Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 2 - Page 103
Europe: a World Power or a Model for the World?*
The history of the postwar period has been that of the power confrontation between the US and Soviet Union. After the phase of the Marshall Plan, during which the US spent significant resources in execution of a large-scale economic aid package to Europe, the global hegemony of the two superpowers has had an essentially military base. Today it is worth noting that the USSR risks economic collapse and dissolution of the actual framework of the state itself; and that the US, victors of the “surgical” war against Saddam Hussein, remains the sole world superpower, even if it cannot hide behind the impressive display of its war apparatus, the reality of a huge budgetary deficit, a productive system which is continually losing its competitiveness, and a society which is threatened by serious degenerative tendencies because of the uncontrolled increase of delinquency and the collapse of the education system.
In the same period the European Community, despite the insufficiency of its institutions, has shown an amazing capacity not only to survive, but to expand, and to be increasingly attractive to both neighbouring and Third World countries. Born with six countries, the EC has gradually grown to its current twelve members; and has given a spectacular boost to its members’ economies and the economies of those countries closely exposed to its influence; it alone has contributed decisively to the installation of democracy in Spain and Portugal and to its restoration in Greece; it is increasingly attractive to the countries of Eastern Europe and EFTA (European Free Trade Association), as well as to countries belonging to the Islamic world, such as Turkey and Morocco; after the end of colonialism, the EC has established a new set of relations, albeit considerably flawed, with countries in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean that have agreed to the Lomé Convention. Without the presence of the Community the process of democratization and economic reform in East European countries, which began after Gorbachev’s revolution, would have met obstacles even more daunting than the present ones, making progress impossible.
These are facts about which there exists a more-or-less general consensus. And all this did not happen thanks to the use of military force, but by mechanisms of collaboration and economic integration: not by means of domination, but through openness. It is often claimed that in these decades the Community has been an economic giant and a political dwarf. In a historical perspective this interpretation is false. In fact the Community – or more precisely the process of European integration, of which the Community has been the institutional superstructure – in addition to having made a war between Western European states impossible (whereas fifty years ago French and Germans considered themselves “hereditary” enemies), has profoundly changed the political map of the world. The Community has made regimes fall; it has pulled down barriers, and created new partnerships and forms of collaboration. In recent decades, apart from the great breakthroughs of Gorbachev, the Community has been the most dynamic and progressive player on the world political scene.
It is certainly true that in the events leading up to the Gulf War, and during the course of the war itself, Europe had no weight, and that this inability to assume its own responsibilities is a sign of serious political weakness. But this interpretation must be precisely clarified. Europe’s weakness was displayed by its inability over recent decades to develop a policy that would have encouraged the economic and social development of the Arab world and its unification, while guaranteeing the survival of Israel within secure borders: not by the fact that it did not participate in the war on equal terms with the US, and as a result did not earn similar benefits. Rather, the opposite is true. If Europe has retained a credibility and a capacity to make proposals – that in fact should and could be much greater – in its dealings with the Arab world, this is due to the fact that the “Community” itself did not take part in the war. Had it done so, the perception – already widespread in the Arab world, as elsewhere – of the war as a clash between the North and South of the world would have been exacerbated. The result, apart from some very short term advantages that would have accrued to Europe in the form of improved relations with certain dictatorial regimes and obscurantist dynasties in the region, would have been to further fuel Islamic fundamentalism, to frustrate definitively any prospect of promoting Arab unity and creating a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern security system, and so to block the only possible chance of developing a stable order in the region and giving a boost to the democratization of the states therein.
But for the Community to meet its full responsibilities towards the Arab world, as well as those which it has vis-à-vis Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the Third World, it must transform itself profoundly. During the cold war Europe’s power to attract was expressed in a largely static global context, which permitted it limited room for manoeuvre and responsibilities compatible with its confederal structure. The end of the cold war and the bi-polar balance, combined with increased global interdependence that has been its ultimate cause, giving political significance to the fact that the human race is becoming a single community of fate, have confronted the Community with more serious problems and starker responsibilities, which can no longer be delegated to others. The Community cannot allow itself to ignore what is happening outside itself and its periphery, the EFTA. Beyond the confines of this privileged region of the world there are regions where very serious crises are in progress. Thousands of millions of men, uncertain of their fate, are asking themselves, and ask the European Community, if it is their friend or their enemy. The Community must respond to this question, and urgently. If it is not able, nor courageous enough, to make the great decisions and sacrifices that the situation requires in a judicious and timely manner, the countries of Western Europe will be invaded by immense masses of men, that have been torn from their way of life and their view of the world by the whirling events of recent years, to a desperate search for a well-being that is daily both displayed to, and denied them. The response to this challenge depends today exclusively on the capacity of the Community to transform itself into a federal Union that its citizens can sense as the democratic expression of their common interest and that in the name of this interest can ask of them important things in return.
The transformation of the Community into a federal Union, if it happens, will have dual significance. On the one hand it will offer the example of a new way of organizing social life, the fundamental basis of which will be the affirmation of human solidarity over and above frontiers, and the negation of the nation as a closed and exclusive entity; on the other hand it will be the birth of a new great power. These two aspects, clearly, are not in themselves contradictory, because the power of Europe, if interpreted in the light of the new and extraordinary opportunities created by the “New era” of Gorbachev, can be only, or at least in the main, the power to diffuse federalism by peaceful means throughout the rest of the world. The fact remains, however, that the concept of power evokes the idea of its traditional use, that of domination.
The question of Europe’s future role in the world is therefore placed in a totally different light and can be answered in different ways, depending on personal predictions as to how the relationship between model and power (intended in its traditional sense) will take shape in the policy of the Union, and the way in which its citizens will express their own European identity. On the one hand, it is possible to imagine that the process of increasingly interdependent relationships between men is destined to transform political attitudes and institutions in reflection of this trend, promoting, at the price of tension and crisis, ever larger and widespread forms of unity; and therefore that the federal unification of Europe should be seen as a stage in this process, destined in its turn to accelerate the process itself along the way. Alternatively, one can maintain that politics obeys a totally autonomous logic (the traditional logic of power), in deference to which increased interdependence will have no other effect than that of multiplying the reasons for conflict in the relationships between states, and thereby increasing confrontation; and that the European Union of tomorrow can do no other than become one of the centres in a new balance of power. In truth, those who intend, by their political commitment, to contribute to furthering the process of human emancipation cannot but base that commitment on the first of these two visions of the future, because the second implies that the human race is hurtling towards self-destruction regardless. Nevertheless it is necessary to highlight in a more explicit and wider sense the connection which links these interpretations of the future to the ideas of European unity that form part of the political debate, so as to make as clear as possible their significance and worth.
The first interpretation presupposes that the understanding that, by now, humanity constitutes a single community of fate is destined to extend gradually to all the human race and to affect ever more significantly the behaviour of states and individuals. This implies that the detente between the Soviet Union and the US introduced by the “new thinking” of Gorbachev is only the beginning of a process that – naturally not without having to overcome obstacles and difficulties – will lead, after an unforeseeable length of time, to world unification. It is worth remembering that this is in no way an “angelic” view of history. It is well known that as long as there are states, there will be raison d’Etat. But nowadays, thanks to the way environmental and nuclear threats have affected people’s consciences, there is a trend emerging on a global level for the raisons d’Etat to converge, similar to that which has made Western Europe an oasis of peace during the last fifty years. From this viewpoint the Gulf War would be only a residual, tragic by-product of the old order. It is true that history proceeds dialectically, and that other episodes of violence – probably less severe – on the difficult road of transforming relationships between North and South, will not fail to occur. But they should not alter in a substantial way mankind’s march towards its own unity, that will coincide with that of all peoples towards democracy. In this context the task of Europe would be to give an example of the creation of institutional formulas that allow interdependence to be organized legally through federalism, making it the foundation of peace between states. This signifies that the federal unification of Europe would put the concept of sovereignty itself in question. It would also render the federalist process irreversible, at the same time as being a powerful accelerant; and the instruments of its momentum would be the peaceable ones of self-enlargement and the promotion of other federal units (in the Soviet Union, the Arab world, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, etc.). Better still the process could be promoted with proportionally greater effect in relation to how much less weaponry were in evidence. The federal unification of Europe would thereby become the centre for the spread of federalism in the world, as two hundred years ago Europe was the centre for the dissemination of the model of the nation-state, and would create the basis for democratizing the UN and transforming it into a World government founded on large regional federations.
The second interpretation is based on the hypothesis that the foundation of the European federation will not be historically sufficient to put the very idea of sovereignty into question, but will be limited to transferring sovereignty, in a specific region of the world, to a higher level. In general, those who tend to think in this way are the same “realists” who hold that the process of democratization in the Soviet Union and global detente will be short-lived episodes, that the Arab world will remain for an indeterminate time at the mercy of fundamentalism, and that the Third World is destined to be a permanent danger for the industrialized world, which is, above all, to be guarded against. For these people, the global equilibrium will continue to be dominated by power relationships, and the traditional concept of national interest will always prevail over the awareness of a unified destiny involving the entire human race: this will engender an international situation so much more explosive since the end of the bipolar equilibrium has undermined stability based on mutual deterrent. The European federation, in this perspective, would not have an active role as a seed for the spread of federalist attitudes in the world: it could do no more than react to impulses from the changing configurations of the global balance of power. Military weapons would thereby become decisive and Europe could guarantee its own security only inasmuch as it knew how to assert itself as a new superpower.
It is important to point out that the choice between the two visions of the future of European and world history which I have set out cannot be avoided by pretending that it does not exist, since the great historic option facing Europe poses a question of alternative uses of scarce resources. The Community, confronted by the dramatic challenges posed by Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the Arab world and the Third World, will have to make heavy sacrifices. If it wishes to survive, it will have to mobilize a great quantity of material resources and moral back-up: this involves a decision whether the Twelve are aiming to integrate, within the context of the future Union, other peoples and other economies that are very much less advanced than that of the Twelve, and to encourage through large cooperation ventures the peaceful development of aggregation in other regions of the world; or to supply the future Union with powerful, modern and sophisticated weapons, necessary to make it a superpower able to compete militarily with the US on the world stage and to react with force to the threat emanating from the destitute and over-populated Third World. Let us not try to deceive ourselves with the illusion that we can do both together. These two options are not only incompatible from an ideological point of view, because peace and democracy can not nowadays be exported with missiles; but also from an economic stand-point, because the only way Europe could mobilize the enormous resources necessary to meet its new historical responsibilities with the peaceful means of economic collaboration, is by a drastic reduction in military spending (accompanied by a severe austerity policy). It is enough to consider, moreover, the strain the Federal Republic of Germany is experiencing in its efforts to absorb the productive system and society of the former GDR into its own economic and social fabric. The effort the European Union will have to do vis-à-vis Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the Arab world and the Third World is immensely greater.
Faced with this alternative, those who engage in the fight for Europe must ask themselves whether a political design is morally sustainable if it proposes as its goal the creation of a European state whose foremost responsibility to its own citizens is to impede the innumerable men who would like to share in their well-being from crossing its borders. The answer can only be “no”. If federalists wish to continue to base their work on the understanding that the fight for the European federation is the only struggle currently worth undertaking, they must choose the option of Europe as a model over that of Europe as a power.
If there is agreement on this basic issue, the debate underway between federalists on the question of the attribution of military competences to the European Union loses a good part of its radical nature. Clearly, once it is established that the European Union will not be a superpower, and that therefore the effect of its military presence in the world will be in any case modest, the fact that its military potential is managed under a federal system or by political co-operation implies a difference of purely symbolic character (and the relevant argument will be of interest only to the extent to which symbols play a role in politics). Nor the fear that remaining small national armies could provide the basis for an autonomous raison d’Etat of the individual member countries of the Union, and thus allow centrifugal tendencies to prevail to the extent of placing the federal bond itself in danger can contribute to give poignancy to the issue. If we accept the presupposition that the success of European foreign policy will be measured by the ability of the initial federal centre to expand through the joining of other states, and to spread the model of federalism peacefully, it is clear that military policy – whichever be the institutional mechanism concerned with its management – would lose a large part of its autonomy and would follow the lead set by the pivotal choices of Union foreign policy that, by their very nature, would be non-militaristic. Clearly, the question will be raised of who has supreme command of the armed forces belonging to the countries of the Union, and this cannot be circumvented by declaring the control of the armed forces a concurrent competence, because in constitutional terms regarding military matters, no more than one authority must decide in the final instance whether to go to war or not, whether to entrust, in the context of possible alliances, the armed forces to a unified command or to retain direct control, and so on. But, if time does lead down the path towards the goal of global unification, it will not be the remaining national armies, within an institutional context that will be federal in the crucial sectors of the economy and currency, that will endanger social peace and the permanency of the Union, if it is true that the process of European integration, expressed through weak and ineffective confederal institutions, has been able for the last fifty years to render a war between Europeans even unimaginable.
The fact remains that federalists cannot avoid the need to elaborate a stand-point regarding specific choices that they must face in the short or medium term. In this regard it is necessary to discuss another two matters of consideration.
a) In the current phase of the European unification process there exists a concrete possibility to push the member states of the Community into undertaking a substantial step forward on the road to ceding their sovereignty to a European Union. This step consists of the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union, and in the democratization of the institutions that will have the task of running it. As to the prosecution of these objectives, there exists an alliance of governments and other forces opposed to them, but there exists also an important grouping of governments and forces sympathetic to such developments. The outcome of the battle is not certain, but it can be won. An analogous alliance for the conferment of security and defence competences to federal European authority, on the other hand, does not exist, and however events may develop, will not exist for a long time to come. Today, if our aim, as activists of a political movement, is truly that of influencing the current process, then this involves seeing whether it is more opportune to concentrate all our energies on a single achievable objective, or dissipate them by applying them in part to a second and impossible goal. The question answers itself. In addition it is worth continually remembering that the issues of defence and security – used in their traditional meanings – are nowadays the war-horses of those who oppose all and any cession of sovereignty. These they use to distract public attention onto an issue that can only be dealt with within an inter-governmental framework anyway, and to deflect attention from where the decisive contest is being played out.
It is clear, for this argument to be well-founded, that the achievable objective must represent, in effect, a resolute step forward. I am convinced that this is so. If what has been previously said is true, then the single currency represents for Europe, now, a foreign policy instrument much more important than the army. It is said by certain people that the currency issue is the symbol of a Europe of merchants. But to the extent to which this term has a derogatory connotation in the European debate (that often, moreover, is unjustified because commerce is synonymous with ever more peaceful relations between peoples), this is inasmuch as it represents a situation in which a comparable enlargement of the sphere of democracy does not correspond to economic integration, and hence the economy is not under political control for the advancement of justice. But this is just the opposite of how much would happen with the transformation of the Community into an Economic and Monetary Union run by democratic political institutions. Nowadays the army is certainly not the instrument with which to create a Europe of citizens.
b) If the above analysis is correct, the creation of the European federation with competences restricted to the economic-monetary sector would introduce into the process of integration at a European and world level a powerful element of acceleration, because, on the one hand, it would show the rest of the world a model much more effective than the community one for ensuring political control of the issues arising out of interdependence over and above national borders, and on the other hand, it would allow the European Union itself to include other countries without endangering its internal cohesion. The creation of the Union would thus initiate a phase characterised by continuous and rapid enlargements. Concurrently, the Union would be pushed to assume new and ever greater responsibilities in its dealings with other regions of the world, and, hence, to enter into increasingly wider security systems. The question then arises whether, in the face of a succession of challenges that would continually put the features of the world balance into question, extending rapidly the size of security structures, the strong political will that would anyway be necessary to transfer states’ armed forces to the federal level in the course of this process, would in reality find sufficient motivation and time for it to emerge and affirm itself. It is clear that once the initial federal centre is created, the presence of Europe in the world will be the more influential, the less it is perceived by its partners as a threat; nor is it possible to imagine in this scenario that the threat to Europe would come from abroad. It seems more likely that the needs of mutual security that would arise in the new situation would encourage the conferment of military contingents directly to structures such as the CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe), or to a future security system for the Mediterranean and the Middle East, or to a large organization that comprised both these latter ones; and along parallel lines to the UN, that with the advance of this process, would hence see its role as principal guarantor of world peace continually develop.
This trend thus faces federalists with a question, to which they should try to give an immediate answer, whether also after the creation of an initial federal centre within the framework of the Community, their strategy, and hence the focus of the major part of their energies, should have as a goal the transfer to a federal authority of the military potential of nation-states, or whether they had not better accelerate the process of enlarging the orbit of federalism and reinforcing reciprocal security systems, that will be formed in various regional theatres, and on a global scale at the United Nations.
* The following texts are reworkings of some contributions to a wide-ranging discussion, held at Rome on the 17th March 1991, on the occasion of one of the periodical meetings organised by the Ufficio del Dibattito del Movimento Federalista Europeo (European Federalist Movement’s Office for Debates). The general topic was Europe within the structure of the new international situation.