Year XXVIII, 1986, Number 1, Page 12
European Union: a Character in Search of an Author*
I have deliberately chosen a provocative title for the matters I wish to discuss, for the major task facing us in the current phase of European construction is, I believe, giving life to the concept of Union, whose presence has been felt for some time. It should be cast in the role it wishes to play rather than the role each of us would like it to play.
The task, with all the effort it requires, is made even more difficult by the fact that twelve different actors are now playing the same character. Understandably, specific national realities entail differences of emphasis and tone which it would be too simplistic to ignore. Less understandable, however, would be a state of affairs in which excessive sensitivity for these specific national realities ended up by prevailing over the prospect of a Europe in which all Europe’s peoples can find a common perspective without losing their identity.
In an essay regarding the American constitutional model and the various attempts made at European unity, Altiero Spinelli, whose faith in federalism needs no demonstration, mentions the opinion of an English economist, Josiah Tucker, who, writing in 1786 on the North-American experience, argued that “Regarding the future greatness of America and the idea that it can one day become a powerful empire under a single head… this is one of the maddest and most visionary follies that have ever been dreamt up by novelists…”! A judgment which was rash, to say the least, and which, of course, was proved wrong by history. The American States, which Tucker condemned to being “disunited till the end of time”, have in fact lived up to the role that history has given them. Even we in Europe need to heed their example. The truth of the matter is, however, that the Congress, to which the 13 ex-British colonies belonged, resorted to the rule of unanimity in all its decisions until 1787, the year when Washington proclaimed the Constitution.
I do not wish to go into an assessment of what can be achieved by the federalist approach or by what Spinelli defines as the functional approach i.e. based on the creation, bit by bit, of supranational bodies. Indeed, the way European integration has developed since the Treaty of Rome has been such as to create a synthesis of both approaches which, while perhaps imperfect, is nevertheless fairly effective. So that today, in the wake of the European Parliament’s proposals presented in the Draft Treaty for European Union, the Dooge Committee’s report and so as to fulfil the decisions adopted by the European Council in Milan, we are in a position to propose the creation of the European Union in a concrete way.
But as I was saying, the character which needs to be played stands before us. Indeed, it has been before us for some time, since its first incarnation goes back to the preamble of the Treaty of Rome, where the six founder members’ determination “to lay the foundations of an increasingly tighter union between the European peoples” was established.
We all know — and often through bitter experience — from what theatre of rubble and sorrow that commitment arose. We need only go back in our memories to the years that have passed since the end of the Second World War to appreciate the benefits that the process of integration has brought to Europe. And I am not just speaking about material benefits, measurable, that is, in terms of economic well-being and social stability, however significant they may have been and will be in the future.
Since history is not made of hypotheses, I cannot tell whether without the drive towards integration that has been the guiding light of governments and peoples in Europe, our portion of the Continent would have managed to abandon the traditional rivalry, that has characterised it in the recent past, and which, all too often, ended up in conflict. I only know that there is absolute incompatibility between integration and conflict and that the affirmation of the former in the European field has led to the irreversible decline of the latter. Nor am I in a position to know whether the European nations, taken individually, would have managed, in such a short time, to acquire the prestige that has been achieved in the world by the European Community or to raise the hopes and expectations that many other countries now place in the European Community.
If I may be allowed to depart momentarily from my basic theme, we must not forget the role that Italy played in the years after the Second World War in forging the idea of Europe as we understand it today. It was to Alcide De Gasperi’s great credit that he led our country into the European adventure. In other words, he must take the credit for realising that the pooling of coal and steel resources, which put an end to the centuries-old antagonism between France and Germany, was also a unique historical opportunity for achieving wide-scale integration of continental proportions rather than integration restricted merely to two countries.
Precisely for this reason, we, the heirs of De Gasperi, have an enormous responsibility. We must prevent others from distorting the original idea of Europe construed as a common fatherland and as a choice of civilisation. There is no partisan pride in my last comment. Europe is not the only area of civilisation in the world. It is, however, a basic and unrenounceable civilisation, because, among other things, it has become enriched over the centuries with the spiritual and cultural contributions of other civilisations, with which Europe has never shirked contact, but which it has encouraged and eagerly sought. A choice of civilisation which, precisely because it is a choice of civilisation, cannot be reversed. It is a decision which, in the first place, involves a way of living and thinking, one which, regardless of all the forms it may take, necessarily entails an overall way of living. The corollary is that it will certainly not be through fanciful projects of a “variable geometry” Europe that we can expect to resolve requirements whose solution demands the contribution of all.
I would like to make another remark which stems from a recent episode. Last week, the Second Conference between the European Community Members and the Central American countries was held in Luxembourg. It was a meeting which had been planned for a long time and which we Italians had been unable to hold during our six months’ Presidency of the European Community, assailed as we were by the problems of the third enlargement of the Community, even though we were very keen that this meeting should go ahead. We were encouraged to call this meeting by the recollection of the enormous favour with which our Central American partners greeted last year’s meeting at San José in Costa Rica.
What struck me above all last week in Luxembourg was what I would call the unitary effect that the prospect of the meeting with the Community had on the positions of our Central American friends. There is no mystery about the fact that in that tormented region it is not easy to overcome the tensions, which essentially derive from internal economic and social imbalance, but which international conditioning may certainly have made more serious. We should not be surprised by the fact that, on the very eve of the Luxembourg Conference, very deep divisions remained among our Central American partners regarding various aspects of their relationships.
Certainly, no miracle was achieved in the course of the Conference, but the fact remains that, in Luxembourg, the Central American countries and the Contadora Group countries managed to find a basis for agreement with each other which made the signing of an Agreement on Economic Co-operation and the Final Act possible. These are important agreements since they provide for the institutionalisation of political consultation at ministerial level in the European Community.
Other countries, therefore, look at their relationship with Europeans as being a means by which their internal ties can be strengthened and I wonder how much the fact that these countries have a partner whom they consider authoritative contributes to this positive development — a partner capable of reducing the tensions in various parts of the world, assuming, of course, it desires to do so.
I gave an example just a moment ago — though there are many others — about what is commonly but effectively called the “demand for Europe”. This is a matter whose strength we ourselves, perhaps, underrate but which exists and which requires an answer, and which, together with the demand that arises within our own peoples, is a permanent spur encouraging us to advance bravely and boldly down the road to Union. Nothing is more sterile than the attitude of those who, content with the success obtained, do not know how to come to terms with — or may even not want to come to terms with — the changes that need to be made, those who continue to consider them useless and indeed pernicious, those who do not realise that, more often than not, remaining entrenched on certain positions does nothing to help preserve or strengthen them. Rather it brings about regression which it is difficult to recover from. In the case of Europe, these changes only go in one direction, namely the completion of the process of political and economic integration.
The European Community is not a monad or isolated structure, cut off from the influences of the surrounding world, of which, indeed, it is part. It is not difficult to appreciate — and it should not be difficult to draw the appropriate conclusions from this observation — that the pressures coming from outside the Community all favour the strengthening of unity. Moreover, this requirement is manifested in a concrete way. We need only recall the contribution made by European countries, in strict collaboration with the American allies, to preparing the Geneva Summit with assessments and proposals designed to encourage dialogue and the restoration of trust between the two Superpowers — though there is still a need in this context to take the more specifically European interests into due account.
Certainly, the pressure that Europe can exercise, considering in particular its economic size, is by no means small. But it could be much greater if Europe further strengthened the single nature of its external image by consolidating the mechanisms for European Political Co-operation within the European Union. These mechanisms must be weaned away from the initial approach based on inter-governmental collaboration which does not guarantee any unity of behaviour among the individual Member States, and must be extended to political and economic aspects of security.
In the light of the forthcoming European Council meeting, it is right to dot one’s “i”s and cross one’s “t”s, because it is not possible just to discuss and, maybe, approve a Treaty which, in some way, codifies the mechanism of European Political Cooperation and which is pompously defined as a Treaty on the Union, without facing the main problem of the future of the Community in all its aspects. Otherwise, we would risk rewarding inter-governmental co-operation at the expense of integration. In any case, the Italian government, backed up by Parliament, could not accept such a reductive approach in Luxembourg, which it rejected so firmly in Milan.
The complexity of the problems we are facing in today’s society and which we will have to face up to even more in tomorrow’s society, moreover, requires a commitment in terms of both human and material resources, which individual European countries would have difficulty in facing by themselves. The position in the field of technological research and development is emblematic in this respect.
There is a striking difference between the expenditure on research in the United States and Japan and all the European countries put together. By themselves, the United States and Japan cover two thirds of all research in the Western world. Only three European countries (West Germany, the United Kingdom and France) spend enough to be classified as “big spenders” under OECD criteria.
Expenditure on research by big American companies, such as General Motors, Ford and IBM, exceeds by no small margin that of a medium-sized European country. I am not going to give specific examples so as not to run the risk of ranking medium sized European countries, and in any case the OECD data are available to all.
Certainly, the effectiveness of a research policy cannot be assessed by considering only the amount of expenditure. A lot depends on the quality of human resources — which is certainly not lacking in Europe — and on organisation, which can always be improved. But one thing is certain: the growth in knowledge and the development of technologies are mostly determined by the number of resources used. It is not possible, that is, to step into certain sectors of technological research without resources exceeding a minimum threshold, particularly where public sector expenditure is concerned since it has to be directed towards many, diversified objectives, in contrast to large private companies who can concentrate their resources on well-defined specific projects.
We should not be surprised, then, by the pressure the scientific community is applying (and has been applying for a long time) about the significance of co-ordinated policy and greater European co-operation in technology. In this respect, I would like to make it very clear that, within Europe, the differences remain enormous. Great, Britain, France and West Germany alone cover 80% of all research in Community countries.
I believe there is a very urgent need to avoid the very great risk that certain countries will decide to collaborate and exclude others. I do not say this because I fear that Italy could be excluded. Our tradition in the scientific field, the solidity of our structures, the quality of our researchers and technicians are such that we may consider ourselves reasonably safe from any attempt at discrimination. Moreover, our loyalty to the Community method is beyond doubt, in this and in other sectors.
I say this because I am convinced that only collaboration extended to other countries, however limited numerically in their contribution, will bring about any cohesion among the Community countries and achieve a real leap forward in quality with beneficial effects for the entire European economy and for employment. It is in this sense that we consider the Eureka programme as being propedeutic for, but not an alternative to, the European technological Community.
The development of common policies, among which, as I said, research acquires great significance, cannot go ahead unless we manage at the same time to create a framework which encourages it. There are various aspects to this problem, most significant of which are the completion of the internal market, the convergence of economies, the reinforcement of the EMS and the reform of existing institutions.
I cannot, in such a short space, illustrate and comment upon all the various issues currently being examined by the Diplomatic Conference and which will be submitted to the Heads of State and Government in Luxembourg. My concern here is to stress various aspects which I consider to be of significance. We all know that the construction of an effectively integrated single market is by no means easy, regardless of the greater or lesser flexibility of the mechanisms used.
Physical, technical and fiscal problems of no small import stand in the way as does the failure to achieve any progress in the convergence of economies. It goes without saying that the criteria laid down in the Treaty of Rome for the creation of the Customs Union cannot be applied to the process of completing the Economic Union. In this case, a transitory period had to be established, certain stages in this period had to be defined and internal levies gradually reduced. At the same time a common external tariff had to be introduced. In other words, there were very precise numerical reference points in the implementation of the Customs Union, namely the size of the levies existing in each country.
But there must also be a method of establishing a number of principles to be followed also in the gradual creation of an economic union! I will try to illustrate a few. While it is logical to harmonize legislations towards the top, i.e. in line with the levels achieved by the most advanced countries, we must safeguard the principle of free circulation and avoid those conditions which tend to push the economies of weaker countries “out of the market”. But even without reaching this extreme hypothesis which, however, cannot be considered as purely academic, it seems to me to be essential to recognise that the measures needed to implement the domestic market must go hand in hand with the progressive attenuation of the disequilibria existing in the various regions of the Community. It is essential, in other words, to have a social impetus, which needs to be achieved in particular by means of a more consistent role of the Special Funds earmarked for less favoured areas.
Another important aspect of the process of integration is, as I observed a little before, currency, regarding which I would like to be allowed to sidetrack for a moment. The current international monetary system which arose from the ashes of Bretton Woods is now showing great weakness. The distortions in the exchange rates of various currencies, whose value is increasingly removed from the reality of economic indicators, which they ought instead to reflect, is making it increasingly difficult to achieve efficient allocation of resources and is also causing the resurgence of very dangerous protectionist trends.
The further expansion and strengthening of a homogeneous area, such as the European Community around the ECU, taken to be a real currency and not just a unit of account, would certainly contribute to greater stability, whose beneficial effects would certainly not be limited to the Community, but would be extended to the entire international monetary system.
Europe, which is an important component in a new international system and which will be even more so if it manages to progress on the road to the EMS, must play its part. But here we must be very careful. It is not conceivable that the free circulation of capital can be achieved without at the same time laying the bases for greater stability in exchange rates. Nor is it conceivable that the free circulation of goods and services is a real achievement if it leaves each country the possibility of running its economic and financial policy without bearing in mind the existence of an integrated market.
Here we come up against another of the many sectors where politicians have the task and responsibility of adopting courageous and far-sighted decisions, as the German leaders did when they decided to set up the EMS in 1978 despite the opposition of the Bundesbank.
Finally, I would like to dwell on institutional issues and, in particular, on the problem of strengthening the European Parliament’s powers. For six years now, the members of the European Parliament have been elected by direct universal suffrage. Now, without wishing to go any further into the significance of this, it should be noted that nobody can or should be surprised that direct elections to the European Parliament have speeded up the debate on the institutional balance within the Community and the ways to achieve the European Union.
Whether we are aware of it or not, the direct election of members to the European Parliament has created a powerful element of “disequilibrium” in the consolidated institutional settings, which we cannot avoid taking into account, even if we wished to. I must confess, in this respect, that the rationale behind the various forms of hostility to giving the European Parliament greater powers and, above all, a more incisive role in the decision-making process often escapes me. I find this attitude difficult to understand, as it were, on a functional plane, inasmuch as it seems to me to be sufficiently clear that strengthening the powers of the European Parliament is not a question of removing the power of national Parliaments. Rather it is a question of achieving a much more balanced division of powers which under the existing treaties already belong to the Community’s institutions. I often find it difficult to get this idea across to some of my partners in the Community.
The question of the role of the European Parliament does not, however, end with assessments of procedure, as is apparently believed by many who fear that a more incisive intervention in legislative activity will lead to delays and strains in a process which ought to be speeded up. The problem, it seems to me, lies elsewhere. The European Parliament is the only institution of the European Community which derives its legitimacy from a representation directly endowed to its members at a Community rather than a national level. Only through the European Parliament can people thus gain a concrete feeling of participating in the Community’s life. In this sense, it is the true psychological base and the true motor of integration of European peoples rather than European structures.
It is somewhat strange, in this respect, that in many multilateral institutions, and most markedly in the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the accent is rightly placed by western delegations on the lack of representativeness of certain institutions of Eastern Europe. This is sacrosanct. But it is not legitimate that, in practice, people turn a blind eye or, still worse, do all they can to prevent the European Parliament, elected by universal and direct suffrage, from going beyond the exercise of its purely consultative powers. Representation may be formal in nature when referred to a constitutional monarchy but it must be substantial when it comes to an Assembly whose” members are elected directly by the people.
As happens with majority voting in the Council’s decisions, when we uphold the role of the European Parliament we are upholding a principle rather than an instrument.
In the Milan European Council we managed to trace the path to be followed, encouraged by the work of all those who preceded us in the attempt to shape the European Union and particularly by the work of the European Parliament. In Milan both sides — the majority who wanted a Diplomatic Conference to amend the treaties and the minority which is also taking part in this Conference in a spirit certainly not based on any preconceived opposition — recognized that speaking about a Treaty on European Political Co-operation means facing the issue of the systematic formulation and implementation of a common foreign policy extended to all aspects of security.
We all knew that speaking about the completion of the domestic market and the development of new policies entailed the need to improve the Council’s decision-making process, the need, in other words, to the respect of the principle of majority vote in the decision-making process and indeed its extension to new fields. We also recognised that for integration to be achieved it was necessary to restore the Commission’s proposing, executive and management role, that the free circulation of people, goods, services and capital (the realisation of the four freedoms) was not conceivable without a precise commitment in the monetary field or without improved cohesion among the various regions of the Community. Finally, we also knew that a basic issue in the exercise of the Heads of State and Governments’ duties was reinforcing the European Parliament’s powers and giving the Strasbourg Assembly effective powers of co-decision.
The Diplomatic Conference has so far worked on this package of measures. My overall impression is that, in the preparatory work for the European Council, quite a number of countries have taken an attitude inspired more by a horror vacui or rather by a horror novi than by any enthusiasm which it would be legitimate to expect from those who are aware that they are involved in a commitment of historical dimensions.
I hope that the meetings over the next few days, the last of which will take place precisely on the eve of the European Council, will finally give conclusive vigour to an exercise which still today is making very slow progress. These meetings have, in fact, been described as a Conclave. In reality, true Conclaves, the ones electing the Pope, usually last longer, despite the help of the Holy Ghost. The forthcoming ones will, however, certainly be important and, let’s hope, decisive meetings. Because — and it is well to be aware of this — in Luxembourg various reforms need to be decided. In Milan we foresaw these reforms all of which contribute to “making” the European Union.
I can understand the hesitations when facing anything that is new, since this is only human. I believe, moreover, than a man of action like Julius Caesar must have had his moment of hesitation on the banks of the Rubicon. Nobody faces the fateful hic Rhodus, hic salta lightly. It has to be remembered that drawing up the Treaty of Rome was an exercise of prudence and patience. A few words — such as supranationality and High Authority — were carefully avoided. Only at the last moment, during the last re-reading of the text of the Treaty, was it decided to use the word “Community”.
So that I think history repeats itself, when, as then, it is a question of naming and when we are afraid to use the word “Union” instead of the word “Community”. But experience teaches us that very often courage prevails over prudence and that prudence is not always synonymous with far-sightedness.
We cannot certainly exclude the possibility that the practical application of general principles may take place, gradually and by stages, within a fixed period. But this, of course, can only happen provided that there is no margin for ambiguity in the European Council in Luxembourg regarding the acceptance of the principles or regarding the establishment of objectives and the adoption of the measures needed to achieve these objectives. The starting point must, of course, respect the minimum level beyond which the exercise would lose credibility and substance, let alone effectiveness.
We believe that this minimum level can only be safeguarded if we show in Luxembourg that we are able to achieve the following. Firstly, we will have to take on concrete commitments regarding the adoption of institutional measures (the most important of which are majority voting and the strengthening of the Commission’s role), necessary for the complete achievement, by 1992, of the Internal Market (whose domain will have to be defined more clearly) and the new policies. Secondly, we will have to fix a precise timetable for bringing the European Parliament into legislative activity, the final goal in the process being, of course, full co-decision. Thirdly, we need to give greater cogency to the objective of cohesion among the Community’s regions, with the idea of giving a social dimension to the solution of economic problems. Fourthly, we need to insert a reference in the Treaty to the need to strengthen the EMS. Finally, we need to institutionalise political co-operation.
We also believe that the European Parliament must be properly consulted over the definition of all the measures in this package, assuming they are adopted by the Conference and approved by the European Council, before they are translated in articles of a Treaty to be submitted to the national Parliaments’ ratification.
In no case, finally, can we accept that the result of the Conference should consist merely in indications of formulae or institutional architecture which, however suggestive, are nevertheless devoid of concrete contents. Nor can we agree that any progress on one or more specific questions — and I am thinking in particular of political co-operation — will serve to hide failures in all other areas.
Jean Monnet wrote in his memoirs: “We must establish stages, not deadlines, we must keep going in one direction, but we must not be tied to compulsory appointments. This month or that month has nothing fateful about it and I would not be over-formal about a date. I am certain, however, that the progress of the seasons will necessarily lead us towards greater unity, which, if it is not the unity we have managed to organise, will be the one we will have to suffer”.
The essential fact is that the commitment by all to the construction of Europe should not suffer delays or a lowering of tone. The results achieved so far have not arisen from spontaneous germination, as flowers in a spring field. They were the fruit of clear political will. Of the same political will that made De Gasperi state: “We speak, we write, we insist, we do not leave a second for breathing: let Europe remain the argument of the day”.
The results of a recent opinion poll struck me very much. 76 out of every 100 Europeans who expressed an opinion on the European Union said they were in favour. We cannot underestimate people’s opinion for too long. Nor, novel Gattopardians, can we continue to propose changing everything in order that everything remains as before. If the European Union is unable to find actors capable of interpreting it, it could always find its Author in the peoples of Europe who, even more clearly than ever before, will demand its birth and ask us to justify our hesitations.
*This is the text of the Eighth Jean Monnet Conference, given on November 23rd, 1985 by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Istituto Universitario Europeo di Firenze.