Year XXVII, 1985, Number 3
European Union: Steps and Constitution
European Union is not likely to be created unless it is designed and disseminated. This is strikingly illustrated in the pre-history of the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty.
“Habent sua fata libelli”, writes Spinelli in his autobiography. The “little books” to which he refers were writings by Einaudi and by the British Federal Union authors such as Beveridge, Lothian and Robbins, which Einaudi sent to Spinelli and his friends in confinement on the island of Ventotene in the period around and following the outbreak of World War II. The “destiny” of the writings was to help inspire and form Spinelli’s federalist ideas so as to enable him to share with Rossi the authorship of the Ventotene Manifesto of 1941, which became the launching pad for the European federalist movement; then, forty years later, the same ideas moved him, showing remarkable consistency of thought though flexibility in application, to be the architect of the Draft Treaty.
The Draft Treaty in turn has moved the minds of many people. It has, in the measured words of careful lawyers, “played a major role in shifting the centre of debate”. It has also shown which political and social forces, which parliaments and governments, are in favour of European Union on the principles defined by the Parliament and which are against. It has provided a strategic aim which has united contemporary federalists. But design and dissemination alone are not a sufficient strategy to achieve such a great change as the establishment of European Union. It is worthwhile to ask what can be learnt from post-war European history about the characteristics that can enable such a strategy to succeed.
Aims and Steps: a North-South Difference
Some people prefer to affirm and disseminate a great objective, others to work for steps in that direction. European federalists have tended to divide along these lines into an ideological South and a pragmatic North. The South has feared that northern pragmatism may achieve no more than little steps in no particular direction; the North has feared that ideology may separate the South from reality. If the ideology captures the underlying reality of our time, however, and if the steps are not too small and in the right direction, the two approaches are complementary. The difference should give rise to a creative synergy, not a destructive division.
There need clearly be no difference of principle. The European Parliament’s Draft Treaty does not aim for federation, but a European Union that lacks the element of armed power which is common to all federal systems. European Union itself, which is now the uncontested objective of European federalists, is thus a step towards European federation – which is itself only a step in a more general process of federalism in the world. Moreover Spinelli, who originally saw the European Economic Community as a nasty trick,3 has come to recognise that, “thanks to the European Community, our generation has seen the dream of a free, united Europe beginning to come true”. The Community as it stands today, with the EEC its most important part, is evidently a big step towards European Union. The question is not whether federalists should be interested in steps towards the aim, but how to distinguish the smaller from the larger or more important ones.
Robert Schuman was surely right to see the European Coal and Steel Community as “the first concrete foundation of a European Federation which is indispensable to the preservation of peace”. It established the Community institutions which have enabled the European Parliament to present its Draft Treaty as a prudent constitutional reform, not a leap in the dark. The EEC Treaty, which extended the competence of those institutions to large areas of economic policy, was another major step. Direct elections to the European Parliament have added a federalising dynamic to the institutions. Codecision by the Parliament with the Council in determining the non-obligatory part of the budget serves as a model for the general procedure of codecision envisaged by the Draft Treaty, making Parliament and Council into a House of People and House of States on the lines of the Bundestag and Bundesrat. Even the modest European Monetary System is a step down the road towards union, at the end of which lies the citadel of economic sovereignty.
The UEF has identified five main elements that must be added to the EC as it stands today, in order to establish the European Union: codecision, majority votes, monetary union and public finance union as well as completion of the internal market. How much the Single European Act may contribute to completion of the internal market will remain a matter of controversy for some years ahead. But the Act is certainly only a small step towards European Union. To understand why the step was small may help us to know how to make the steps bigger in the future. The choice of strategy may, indeed, be helped by a more general analysis of the conditions which have enabled important steps to succeed in the past, or caused them to fail.
Conditions for Taking Important Steps.
Examination of the half-dozen significant steps mentioned above and of two or three that failed suggest that they are more likely to be taken on four conditions: if the steps offer a solution to an urgent political problem confronting governments; if powers are to be entrusted to institutions in which there is sufficient confidence; if enough political and social forces have been mobilized in support; and if participation in preparing the step is confined to states where mobilisation is adequate for taking it.
When the European Coal and Steel Community was established, an expansion of German steel production was essential if Germany was to reconstruct its economy so that Germans could earn their living and pay their way in the world. Yet France still feared a recrudescence of the German war potential. Monnet was able to persuade Schuman, followed by Adenauer, that common regulation of the coal and steel industries was the only instrument which could allow the necessary revival of German production with neither alarm about security on the part of the French nor an untenable inequality on the German side. The Schuman declaration envisaged only the High Authority as the federal institution, but the European Assembly and Court of Justice were soon added to the proposal, corresponding to the levying of taxes direct from legal persons in the Community and the application of Community law direct to them. Thus, within a few weeks of Schuman’s proposals on May 9th, 1950, provision had been made for the elements in the Community institutions which remains to this day among its principal federal features – including the principles of direct elections (ECSC Treaty, article 21.3) and budgetary codecision (article 78). The Council of Ministers, which was also added during the negotiations for the ECSC Treaty, can be converted from an intergovernmental to a federal institution if, as the Draft Treaty proposes, majority votes and codecision within time limits convert it into a second chamber such as the Bundesrat. Monnet’s political acumen, which enabled him to identify the moment when the French and German governments, followed by those of Italy and Benelux, would accept such a significant step towards federation in order to deal with the pressing economic and political problems of German coal and steel production, likewise underlay his judgement that the Six must be ready to proceed without Britain, where the balance of political forces was then quite unfavourable to any proposals for European integration. Thus Monnet identified the problem, the instrument, the institutions with federal elements, and the balance of federalist and nationalist forces accurately enough to achieve this epoch-making instalment of federation.
The Treaties of Rome benefited from the institutional pattern that had been set by the ECSC, bringing within its scope the general common market and the regulation of the atomic energy industry which responded respectively to the German need for a large industrial space and the current French concern about energy supplies. The relationship between problems, competences and institutions was articulated with great clarity by Pierre Uri in the drafting of the Spaak Report on which the Treaties were based. But with the failure to secure ratification of the Treaty for a European Defence Community in mind, Monnet realised that the soundness of the project might not itself be enough without some hard work mobilising the members of the parliaments that would have to ratify the new Treaties; and he used his Action Committee for the United States of Europe, comprising the leaders of the relevant political parties and trade unions, successfully to this end.
The need for codecision of the EEC budget arose when the Community’s revenue finally became “own resources” in the 1970s. Already by February 1965, the Second Chamber of the Netherlands States-General had resolved that the EC could not be given its own tax resources unless the European Parliament were to have a central part in the EC’s budgetary process. No taxation without representation; and since the member states’ parliaments could not control the EC’s own resources, this would have to be done by the European Parliament. Thus the pressing political problem was that the Community could not get its own resources, which the Treaty stipulated and the French wanted in order to secure the financing of the agricultural policy, without satisfying the Dutch parliament that the funds which were escaping democratic control at national level would be democratically controlled by the European Parliament. The Treaties of 1970 and 1975 provided, therefore, for codecision between Parliament and Council over the Community budget, even if the Parliament’s role is tenuous with respect to the so-called obligatory expenditure.
In taking the European Council’s decision in September 1976 to implement the Treaties’ provision for direct elections, the Heads of State and Government did not seem to be motivated by any particularly urgent political problem. Unlike most other federal instalments, this involved no transfer of instruments or competences from the member states to Community institutions. Apparently there has been less need for an acute problem to induce the governments to transfer an instrument.
The establishment of the European Monetary System (EMS) in 1979 showed how the Commission’s President, then Roy Jenkins, could assume the role, first performed by Monnet, of identifying the problem (concern about the impact of dollar instability on the mark and franc) and mobilising the political sponsors (Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing), as the basis for a significant federal instalment, which comprised not only the EMS as it stands today but also provision for Stage Two including the European Monetary Fund (which Robert Triffin aptly calls the European Federal Bank).
Among the steps that failed, the European Defence Community was the most spectacular. The proposal for a European Army certainly responded to governments’ perception of an acute problem, in the form of a Soviet military threat in the early 1950s, with the consequent need for German troops to be recruited without raising French fears of insecurity or German resentment against inequality. The EDC Treaty, signed on May 27th, 1952, stipulated the European Army as the instrument with which the six Community states would confront the problem. But the Treaty did not provide for a suitable political authority to which this Army would be responsible. It was not until the autumn of that year, after Italian federalists (in fact Spinelli) had urged De Gasperi to persuade the Community governments that a European Political Community was required, that the Ad Hoc Assembly was appointed to draft the EPC Treaty, which was thus not ready until nearly a year after the signature of the EDC Treaty. After a further year of delay, the EDC was voted down by the French National Assembly.
Perhaps the political forces which opposed the EDC in France were too strong to overcome even if the government had presented a soundly conceived project in the first place. But it seems quite likely that a French government which campaigned in 1952 for a sound political project, including the federal institutions that would be required to control integrated European armed forces, would have secured enough support in the centre to outvote the gaullist and communist opposition. The lesson must surely be that proposals to integrate a fundamental instrument of sovereignty should at the same time specify the democratic federal institutions which are to be responsible for it.
The Werner proposals of 1970 for Economic and Monetary Union teach a similar lesson. The problem to which they were addressed was the instability both of the international monetary system and of exchange rates within the Community, perceived as a threat to the common market and the common agricultural policy. The instrument was to be a common currency or permanent locking of parities. But although the control of money is the citadel of economic sovereignty, the Werner Report’s only reference to the issue of its possession was that a “centre of decision for economic policy will exercise independently, in accordance with the Community interest, a decisive influence over the general economic policy of the Community”. The setting up of the Werner Group followed a meeting of the finance ministers’ Council in February 1970, at which Karl Schiller pointed out that majority voting in the Council and a transfer of powers to the European Parliament would be required for the final stage of full economic and monetary union, entailing modification of the EEC Treaty. The institutional implications of monetary union were thereafter burked, doubtless through fear of upsetting the French, who were still slowly emerging from the spell of de Gaulle. Perhaps there was no way to win French support for the necessary institutional reform at that time. But the technique of tactful evasion certainly did not work. Explicit pressure for reform of the Community institutions to make them efficient and democratic might well have won enough support in France, perhaps to influence the government of the day, but more likely to prepare the ground for a swifter change of policy than in fact took place in the years following. The fact that even de Gaulle had won less votes than his two opponents, Mitterrand and Lecanuet, in the first round of the Presidential elections in December 1965, after threatening the Community through the empty chair in the Council, might have suggested that the French people and political class could be more responsive than French ministers to the European Union type of proposal. Of course governments’ immediate concern is normally the reactions of other governments. But their efforts towards European Union are not likely to succeed unless they also consider the scope for the development of policy in the partner countries as well as current government policies.
In so far as there is substance to the Single European Act, it is because member governments were seized of the need to complete the internal market, in order to meet American and Japanese competition in the third industrial revolution. The mass of legislation required, as demonstrated in the Commission’s White Paper on Completing the Internal Market, would clearly not be passed without extending the practice of majority voting in the Council. The twelve member governments were therefore able to agree on significant institutional changes in this field. But no such consensus developed about the need for institutional responses to challenges in other fields. Mrs Thatcher’s lack of sympathy for the whole idea of European Union was very obvious; and this alone would have made it difficult to move to European Union by amending the EC Treaties, which requires unanimity among the member states. Pressure from France and Germany might have had an effect, if there had been any sign that they were ready to proceed to European Union, if necessary without the British. But of pressure such as this there was no sign. On the contrary, the Germans seemed highly resistant to the idea of economic and monetary union, which is at the heart of the European Union project; and the French government never showed any real commitment to the principles of codecision and majority votes.
The need for a core group to be ready to proceed in advance of the rest is not, therefore, the only lesson to be learnt from the SEA. Mobilisation in France and Germany was also inadequate in 1984-85; and one reason for this is the lack, particularly significant in Germany, of any perception of an urgent need to move towards economic and monetary union, which would at the same time pose the question of institutional reform, so that the unified European economy could be properly governed.
Are there Steps to European Union?
Monetary union and codecision are the crux of European Union. Monetary union implies, of course, economic and monetary union; and public finance union is, as the concept of cohesion introduced by the Mediterranean countries into the Single European Act has shown, a corollary of free trade and, pro tanto, of monetary integration. If there is real codecision, which implies also majority voting in the Council (for unanimity leads not to codecision but to no decision), then the internal market will be completed; and codecision is a must once the point of no return has been reached in the direction of monetary union, for there is no other way to manage the integrated money and economy effectively and democratically. The only other route to Union would be through European defence integration; and although federalists should certainly think more about this field, it still seems likely to follow economic and monetary integration rather than to lead it.
The analysis of steps towards federation has shown that they are often taken to deal with an urgent political problem. Competition with Japan and the US is the problem that is currently perceived as urgent; and as the inadequacies of the Single European Act become apparent, this may generate a renewed impulse towards European Union. This impulse is not likely to suffice, however, unless combined with perceptions of acute monetary problems, which may derive from the dollar and yen exchange rates, from American interest rates, from third world debt, or from the member states’ inability to conquer unemployment and stagflation without a powerful collective effort.
The difficulty here is that, as Europe’s principal financial power, German support for economic and monetary union is indispensable, yet Germany appears to fear closer monetary association with its EC partners, seen as unreliable on inflation, more than it fears all the dangers of European monetary fragmentation combined. It was hoped, during the last two years, that political pressure from France in favour of the European Union project as a whole would overcome German monetary doubts. There was no such pressure in the event. But whether or not such pressure may be forthcoming in the future, the prospects for European Union will be improved in so far as Germans are welcoming monetary union rather than resisting it. A process of steps towards monetary union could help to attune their thinking to the idea: British participation in the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS; the removal of French and Italian exchange controls; German acceptance of bank accounts in ECUs; movement to Stage II of the EMS. The European Parliament could perform a useful role in becoming a constituent for monetary union, developing the brief outline contained in the Draft Treaty into a more structured programme for the establishment of economic and monetary union by stages. It should endeavour to work closely in this with financial circles in Germany as well as other member states.
There is certainly a general political problem arising from the Community’s institutions. Spinelli has convincingly demonstrated the sclerosis that afflicts them. But the experience of the last two years indicates that the critical mass of member governments may not take institutional reform sufficiently seriously unless the institutions’ incapacity is blocking the solution of specific problems about which they are really concerned. Most of them are concerned about completion of the internal market, hence the institutional changes in the Single European Act. As the governments discover that these changes are not enough for the purpose, they may understand the need for a more effective system of majority voting in the Council and for codecision to remove the democratic deficit. But a more powerful motive for such institutional reform would be progress towards economic and monetary union. The questions raised by Schiller in the discussions on economic and monetary union in 1970 would have to be answered by giving the institutions these federal characteristics; and this, together with agreement to complete the economic and monetary union, would provide the main substance of the European Union itself. If this essential substance was wanted by enough member states, their acceptance of the European Union as a whole should be the formal consequence.
The cases of the European Defence Community and the Werner plan have demonstrated how far-reaching functional proposals can fail if they are not accompanied by the necessary institutional framework. The European Parliament’s Draft Treaty has shown what such a framework would be like. But member states such as France and Germany may become readier to give the keys of economic sovereignty to reformed EC institutions if their confidence in those institutions, and in the European Parliament in particular, is meanwhile strengthened. Experience of the Parliament playing an influential and responsible role would help in this. While the “cooperation procedure” under the Single European Act applies to only a limited range of subjects and gives the Parliament more of a blocking than a constructive power, the UEF and the European Movement have indicated how a small group of member states could, by voting only for legislative texts which have been approved by the Parliament, give the Parliament an effective power of codecision, and how this method could be applied to all matters for which majority voting is stipulated in the EC Treaties as well as in the Single European Act – hence for the agricultural policy, commercial policy, aspects of industrial policy and the whole of budget expenditure, as well as for most of the decisions required to complete the internal market. While member governments themselves could hardly be expected to apply such a policy consistently, their parliaments could bind them to do so, as the Dutch Parliament bound its government as regards the EC’s own resources. The Italian Parliament, too, has recently shown how it can commit its government in support of the European Parliament. Such an action undertaken by the Parliaments of, say, Italy, Spain and Belgium or the Netherlands would be enough to ensure that no EC laws were made without the approval of the European Parliament; and this would substantially enhance the European Parliament’s influence and responsibility, as well as offering a model of the sort of co-operation between the European Parliament and member states’ parliaments that will be essential when the constitution of the European Union has to be ratified.
Mobilisation of Support.
This brings us to the mobilisation of support for European Union. The federalists’ campaign in favour of the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty has demonstrated the breadth and depth of support among the political and social forces, as well as among parliaments and governments in Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries in particular. This gives a very substantial base from which to launch the next round.
With the exception of the Italian government, however, the support of governments for the European Parliament and European Union project was not at all firm. One reason for this may have been that the Draft Treaty was so extensive that support for it could be couched in general terms without firm commitment to anything in particular. The Schuman declaration may offer an example to be followed in future. It laid down the basic principles for the ECSC, which the states that wished to be members would have to accept. This ensured that only the states that were agreed on those principles would be committed to support ratification of a treaty which embodied them. Spinelli’s proposal that the European Parliament compose a mandate containing the basic principles of the Draft Treaty follows that successful example.
The federalists must seek to mobilise enough support to ensure that the mandate is adopted by parliaments, governments or referenda, or a combination of these, in all the EC member states. British federalists have made clear their belief that Britain would accept such a mandate if it was clear that France, Germany, Italy and some other member states were ready to proceed, with or without British acceptance; and that if Britain does not accept, it is necessary for the future of Europeans, the British included, that the others should nevertheless go ahead. To make this prospect more credible, a study of the legal implications would be of value. If it is true that an economic and monetary union governed by democratic institutions is the centrepiece, it should be possible to show how a core of committed states could establish this ahead of the others, as they did in a much more modest way in the case of the EMS.
None of this will be possible without French and German commitment to a suitable mandate. That must be the prime objective of a mobilisation campaign. If the earlier analysis is right, the persuasion of France and Germany will be aided by step-wise progress in the influence and responsibility of the European Parliament and in the establishment of economic and monetary union. The facts of such progress might even, combined with other political changes, persuade the British to adopt a constructive attitude towards the European Union project. But although such steps can prepare the way for a constitutional act, they cannot be a substitute for it. The mandate should be the focus of the federalists’ campaign of mobilisation, which should result in the European Parliament playing its full part in the constituent process, after the European elections of June 1989.
Altiero Spinelli, Come ho tentato di diventare saggio: Vol. I, Io, Ulisse, Bologna, 1984, p. 397.
Roland Bieber, Jean-Paul Jacqué, Joseph H.H. Weiler (eds), An Ever Closer Union: A critical analysis of the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union, Commission of the EC in co-operation with the European University Institute, Luxembourg, 1985, p. 9.
Altiero Spinelli, «La Beffa del Mercato Comune» (24 September 1957), in his L’Europa non cade dal cielo, Bologna, 1960, p. 282.
Altiero Spinelli, Preface to Bieber, Jacqué, Weiler (eds), Op. cit., p.3.
Statement by Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, May 9th, 1950.
Resolution of the Federal Committee of the Union of European Federalists, meeting at Strasbourg, June 1st and 2nd, 1985.
The term is employed by Dieter Biehl to describe the fiscal and public expenditure aspects of European Union (see «A Federalist Budgetary Policy Strategy for European Union », Policy Studies, London, October 1985).
Jean Monnet’s perceptions of these political concerns are given in his Memoirs, London, 1978, pp. 418-25.
Rapport des Chefs de Delegation aux Ministres des Affaires Etrangères (The Spaak Report), Comité Intergouvernemental créé par la Conférence de Messine, Brussels, April 21st, 1956.
Op. cit., p. 423.
See Miriam Camps, European Unification in the Sixties: From the Veto to the Crisis, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1966, p. 59.
The Italian Presidency was however confronted by evidence of public demand for the elections, in the form of a demonstration of 5,000 federalists – foreshadowing the much greater demonstration organised by the Movimento Federalista Europeo when the European Council met in Milan in June 1985. There is also evidence that President Giscard d’Estaing saw this as a way to fulfil a pledge to take some European initiatives (see J. Monnet, Op. cit., pp. 512-3).
In The Federalist, XXVII (1985), pp. 37 ff.
See Altiero Spinelli, «The Growth of the European Movement since World War II », in C. Grove Haines (ed.), European Integration, Baltimore, 1957, pp. 58-60; also his The Eurocrats, Baltimore, 1966, p. 192.
Report to the Council and the Commission on the realisation by stages of economic and monetary union in the Community (The Werner Report), Supplement to Bulletin 11-1970 of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 8 October 1970, p. 12.
See Loukas Tsoukalis, The Politics and Economics of European Monetary Integration, London, 1977, pp. 88-9.
See “Steps to Make the ECU a Pillar of the New International Monetary Order”, paper drafted by Alfonso Jozzo and presented by the Economic Commission of the Union of European Federalists to the Federal Committee of the UEF on 1-2 June 1985; see also resolution on the ECU and EMS, passed by the Federal Committee at that meeting.
Altiero Spinelli, Towards European Union, Sixth Jean Monnet Lecture, Florence, European University Institute, 1983.
Resolution of UEF Bureau, January 11th, 1986, and of European Movement Executive Committee, January 18th, 1986.
Altiero Spinelli, Working Document, Committee on Institutional Affairs, European Parliament, January 24th, 1986.
See Fernand Herman, Working Document, Committee on Institutional Affairs, European Parliament, February 18th, 1986.