political revue

Year XXXV, 1993, Number 3 - Page 152




From Milan to Maastricht: Fifty Years of Federalist Struggle for the Uniting of Europe*
The European federation will be created in the 1990s. It is necessary. It is possible. It is our task to ensure that it is done.
Thanks to the efforts of the federalists, Europe is already in a preconstituent situation: structurally, the conditions exist for establishing the federal constitution when the political conjuncture enables the process to begin. The contribution of the MFE in creating this situation has been outstanding. For this we must be profoundly grateful to the Italian federalists. Above all, we must be grateful for the historic contribution of the score of federalist pioneers who met fifty years ago in the house of the Rolliers in via Poerio 37, in order to start our struggle. It is important that all Europeans be conscious of the real significance of the work that these pioneers initiated, which was inspired by a political genius, Altiero Spinelli, and continued by an altogether exceptional movement of militants, the Movimento Federalista Europeo (MFE).
A political genius: Altiero Spinelli.
One cannot programme a political genius. But one can try to understand him in order the better to carry on his work. Spinelli identified the great political cause of this century: the creation of the European federation. It is a historic irony that, to make this discovery, he employed the long years of prison and confino, given him by the fascist regime which was diametrically opposed to this idea. Spinelli, in his autobiography, called these sixteen years “providential, because I was seized and set apart at the time when I was dedicated to a task lacking all sense of proportion (i.e. marxism-leninism, J.P.), and was returned to society when I was ripe for a task which was likewise difficult and ambitious, but which was truly à l’echelle humaine.”[1]
This federalist task was not only on a human scale, but also designed to meet the great problems of this age, in which interdependence is uniting the people in one European people, and eventually in a world people. The only rational response to this challenge is federal government: a hamiltonian constitution. Spinelli’s merit was to seize upon this idea, invented by the American founding fathers and transmitted by the writings of Einaudi and the British federalists. I hope I can be forgiven for citing the words with which Spinelli described his encounter with the thinking of my British federalist predecessors: “The clean, precise thinking”, according to him, “of these English federalists, in whose writings I found a very good key to understanding the chaos into which Europe was plunging and for devising alternatives”, he wrote, “have remained to this day impressed on my memory like a revelation.”[2]
Spinelli’s thinking, too, was “clean” and “precise”. He wrote for the meeting in via Poerio his “political theses” containing a precise and concise definition of federal union which remains valid up to the present day: a union with legislative, executive and juridical institutions, with competences for trade, money and defence, and with the power to prevent totalitarianism in the member states, i.e. to guarantee human rights.[3] Spinelli was, as Mario Albertini has written, “a hero ofreason”;[4] and the MFE was founded with an admirably clear definition of its mission.
But the right idea together with clear thinking comes to nothing without the will to make it a reality. Spinelli once said to me that there were many Italian politicians with a good European orientation; “but there is only one who has been consistent throughout: me”. He changed his tactics from time to time, in response to changes in the political situation. But he always held firm to the aim of the hamiltonian constitution, from the foundation of the MFE and of the UEF right up to his last battle: the Draft Treaty for the European Union.
The right idea, clear thinking, dedication to the aim: all these would not have sufficed without an exceptional political capacity, in the identification of situations that were favourable for action, in the design of the plan of action, and in the capacity to persuade those political leaders who were indispensable to carry forward the enterprise. Spinelli demonstrated this great political talent a number of times, above all in the two historic campaigns, for the European Political Community and for the Draft Treaty for the European Union.
When the governments of the six founding states of the European Community decided in 1950 to integrate their armed forces, Spinelli immediately realised that their assumption that a European army could be governed by an intergovernmental system was a fantasy. He knew, thanks to his long reflections on federalism, that only federal institutions would suffice. The integration of armed forces implies the integration of states, and a new state needs democratic institutions. So he persuaded De Gasperi to accept this political logic, and De Gasperi persuaded the leaders of the other five governments that it was necessary to set up the Ad Hoc Assembly to draft the constitution of the European Political Community. Meanwhile Spinelli persuaded Paul-Henri Spaak too to interest himself in the project and Spaak presided over the work on it, first of the European Movement and then of the Ad Hoc Assembly. Spinelli, and none other, had impelled the European politicians to make, for the first time in history, a quasi-federal constitution, which could have radically changed the destiny of the continent. But this was a bridge too far for the French National Assembly. Some months before the fatal vote in the Assembly, Spinelli wrote in his diary, on the day after Stalin died, that “the death of Stalin may signify also the end of the present attempt to unite Europe.”[5] Spinelli was once again right. The battle for the European Political Community was lost. But the struggle for the European federation was not lost. Karl-Heinz Koppe, then secretary general of Europa Union Deutschland, wrote that the project for the European Political Community “gave people a model of what is thinkable and feasible.”[6] The experience of the fight for the Political Community motivated the relance following that defeat, which carried Europe through to the Treaties of Rome, under the tireless guidance of Spaak, influenced in his turn by his work with Spinelli. Although Spinelli, in his disappointment, left the Community road towards federation, to found the Congress of the European People with the aim of electing representatives to a constituent assembly, this relance was fundamental for the federalists’ subsequent work.
Thirty years later, Spinelli identified a second opportunity to create the European constitution, when the governments accepted the direct elections to the European Parliament. The representatives of the European people had been provided. It remained to organise them to design the constitution. Once again Spinelli, and none other, persuaded the politicians who were apt to do the necessary work: first the Members of the Parliament, for the design and approval of the Draft Treaty; then President Mitterrand, who gave the project his support. Once again Spinelli had created “a model of what is thinkable and feasible”; and, although he was again disappointed by the concrete result, the Single European Act, this was not the “miserable dead mouse” of his celebrated phrase,[7] but instead, once again, the beginning of the relance which was to carry Europe to its preconstituent phase.
These two projects were extraordinary enterprises, the products of an extraordinary political and intellectual talent: “hero of politics”, as Albertini also put it, who “embodied, in a way that one can call perfect, the figure of the political hero as it was delineated by Max Weber”;[8] and, according to Francesco Rossolillo, “the man of the work”, who creates “something that did not exist before.”[9] He was in this sense alone. But he needed the already existing federal idea, which he took and applied as a political instrument. He also needed a movement, not only to work under his direction when he was its secretary general, but also to continue and develop this work after he had moved on.
An exceptional movement: the MFE.
Spinelli wrote, at the end of his autobiography, that he returned from Ventotene for “a battle that I, but probably at that time only I, had decided to consider, although not yet in existence, more important than the current battles to which all the others were going to commit themselves.”[10] This was not just. There were people, beyond the little group from Ventotene, who were already committed, or ready to commit themselves, to the federalist struggle: Rollier, Trentin, Silone, Foa, Venturi, Banfi, Bolis and others. But it was true that Spinelli was the only political genius among them. This genius needed, however, the representatives of a certain Italian political culture to ensure the success of his efforts. This culture and these people were the fortuna which was the essential complement of his virtù.
This political culture was already evident in the Risorgimento. Mazzini, alone among the national leaders in Europe at that time, understood that the national spirit should be seen in a European context; and Cattaneo really understood what federalism was. Between the two World Wars the federal idea was supported by Einaudi, Agnelli, Cabiati, the Rossellis, Don Sturzo, Turati and many others. Then there was the reaction against fascism which had definitively demonstrated the dangers of nationalism and of the cult of absolute national sovereignty. In August 1943, when the MFE was founded, I was about to enter the British Army to take part in resistance to nazism and fascism, organised by my national state. At the same time, many Italians were about to join the resistance against their own state. This contrast explains, at least in part, why it was easier for Italians to understand the need to limit the sovereignty of the nation-state. Italian political culture and political conjuncture were both favourable to federalism. Not less important was the great virtù of so many Italians who were ready to commit themselves to the federalist struggle. Their fortuna lay in the virtù of Spinelli, who, as secretary general of MFE during the decade in which the organisation was consolidated, was able to transmit to them his dedication to the cause of the hamiltonian constitution and to give the MFE not only this vocation but also an experience of action and of important achievements.
But Spinelli could err. In 1961 he decided that the federalists should enter into the internal politics of some cities, as a tactic to gain positions of power. Spinelli himself had taught that “the line dividing progressive parties from reactionary parties will fall... henceforth... along the... line that separates those who conceive as the essential aim of the struggle the old one, that is the conquest of national political power... and those who will see as the central task the creation of a solid international state.”[11] This time Spinelli himself stood on the other side of the line. Albertini had the courage to oppose Spinelli in order to prevent this U-turn, which presented so many difficulties for MFE. Albertini was, indeed, better adapted than Spinelli to develop a movement. Spinelli wrote in his diary that Albertini preferred that the federalists “prepare themselves for the event”, that is develop the movement for the constituent battle, rather than that they “prepare the event”, that is to say, pursue a political tactic. Spinelli wrote, further, that also in relation to “a spiritual son I feel myself cold and detached”,[12] and that he was not able “to make love when one should instead make politics.”[13] For a political genius this may be admissible, perhaps necessary. But to maintain a solid movement, it is necessary to care about people; and the proof that Albertini has cared about his political sons is that so many of them, after three decades, are still working together – and are indeed present at this anniversary congress to demonstrate their commitment to the movement.
The results of the development of the MFE have been impressive. When, for example, the proposal for direct elections to the European Parliament was on the agenda of the European Council under Italian presidency in December 1975, the MFE’s manifestation, with the presentation of the appeal in the Campidoglio and the procession to the Palazzo Barberini, reinforced the pro-European policy of the Italian government, which obtained the decision in favour of the elections. To support Spinelli in the battle for the Draft Treaty, the MFE, together with Europa Union Deutschland, did much to ensure the necessary majority in the European Parliament. The MFE organised the great demonstration in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan in order to influence the European Council’s decision on the project. There are various reasons to criticise the Italian politicians who carried the responsibility of the Italian presidency of that European Council. But one criticism which one cannot make is that they were unaware of the importance for themselves of the votes of Italian citizens. The presence of so many voters in the Piazza, demanding a positive decision, must certainly have reinforced the will of these politicians to insist on the majority vote which was taken for the first time in the European Council’s history. Voting by majority, the European Council was able to decide to hold the Intergovernmental Conference which produced the Single Act, and thus began the relance that preceded the present preconstituent situation.
Then there was the exemplary campaign for the referendum held in June 1989. The immense labour of the MFE resulted in the Italian Parliament’s vote, unanimous save for a single contrary vote in the Senate, in favour of the approval of the constitutional law that had to be passed to make the referendum possible. This was followed by the campaign directed at public opinion, which produced the extraordinary result of 88 per cent of the voters in favour of a “Union endowed with a government responsible to the European Parliament”, and of a constituent mandate for the European Parliament. After this result, all politicians should know that a position against a federal Europe would be rejected by the citizens; and the importance of this should not be underestimated, at a time when new political forces are about to dominate the Italian political scene.
Spinelli, the MFE and Monnet.
After what I have written so far, it might be thought that I believe Spinelli and the MFE were almost perfect and almost always right. But that is not so. I believe in fact that they failed to appreciate the political genius of Jean Monnet and his contribution to the construction of the European federation.
Spinelli did at first appreciate Monnet. Spinelli wrote in his diary in 1952 that “it is certain that he wants to arrive at a federation”, that is to say that Monnet was a genuine federalist.[14] Spinelli had recently written Monnet’s speech for the inaugural session of the High Authority, in which he emphasised the sharing of a part of the sovereignty of the member states, which had thus abandoned their absolute sovereignty. The speech identified the federal elements of the Coal and Steel Community: the executive, independent of the governments of the member states and instead responsible to an assembly elected by their parliament and with the prospect of direct elections; the Community’s direct relations with legal persons, including for the imposition of taxes; recourse to an independent European tribunal, the Court of Justice. These institutions were, Spinelli wrote and Monnet said, “supranational and, let us say the word, federal”, sovereign within the limits of their competence.[15] These words were not said lightly by Monnet. He worked for hours and for days on his speeches, considering and weighing every word with his collaborators. Both Spinelli and Monnet were in agreement that the institutions of the Coal and Steel Community were prefederal. Although Monnet, according to Spinelli, did not have “the least idea of what it meant to make a constitution”,[16] his aim was indeed the federation, and Spinelli was fully conscious of this.
Spinelli also recognised the extraordinary capacity of Monnet, who had identified not only the essential aim, but also the situation in which progress towards this aim could be made, had formed his plan to profit from this situation and had persuaded the key politicians – Schuman, Adenauer – that they should do the necessary to realise the plan. Spinelli had understood all this. But after the failure of the project for the Political Community, Spinelli lost his esteem for Monnet’s work. On the morrow of the Messina Conference, he wrote of “Monnet’s liquidation”;[17] and in his diary for the day after 25 March 1957, the day of the signature of the Treaties of Rome, he wrote: “I visited Monnet too. Really we have nothing more to say to each other.”[18] The divergent attitudes in the UEF with respect to these treaties were the cause of the split among federalists, above all Germans and Italians. This split was followed by the reunification of the UEF in 1972. Relations among federalists have become good again, thanks in large part to the efforts of many Italian federalists. But history and experience leave their traces on – to use Spinelli’s words – the methods of analysing the situation and devising alternatives. So it may be useful to examine the lessons of the past in order to draw conclusions for our future work. We shall work together better if we understand each other’s analyses. I shall therefore explain my own conclusions on this matter.
The word “functionalism” is employed in two senses. One is a functionalism that is merely intergovernmental, which the British government, for example, has preferred, with “European organs in which the representatives of the several states will begin to develop and administer certain European matters”, as Spinelli put it when Britain was pursuing this policy already in the late 1940s.[19] This functionalism has nothing to do with federalism. But the other sense is that of a functionalism based on prefederal institutions, instruments and powers: the functionalism of Monnet, which one may perhaps call a functionalist federalism. This was certainly Spinelli’s view when he wrote Monnet’s inaugural speech. This was, surely, again the view of the MFE when, after its rejection of Monnet during the period of the Congress of the European People and a process of reflection in the 1960s, the MFE decided to join again with the Germans and other monnetists, accepting that the constitution would become feasible “only after the pursuit of intermediate objectives such as to create a preconstituent situation.”[20]
Among such intermediate objectives the most important are, it seems to me, the prefederal elements in the institutions and powers of the Community, including the direct elections, which Albertini proposed already in the 1960s, and the European currency, which he advocated in 1972.[21] Spinelli too accepted, in the Draft Treaty, that the federal institutions would have competences in the economic and social fields, but that meanwhile defence would be managed by a more-or-less confederal system. In this perspective one can call the process of building up the prefederal elements in the institutions and competences of the Community “a series of constitutional acts”, to use the apt expression of Lucio Levi.[22] Thus the constitutional federalism of Spinelli and the functionalist federalism of Monnet can be seen to be complementary.
The federalists, spinellists and monnetists have achieved a very significant series of constitutional acts. Although the support of particular interests, whether economic or political, has been important, the initiative has always been taken by federalists, sometimes monnetists, sometimes spinellists, sometimes both together. Among the constitutional acts and the prefederal elements a number were particularly important: the ECSC, with its prefederal institutions; the Treaties of Rome, which enlarged the field of action of the institutions with the competence for the common market and other matters; the direct elections; the European Monetary System, pointing towards the European currency; the Single European Act, with the creation of the single market, the majority voting in the Council and a more important role for the Parliament – not a dead mouse but the start of the relance which led to the Maastricht Treaty; and that Treaty, with the single currency, the European Central Bank, some more powers for the Parliament and the beginnings of cooperation in the field of defence. It is true that all that is not the constitution. But these were steps towards the constitution. Nor were they small steps. They were medium and sometimes big steps, which have created the present preconstituent situation.
What remains to be done in order to establish the federation as it was defined in the “political theses” of the meeting in via Poerio fifty years ago? The Community already has the powers relating to trade and, with the Maastricht Treaty, to money. Of the list of powers in the “theses” only defence remains, with respect to which the Maastricht Treaty provides for some cooperation and the integration of which was also prudently left, in Spinelli’s Draft Treaty, to a subsequent reform. As regards the institutions, the Community already has a Court and a juridical system that are quasi-federal; an executive, the Commission, for which the most important reform would be to become responsible to the Parliament, towards which the Maastricht Treaty already points the way; and a legislature dominated until now by a house of the states, i.e. the Council, in which, however, most of the legislative decisions are taken under the procedure of majority voting, and which has to share the legislative power, even if so far within fairly narrow limits, with the Parliament, i.e. with the house of the people. One can conclude that the principal defect of this institutional system remains the quasi-monopoly of power in the hands of the Council and that the crucial reform would therefore be to provide for general codecision between the Parliament and a Council voting by majority.
If we accept that the integration of armed forces may be left, as in Spinelli’s Draft Treaty, to a later phase, the key elements that we need are the single currency and the codecision between Parliament and Council. The single currency, despite the difficulties, is already foreseen by the Maastricht Treaty. The essential element still missing is, then, the codecision: just one word, but a concept that has evoked stubborn resistance in some member states, linked with the cult of sovereignty. A difficult reform, but indispensable. We need a European democracy and we do not have it. This must be at the centre of our battle in the nineties: the battle for the European constitution.
The constitution in the nineties: the final battle for Europe.
The citizens do not like to be governed in obscure ways. Perhaps, with the single currency and general codecision, i.e. European democracy, we will have a federal union de facto. But for the big majority of citizens, all this is incomprehensible. The citizens will not know how they are governed at the European level until there is a constitution which makes it all clear. It is also probable that the political will to make the necessary reforms will not be generated unless it is focused on a constitutional project.
So it goes without saying that the MFE was right when it insisted, at the 1993 Congress of Pescara, on the “need for the intervention in the process by the federal European people through their legitimate representatives.”[23] The European elections of 1994 offer a great opportunity to intensify the campaign for the constitution. If this could be approved in the two subsequent years, at least by an important nucleus of states, the European situation would be transformed. This is the object of the campaign. We must do our best to achieve it. But nothing in European political life is certain. We should not be too disappointed if what we obtain in that period is only the confirmation of the programme for introducing the single currency, a strengthening of the powers of the Parliament and some progress towards a common defence policy. The platform from which we can launch the constitution would then be somewhat higher. But it is absolutely essential to have the constitution before the end of the century. The single currency will already exist. The countries of Central Europe will be about to enter the Community. There will be other challenges too, perhaps more urgent. The elections of 1999 will provide the opportunity for the definitive great campaign for the constitution.
The principal elements of the present situation are the following. France remains committed to the single currency, but is less enthusiastic about the powers for the European Parliament. Germany is committed to codecision, but less enthusiastic about the single currency. The British government hopes to ally itself with France on the Parliament and with Germany on the single currency, thus preventing both codecision and the currency. The intention of the federalists is the opposite: an understanding between France and Germany to realise both. It is possible that the French or the Germans, or both, could change their orientation in the wrong direction. But it is also possible to hope that Britain, with both the main opposition parties favourable to both codecision and the single currency, could change its policy in the right direction. Most of the other countries are for the single currency, codecision and federal union; likewise favourable are numerous economic and social forces, the important transnational European parties, not to speak of the European Parliament and the Commission and, last but not least, the federalist movements. All of these will have their influence on the final outcome; and one of the most important factors would be a regenerated Italy.
Italy, after the current revolution based on the rule of law, will be governed by a largely renovated political class. The attitude of this class towards the European federation and constitution will be crucial. In relation to this the result of the referendum of 1989 is most important. One cannot disregard 88 percent of the citizens. Perhaps the Italian federalists will also be able to make use of the idea of internal federalism, advocated by Cattaneo and affirmed by Rollier and other representatives of the alpine valleys in the Declaration of Chivasso, published shortly after the foundation of the MFE fifty years ago, and demanding a “democratic federal” regime on a regional and cantonal basis.[24]
If the new Italian political class achieves political and economic successes, and if it is federalist, the role of the Italians with respect to the federal constitution could be decisive. It is certain that the federal future of Europe depends in part on the Italian federalists; and it is possible that it depends above all on them. This, it seems to me, is the challenge that the Italian federalists must confront in this decade. I am sure that the MFE will know how to respond.
It is therefore not only with admiration for all that has been achieved in the past that we must today greet the MFE, but also with great hopes for the efforts and the successes in the future. It has been a great honour for me to work with the Italian federalists and to speak to the Congress celebrating the Movement’s fiftieth anniversary. I salute the MFE after these fifty years. I wish the MFE buon lavoro in the coming decade, for the achievement of the European federation – and for the next fifty years in which the world federation must be established.

* This essay, and those that follow it, are contributions that were sent in written form to the international convention “Europe called to account: federalism or nationalism”, held in Milan, 26th November 1993, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Movimento Federalista Europeo.
[1] Altiero Spinelli, Come ho tentato di diventare saggio. Io, Ulisse, Bologna, 1984, p. 342.
[2] Ibid., pp. 307-8.
[3] The “tesi politiche” are reproduced in Lucio Levi and Sergio Pistone (eds), Trent’anni di vita del Movimento Federalista Europeo, Milan, 1973, pp. 66-70.
[4] Mario Albertini, “Altiero Spinelli, Hero of Reason”, in The Federalist, XXVIII (1986), pp. 3-4.
[5] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo 1948-1969 (edited by Edmondo Paolini), Bologna, 1989, p. 167.
[6] Karl-Heinz Koppe, Das grüne E setztsich durch. 20 Jahre Europa Union Deutschland 1946-1966, Koln, 1967, p. 68.
[7] Altiero Spinelli, Discorsi al Parlamento Europeo 1976-1986 (edited by Pier Virgilio Dastoli), Bologna, 1987, p. 369.
[8] Mario Albertini, op. cit.
[9] FrancescoRossolillo,”Spinelli, ‘Man of the Work”, in The Federalist, XXVI (1984), pp.134-41.
[10] Altiero Spinelli, Io, Ulisse, cit. p. 343.
[11] Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, Il Manifesto di Ventotene, Naples, 1982, p. 37.
[12] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo, cit., pp. 415, 417.
[13] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo, cit., p. 330 (cit. in Gianni Merlini, “Altiero Spinelli ovvero la concretezza dell’utopia”, in Il Mulino, n.5, 1990, p. 838).
[14] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo, cit., p. 163.
[15] Jean Monnet, Les Etats-Unis d’Europe ont commencé, Paris, 1965, pp. 47-50; Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo, cit., pp. 142-3.
[16] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo, cit., p. 163.
[17] Ibid., p. 269.
[18] Ibid., p. 311.
[19] Altiero Spinelli, “Discorso al III Congresso nazionale del MFE (1949)”, reproduced in Sergio Pistone, L’Italia e l’unità europea dalle premesse storiche all’elezione del Parlamento europeo, Turin, 1982, p. 186.
[20] “Documento approvato dal XIII Congresso del MFE”, reproduced in Lucio Levi and Sergio Pistone, Trent’anni di vita, cit., p. 419.
[21] Ibid., pp. 335, 352.
[22] Lucio Levi, The History of Europe’s Draft Constitutions, paper for the Federal Trust-UEF seminar, London, 9-11 July 1993.
[23] “Le responsabilità dell’Europa nel mondo e il ruolo dei federalisti”, document distributed by the MFE Secretariat and printed in L’Unità Europea, XX, March-April 1993, p.6.
[24] “La dichiarazione dei rappresentanti delle popolazioni alpine” (la Carta di Chivasso), reproduced in L’Unità Europea, 11, July-August 1944. See also Cinzia Rognoni Vercelli, Mario Alberto Rollier, un valdese federalista, Milan, 1991, ch. 6.


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