Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 3 - Pagina 167
The European Summit at Maastricht
The result of the Maastricht summit should be judged on the basis of two key issues. First is Economic and Monetary Union, on which an important agreement set the date (1999, or possibly 1997) for the creation of a central European bank with powers to issue a single currency. Second is tackling the Community’s democratic deficit, concerning which real (if insufficient) steps were taken (see below). In comparison to these decisions, the agreements on European social issues, cohesion, security and internal policy (let alone the widening of Community powers) take second place, despite the intensity with which they were debated, since they do not significantly challenge the sovereignty of member states.
The monetary achievements are by themselves significant enough to justify a positive judgement of the Summit overall. The period set down for the creation of a European currency is certainly lengthy; so much so as to make many afraid that the Union will not develop strength and cohesion fast enough to deal with the economic crisis and social disintegration which are coming to light at an ever more insistent rate in East European countries. Nevertheless the Maastricht decision to set 1999 as a firm date (which can however be brought forward to 1997) for creating a single currency and central European bank can only provide the clearest of signals. Such was the case for the single market, whose creation was set out by the European Council at Luxembourg in December 1985 with an expiry period little shorter than that for the third phase of Economic and Monetary Union – seven years as opposed to eight (which moreover may be reduced to six). This cannot fail to happen for Maastricht’s revolutionary decisions. Hence the perspective of 1997-99 will inevitably and immediately start to arouse expectations and so increasingly influence the behaviour of both economic factors and the states. This will create an unstoppable mix of political decisions, industrial strategies, investment programmes, and contracts which will most likely make the anticipation of the start of the concluding phase of Economic and Monetary Union possible and even necessary.
Moreover it is important not to forget that Economic and Monetary Union is inseparable from Political Union. The independence of the future central European bank will form an essential pillar of Economic and Monetary Union. In day-to-day politics monetary mechanisms must be removed from political control, and the ever-present temptation of political power to use inflation as a way to hide difficulties (hence aggravating them) instead of tackling them. Nevertheless the prime instrument of economic policy cannot be divorced from the control of bodies which democratically express popular sovereignty. Hence, for critical decisions, the political authority must have control over the central bank – as occurred in Germany for the critical choice of reunification. Thus on the one hand, the planned creation of Economic and Monetary Union, insofar as it entails a significant cession of member states’ sovereignty, represents by itself a decisive step towards a real federal Union. On the other hand it exacerbates the problem of the Community’s democratic deficit, and highlights the need to tackle this issue with radical institutional changes. This can only strengthen the resolve of those struggling to carry the process to its political conclusion.
However, the Maastricht summit did give an answer to the need to democratise the Community’s institutions, even if it was an insufficient one. The European Parliament’s participation in the legislative process has been increased, even if to a lesser extent than the widening of the Community’s competences and the allocation of competences to the nascent Union. Similarly the areas of (qualified) majority-voting in the Council have been extended, again insufficiently. The Commission’s period of office has been made equal to Parliamentary terms, and the Commission will be subject to a vote of confidence by the Parliament before if can start to operate. The Commission remains an organ of an ambiguous nature and is not yet a government which exercises full executive powers. Yet in reality, the new relationship between Parliament and Commission is looking ahead to the birth of real parliamentary government. A role (not institutional, and for this reason so much more important) for interparliamentary Conferences has been recognised (the Assizes, that already in Rome, 1990, had given a clear demonstration of the extent to which national Parliaments were to be important allies of the European Parliament) and the development and consolidation of European parties has been encouraged. Even though the term “federal union” was suppressed so as not to break ranks with Great Britain, the evolutionary character of the Union was underlined; the Union should become “ever closer”, and 1996 was set for taking stock of progress in this direction and promoting new ways forward. This clearly refers to declarations, and it is well known that the road to European integration is paved with declarations that have remained dead letters. It is worth noting though that these declarations will be incorporated in a treaty; that they are set down in precise and binding terms; and that they are part of a process which gains momentum from Economic and Monetary Union, for which commitments have been signed and precise expiry dates set.
Even the “opting out” clause granted to Britain and Denmark for the third phase of Economic and Monetary Union, and the agreed exclusion of Britain from future agreements on social issues should be interpreted as positive signals. European construction will only proceed in future if the process can be freed from the veto of those governments most committed to maintaining their own sovereignty. The Community will only be able to extend eastwards and take in EFTA countries if it can create institutional mechanisms which allow new states to enjoy the benefits concomitant with membership of the Union, without paralysing the decision-making process. To counter this danger it is vital that a “strong nucleus” is established inside the Union, made up of states that accept without reservations the “federal vocation” of the Union. Such a nucleus should have its own rules and its own degree of autonomy, so as to provide the freedom of decision-making needed to give itself a genuine federal constitution in a short space of time – to which other members of the Union can adhere when the conditions have been established. The Maastricht decisions undoubtedly represent a step in this direction, and it only remains to hope that the philosophy of the two circles that inspired them will be extended in the future to decisions on Political Union as well – and institutional reforms in particular.
All the same, a constituent mandate for the European Parliament was completely lacking from the draft treaty at Maastricht. However it was unlikely that an intergovernmental conference would spontaneously divest itself of its powers in favour of a Parliament that, despite a promising leap in its self-confidence in the weeks leading up to the summit, has laid claim to its constituent role only on rare occasions and then rather feebly. The Parliament has to win its constituent role on its own, by displaying unity, combatitiveness and determination. After Maastricht it does have greater powers at its disposal however, and hence more effective means with which to exert pressure. The Parliament needs to understand how to exploit them for the purpose of acquiring the role (which is its due insofar as it is the expression of European democratic legitimacy) of real author of European federal unity. In this quest the Parliament will find invaluable allies in the majority of national Parliaments, which are themselves the expression of the popular will and whose role is seriously compromised, to the same extent as the European Parliament’s, by the growth of the Community’s democratic deficit (and the Union’s, of which, following Maastricht, the Community has become a part).
As for the Federalists they have never pretended to be the sole driving force in the process of European unification. They know that many contributors are required if significant steps towards Political Union are to be achieved. The important thing is that each actor plays his part. The Federalists have played theirs to the full, and it is an acceptable claim that without the presence of a vanguard which kept the issue of European federal Union alive when it seemed definitely beyond the horizon of national politicians, and which mobilised all available forces as the decisive moment approached, the results of Maastricht would not have been obtained – as is the case for achievements at all other decisive moments in the process. Federalists should not lose sight of the fact that their objective is still remote and that the road ahead is difficult and full of obstacles. But nor should they forget that episodes such as the Maastricht summit show their work to be decisive. Moreover, if that were not the case, the federalist viewpoint (which for many years Federalists alone gave voice to) would not have entered into the political debate to the extent that it has done. It is only in this double awareness that Federalists will be able to find the strong motivation needed to continue in a task that promises to increase in difficulty as the objective is neared.