Year XXXI, 1989, Number 1, Page 3
The Meaning of the European Referendum in Italy
On the occasion of the next European elections, a referendum will be held on the following issue: “Do you believe that the European Community should be transformed into a Union provided with a government which is responsible to Parliament, giving the European Parliament itself the mandate of drawing up a draft constitution to be directly ratified by the competent institutions of the Community member States?” The constitutional bill in force of which the referendum will be held was in fact definitively and unanimously passed on March 30th 1989 by the Senate, after the previous votings (all unanimous) of December 20th 1988 in the Senate, and December 14th 1988 and March 15th 1989 in the Chamber.
The Italian press has attached no importance to the event or has indeed ignored it, barring late repentance. This is a gross error. For the first time in the history of the Italian Republic a constitutional bill, the origin of which was a popular initiative promoted by the European Federalist Movement (MFE) has been unanimously passed. This is certainly not irrelevant. Nor is it irrelevant that the result was achieved by the MFE, a political avant-garde which remains outside the election game with the intention of being able to promote, at the right moment, a “popular unity” alliance on advanced European objectives.
The MFE has been supported by many regional and local administrations in this battle for the referendum and by personalities from all democratic parties. The Radical Party has marched alongside it. It is also true that the Communist Party presented a similar bill. But the fact remains that neither the Radical Party nor the Communist Party, acting on their own, without the unitary point of reference constituted by the MFE, would have been able to achieve a decision of this kind for one fundamental reason. As it involves changes to the institutions within the national and European framework, any effective progress in the making of Europe cannot be achieved through normal government policies (with the parties competing against each other), but only through the mechanisms of constitutional policies (with wide agreement among the parties and people).
Journalists and political scientists have probably not been interested in this federalist battle for Europe because it cannot have any immediate consequences on the state of power in Italy, in the sense of improving or compromising the position of this or that national leader. But it is the very matter of the consequences — medium and long range consequences included — which clearly shows that the European referendum to be held in Italy is an extremely important event, both at the political and historical level. Let us examine the latter point first.
The word “historical” is so often wrongly used that one instinctively tries to avoid using it. But in this case it cannot be helped. The act the Italian Parliament has carried out amounts to a solemn declaration by the State that it is ready to surrender part of its sovereignty, in a context which goes beyond that foreseen by Article 11 of the Constitution. And when, in the course of history, has a State, without being forced to, declared itself ready to part with some of its sovereignty to become part of a larger State, a big federal State? The fact is that the big changes which arise from the new course of history are starting to appear. Yesterday’s world is about to be washed away. Mankind is now a community linked by one destiny. The growing interdependence of human actions, and the need for worldwide control of technological development to avoid the extinction of mankind, make exclusively national policies useless, and exercise increasing pressure on the old boundaries in which in the past human groups best managed to organize their life. A new way of thinking and acting can and must assert itself. New orders of power, which allow mankind to take control of its own destiny, are necessary. Democracy must prevail at the international level too.
The new course of history has already started to upset the rules which have always regulated the relationships between great powers; and in Europe — this is what remains obscure to those who watch the world of today through yesterday’s eyes — it has already amply eroded the social basis (custom as social basis) of exclusive national States, which look more and more artificial institutions because they stop political life at the national borderline, including the absurdity of granting Europeans the right to vote, but not the right to decide with their vote what Europe should be and do. The European referendum is a historical event because it will give the first blow to this absurdity which has no reason to exist; and because, by introducing the idea of a federal union of nations into people’s common way of thinking, it will educate them about a new concept of the world. What matters is that with the federation of a first group of European countries — the historical nations par excellence — international democracy will start to live, in other words a democracy without borders, which can gradually be extended to all the big families of mankind. This is the fundamental political experience of the age which is about to take shape. The real world problems have already spread the use of the expression “to democratize international relations”. Their solution will spread the use of the expression “international democracy”, which constitutes its essence and truth.
The political value of the referendum lies in its relationship with the present phase of European unification, and in particular in the fact that creating a single market also requires decisions concerning monetary union and political union which are indispensable to avoid its failure, but which take shape with difficulty. It was difficult to decide on creating a single market. It is more difficult to decide on realising a monetary union. It is even more difficult to decide on setting up a political union. But it is necessary. The Italian referendum on the constituent mandate to the European Parliament is right, and it is taking place at the right moment, precisely because it will help remove this difficulty. Not only will it make European public opinion more aware of the need for political Union and the need to resort to the constituent power of the European people to establish it. It will also make the forces to be mobilized, if this end is to be achieved, more active in all countries (or in a sufficient number of them).
In fact it can already be considered that the large number of citizens in favour of European unity and the granting of a constituent mandate — who are still passive because they have never been able to transform their opinion in an act of will — will feel, after the Italian referendum, that they, too, have the right to pronounce themselves on Europe. It can also be foreseen that in the European Parliament the parties, as the social and political problems arise from trying to create a single market without setting up a European government, will be forced to refuse acknowledge the soundness of their Italian colleagues’ position, already authorized by the referendum to draw up a European Constitution.
And finally it may be noted that the governments of the other Community member States, after the solemn public demonstration that Italy is in favour of creating a European government, will no longer be able to take refuge behind the alibi of the presumable impossibility of such a decision. They will have to say “yes” or “no” clearly in a situation that, with a well-informed public and parties now well aware of the high stakes involved, will make it very difficult to say “no”.