political revue

Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Page 102






According to Altiero Spinelli, a federal union should ideally be created through a constituent procedure whereby the European Parliament (or at the very least an ad hoc constituent assembly) draws up and approves a new Treaty for the European Union, which is then directly submitted to the national parliaments (or to a Europe-wide referendum) for ratification, it having been established that the new Constitutional Treaty will enter into force only in those countries in which it has been ratified by the national parliament or by referendum. Such a procedure would be compatible with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

With this principle in mind, a recent federalist document drawn up within the context of the MFE (Movimento Federalista Europeo) discusses the nature of a future EU envisaged as a federal union created through aggregation of existing states and endowed with limited but real powers (certainly not a federal super-state with ambitions to suppress Europe’s existing nation-states). The document also sets out the conditions necessary for the transformation of the current European Union into a true federal union.[1]

More immediately, however, our priority as federalists must be to define our strategy in relation to the ongoing Conference on the Future of Europe, taking into account its foreseeable developments and outcome. On the basis of an initial analysis, we feel able to conclude, first of all, that the Conference will almost certainly not lead to the start of a constituent phase that would allow the European Parliament to propose a new European draft Treaty without having to follow the procedure laid down in Article 48 TEU. Second, were the Conference to conclude its work by calling for a revision of the Lisbon Treaty, there would arise a scenario that, while highly problematic, cannot be excluded a priori. It would be problematic because the Council has already indicated that it would not be willing to endorse such an outcome; and in any case, the fact that a dozen member states are opposed in principle to an increase in the legislative powers of the European Union precludes a unanimous decision by the Council to that effect. In this scenario, the Conference might even decide to conclude its work without reaching any operational conclusions at all, in which case the European Parliament, could choose to exploit its freedom to present its own draft amendment to the Lisbon Treaty pursuant to Article 48 TEU. In such a scenario, what should the federalists’ strategy be? Right now, the Movement can only work to help ensure the success of the Conference, given that it represents the first real attempt to actively involve the citizens in deliberations on the European problem. Unless the Conference manages to win broad support among Europe’s citizens — through successful work by the European Citizens’ Panels, proposals submitted on the Conference website, substantial numbers of subscribers to the multilingual platform, meaningful debate within the Conference Plenaries, etc. —, then the whole method will have to be considered a failure. For this reason, it is the duty of federalists to promote both the success of the Conference and the idea that it really can create the conditions for starting genuine Treaty reform.

At the moment, it is difficult to say whether the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe will be positive, or instead undermined by disagreements (between the EP and the Council) over the operational consequences its work should have. Meanwhile, we are currently witnessing a widening of divergences between European member states that had already become apparent over the past months. Recently, for example, an unacceptable joint document on migration policy, constituting a violation of EU values, was presented by a dozen member states (this has actually happened on two previous occasions, too, not always involving the same 12 states); added to this, the Polish government, already censured by the Commission and the European Parliament for its numerous violations of the rule of law, has recently welcomed a ruling by its constitutional court that challenges the primacy of European law; its stance on this issue is shared by other member states with sovereignist tendencies. While it is currently difficult to predict the final outcome of this juridical-political conflict, which is calling into question a fundamental principle of the European Union, there can be little doubt that this clash of views over the very concept of European Union will only strengthen the position of those who believe that the EU should make provision for two different levels of integration: one for the countries that see the EU simply as a single market, and the other for those states wanting, more or less enthusiastically, to advance towards political union. In any case, it falls to the MFE to establish what, at the very least, a possible revision of the Lisbon Treaty pursuant to Article 48 TEU should contain in terms of institutional content (and this applies whether the Conference, with difficulty, concludes that Treaty revision is what is required, or whether — and this cannot be excluded — it fails to reach any conclusion at all).

In the event of a partial revision of the Lisbon Treaty on the basis of Article 48 TEU, it needs to be established what, at the very least, its constitutional core should comprise in order for it to be acceptable to the federalist movement. In this regard it is possible to envisage two — alternative or complementary — solutions.

1) One solution would be to address the democratic anomaly enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty whereby the European Parliament, despite representing Europe’s citizens, lacks the full decision-making powers and powers of political control normally exercised by the parliaments of nation-states. In particular, the European Parliament does not have the powers necessary to define resources for the European budget, nor is it able to borrow in order to finance measures necessary for the Union. At the same time, the EP has no scope for legislative or political intervention in the field of economic policy, particularly in that of euro area governance.

2) Another solution would be to address the division of competences as established under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, which no longer corresponds to the needs of the European Union. It is clear that the current distribution does not allow the EU to rise to the new challenges it faces, or to generate the public goods that today’s diminished sovereign states are unable to provide. Therefore, the EU’s competences need to be extended as detailed below; in some cases, this will mean turning shared competences into exclusive EU ones.

  1. The EU must be provided with autonomous fiscal capacity along the lines of the ECSC model, in other words, the relevant EU institutions (the European Parliament and the Council) must be enabled to impose proper European taxes and to levy them directly on citizens or businesses, without these funds having to go through the national budgets.
  2. The EU must be equipped with a common foreign and security (including defence) policy so that the relevant EU institutions (the European Council and the High Representative, subject to political control by European Parliament) can take rapid decisions, by qualified majority or through enhanced cooperation, and thus guarantee the EU’s strategic capacity and autonomy on the international stage (sending peacekeeping missions, sanctioning countries that breach international law, deploying, when appropriate, an EU rapid reaction force, and so on). Creation of the aforementioned autonomous strategic capacity must necessarily rest on shared competence in the field of industrial policy, so that the EU institutions can take decisions relating to the development of common armaments and a common policy on semiconductors, the creation of an agency dealing with artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, the fight against terrorism and transnational organised crime, protection of the rule of law, etc.).
  3. The EU must be given greater powers in the field of public health, so that the relevant European institutions can, in the event of pandemics, take legislative measures that go beyond those currently provided for under Article 168 TFEU;
  4. The EU must also have greater powers in the field of social policy, so that its relevant institutions can take all the legislative measures currently provided for under Article 153 TFEU according to the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision with the European Parliament and qualified majority voting). Furthermore, it would be necessary to eliminate the clause (in paragraph 5 of Art. 153) which states that the provisions of the article shall not apply to pay (minimum wage and/or minimum income).
  5. Finally, the EU must be assigned greater powers relating to migration policy, so that the revision of the Dublin regulation can be incorporated into EU law, and the member states’ current competence for defining the quotas of refugees admitted to EU territory can be revoked.

Naturally, solutions 1) and 2) could be combined, increasing the competences of the EU and also those, on an institutional level, of the European Parliament.

It hardly needs saying, however, that some of these proposals (such as, in particular, a rapid reaction force in the military field, a common immigration policy, a strengthening of EU social policy, and the attribution of autonomous fiscal capacity to the Union) would not be acceptable to all the current 27 member states. In the coming months, therefore, given the reluctance among the member states to accept a so-called “splitting” of the EU and the introduction of a new Treaty binding only on the states that choose to be parties to it, it will be necessary to work out and propose a solution that allows the EU to implement two different levels of integration.

Personally, I do not believe that enhanced cooperations alone are the answer, because while they are useful for reaching certain decisions in the field of common foreign and security policy (regarding, for example, the creation of a rapid reaction force), they could not be used to adopt a new common policy (for example a social or fiscal policy). Since, under the Lisbon Treaty, no provision is made for a global decision covering an entire field of action, such a policy would have to take shape through a series of decisions taken individually on the basis of ad hoc proposals by the Commission. On the other hand, an approach allowing the existence of two levels of integration has already been used in the past: for many years, the UK — and we also saw this with Denmark — managed to obtain numerous opt-out clauses that exempted it from Treaty obligations relating to the single currency, the Schengen area and judicial cooperation (and, for a time, social policy too). If the UK could request and subsequently enjoy a different level of integration, it is hard to see why this solution could not now be applied to member states that do not share the political objective of an ever closer union. 

Paolo Ponzano

* This report was delivered as part of the Commission 1 section (Reforms for a Federal, Sovereign and Democratic Europe) of the 30th MFE National Congress, Vicenza, 22-24 October, 2021.

[1] P. Ponzano, La riforma dell’Unione europea,; Reform of the European Union: from European Union to Federal Union, The Federalist, this issue, p. 69,


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