortcomings are responsible for its glaring impotence on the international political stage and leave the EU paralysed even in the face of crucial internal challenges that go right to the heart of the member states’ sovereignty. Once again, the Afghan tragedy provides a concrete example and effective illustration of the situation, as well as showing us the direction that needs to be taken in order to overcome the impasse. In the case of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Europeans, as has often been in the case over the past twenty years, submitted to an American decision despite knowing it to be wrong, both in its timing and its manner. Indeed, even though the operation in Afghanistan was conducted in the framework of NATO, both Trump and Biden acted unilaterally. What is more, as the situation on the ground degenerated, the Europeans found they had fallen into the trap of being totally dependent, in this setting, on the choices and decisions of the Americans, depending on the US presence in order to secure the evacuation of their own citizens and Afghan collaborators, rather than abandon them to a dramatic fate destined to weigh heavily on all our consciences. All this explains the calls from many European politicians to move faster towards the creation of an EU army; justifiable calls, certainly, but still ambiguous unless accompanied by clarity on the framework within which this army should come into being. There are indeed many open questions. In the current framework, for example, to whom would it be answerable? How would its “missions” be decided? Under the current Treaties, the European Council unanimously defines the general guidelines of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. But what do the proponents of a European army have in mind? European defence organised along the lines of the à la carte model of integration, in other words, in a firmly intergovernmental mould, with provision made for numerous structured cooperation arrangements to accommodate different contexts and geostrategic interests? Even if it were agreed to abolish the practice of deciding by consensus in the European Council (which, as indicated above, is the only institution with the power to address this issue),[4] what project, other than this patchwork “solution”, would be possible? It is clear that the EU’s powerlessness in the field of foreign and security policy is rooted in the fact that sovereignty in these areas remains the exclusive prerogative of the member states; this is a reality clearly reflected in the Treaties and one that, to be overcome, demands not minor Treaty revisions, but rather a whole new project, based on an entirely different concept of what being together in the EU means. It is only in the context of general support for this new project (i.e., transition to a federal political union) that it will be possible to identify the path to a common foreign policy and a common European defence. We will return to this point in more detail in the last part of these reflections, in which we focus on our battle for a federal Europe in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Here, I merely wish to highlight, with the help of the debate of recent days prompted by the Afghan tragedy, what this European Union lacks, and to underline that we cannot delude ourselves that the functionalist approach that led to the creation of the EU can also lead us to a new federal system, given that this depends, crucially, on the sharing, in key sectors, of political sovereignty (to be exercised on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity) between the EU and the member states.

The Afghan situation is also highlighting a further dramatic deficiency of this European Union, which, too, is attributable to the fact that political sovereignty remains in the hands of the states. There has been a rekindling of the debate on migration policy, which is a Community competence, albeit only theoretically, given that the powers and tools (and most of the resources) necessary to implement it actually belong to the states. Migration policy — we have discussed this topic often and at length — is one of the worst failures of the EU, which, in this regard, continues to be completely unable to reach decisions. This is due to tensions between the member states, which, being affected to different degrees and in different ways by the problem (and also because immigration is a politically sensitive issue liable to impact public opinion), tend to adopt closed and stubbornly selfish positions. The reaction we are likely to see risks being similar to that produced by the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, with the difference that, this time, there is no Germany willing to step forward and take in over a million refugees in order to ensure that the armies of some countries, having erected barbed wire fences along their borders, do not end up firing on encampments of helpless people in search of safety and salvation. On the other hand, one aspect that has not changed since then is the blackmail to which the EU finds itself subjected as a result of having outsourced the control of migratory flows almost exclusively to third countries. This time, however, the responsibility borne by us Westerners, Europeans included, is direct — so direct that, now, we simply cannot allow ourselves to bear the shame and guilt of looking away, of simply trying to push back the wave of refugees that will arrive. In this situation, too, therefore, what we need, far more than tweaks to the voting rules in the Treaties, are common projects that define how we want to act as Europeans; but it must be appreciated that these, too, are possible only in the context of a common political project that must reflect the desire to build a federal political union. Seen from this perspective, the creation of an initial vanguard group of countries choosing to jointly manage, using the appropriate EU funds, a migration policy worthy of the name (with provision made for on-site assistance, humanitarian corridors, common acceptance criteria) takes on strategic value.

For us federalists, the other crucial aspect to consider, with regard to the limits of today’s European Union, is the fact that the institutional system currently embodied by the EU can never be a model for the governance of globalisation, or one capable of starting the process of world unification. Ever since the Bari congress, where we launched the slogan Unite Europe to unite the world, we have been deeply committed to promoting the value, both cultural and political, of the European federal project understood as history’s first attempt to affirm the political principle of uniting peoples, this being the only true guarantee of peace. In a world facing common environmental threats and the dangers of growing interdependence — if left ungoverned and unchecked, this latter phenomenon, in combination with developing technology, will have increasingly deadly and devastating consequences —, this principle is, today, more valid than ever. The truth of this is borne out by Europe’s dramatic experiences during the two World Wars and the three decades that separated them. Federalism is the only ideology that truly understands the profound nature of the supranational phase of history that humanity entered in the wake of the Industrial Revolution; in showing how the orbit of democracy can be expanded to supranational levels, it is the only political thought able to offer a concrete formula for governing the new political processes involved. This expansion entails the construction of a new supranational state model, of which a future European federation would be the first historical affirmation. Just as the principles of freedom, equality and social justice, together with the necessary institutional innovations, were historically established by the liberal, democratic and socialist revolutions respectively, so the principle of true peace and supranational solidarity can be established by the federal revolution, through the creation, in Europe, of the very first example of a supranational (federal) democratic union. Unless Europe can make this leap, it will not be able to fulfil its role as a test bed for the unification of humankind. Whereas today’s EU is certainly a great model of integration for the creation of a quite remarkable market, it is not yet a model of integration for political unification. Now, it finds itself caught midstream, in the sense that the original plan was to rapidly arrive at a federation, not gradually build a supranational market. And even though the entire process has always been based on its own initial driving values and significance, meaning that it has always been underpinned by the desire to turn the page on nationalism, there can be no denying that many ideals have been lost along the way, and with them the original federal political objective. It will therefore be a struggle to recover these, even though we will surely be helped in this endeavour by the extraordinary cohesive power of the single market.

The pandemic, America’s crisis, the growth of global competition, and the lessons of the economic and financial crisis have together created a new opportunity for Europe to complete its journey and reach its federal goal. It is in this context that we should see the Conference on the Future of Europe. With difficulty, but also with surprising vigour, the federalist culture that has long remained underground, but always alive thanks to the constant and courageous work of organised federalism, is now re-emerging. We do not have the option of choosing the circumstances in which the possibility of winning a long political battle will finally materialise; but when those circumstances and that possibility do arise, it is crucial to know how to exploit them to the full. And this is precisely what we are called upon to do now, in the awareness that it is our responsibility not to waste the efforts of those who came before us, starting this great battle that has now lasted almost eighty years; we are also aware that the future of humankind depends on the hand we have to play, and that we are — just as the Manifesto was eighty years ago — once again the political-cultural frame of reference needed to allow the birth of the federation that will change the history of Europeans and of all people.

Our Battle for a European Federation: Our Role and Our Responsibilities 

Throughout the unfolding of the European process, the great cultural and political tradition of European federalism, which advanced significantly with the publication of the Ventotene Manifesto (the document that gave rise to a concrete political commitment to the creation of a European federation), has always provided us with the conceptual tools needed to interpret the nature of the institutional system borne of the pressure exerted by functionalist integration. All the campaigns waged by our Movement, starting with the one for the European People’s Congress, followed by those for the election of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage and the creation of the single currency, have been rooted in a clear awareness of the confederal nature of the choices that led to the Treaties of Rome and were incorporated into them. Accordingly, thanks to the brilliance of Spinelli and Albertini and the work done by the Movement, federalists have always been the underground driving force of the evolution of the process; time and time again, they have proved able to identify and highlight aspects illustrating the inherent paradox of Europe’s supranational integration, whose advance has left the states’ sovereignty formally and legally intact while at the same time emptying it of substance, thereby exposing the clear need to transfer portions of political power and sovereignty to European level. Albertini, recognising this ability as the very essence of the Movement’s reason for existing, called it our power of initiative; because only a revolutionary vanguard dedicated exclusively to the cause could (and can) prepare the ground for political steps that normal politics tends to ignore until it is driven into a dead end and forced to choose between radical advancement of the process (a genuine qualitative leap) or its own spiralling descent into a fatal crisis. Since such junctures arise only very rarely in the process of European integration (i.e., only in the most profound crisis situations that deeply undermine the foundations of the existing system), it is crucial to be prepared, by ensuring that the new, federal solution, or at least a proposal able to unleash dynamics that will move in a federal direction, has already been properly formulated and is waiting in the wings. In other words, it needs to be a concrete and well-developed idea, already widely circulated in the world of politics and among the ruling class, and capable of completely changing things; unless this proposal has been prepared in advance (by federalists), it cannot be injected into the process, and without it, politics can only plunge into the abyss. From this perspective, it is clear to see that the federalist battle waged thus far has not only helped Europe to advance; it has helped it to survive. 

Today, the task we face is the same. At this crucial moment in the history of the world, and therefore of Europe, objective conditions have emerged that present the states with an impasse, and with these conditions there has also emerged the possibility of change. The time is ripe for the federalist solution, and this time we know it can be decisive, as it is finally in a position to reach the goal that our previous achievements foreshadowed and laid the foundations for. In recent years we have identified, developed and sought to promote the crucial reform that the European Union needs in order to make the political leap, in terms of power and sovereignty, that is a prerequisite for the success of all other reforms relevant to competences, decision-making mechanisms, and the development of a transnational political system. We are referring to the attribution of fiscal power to the European Parliament, because this is the one reform that will finally change, in a qualitative sense, the legal nature of the European system. Fiscal power, allowing self-determination and political autonomy of the European institutions vis-à-vis the member states, is the condition for the birth of a true European government and the start of the construction of a federation that can also acquire competence in the field of foreign and security policy, and progressively establish itself on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity.

This same battle, albeit with obvious differences deriving from the different stage of development of the EU, was already a key driver of the political work that led Spinelli, also with the support of the federalists, to formulate, between 1981 and 1984, his proposal for institutional reform of the European Community, set out in the draft Treaty adopted by the European Parliament on February 14, 1984.[5] Indeed, in December 1981, to support the European Parliament’s initiative — on 9 July that year, the Parliament had resolved to set up a committee to draw up a draft Treaty on institutional reform of what was then the European Community, with a view to creating the  EU —,  the UEF, too, had formed a committee, chaired by Francesco Rossolillo, tasked with drafting ideas for institutional reform of the Community, by adapting, to the new circumstances, the resolutions of the Comité d'Etudes pour la Constitution européenne (CECE) that, in 1952 under Spaak, had prepared the work of the ad hoc Assembly and done the groundwork for the political community proposal that had been meant to complete the European Defence Community project.[6] At the 1982 UEF congress in Milan, Francesco Rossolillo,[7] illustrating the criteria that had guided the reworking of the CECE resolutions, explained that the new federalist strategy had been developed taking into account three key needs: to develop a federal model that would establish the direction of the reforms; to identify the “institutional minimum”; and to provide indications on the ratification procedure that would need to be followed.

The model, which as mentioned was based on the CECE resolutions, was not conceived in abstract terms (i.e., as the best system of government in theory), but rather as a coherent and workable federal institutional system that was also designed to accommodate the acquis communautaire. In other words, it was designed taking into account the reality of the European Community then taking shape, and was therefore based on a clear awareness of the political conditions of the time. Specifically, the heterogeneity of the member states’ visions of the Community, their profound differences, and so on, made it necessary to proceed by stages, taking preliminary steps that would serve as preparation for full implementation of the planned federal system; in particular, a transitional phase of intergovernmental cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy was envisaged.

Identification of the institutional minimum corresponded to identification of the reforms capable of changing the nature of the balance of power between the member states and the European organisation, rendering the latter autonomous and therefore able to govern directly within the sphere of its competences.

Finally, the identification of an adequate ratification procedure was a crucial point, given that the reform process, to be successful, had to avoid the unanimity trap. Whenever the aim is to create a new power system, this is, in fact, an aspect that typically has to be addressed: since the rules in place are designed to perpetuate the existing system, the only option is to force the system. Added to this, the fact that not all the European member states are open to federal reform means that the system’s current unanimity rule can be used to mask the desire of some governments to prevent the others from pressing ahead with it. For this reason, the UEF’s document stated that the new Treaty should make provision for majority decisions — subsequently, Spinelli’s draft Treaty also tried to ensure this — and be submitted directly to the national parliaments for ratification, thereby bypassing the intergovernmental conference stage envisaged by the existing Treaties.

Today, we find ourselves needing to apply similar criteria. Maastricht gave us a European Union that embodied many of the ideas set out in the draft Treaty, and even launched the single currency. At the same time, however, by ruling out the birth of an initial core of European political power in the economic field, as a preliminary step towards full federalisation of the other competences, it diluted the draft Treaty’s political content. In particular, many scholars now agree that the Maastricht Treaty actually laid the foundations for the creation of the intergovernmental method, by stipulating that any “Europeanisation” of issues in areas lying at the heart of national sovereignty — which, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the birth of the single currency, really needed to be managed at European level — should occur only through the instrument of intergovernmental coordination. All subsequent advances in the process of European integration up to and including the Lisbon Treaty, particularly the greater powers of intervention (codecision) conferred on the European Parliament, have been vitiated by this key flaw whereby, with regard to crucial political competences, sovereignty remains exclusively in the hands of the member states. It is precisely this system that must be dismantled, so as to enable the construction of an initial European political sovereignty in those areas that now need to be governed at European level; and attribution of fiscal power to the European Parliament through its institutionalisation in the Treaties is the way to open up this path. Without this step, which represents the institutional minimum that it is now essential to keep firmly in sight in order to be able to change the power relations between the European level and the member states, European sovereignty cannot be built. Essentially, no European political government can exist unless it has the power to find the resources necessary to implement its own policies; this same power, by ending the situation whereby the European Council is the only body able to orient political choices, will also make it possible to promote the development of a truly European political system; at the same time, since a European government with the power to directly levy taxes on citizens and businesses would have to be subject to full democratic control, the EU would have to undergo an institutional evolution geared at strengthening political control and the direct relationship between Parliament and the Commission, which, too, would open up new spaces for a truly European transnational political system. In this regard, to avoid repeating points already made and developed numerous times elsewhere, the reader is referred to various in-depth texts produced over the past two years, which can be found in our publications. Several documents are cited at the end of these reflections, together with a list of press releases and declarations. Additionally, anyone wishing to read the pre-congress theses prepared in 2019, which remain complementary to this year’s, will find that they provide the basis for the present analysis (the relevant link is provided both in note 1 and in the short bibliography below). Since we were already highlighting this very clear and crucial point back in 2019, ahead of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we lost no time in seizing the unique opportunity for advancing the European process offered by the Next Generation EU programme: our specific proposals have raised our profile and won us consensus, and therefore increased our power of influence, both among politicians and within the various European federalist organisations.

With regard to our strategy, the other two key points to set out are the institutional model, understood in the concrete sense in which it was defined in 1982 by the UEF, and the ratification procedure. As far as the model is concerned, the EU’s institutional configuration has become increasingly clearly defined since the Maastricht Treaty; the acquis communautaire carries far more weight than it did in the early 1980s, and now offers a fairly clear template of how the political relationship between the Parliament and the Commission should be structured. This trend is confirmed by the ongoing battle to reform, through the creation of transnational lists — this has now become a political battle of identity for the forces wanting a European supranational democratic political model —, the system for electing the European Parliament and the President of the Commission. To date, no particularly strong stances have been taken on the question of whether to opt for a parliamentary model, as envisaged by the UEF proposal and the Spinelli Treaty, or a presidential one (in this regard, it can be noted that the creation of a single president for the European Commission and European Council is sometimes seen as means of arriving at a presidential system). It seems somewhat premature, in the current phase, to consider this a crucial debate. In Europe, as we have said, the preliminary step that needs to be taken — and is something that the Conference on the Future of Europe is, in some ways, also pushing for —, is to give the European institutional order a new federal character through the attribution of powers, resources and instruments at European level and the necessary changes to the decision-making system. Today, the battle for a federal Europe must focus on securing these reforms, which must culminate in abolition of the right of veto, in order to signal the creation of a democratic federal European government. Discussions on the form of government can wait until a later stage.

As regards the question of elimination of the unanimity rule, this issue affects the ratification procedure, just as it did forty years ago. The constraint of unanimous ratification currently envisaged by the Treaties, and governed by Article 48 TEU, constitutes an enormous obstacle to institutional reforms. The political problem behind it is, as has always been the case since the UK joined the European Community, the member states’ different visions of the European project. Even after Brexit, this continues to be a crucial issue, as there still persist three very heterogeneous visions within the EU27:

— that of a handful of highly nationalistic states that, confident that this European Union has no means of effectively sanctioning them, engage in behaviour that challenges the principle of the rule of law and certain key principles of the integration process (and is, in theory, incompatible with their continued membership of the EU);

— that of the countries that support the idea of a single European market but argue that an integrated Europe created on this basis should have no political aspirations (or political powers);

— and finally, that of a small group of states that have long been alive to the need for a political leap in Europe, and espouse federalism to different degrees.

This latter group currently includes, as convinced and active members, Italy and France, respectively led by Draghi and Macron, as well as several mainly southern European countries; their continued alliance is crucial in order to draw in Germany, whose position (which remains decisive) is yet to be clarified in the aftermath of the German general elections. Although this is, at present, a minority group of states, it is clearly in synergy with the most advanced forces within the European Parliament, and, drawing on their support, must aim to act as a vanguard to pave the way for Treaty change. With this in mind, it remains fundamental, in the current (still often ambiguous) debate, to beware of confusing proposals for differentiated integrations of an intergovernmental nature (based on policies), which would be more in line with a Europe à la carte, with proposed integrations based on shared support for a federal political unification project and a conscious strategy. The former, even when accompanied by the demand for a majority vote, are formulas that perpetuate and strengthen the intergovernmental system; the second concern transitory steps that would help to prepare the ground for the creation of a federal system. For this reason, the litmus test of a true federal vanguard is whether it supports the creation — the time is now absolutely ripe for this, as we have repeatedly said — of a political union in the economic field with the attribution of fiscal powers to the European Parliament, as the basis for the new federal system. In this respect, the pattern of change envisaged by the UEF’s reform proposal and by Spinelli’s draft Treaty remains valid today, that is, full union in the economic field and a transition phase in the field of foreign and security policy, in which, however, cooperation undertaken has the potential to evolve into effective action, given that it is underpinned by a common project and vision and the will to build a true political union. In this setting, the vanguard, joining forces with the European Parliament to take advantage of the Conference on the Future of Europe, must press for Treaty reform and, as part of its strategy, formally demand ratification by majority vote. In this regard, the strategy, already envisaged and attempted forty years ago, of engaging directly with the national parliaments would still seem to be the most effective one today, particularly in view of the fact that the national parliaments have representatives in the Conference, with whom structural alliances could start to be built; and all this must be accompanied by a readiness to engage in breakaway actions, if that is what is called for.[8]

As federalists, our political role is to work to ensure, primarily, that the two irreconcilable “vanguard” proposals are never confused and that there is growing clarity around the proposals that will lead to federal unification. In this respect, the importance of our political and cultural role is obvious, especially if we consider the collaborative relationship we have established, through the UEF, with the vanguard (of which the Spinelli group is the main component) that has formed within the European Parliament, and with the parliamentary intergroup in Italy, as well as with Italy’s representatives within the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Through the UEF, we have channels that give us access to the French and Spanish governments, and we also have influence in Germany. As for Italy, our country’s role has become more crucial than ever, not just because of Draghi’s authoritative influence, but also because Italy can and must show that problematic countries are far more likely to reform under a “good” Europe, ready to show solidarity, than under a punitive one, ready only to impose austerity: in this way Italy can convince Germany of the usefulness of a political union. Furthermore, here at home, we know we can count on consolidated political relations, as demonstrated, for example, by President Mattarella’s presence in Ventotene for the 80th anniversary of the Ventotene Manifesto.

In short, our dialogue with political decision makers is crucial, and therefore our campaign and our positions must be coherent, consistent and worthy of the political moment.

As the autumn comes, it is time to get our campaign under way again, making sure that it is strengthened by an even greater level of awareness and capable of even greater momentum. We have just completed two very intense years of campaigns, that have enjoyed huge success both nationally and locally: they constitute a valuable asset in which we must further invest, as we prepare to promote our new campaign called “100 Assemblies for the Conference on the future of Europe”.

Our congress this year will be a chance for us to gather strength and prepare to launch, as the Conference enters its final months, this important new campaign, proud to know that we are doing what we can at this decisive historical and political moment, but also humbled by the knowledge that we are riding on the shoulders of giants. And we are fortunate to have this knowledge, as a touch of humility is an essential ingredient of the political ability to connect with others willing to share your battle.

Pavia, 27 August 2021

Luisa Trumellini

Short Bibliography

Pre-congress theses:

L. Trumellini, Il senso della battaglia per la rivoluzione federale in Europa, Theses circulated ahead of the 30th MFE National Congress, Bologna 18-20 October 2019, Il Federalista, 61 n. 3 (2019),

Federalist pamphlets:

  1. Giulia Rossolillo, The Financing of the European Union: a Proposal for Treaty Reform to Give the EU True Fiscal Capacity, The Federalist, 62, (2020), p. 135,
  2. Giulia Rossolillo, Abolishing the Power of Veto. Voting System Reform in the Council and European Council, The Federalist, 63, (2021), p.63,
  3. Paolo Ponzano, Reform of the European Union: from European Union to Federal Union, The Federalist, 63, (2021),
  4. Luca Lionello and Giulia Rossolillo, Creating a European Fiscal Capacity: What it Means and Why it is so Important to the Integration Process, The Federalist, 61 (2019), p. 132,

Campaign material accessible on the MFE website’s homepage,, and “Archivio dei documenti del sito” section

UEF appeal with the Spinelli Group and the International European Movement,

Press releases, declarations, political interventions from May 2020 (in chronological order from the most recent):

— La tragedia dell’Afghanistan, 23 August 2021, (published in English in The Federalist, 63 82021), p. 4, The Tragedy of Afghanistan,

La sfida di Draghi: un’Italia europea per un’Europa federale,18 February 2021,

Prima che il sasso rotoli. Dichiarazione del MFE sulla crisi di governo, 19 January 2021,

La crisi della democrazia americana chiama l’Europa ad assumersi le proprie responsabilità, 7 January 2021,

Verso la Conferenza sul futuro dell’Europa. L’Italia per un’Europa federale, 3 December 2020,’Unione europea non può più essere ostaggio di chi non riconosce il principio dello Stati di diritto, 17 November 2020,

L’On. Tabacci e il Senatore Nannicini inviano insieme al MFE il testo dell’appello #ItalyxCoFedEU appeal al Presidente Conte, 13 November 2020,

Perché Trump rimanga una parentesi, 8 November 2020,

Il discorso sullo Stato dell’Unione europea. L’Europa sarà ciò che noi vorremo che sia, 16 September 2020,

— Dopo l’accordo raggiunto dal Consiglio europeo si apra la strada di una profonda riforma politica dell’UE, 21 July 2020,

— Una ripartenza per l’Europa. Appeal to the European Parliament, #iMillexEuropafederale, 15 July 2020,

— Letter from the MFE and federalist parliamentary intergroup to Italian prime minister Conte, 15 June 2020,

Next Generation EU: Nel nome del Fondo straordinario per la ripresa e il rilancio europeo, il programma per costruire l’Unione europea del futuro, 28 May 2020,

— 70th Anniversary of the Schuman Declaration. La nuova sfida dell’Europa. Event and MFE-GFE, Movimento europeo Italia and AICCRE joint statement, 9 May 2020,

— Letter from the President of the UEF to the European Parliament, 25 March 2020,

* These theses were circulated by the president and national secretary of the European Federalist Movement (MFE) prior to the 30th MFE National Congress, Vicenza, 22-24 October, 2021.

[1] Cf. L. Trumellini, Il senso della battaglia per la rivoluzione federale in Europa, Theses circulated ahead of the 29th MFE National Congress, Bologna, 18-20 October, 2019, Il Federalista, 61 n. 3 (2019), p. 188,

[2] Movimento federalista europeo, La tragedia dell’Afghanistan, (published in English in this issue of The Federalist, 63 (2021), p. 4,

[3] Union of European Federalists, The Tragedy of Afghanistan, 26 August 2021,

[4] An in-depth analysis of voting system reform within the Council and the European Council can be found in: Giulia Rossolillo, Abolishing the Power of Veto. Voting System Reform in the Council and European Council, The Federalist, current issue, p. 63 ( On the related topic of differentiation, on the other hand, cf. a recent article by Sergio Fabbrini (Differentiation or federalisation: Which democracy for the future of Europe? Eur Law J., 27 (2021), pp. 1-13,, which clearly explains how, under the current Treaties, “sovereignty-induced differentiation”, meaning the recourse to flexibility instruments (even opt outs) in situations where one or more states do not intend to participate in greater integration in an area likely to impact state sovereignty, is a practice directly linked to the method of intergovernmental governance, which has now effectively become a complementary rule of the same (in fact, since Maastricht it has become a usual way of proceeding for the EU). The construction of a federal system, on the other hand, implies a completely different approach, as it must be a system built (not necessarily unanimously, i.e., by just a group of states albeit probably representing a majority of EU citizens) around support for an institutional system that establishes a new (joint) sovereignty at the central federal level of government.

[5] European Parliament, Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union, Luxembourg, The European Parliament, Directorate-General for Information and Public Relations, 1984,

[6] M. Albertini and F. Rossolillo, Proposte pe la soluzione della crisi istituzionale della Comunità europea – Aggiornamento delle risoluzioni del Comité d’Etudes de la Constitution européenne del 1952, Il Federalista, 24 n. 2-3 (1982), p. 80,

[7] F. Rossolillo, La strategia per la riforma istituzionale della Comunità, Il Federalista, 24 n. 4 (1982),

[8] In this regard, cf. European letter n. 74, June 2021, The urgency to modify the Treaties, overcoming the problem of unanimity. Political and legal issues,


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