Year XL, 1998, Number 2 - Page 122

 

 

A Profile of European Integration
 
GIOVANNI VIGO
 
 
An exhaustive analysis of the process of European unification should begin with an examination of the unstoppable productive forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution which have, for some time now, extended beyond national barriers to reveal two things: the first is the irreversible crisis of the national state, which has shown itself to be totally unable to govern a process that has spread beyond its own borders, and the second is the need to create democratic institutions at supranational level, so that mankind may once again take control of his own historical destiny.
However, it is not my intention to explore these aspects here, but to consider, rather, the way in which the process of European integration has evolved in the period since the Second World War. The initial impetus for European integration was provided by the United States which, through the Marshall Plan, had made a decisive contribution to the rebuilding of post-World War II Europe. Unlike what had happened in the wake of the First World War, economic aid was not destined to individual countries, but poured into a single programme whose aim was to favour the evolution of new forms of cooperation. And it was to this end that, in 1948, the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was instituted and entrusted with the task of managing the resources provided by the United States.
The same year also saw the creation of the Council of Europe, a body which, despite having no effective power, was, in the aftermath of Europe’s bloodiest conflict ever, certainly of enormous symbolic value: the people of Europe wanted to distance themselves from a past punctuated by wars and characterised by division, and to look towards a common future of which all would share in the building.
The ideal of European unity, which over the centuries had fired the imagination of Dante Alighieri and Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Cattaneo and Victor Hugo, was now beginning to condition the conduct of governments and to shape the expectations of citizens. From an ideal to which to aspire, but one whose realisation belonged to some far distant and uncertain future time, the question of European unity had become a real political issue. Indeed, according to the extreme view taken by Luigi Einaudi, it had become the overriding political problem on whose solution the fate of the people of Europe depended.
On March 1st, 1954, with the future of the Community for European Defence (CED) looking bleak, Einaudi wrote: “There is an evident need for a unified Europe. The existing states are nothing more than dust devoid of substance. Not one of them is in a position, independently, to bear the cost of its own defence. Only by uniting can they hope to survive. This is not a choice between independence and union; it is a choice between union and extinction”.[1] It is not easy to establish whether there were, apart from Einaudi and those of federalist conviction, others who were so acutely aware of the historic nature of the period through which the people of Europe were living. What is certain is that the process of European construction has certainly not reflected the urgency of the times, and neither has it followed the straight line of reason. Rather, it has followed a tortuous path, with occasional actions following hurriedly on the heels of events rather than reflecting a coherent and tenaciously pursued plan.
It hardly needs to be underlined that the process of European unification, like all major transformations in history, is a phenomenon of the utmost complexity whose reconstruction and comprehension is possible only by isolating the salient features of its development.
In this respect, I consider the best interpretative scheme to be that proposed by Mario Albertini in a work dating back to 1963.[2] In Albertini’s view, three distinct phases can be identified within the movement towards European unification: a psychological phase, an economic and a political phase. Although the last of these had, at the time, only just begun, it was already becoming clear what its final outcome would be.
The psychological phase coincided with the immediate post-war years when the dominant theme in the sphere of international politics was the power acquired by the Soviet Union and the conflict emerging between East and West. There was only one way in which a solid barrier could be built to provide protection against the dangers of Russian expansionism, and that was to transform the weakness deriving from the division of Europe into sovereign states into strength deriving from their union.
The European system of states, which for five centuries had dominated the course of world history, had collapsed leaving Europe a mere appendage to the United States. It was in the vital interest of the latter to promote union among the states of Europe as a united Europe would constitute, for America, an essential line of defence against the Soviet Union, which had refused aid offered within the context of the Marshall Plan, and was fast becoming the West’s most formidable adversary.
While it is true that the United States, as the only power with the capacity to organise the defence of the West, was acutely aware of the weight of responsibility which lay upon its shoulders, it is equally true that the governments of Europe should, according to the most basic logic, have been the ones most in favour of creating a union of European states. And yet it was not on their own initiative that they set out in this direction; they merely accepted it as the only road open to them.
In his essay of 1963, Albertini illustrated the deepest reasons motivating, and which were destined to go on motivating, the behaviour of the states of Europe. “Now, whether they like it or not, their own raison d’état, their basic need for survival, is forcing the states, in the absence of any other way out, to come together in the search for answers to problems which can neither be eluded, nor solved by any of them on their own. This is the unity trap. This is the reason why states, in defiance of their very nature, march together instead of each following its own national course”.[3]
However, in order to march together in the long term, something more than a passive stance was needed. What the states were going through was a “complete transformation” of their history, a period of radical change that could not have been sustained had there not existed a deep belief that the Europe of single nations belonged to the past and to tradition, and that the future could only be envisaged in terms of a united Europe. And it was precisely this belief, shared by politicians (or the majority of them, at least) and the people, that constituted the real psychological basis (to quote Albertini once again) underlying the first phase of the process of European integration.
The psychological basis for any historical process can be considered both fragile and strong. It is fragile because a favourable attitude towards a certain objective (in this case European unity) is not, on its own, sufficient to mobilise the forces essential to its realisation. Its strength, meanwhile, derives from the fact that it represents the very last grounds determining human behaviour, and allowing the most difficult choices to be made without the creation of deep divisions. And the choice facing Europe was certainly a very difficult one indeed.
In 1949, due, in particular, to reticence on the part of the French, Germany had still not been restored its full sovereignty. However, in view of its geographical position and considerable resources, Germany had to be considered a country of great strategic importance in plans to contain the Soviet Union. There was only one way of resolving this dilemma: Germany had to be anchored firmly to Europe, subordinating those things on which its power was based — its heavy industry and army — to a common organisation which also embraced France. However, this plan still lacked one important element: the right kind of organisation to ensure its successful implementation.
Of course, the dilemma was ultimately resolved Jean Monnet who conceived the idea of a European Community: in other words, of a structure, within the process of European unification, designed to carry out a common policy without eliminating the power of the individual states (as these, at the time, were certainly not ready to consider renunciation of their absolute sovereignty). And so, we come to the start of the second, or as defined by Albertini, the economic phase of the process of European integration.
While the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was the first Community, merged the heavy industries of six countries, the second, the Community for European Defence (CED), sought to pool their armed forces. Although the ECSC proved successful, the CED was doomed to failure. When the treaty was thrown out the French National Assembly on August 31st, 1954, it seemed to signal the end of the road for the whole process of European unification. All the passion of governments, of parties, of intellectuals and of public opinion had been channelled into an undertaking which had gradually taken on the character of a very real crusade. Its failure generated a deep feeling of frustration among the supporters of European unification. Many felt that they were witnessing the definitive end of a historic process, and that there was no hope of ever going back to the beginning and starting again.
However, it soon became obvious that this failure did not mark the conclusion of the process, as the end of the CED did not of course mean an end to the problems which had prompted its creation. On the contrary, these difficulties persisted in spite of the fact that the death of Stalin had, at least from a psychological point of view, eased the pressure exerted the USSR on the West.
Had the CED gone ahead, it would, of course, have prompted the creation of a European Federation since, in a democratic society, no army can exist in the absence of a political power to control it. As a result of the failure of the CED, the governments became convinced that any project involving an immediate transfer of sovereignty from national to European level, was equally doomed to failure. They thus decided to proceed at a more gradual pace, following a path able to reconcile the immediate objective — which was to continue moving in the direction of integration — with the ultimate objective — which was to create a United States of Europe. This goal, having appeared within reach in 1954, was now postponed to some far-off and unspecified future time.
It was, once again, Jean Monnet who formulated an instrument able to realise this plan. The European Economic Community, established under the 1957 Treaty of Rome, quickly led to the dismantling of most customs barriers, to the affirmation of a common agricultural policy, to the creation of a market whose continental dimensions allowed the Six to enjoy an unprecedented period of growth and to regain, if only on an economic level, at least a part of the autonomy which they had lost as a result of the irreversible crisis of the national states.
Paradoxically, it was the success of European integration in the 1960s which gave rise to its crisis. As far as the economy was concerned, the Europe of the Six had become a single actor on the world political stage, one whose interests no longer coincided, or at least did not necessarily coincide, with those of the United States. The problem thus emerged of how international relations should be redefined, not only between the EEC and the United States, but also between the EEC and Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Japan and the world’s developing countries.
The management of international relations is, traditionally, the task of governments — not of a council of six national ministers whose decisions are bound to reflect a compromise reached at the lowest level in order to ensure the consensus of the most reluctant member states.
The absence of a European government was most keenly felt in the period spanning the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s, when the countries of Europe were having to deal with the crisis of the international monetary system, the oil crisis, and the political disorder deriving from the decline in the power of the United States. And it was during this difficult and testing time that the process of European integration entered, definitively, its third, or political, phase of which Albertini had, in 1963, already seen the warning signs.
This does not mean that there had been no political side to the problems which had emerged prior to this time; it means, merely, that they had been difficulties which could be faced and solved, albeit not always in a satisfactory manner, within the Community framework. Although this had, at times, slowed down the process of integration and created tensions, as in the case of the common agricultural policy, there had, contrary to the situation in the early seventies, never been any question that the process of integration might disintegrate.
At this point, the people of Europe realised, once and for all, the extent to which the American leadership had been undermined — aware that the United States would never again be in a position to establish a solid and peaceful world order, they responded to the historic challenge with which they were faced. The logical answer would, in modern parlance, have been to move from a “common” to a “single” policy, implemented, in other words, by a European government. But on this occasion, as before, the governments of Europe, despite starting to formulate proposals which were very much bolder than those put forward in the past, set out on another road.
The first of these proposals to come to fruition was the creation, in 1973, of the European Council — a body for which no provision had been made under the Treaties of Rome. This Council, bringing together periodically the highest representatives of the states, and involving them directly in European affairs, was felt to be a way of injecting fresh impetus into the process of integration — Jean Monnet, who had been its originator, envisaged the Council as a “provisional European government” whose task would be to direct the movement towards “a European government and an Assembly elected by universal suffrage”.[4]
Then came the proposal for direct election of the European Parliament which, in the belief that the Community institutions would be stronger if they were founded on public consensus, was passed at the 1975 Rome summit.
This was followed by the creation of the European Monetary System (EMS) in 1979. The decision to create the EMS came at the end of a difficult decade which had seen divergent trends in the European economies and a severe depreciation of the weakest countries’ currencies. The creation of the EMS marked an important turning point as it revealed the desire on the part of the people of Europe to regain control of their own destiny, which in the previous years had been subject to the blind forces responsible for disseminating disorder on the international scene.
The same year saw the first direct elections of the European Parliament. There were opposing reactions to this event. Even though it had been ratified by the people, a section of the political forces and of public opinion continued to view the Strasbourg Parliament as an empty vessel: not being the parliament of any particular state, it lacked the support of institutions with the capacity to translate its decisions into concrete actions. Others, meanwhile, saw the event as representing the start of a new political era which would culminate in the foundation of a European state. Sacharov, for example, hailed the first European elections as the dawn of international democracy, as never before had the citizens of different countries, divided by secular hatred, elected a parliament together. Duverger, who made no secret of his aversion to Europe, wrote that nowhere, in the entire history of mankind, was there an example of an assembly elected by universal suffrage which had not, sooner or later, been conferred constituent powers.
As time went by, the Strasbourg Parliament was in fact seen to be more an empty vessel than a protagonist in the building of Europe, even though its latent potential (which no one seemed willing to exploit) was clear as early as its very first term in office. During the period 1979-1984, and following a hard fight, Spinelli managed to gather the support of a very large majority of members of the European Parliament for the Draft Treaty which bore his name. Had it been adopted by the governments, it would have led to the formation of Europe’s first federal nucleus. Its areas of competence would have been limited, in the early stages, to the economic and monetary spheres, and later extended to include other areas (foreign policy, defence, etc.). However, the heads of state, meeting in Milan on June 28th and 29th, 1985, had the courage neither to adopt nor to reject it. Instead, they went only so far as to convene an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to propose ways of improving, and of rendering more efficient, the Community’s decision-making mechanisms.
It is said that the best way of burying a project is to entrust it to a commission. However, if this was what the governments really intended to do, then on this occasion at least, they got their calculations wrong. The IGC gave rise to the Single European Act which, despite being a rather depleted version of the Spinelli Treaty, nevertheless managed, by targeting the single market as the means of strengthening economic integration and of removing the last barriers within the Community, to put the question of a single European currency back on the agenda — and the achievement of this objective was bound, sooner or later, to raise the question of the need for a European government.
There are other reasons why the Milan summit constituted a turning point in the process of European integration. For the first time in the history of the Community, a majority vote had been taken which led to the emergence of two opposing alignments which, in fact, still exist today: a federalist (in truth, weakly federalist) alignment whose hard core comprises the Community’s six founder members, and a confederalist alignment which embraces those countries, Great Britain in particular, which are not willing to relinquish even the smallest portion of sovereignty. The majority vote was a clear expression of the new orientation favoured by the most strongly pro-European governments: instead of striving for unanimity at all costs, as they had done in the past, these countries were displaying a desire to forge even closer links with one another, without allowing themselves to be conditioned their opponents.
The rest is more recent history. The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant the demise of the old enemy and the end of the bipolar order in whose shadow the people of Europe had created their unity. America, now that its main enemy was no more, and no longer under the obligations of the past, was free to a lower profile on the international scene — starting with Europe where it had been present in force ever since the period immediately following World War II. As in the early seventies, Europe was forced to take a long hard look at itself: this time, in order to solve its problems, it had itself to rely on. Furthermore, there was an added complication which had not been part of the picture two decades earlier: while, in the seventies, Europe had been faced with what was simply a weakening of the political framework within which international relations had been conducted since the Second World War, this time that framework had disintegrated altogether, and Europe was called upon to provide a far more radical solution. All these events culminated in the Treaty of Maastricht, which was a contradictory response as it conferred upon the Union all the usual functions of a modern state — currency, foreign policy, citizenship, social policy — without, however, the powers necessary to implement them.
The boldest decision to come out of the Treaty of Maastricht concerned the single currency which, in the absence of some unforeseen catastrophe, will come into force on January 1st, 1999. It is quite probable that the new currency will give the European economy a new lease of life, creating, among the states of the Union, the illusion that a prosperous new era is dawning. This would certainly not be a new phenomenon. The same thing happened with the Zollverein in the last century, and in the post-World War II period with the birth of the Common Market. But it is important to remember that illusions will never be anything but illusions, however easy it is to mistake them for reality.
A currency cannot survive for ever without the support of a state, and an economic and monetary union which is designed to have a profound effect on the daily lives of the people of Europe and on the global equilibrium, cannot last long in the absence of a government to regulate it. Furthermore, it will not be long before the European Union is forced to deal with the explosive question of its own enlargement — increasing the number of its member states first to eighteen, and subsequently to twenty, twenty-five or thirty. These numbers alone are sufficient to indicate that, unless adequate institutional reforms can be introduced, the union will seize up altogether.
And yet, meeting at Maastricht, the heads of state and of government were well aware of the fragility of their design. Indeed, the Treaty itself made provision for the convening of an IGC which would be entrusted with the task of improving the Union’s decision-making mechanisms. This, for all their might, was all that these leaders were able to deliver. And as regards the institutional reforms needed to transform the Union into a proper federation, the Treaty of Amsterdam, which concluded the work of the conference, contained nothing to alter the status quo. However, judging by these clumsy attempts to complete the process of European unification by rendering the institutions more efficient, the political phase of the process is quite clearly coming to an end, with the governments, equipped with outdated institutions (at both national and European level), less and less able to deal with the issues of greatest concern to the people.
To conclude this brief profile of European integration, I return to Albertini’s work of 1963. Drawing attention to the contradictions which were destined to plague the process of European unification to its very end, Albertini made the following assertion: “We need to be aware, as far as the conclusion of the process is concerned, that there will be no end to the dynamism present within, or to that present outside the sphere of governments, because nothing can alter the fact that a choice exists between the weakness that derives from division and the strength that derives from unity. Thus, as the process of integration proceeds, we will reach a point at which governments will be faced with problems whose unitary nature is so marked that they demand the presence of a single government”.[5] This is the point we have reached today.


[1] L. Einaudi, Lo scrittoio del presidente. 1948-1955, Turin, Einaudi, 1956, p. 89.
[2] M. Albertini, “L’integrazione europea, elementi per un inquadramento storico” in L. Levi and S. Pistone (eds), Trent’anni di vita del Movimento Federalista, Milan, Franco Angeli, 1973, pp. 14-34.
[3] Ibidem, p. 18.
[4] J. Monnet, Mémoires, Paris, Fayard, 1976, p. 592.
[5] M. Albertini, op. cit., p. 23.

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