Year XXXVIII, 1996, Number 3 - Page 145
The Long Path Towards the World Federation
The perspective of world federalism has always been present in the history of federalist thought since Kant. Indeed federalism, as the institutional prerequisite for the achievement of peace through the overcoming of the sovereignty of the state, can be fully developed only in a global framework. For this reason, European federalism has conceived of, and increasingly emphasised over the decades, the idea of the creation of a European federation as the first step of the federalist phase of world history: a phase which is destined to complete itself through the foundation of the cosmopolitical federation.
In this perspective, the European federation necessarily comes to be regarded as a provisional state whose legitimacy is compromised by a sort of insurmountable internal contradiction. In this respect, the European federation finds itself in sharp contrast with the national state, which has always presented itself to its citizens, and continues to do so even now, with seeming coherence, as the political expression of the division of mankind into groups that are united within themselves (and separate one from the other) by a natural and therefore eternal bond; their legitimacy lies precisely in the correspondence of the state with each and every member of the kin-groups which mankind is made up of. The nature of this justification of the size of the state has also legitimised its structure, since the political expression of a group with a unique identity can not but reflect its natural homogeneity by adopting a unitary and centralised structure.
It is true that the idea of the nation is a myth, which is destined not to survive the people’s gaining of awareness of its essential falseness. Yet this is a myth which, for as long as it has survived, has represented a formidable instrument for mobilising citizens’ support for the powers-that-be and hence for endowing the state with a legitimacy which, while certainly fictitious (since based on a lie), has proved to be solid and lasting.
This can not happen with the European federation since it will be born precisely out of the overcoming of the nation. It can not but possess a federal structure, in which the national, regional and local levels will keep (or recuperate) a marked capacity for being the reference point of the loyalty of citizens and therefore will exercise a decidedly centrifugal force. Moreover the federation will not present itself, at least in the moment of its creation, as the political expression of a human community which is defined by the possession by its members of certain natural characteristics, or characteristics which are felt to be such, that can permit the a priori demarcation of its borders; on the contrary, the federation will be an open community with uncertain boundaries.
On the other hand, the European federation will be a state, and the state is the political organisation of a people. The perspective of uniting a still undefined number of European nations in a federation therefore poses unavoidably the problem of the identity of the European people, as the basis of its legitimacy.
At this point it is necessary to deal with the contradiction between the world dimension of federalist legitimacy and the regional dimension of the European federation, whatever its borders are destined to be. This is a contradiction at the heart of which lies the fact that the very concept of the people, once purified of the contaminating idea of the nation, can be fully actualised only at the world level: in other words, the only people who will fully possess the right to call itself such will be the world federal people. The world federal people will have as the basis of its own identity the awareness on the part of its members of being united by a bond which is immensely stronger than any regional-sized affinity: that constituted by their common membership of the human race.
This contradiction has always existed, yet until the present it has been concealed by a myth, the most recent expression of which has been precisely the nation and whose function has been that of hiding from the collective awareness the fact that the “general interest” of which the national state claims to be the bearer and interpreter is nothing other than the special interest of a small part of mankind and as such represents the very negation of the common good of the human race.
Yet if this is true and if therefore any form of legitimisation of a regional-sized sovereign power can not but be based on a myth, does this mean that the European people which is now in the making is also a myth? The federalist answer to this question is negative, because Europe will find its legitimacy in the awareness of possessing a mission, whose nature will be inherent to the method of its creation: precisely that of providing the world with the example of the practical overcoming of national sovereignty by encouraging the transformation of the large groups of states which are taking shape in all parts of the world into federations; and in this way preparing the conditions for the transformation of the UN into a real world federal government. The identity of the European people-in-the-making is therefore a purely negative identity, which is limited to the fact of being the agent of its own overcoming, that is, the embryo of the world people.
There is no doubt that this is the historical meaning of the creation of the European federation and that it has its roots in the slow but inexorable crisis of sovereignty, which in turn is based on the spreading of the perception that the world by now consists of a single community of destiny. The issue therefore is not whether the world heads toward its own political unity, but when and how this process will come about.
Now, everything indicates that this will be a long-term process and, as such, tortuous and difficult, marked by periods of deadlock, crisis and regression. Gorbachev’s period of leadership of the then Soviet Union could have encouraged thoughts of a sharp acceleration of the course of history and the creation within a historically brief span of time of the conditions for the substantial convergence of the raisons d’etat of the great powers of the North of the world. This would have radically transformed the facts of the world balance. In this context, Europe would have acted as a catalyst, by providing an example of openness, pluralism and peaceful co-operation with the other peoples of the world, and would have proposed through its actions a new form of civil co-habitation, which is able to impose itself by employing as its sole instrument the policy of the enlargement of the sphere of state solidarity and the promotion of unity wherever possible, to the point that the transfer of the armies of the member states to the federal government is rendered unnecessary.
Yet unfortunately the Gorbachev era has long gone, and with it the illusion that the process of world unification can be achieved rapidly. This can not but have an impact on the kind of state to which Europe will have to resort in order to fulfil its historic mission. In particular, it is no longer possible to propose the idea of a sort of incomplete state, which tends progressively to extend itself geographically and postpones its institutional completion until the end of the process. Europe will have to face its mission over the long term, in a political context that will not be able to avoid severe conflicts and in which there will be no lack of pressures toward the disintegration of its own federal order.
It remains true that the creation of the European federation will bring about the marked acceleration of the weak unification processes currently underway in other regions of the world, such as NAFTA, MERCOSUR, ASEAN and others, and will direct them towards federal solutions. Likewise it remains true that the presence on the world stage of a new great state that is both open and responsible will make the UN more effective. Yet it is also true that today some of the largest unified areas of the world are still extremely far from the prospect of becoming active participants in the process of world federal unification, rather than being obstacles along the path toward its realisation. Russia is prey to disturbances whose outcome is unpredictable and does not seem to be evolving towards a peaceful and democratic internal balance. China is ruled by an uncompromising totalitarian regime. India, despite possessing a democratic government, has to face enormous demographic, economic and religious problems and tries to mitigate (or at least to conceal) their seriousness by resorting to nationalism in order to pursue a power policy in its own region. Even the United States does not seem able to escape from the choice between the equally ruinous options of imperialism and isolationism. And in the rest of the world there exist areas, such as South-East Asia, where a full-scale arms race is underway, and others, such as Africa, which are dominated by chaos and anarchy.
Certainly, the progress of history is subject to a continuous acceleration and many changes will presumably occur earlier than we imagine. Yet it should not be forgotten that the European unification process, which nevertheless is led by democratic states with a comparable level of economic development and by peoples who possess a substantially common culture, even in its different national expressions, has not yet achieved its federal outcome after a fifty year-long process and must face, in the decisive phase which it is now entering, serious difficulties which are endangering its successful conclusion. For this reason, while accepting that it is not possible to predict the future and that the historical process is bound to undergo further accelerations, it seems reasonable to start from the assumption that the path toward world unification will be a century-long process.
This leads to the conclusion that Europe’s difficult mission of providing a model for the federal unification of other regions of the planet, and finally for the cosmopolitical federation, will have to be supported by a state structure which is strong enough to contribute to the pacification of the rest of the world, also with the means of power politics, when the methods of co-operation and example prove to be insufficient, and to resist the pressures toward disintegration which will emerge in periods of regression.
The above considerations will affect both the institutions and the foundations of legitimacy of the European federation. Today many Europeanists are motivated by the concern not to worry those who see Europe above all as a threat to national “identities” and bend over backwards to assert that the Union’s European level of government should be lean, even extremely so: it should dispose of only a negligible budget, should renounce having a peripheral administration and, as far as defence is concerned, remain for a long time at the inter-governmental cooperation stage. The object here is certainly not to oppose this concept with the idea of a fortress Europe, of an aggressive and closed power, which places its own sacred egoism before its universal mission. Yet the reflections on what structure to give the European federation will have to take into account the difficulties and length of the path toward the political unity of mankind and of the fact that in order to be equal to its historical task, Europe, in addition to being a pluralistic state, will also have to be endowed with great institutional solidity, open to the rest of the world, yet supported by the strong approval of its citizens. Likewise while the main instrument of its foreign policy will certainly be the message of unity that it will be able to transmit both by the example that it will present and by the economic co-operation and cultural openness it will offer to the rest of the world, yet it will have to accept the consequences of the fact that it will nevertheless be a sovereign state in a world of sovereign states and put itself in a position to be able to guarantee its security as a condition of its being able to spread the values which it represents.
It seems necessary to conclude, therefore, that in the phase which will precede the foundation of the world federation, the European identity will be characterised by a basic ambiguity. Europe will take responsibility, in as much as it represents the first step of the federal phase of world history, for the general interest of mankind; yet at the same time it will be forced by its nature as a sovereign state to protect and promote its own special interests. Hence, all of its great decisions will come about through the difficult solution of the permanent conflict between raison d’etat and raison tout court. This conflict will at times be mitigated by the fact that the endless increase of interdependence, the contradictions which derive from it, and the historical evidence of the possibility to realise institutional means through which it can be governed democratically will encourage the creation of a degree of convergence among the raisons d’etat of the great regional federations on which the new world balance will rest. Nevertheless it is difficult to imagine that such a convergence will prove stable and lasting, like that between the raisons d’etat of the countries of Western Europe which has made the European integration process possible.
In fact, the integration process in Europe involves, on the one hand, states that are at the same level of economic and civil development; and, on the other, until the end of the cold war, has benefited from a stable political framework, which was guaranteed by the hegemony of an external power — so much so, that when this situation ended, the process arrived at a decisive stage, at the crossroads between political unity and disintegration. Neither of these two conditions, and certainly not the first one, will be realised at the world level for a very long time. Therefore, convergence will take place, since without it the objective of a world federation would become inconceivable; yet it will take place slowly and at the cost of tensions and disturbances, and even serious crises and conflicts. And Europe must be ready to face them.
It will be possible to consider the European federation as having been created when the framework of the political struggle concerning a series of essential decisions has been transferred from the nations to Europe, and consequently the European power will be supported by a high degree of popular consensus. This will not be able to happen without the achievement of monetary union and that which the federalists have always called the political and institutional minimum: a government that is answerable to Parliament, the extension of the European Parliament’s legislative powers to all matters which lie within the Union’s scope of authority and majority-voting in the Council of Ministers, itself changed into an upper house. Yet this will still not be enough, since monetary union alone will be a technical achievement, and institutional reform which involves only the upper echelons of power will risk remaining an empty shell. It is vital that the European state be visible and present in the daily lives of its citizens. The European federation must be able to provide citizens, and especially young people, with a sense of belonging to a new motherland that is multinational and open to the rest of the world, and of their duties towards the federation, even through instruments such as the army, obligatory civil service and a peripheral administration; it will need to be able to translate its universal mission into symbols and rites which consolidate the loyalty of its subjects to a power whose size is destined to remain regional for a long time to come.
All this will pose those who will consciously live the problem of European identity in front of a structural contradiction, which can not but be experienced as conflictual. Yet, the more the European political and intellectual classes consciously take on board this contradiction, the more effectively Europe will carry out its role as the federator of the human race. The federalists’ task, which will certainly not be exhausted with the creation of the European federation, will be that of remaining vigilant to ensure that the ideals which will lie at the basis of the federation’s legitimacy will not be sacrificed on the altar of political “realism”, without however forgetting that in politics power can never be separated from the ideal.