Year XXXVIII, 1996, Number 1 - Page 3
Should the construction of Europe fail
From its outset, the European unification process has experienced a series of crises, ranging from the collapse of the EDC project, to de Gaulle’s "empty seat" policy which was ended by the Luxembourg compromise, to the failure to adopt the Draft Treaty approved by the European Parliament as a result of Altiero Spinelli’s action. Each of these crises has been followed by a period marked by stagnation and a lack of direction. Yet after each hiatus the process has been re-animated by setting short-term objectives which, although less ambitious than the projects which initially brought about the crisis, never lost sight of the general direction of the unification process and its ultimate destination. In this way, the European Economic Community was created from the ashes of the EDC, out of the policy of the "empty chair" came the agreement regarding the financing of the common agricultural policy, the Community’ s own resources and the European Parliament’ s budgetary powers, and out of the failure of Spinelli’s Draft Treaty was born the European Single Act. The reality is that Europe’s states have been carried along for forty years by a current which, despite pauses and setbacks, has advanced toward ever-closer integration by guaranteeing a stable reference point for the expectations of citizens and for the decisions of political forces.
European integration has been driven by the process of globalisation, which destroys everywhere and with increasing momentum the barriers that hinder the circulation of information, capital, goods and people. It is making the national dimension of the state obsolete throughout the world, and is creating also in other regions of the world groups of states that are being set up with the aim of creating regional markets sufficiently large to enable them to compete successfully in the great single global market.
This imperative gave rise to and pushed forward the European integration process prior to and to a greater extent than any other similar process which has manifested itself elsewhere, since the national state experienced its historic rise and fall in Europe before the other regions of the world and demonstrated, through fascism and the Second World War, the tragic consequences of its ever more evident incapacity to guarantee within its own borders free and secure civil co-habitation and balanced economic and social progress.
Yet the European integration process has dragged on for half a century without reaching federal unification. This has happened because, apart from some temporary and ephemeral outbursts, the interest to conserve national sovereignty has obscured the awareness of the need to overcome it in the minds of European politicians.
Globalisation does not only bring about well-being and economic development. If it is not controlled by politics, that is, by the conscious will of men and women formed and expressed within a framework of suitable institutions, it multiplies the occasions for conflict, spreads intolerance, and arouses and exasperates the defensive reactions of collective "identities" and vested interests which feel themselves to be threatened. This tendency toward disintegration was not apparent in Western Europe while the Cold War lasted. Throughout this period the governments of the countries involved in the integration process were relieved, thanks to the lead (in reality increasingly weak) taken by the United States through NATO, the idea of defending democracy against communism and the international role of the dollar, from the burden of confronting the fundamental political issues of security, democratic legitimacy and a common currency. These were problems which, had they not been to some extent resolved for Europeans by the Americans, would have caused the basic conflicts between the states of the Old Continent to re-emerge, bound as they are to the continuance of their sovereignty. Instead, these problems remained latent both during the Cold War and in the immediately following years, when Gorbachev’s great plans made many people hope that the world was launched on a fast track toward its own unity.
Yet after the end of the Cold War and Gorbachev’s fall the situation is changed. Today, the American protective umbrella no longer exists, the hopes that world unification will be achieved in the near future have dissipated and the fundamental political problems which were left unresolved must now be confronted without delay. An opportunity to do so is presented by the deadlines of 1996 to 1999 (Intergovernmental Conference and the beginning of the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union), on which occasions the European governments will have to come to terms with the problem of creating, by means of the single currency, a democratic and federal institutional structure and a common defence, a new European political framework which will provide an alternative to the one America has now ceased to guarantee. Should this great historic opportunity not be taken advantage of, the movement of long duration which has so far led Europe toward forms of ever-closer union could change direction definitively. What is at stake over the next few years therefore is the continuation or otherwise of the European unification process.
If this is true, the moment has come to ask what the interruption of the process would mean in practical terms, that is, what would be the impact should the objective of European unification be removed from the expectations of politicians and citizens. The aim is to try and identify, while accepting that any prediction about the future is risky, the great political, economic and social changes which would come to pass in Europe and the world if such an eventuality were to be verified. It is evident that it is impossible to go as far as to predict the rapidity of the processes and how advanced they would become. For each of the scenarios there can therefore be imagined developments and results that would be more or less extreme. Yet the facts of recent history and the current situation allow us to identify some trends with a reasonable degree of certainty.
The first of the great changes which seems reasonable to predict is a mutation in Germany’s foreign policy and foreign economic policy. Faced with the disappearance of the perspective of Europe’s political union, Germany would be forced to follow the only alternative road left open to her – that of strengthening the German sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe, which exists already today in embryonic form. This policy would be eased by the circumstance that the process of re-consolidating power in Russia is proving to be long and difficult and will have anyway as its prime objective, in the foreign policy field, the revival of some form of ties with the other countries of the ex-Soviet Union. Certainly, Germany’s influence would be a weak and unstable hegemony, both because Germany’s foreign policy status would be destined to remain fragile for a long time, and because the structure of the German economy itself would be insufficiently strong to give the mark the role of a real international currency. Yet the re-orientation would nevertheless be enough radically to alter the make-up of the European balance and to destroy the Franco-German axis. France would seek to create a counter-balance to German hegemony by re-launching an impossible policy of national greatness and by looking for alternative alliances, in and outside Europe. Great Britain would move closer to the United States and would seek to gain advantages from the divergence of the policies of the two largest continental states. The smaller countries would line up in unstable opposing coalitions.
In this context the very foundations of a European foreign policy would prove to be lacking. It has existed up until now, even if in a weak and contradictory form, because the incomplete design of European unification has been sufficient to guarantee a minimum degree of cohesion among the countries involved; and it has encouraged, in international relations, an openness to dialogue and the intensification of exchanges with the rest of the continent and with other regions of the world, where Europe’ s presence has never been perceived as imperialist or neo-colonialist. Its results have been the enlargement of the Union, the Lomé Convention, the European Economic Area, the association agreements with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and with Cyprus and Malta, the co-operation agreements with Russia, the intensification of relations with Latin America and the countries of the Far East, the free trade area with Turkey, the association or co-operation agreements with some countries in the Maghreb and Mashreq, the Barcelona project of cooperation with the countries of the Mediterranean, and the success of the negotiations in the GATT framework. Yet the sinister signals which were perceived during the Yugoslav tragedy, when the Union demonstrated its inability to prevent the war and impose a peace, and its member states lined up more or less openly in support of one or other of the parties in the conflict (thus aggravating the conflict and making it irreversible) provide an indication of what the total impotence of European states would be with regard to the rest of the world once the design of continental unification had lost all credibility.
In particular, the current timid attempts to conduct a European policy in the most sensitive of international situations, that of relations with the countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin, would completely disappear. In this area Europe’s "middle powers" would each conduct its own policy of alliances, exasperating the existing tensions. The extremely difficult peace process underway in Israel, and between Israel and its Arab neighbours, to which a federal European state could give a decisive contribution by exploiting the strong complementary relationships that exist between the two areas, would be definitively compromised. Fundamentalism and fanaticism would be encouraged to the detriment of pressures toward tolerance and unity. The irresponsible dictatorships which already today protect and promote terrorism as an instrument of aggression by means of destabilisation would be reinforced; and all hope of combating the phenomenon at the roots by favouring the democratisation of those regimes through a coherent policy which is both firm and open, and which only a great democracy based on a strong legitimacy could carry forward, would disappear.
In the same way all hope that Europe could conduct a balanced policy of immigration control and aid to modernise countries in Africa and Asia which have low incomes and high rates of demographic growth would be seriously prejudiced. Europe’s weakness would force it to try and take refuge in a policy of closure. Yet Europe would be destined, on account of this same weakness, to fail to carry it out. Thus, immigration, which if encouraged and disciplined could be an effective counterpoise to the serious problem of the aging of Europe’s population and an extremely important safety valve for the countries from which immigrants arrive, would risk becoming (far more than is currently the case) a chaotic and uncontrolled phenomenon, and an ever more serious source of disorder and intolerance, embittering relationships between the countries which send and receive immigrants and further exacerbating the sense of unease in European societies.
The single market, enlarged to the countries of the East and South of Europe, would be watered down into a huge free trade area which would function precariously and without stability due to the lack of a single currency and an institutional framework capable of establishing rules and enforcing their respect. In the longer term, protectionist temptations which already in the recent past have been expressed in reaction to the devaluation of the lira and the peseta could not fail to be reinforced by the inevitable monetary turbulence. If today a return to national markets is unthinkable, it is by no means impossible to imagine a chaotic alternation of periods of liberalisation and protectionist backlashes. The policies of devaluation or competitive disinflation would render impossible any programme of re-launching the European economy and would aggravate further the already serious unemployment problem. Europe’s economic development and the modernisation of its society would be dramatically slowed down. It would have to abandon, or markedly dilute, its own model of the organisation of society, which is based on a mix of free enterprise and solidarity and is currently the most advanced in the world, and renounce perfecting and diffusing it. This would bring about a widening of the gap between the rich and poor classes, the spread and consolidation of behavioural models based on social Darwinism, a dramatic worsening of the general quality of life, and cause profound damage to the fabric of society. At the same time, the incapacity of European countries to govern their economies effectively would deprive them of the political instruments which are today indispensable for withstanding competition at the world level, in which great regional systems that are highly integrated and supported by a power endowed with a strong negotiating position and the capacity to direct productive activities tend to prevail. In particular, Europe would be definitively left behind in the race for technological progress and would become totally subservient to American and Japanese industry.
The very future of democracy in the European states will also be at stake. Chancellor Kohl, if he stands for re-election in the 1998 Bundestag elections, will do so for the last time. He is today the most authoritative representative of a political generation the roots of whose democratic faith and European commitment can be found in the direct experience of the tragedy of the Second World War. This generation, among whose ranks however corruption is spreading, is being challenged by younger politicians with short historical memories and with restricted perspectives. If the European design were to disappear from the horizon, the consequent political and moral disorientation would greatly benefit the latter group, who would become everywhere the new governing class. They would be incapable of offering citizens any real prospects for the future, but only demagogy and base calculations of power. This means that the foundations of the democratic consensus (which is not agreed on in exchange for petty privileges, but is founded on the capacity of a political class to keep alive people’s hope in the future) would be irremediably undermined. Nor could they be re-built by offering citizens, in place of a grand design, the bourgeois perspective of prosperous and secure co-habitation, safe from the upsets of world politics. This is possible in small states like Switzerland, which live a parasitic existence in the shadow of larger states. Yet Europe as a whole can not escape the tempests of history. It can only decide whether to create, through unity, a political power which is sufficiently strong to curb the violence and control the energies released by them, in order to promote the common good of humanity, or allow itself to be swept away by perpetuating its division. In the latter scenario, Europeans would be destined to be governed by authoritarian regimes. These would probably not be fascist in the strict sense, since the events of history do not happen in vain, but rather regimes based on the manipulation of public opinion through the control of the mass media, which would live off the death of politics and would take it on themselves to kill off European culture.
Alongside democracy, the very foundation of the legitimacy of the state would be at stake. With the dissolution of the prospect of an ever broader democratic citizenship across the borders between the nations, power would seek to anchor itself, in order to guarantee its own survival, to the idea of the nation. Yet it would come into conflict with the fact that the process of globalisation has irreversibly deprived the idea of the nation of the capacity to act as the cement of society and as the foundation of the loyalty of citizens toward the state. Secessionist tendencies and tribal impulses, which already today are active in the weakest of European democracies, would as a result be encouraged. The authoritarianism of the national powers would not stop the process of their disintegration. Europe would be launched toward its own Balkanisation.
Mitterrand, in his valedictory address to the European Parliament, and Kohl, on repeated occasions, have posed the problem of the political unity of Europe as a problem of peace and war. The dramatic nature of their warning has not been understood. On the other hand, the prospect of war in Europe, after fifty years of peace, sounds unlikely. Yet it must be reconsidered in the context (which is entirely realistic) of a world in which war is nevertheless a recurring fact and of a Europe which would have departed from the path of unity and which would no longer be oriented by a solid alliance with the United States in the context of a rigid but stable world balance. In this context the conflicts which are external to Europe (above all those which will be carried out on its borders) would inevitably involve the great European states, and these will line up on opposing fronts, according to the demands of their raison d’état, as has already happened in ex-Yugoslavia. Certainly, in an initial stage, European soil would probably be spared actual military conflict, if it is true that wars are always fought in the weakest and most unstable regions of the planet where there exists a power vacuum. Yet a divided Europe in an anarchic world would be destined to become itself a weak and unstable region, in which the national powers would be de-legitimised and fragmented. In this situation the conflicts born outside Europe would easily spread to Europe itself, and others could arise inside Europe. The greatest of the benefits which Europeans have enjoyed for half a century thanks to the integration process, peace, would be lost.
Yet the bond between European unification and the problem of peace and war would not only be manifested in the European framework. The European Community has served as the model for many other regional economic integration experiments (in North America, in Latin America, in South-East Asia), even if these experiments are far less advanced than Europe’s. Their outcome will depend largely on the conclusion of the process in Europe. If Europe is able to provide a successful example of the passage from economic integration to political unity and demonstrate the consequences of this passage in terms of economic development and the consolidation of democracy, the countries of Asia and the Americas involved in economic integration processes will also follow the same path and will unite themselves in great continental federations. Europe, which already today demonstrates a clear vocation (far stronger than that of the United States and Japan) to commercial openness and political, economic and cultural co-operation with the other great poles of world development, will be at the centre of an ever more active network of intercontinental exchanges and political and economic relationships. Europe would in this way lead the world toward the realisation of federalism in the same way in which, starting from the French revolution, the formula of the national state spread throughout the planet.
Yet if the European attempt were to fail, the consequences of its failure on the other regions of the world would be extremely serious. Europe is the only area of the world in which the idea of federal unification has penetrated, even if in not entirely conscious forms, the expectations of citizens, has generated a culture and has given place to an elaborate institutional structure. It is difficult to think that the same path could be pursued elsewhere, if not after many decades, should Europe no longer exist as a reference point. Indeed it is probable that, in the end, the other groupings of states which currently exist would disintegrate under the weight of the same internal contradictions and the same international pressures which are currently burdening Europe. The process of the creation of a real and effective world system of states would be arrested. The United States would remain the only world power, albeit incapable alone of imposing order on a planet that would be prey to anarchy.
On these developments will depend the future of the UN. If it is supported by the co-operation of a restricted number of great regional federations of states that are democratic and aware of their world responsibilities, the UN will be able to carry out an effective action of peace-keeping and peace-enforcing, confront with success the great environmental challenges of the planet, launch itself toward its own democratisation and, in the longer term, acquire a monopoly of the detention of nuclear arms and of the development of the technology necessary to guarantee their security. In short, it would assume the function of a real and effective world government. Conversely, the UN will be condemned to impotence and will leave the world prey to disorder should it remain the screen for the sole weak leadership of the US.
If Europe’s governments are able to impose in Europe the reasons of federalism against those of nationalism, the forces for unity will prevail over those toward disintegration also at the world level, by giving concrete form and visibility to the perspective of establishing perpetual peace. If they are unable to do this, the threat of a new, long and dark period of disorder and war will descend on the world.
Having surveyed the most probable consequences of an interruption of the European unification process, we must ask what are the circumstances that, if verified, would allow us to determine whether the historic opportunity Europe is today presented with will have been seized or else definitively lost. In reality, identifying right now the specific event which would signal the point of no return of the crisis seems impossible. In the coming years, Europe will have to face the problems of the currency, institutional reform, the re-financing of the Community budget, enlargement and defence. These problems will tend to blend together into a single great permanent negotiation, in the course of which priorities will be alternated and alliances will, at least in part, be modified. There will be moments of serious tension and of stagnation. Yet no defeat on a single objective will lead of itself to the end of the process, even if the date of 1st January 1999 which has been set for the start of the third stage of economic and monetary union will be crucial. A serious crisis could induce the governments most deeply involved in the process to gain an increasingly clear awareness of the nature of the interests at stake, encourage the creation and consolidation of opposing groups and progressively reinforce their European will.
The outcome of the entire matter will nevertheless depend on whether the governments which today are aware of the need for a European currency and the greater effectiveness and democracy of the Union’s institutions are able to go to the very heart of the matter, deriving from this awareness the consequence that these objectives can be reached only through the creation of a federal-type state framework. Furthermore, it will depend on whether (given, as today seems certain, it prove impossible to obtain from the governments currently opposed to any significant cession of sovereignty their agreement to a federal project) the others show the necessary clarity of thought and determination to proceed alone. This evolution will require time. Yet the moment will arrive when it will be clear to all whether the challenge has been successfully overcome or not. Probably only in the early years of the third millennium will it be possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt whether the European unification process should be considered as having failed or whether it will be destined to continue.
All predictions concerning the future course of history must be accompanied by an awareness of their inherent uncertainty. For this reason, it can not be excluded that the scenario outlined here be revealed incorrect and that the possible failure of the projects whose fate will be decided in the coming years will not lead to the end of the European unification process. It may be that the future will show that the interdependence acquired over fifty years of integration, although not consolidated by federal institutions, will be sufficiently strong to survive a change in the international context. In this case the perspective of the political unification of Europe will remain in play for an indefinite period of time, which will allow it to overcome other serious crises, to keep alive the hopes of citizens, to guide the decisions of politicians and to preserve peace, prosperity and democracy, even if in a generally more difficult context. Maybe. Yet this would mean that the European integration process is by now irreversible, that is, that the political unification of Europe as regards its essential aspects has already been accomplished, even if no-one is yet aware of il.
Such a hypothesis could be hazarded by a detached observer. Yet not by those who are committed to the process as actors and, as such, are obliged to live it as open-ended. For this reason the federalists, faced with the disquieting signals that are multiplying on the European stage, have the duty to attract the attention of politicians and public opinion to the seriousness of the dangers which are threatening us. Only in this way is it possible to help the political class to gain an awareness of its responsibilities and the more aware citizens to come to a judgement that is not distorted by the deforming perspective of national politics.
Those who seek to be actors in the historic process and to pursue the goal of improving the conditions of human co-habitation must believe that reason is destined, in the long term, to prevail. Moreover, this is an attitude which, if it has its foundation in the need to give a sense to one’s own civil commitment by rooting it in an idea of the historic process which finds in reason its ultimate driving force, is also backed up by the observation of actual history which, despite its tumultuous and tragic nature, has produced over the millennia the enlargement of the framework of peaceful and democratic co-habitation among people, from the Greek city-state to the American continental federation. Yet reason is destined to prevail only in the long term. This means that a possible historic crisis of the European unification process, and, above and beyond this, that of world unification, would not mean it will be impossible for the process to be started again in the future. It does mean however that a long period of the obscuring of reason could push Europe to the margins of history and impoverish drastically the quality of our material and spiritual life for one or more generations. It is not sufficient in order to exorcise this danger to resort to the idea of the unstoppable advance of the process of increasing interdependence among peoples. It should not be forgotten that the same impulse to increase interdependence which was at the origin of the European unification process provoked, in the preceding period, fascism and two world wars, and that the start of the European unification process itself would not have been possible without the horror with which people reacted to the experience of oppression and war. What re-awoke reason (even if only partly) in the post-war period was the tragic observation of the terrible effects of its lethargy. Yet with the passing of the decades the memory of those events is fading. And in order today to give force once again to reason, it is necessary, albeit while maintaining firm the reference to the past, to turn our attention to the future and to try and make understood the horrors which could come to pass within a few years should Europe’s leaders prove unable to meet their historic responsibilities and should they lack the necessary clarity of thought and courage to begin, by uniting Europe, the federal stage of world history.