Year XXVIII, 1986, Number 1, Page 24

  

 

Europe on the Threshold of Union*
 
MARIO ALBERTINI
 
 
1. - I would like to begin by observing that the political and cultural debate on the unification of Europe are both inadequate as is the discussion on how to further it. There are very few people who actually deal with this subject and, among those who do, the Europessismists prevail, though fortunately events have always proved them wrong. European unity, which time and again has been given up for dead is still alive and like all healthy bodies creates problems. It depends on human will. In other words, it is up to us, the citizens, and the political class to ensure that these are growth problems. So far, despite long periods of uncertainty and inevitable mistakes, we have managed to cope.
The inadequacy of the debate entails a serious risk, in the most serious sense of the term: the risk of not knowing what stage we have reached, and what needs to be done to go forward. At the beginning, and even before the real beginning, of the process of unification there was ample political debate on the political nature of the objective and the method to be followed to implement it. True, there were many unknown things, first and foremost the exceptional nature of the task. Historically speaking, there is nothing so difficult as the unification of well constituted, well-characterized states with great traditions. One’s thinking turns immediately to Classical Greece which, despite various confederal experiences, never managed to achieve unity and was overwhelmed, a fate which also befell Italy at the end of the 15th Century. But while it proved difficult – and we still bear the consequences today – to establish the effective historical meaning of undertaking unity, it was nevertheless possible to indicate the road to be followed quite clearly. Two roads were, in fact, suggested: functionalism, proposed by various scholars, who stressed the need to create European “functional areas” – starting with those areas where European interests were most clearly perceivable – but which dodged the problem of power; and constitutionalism, suggested by federalist groups which were formed during the Resistance, primarily by Altiero Spinelli, who still today courageously fights for this position which he reached in Ventotene, when he studied the works of Luigi Einaudi, and such British writers as Lionel Robbins and Lord Lothian. And it is not true, as many people think, that functionalism prevailed at that time.
What in fact prevailed was the idea of exploiting the possibilities of functionalism to achieve constitutionalism. The ECSC, the European Coal and Steel Community, and the solemn declaration made by Schuman on May 9th, 1950, inspired by Jean Monnet, reflect this strategy transparently. In itself the ECSC was a typically functional idea: a European pool, as it was called at the time, of interests in a major yet restricted field. But Schuman’s statement on May 9th made it explicitly clear that the ECSC was designed to establish “les premières assises concrètes de la fédération européenne, indispensables à la préservation de la paix”. Moreover, the role of institutions in Monnet’s conception is well-known.
It is also right to recall De Gasperi’s efforts, during the struggle for the European Defence Community, to ensure the primacy of constitutionalism, as a policy to which functional processes should be subordinated. Initially, the EDC was conceived precisely from a functionalist standpoint which, however, in this case became madness. People went so far as to think of putting the armies together just like coal and steel had been put together. The idea was to create a European army with no state and no fatherland. De Gasperi refused to accept such an aberrant plan and on December 11th, 1951, in the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Conference for the European Army, also attended by Adenauer and Schuman, De Gasperi, who had taken on the Foreign Affairs portfolio, persuaded the others that the creation of the European army should be accompanied by the creation of the European Political Community. Subsequently, he also managed to get an agreement that the text of the political Community should be drawn up by a political body which, by its very nature, had a constitutional capacity: the ad hoc Assembly, as it was called, i.e. the enlarged Parliamentary assembly of the ECSC.
It is not my task here to illustrate the question of the EDC or the Political Community. Rather, I would like to recall two things. The first is that bad luck played a decisive role in the collapse of the EDC. France, which proposed the EDC on October 24th, 1950, rejected it with a Parliamentary vote promoted by Mendes-France on August 30th, 1954, when Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Holland had already ratified the treaty and Italy was, in its turn, completing the ratification process. The strange fact is that up until the end of 1953 there had been a majority in favour of ratification in the Palais Bourbon. Equally singular is the fact that, if Stalin had not died in 1953 and if unfounded hopes had not been placed in the effects of his death, then this majority might well have survived. Although there are few Europeans who realize it, precisely because of the paltry debate on Europe, which never balances the course of events with that of ideas, what all this means is simply that with better luck and assuming De Gasperi’s, Adenauer’s and Schuman’s virtù had remained the same, an open though not fully comprehensive European federation would have been in existence for some thirty years. The second thing to remember is that it is not true, as is often suggested, that the struggle for the EDC was a ‘pie in the sky’ and that the objective was too ambitious. It was a question of choosing between the reconstruction of the German army and the construction of a European army. History had raised the problem and a choice had to be made. Moreover, those who express these negative opinions about the struggle for the EDC should ask themselves whether, without this struggle, which lasted for four years, and without the feeling that in some way after losing the battle something had to be recovered, the political will which led to the Rome treaties and the Common Market would ever have arisen.
2. - With the EDC, functionalism had become constitutionalism in one swoop. With the fall of the EDC, the time span once more became very long. These now distant facts need to be recalled because they allow us to see the design underpinning the very logic of European unification, the laws governing its development, and hence the rules to be applied to ensure this development continues. We cannot understand this highly significant aspect of the historical period in which we live until we realise that European unification is a process of integration (ascertainable with a functional criterion), which is strictly linked to a process of constructing institutions which, from time to time, become necessary (ascertainable with the constitutional criterion). Without each other, both parts of the process are either blind or empty. Nor must we forget that the degree of integration depends on the degree of construction. In the European case, data on which subsequent action is based are processed in a hurry, so rapidly that the terms “construction of Europe”, “European integration” and “European unification” are used as synonyms. But this clouds the various parts of the process which consists in a unification (overall term) which depends on a construction (gradual) and the corresponding integration (also gradual).
We tend nowadays to speak rather, on the one hand, of “small steps” and, on the other, of a “big jump” or “difference in quality”. But these terms mean something only when they are related to the structural characteristics of the unification of Europe. Only in this way is it possible to assess the real need for a “big jump” when such a need becomes apparent, i.e. when the degree of construction prevents any further integration and causes the process of unification to stagnate and prevents new political and social energies from being brought into play at a European level. Moreover, only in this way are “small steps” of any use precisely because we know the direction in which they must go. In all other cases, the “small steps” would proceed in a disorderly way towards chaos, a means of killing off unification without even realising it.
3. - These theoretical considerations are essential. Only with this guide worked out, albeit roughly, from the very beginning of the unification process, is it possible to speak of prospects and problems and establish exactly where we are on the map. Indeed, if we use it, we will very quickly see that integration has been stagnant for some years precisely because the degree of construction (the EEC, with its legislative and executive monopoly of the Council of Ministers, and its consequence, the right to veto) does not make it possible to move ahead any more. The Common Market has not become and is not becoming Europe’s domestic market. The frontiers are not yet open. Once again we have entered a phase of unification in which a “big jump in quality”, i.e. a much higher degree of construction, is needed to continue the march forward and effectively orientate the small steps and daily management of integration towards development once more.
The terms of the problem are clear. Taken the matter to the absurd, we can put forward proof demonstrating where we are quite clearly. Let us suppose that the degree of construction of Europe remains as it is at present, and then let us try to see what Europe would be like in the nineties, which is easily done. Since the same cause – the Council of Ministers’ monopoly over decisions – always produces the same effects, we can foresee that European agricultural policy, made even more difficult by the presence of twelve members, will continue to run apart and no other common policy will be achieved.
There can be no doubt about this. As I have said, and as I prefer to repeat, the same cause produces the same effects. The Community’s current decision-making mechanism manages with increasing difficulty to achieve an increasingly worse agricultural policy and since 1970 right up to the present time it has never been possible to develop any other common policies, which nevertheless, as everybody knows and says, would be increasingly necessary both in the social sector, in particular as regards employment, in the industrial and monetary sectors, in high technology and research and so on. It is for this reason that since 1970 there has been no substantial progress towards the transformation of the common market into an internal market. The frontiers are, as I have said, the worst example of this.
The few good things in the seventies were done, in a more or less marked way, outside the institutions, which implies a weakening or even an elimination of their effectiveness as steps in construction and integration. We can therefore have no doubts about the situation Europe in which would find itself in the nineties if the institutions remained what they are today. It is all very well to say that the possibilities contained in the Treaties of Rome have not yet been completely exploited and that it is thus a question of deciding how to exploit them. The fact is that those who support this idea overlook the fact the institutions never correspond perfectly to the wording used to describe them in the treaties which establish them but, in all imaginable cases, they only correspond to the way they work in practice.
If some possibilities that exist on paper in the texts have never been exploited in the course of these thirty years, this means simply that they were illusory. Moreover, it is not hard to understand why this was so. The problem, as we have seen and as everybody knows, lies in the development of common policies. But with common policies we come back to a terrain where nothing is easy since we are faced with the need to take decisions that require a state-like political power. How, in the modern world, can we take decisions affecting the general interest without a real government?
The presumption that common policies can be developed in the social, industrial, technological, monetary and other fields without a democratic executive responsible to parliament, or without a presidential government, but with a Council of national ministers of the current type, i.e. a monster with twelve heads which should at the same time both legislate and govern, is completely nonsensical. Would there be “common” policies in the USA if the American decisions were entrusted to an intergovernmental body made up of the representatives of the states? Would there be common policies in Italy if instead of the national government we only had a permanent conference of regional presidents? When we speak of the need to abolish the right of veto within the Community’s Council of Ministers we are in fact referring to this problem without, however, identifying it and without clarifying it.
The right of veto has been imposed because there is no institutional system capable of developing autonomous European political life and basing European decisions on a secure foundation. And it is as sure as eggs are eggs that the right to veto will remain until European decisions can be taken in a democratic way, in the only framework that can safeguard them, i.e. a constitutional framework. In the current state of affairs, with the substantial power of decision exclusively in the hands of the Council of Ministers (i.e. national governments), a majority vote is synonymous with the risk of decisions being based on the interest of a few states to the detriment of others. The ridiculous wine or Spanish fishing boat wars, and so on, are only the most glamorous consequence – but certainly not the most significant – of the limits of this decision-making mechanism, which cannot take decisions based on the will and on the interests of all, and hence perpetually wavers between hegemony and immobilism.
4. - All those who have direct knowledge of the problem know how matters stand, even though they often prefer not to say so. And if this truth does not stand out in the information system, this is simply because the European debate is, as we should not tire of saying, very feeble and highly inadequate. But events, which are less malleable than words, have recorded this truth. Governments recognised the problem in 1972, when they solemnly declared their intention to construct the European Union by 1980. They have de facto come to realise and made others realise that the Community as it is and was is no longer enough to guarantee that the process of unification will continue. In terms of “integration” the facts have been clear since then. They even suggested an ad hoc denomination giving rise to a distinction between “negative integration” and “positive integration”. “Negative integration” indicates the cycle which has ended, relating, in particular, to the abolition of classical forms of protectionism, duties and quantitative restrictions (“negative” because it required no active policies). “Positive integration” stresses the need for the development of active policies (the common policies) to transform the Common Market into a domestic market, a requirement which since then has been one of the guiding threads in the European debate. In terms of “construction”, this naturally required, as I have already stated, a decisive reinforcement of the Community’s capacity for action. The governments tried to pursue this objective, without managing to do so, with the proposal of the Union which in any case, however vague it may have been, could only mean something more, or something more political, than what already existed.
The analysis to be carried out today does not thus relate to the need for a Union, which is amply demonstrated and recognised, but rather to the fact that, despite the governments’ orientations, and particularly those of the founding governments, no concrete results have emerged from the various attempts made, not even from the most significant of these, such as the mission entrusted on December 10th, 1974 to the then Belgian Prime Minister, Leo Tindemans, to draw up a report on the European Union after consulting “the representative milieux of public opinion”.
This was inevitable. The governments in the seventies, badly advised, followed the wrong path. And they did not even pause to consider the fact that the governments in the first half of the fifties, when faced with the same problem, chose the right path. Although it may at first sight appear strange, in actual fact this is not the first time that the unitary process has placed the problem of the Union on the agenda. It is just as necessary now to achieve the goal of a truly united market, as it was when the idea of creating the European army was placed on the agenda. Now the study of this precedent – I have mentioned that the task of drawing up the Charter of the political Community was entrusted to the European Parliamentary Assembly – makes it possible to establish that the Union (or political Community, or political-institutional unity, or economic and monetary Union, all the terms that highlight various aspects of the same thing) can be achieved only if the two basic factors of unification do their utmost. These factors are the national governments (the existing sovereignty) and the European democratic representation (the sovereignty to be established).
If we consider this issue only for a second, the matter becomes immediately clear. In actual fact, it is not realistic to think that the text which defines the Union – a constitutional text – may be drawn up by some other active participant who is not a political body qualified by direct democratic investiture. This conception is to be found embryonically in the Treaties of Rome themselves, under Art. 138 paragraph 3 of the EEC treaty which relates to the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage. It is worth recalling what the actual wording is: “The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States. The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements”.
Nobody can doubt the reasonableness of this conception. But if it is considered necessary to entrust the European Parliament with an electoral plan, how can the redistribution of power within the Community, a much more difficult project, be entrusted to people who are not selected by a European political struggle and not invested by a popular European vote? In actual fact since 1972 no progress has been made on the road to Union because, once the European Parliament was ignored, it was not even possible to draw up a good plan for the Union, i.e. a project which deserved to be taken into serious consideration by the national governments, and which could be submitted to the national parliaments.
The fact is that in this undertaking governments must, in a certain sense, transcend themselves. Since they are the tutors of national sovereignty, they cannot fail to propose its defence as a supreme task – and the same goes for officials and, in particular, for diplomats. There is – and how could it be otherwise – a kind of force of habit implicit in their job. All data, events, projects are always considered from a single viewpoint: the national one. It might be rightly objected that the Union, or rather what the term promises (in the formation of the USA the passage from a confederation to a federation was called: the more perfect Union), is now of supreme interest to the nations. But this is true as a concept not as a fact.
The Union cannot be created in a day. Day by day we need to govern the states i.e. adapt feelings, thinking and will to national praxis. Indeed, from the concrete point of view of the protection of interests, the Union is effective only when it is achieved, i.e. when it begins to safeguard the interests on a European level previously entrusted to the states (only at that stage does it link up with everybody’s daily affairs). This means that its political effectiveness becomes apparent only at the end, and not at the beginning of the action with which it is pursued. And at the beginning uncertainty will reign. Nobody knows whether it will succeed, i.e. whether all governments, or at least a sufficient number of governments, will agree to create a new sovereignty, a European sovereignty. And what makes the situation even worse is the fact that until then, although the hope and the goal of Europe is at stake, nobody, and in particular no politician and no official, can be free from his national responsibilities.
For these reasons, it is unthinkable that the governments, assisted by diplomats and national officials, can draw up a good European project. Under this method, what they will draw up can merely be – by the very force of facts – an expression of the initial moment with its uncertainty and wariness – and not the final moment with its certainty. Only a body whose raison d’être is European can rise to this standpoint. Moreover, the facts speak for themselves. In all the years which have passed since 1972 the governments have not been able to demonstrate what is meant by “Union”: something which relates only to foreign policy? or also an internal market and the currency? or the reform of institutions? or European power?
These remarks not only highlight the radical imperfection of the governments’ projects, they also explain the fact that all the projects of this kind were abandoned as soon as they were drawn up and proposed. As soon as they are engendered, their uselessness becomes immediately clear so much so that the governments – even when they tried to do things in a big way as in the case of the Tindemans mission – are unable to defend them. Indeed, if we consider all the phases of the complex procedure needed to achieve the foundation of the Union – each of which (the drafting of a treaty, the search for an agreement among the states, national ratification) requires agreement and/or majorities which are hard to achieve – we realise just how necessary a good plan is. Likewise, we can appreciate that it is the European Parliament which needs to draw it up.
5. - This is precisely what happened. Without waiting to receive a mandate from the governments (which at the time of the EDC was duly given) the European Parliament, as soon as it was elected directly by the citizens, drew up and approved a draft Treaty for the European Union on February 14th, 1984 with a very large majority. This is a very good and very realistic project, which is in no way maximalistic. It has been judged, in federalist quarters, as the indispensable institutional minimum to give effective capacity for action to the European institutions in the economic sphere – already provided for by the Treaties of Rome – and in the economic and monetary field, relating to the EMS. And there is no need to spend too many words to confirm the soundness of this judgement.
The fact to be considered is that it is not possible, in democratic countries, to take important political decisions without basing them on the strength that comes from the support of the electors, which is mainly manifested in the vote but which is also expressed daily with the living dialectic of public opinion, fed by the information system. Now to be able to found political decisions on this force, it is necessary that there should be no watertight bulkhead between the electorate, Parliament and the Government. It is necessary, albeit in the minimum and initial form, that this direct channel should exist. With things as they are now, this channel does not exist in Europe, or, put another way, there are all the steps except the last. There is the European vote, there is the European Parliament, but there is no European Government. In its place there is a two-headed executive, the European Commission plus the Council of (national) Ministers. But the Commission, which may be censured by the European Parliament, does not have the power to take decisions which are of political significance, but only the power to study them and propose them to the Council of Ministers who decides. And the Council of Ministers does not in any way depend on the European Parliament. Thus the circle, instead of closing and giving life to the daily exercise of European political will, remains open, i.e. subject to the divergent will of different national policies, which at the very most can achieve mediocre compromises but certainly cannot govern Europe.
Now the greatest quality of the Draft Treaty established by the European Parliament lies in the fact that it achieves this direct channel by entrusting the European Parliament with: a) legislative power, to be exercised in conjunction with the Council of the Union (the current Council of Ministers, which, in this respect, would have a role similar to a federal Senate), b) the power deriving from Parliament’s control over the Commission, which would begin to take on the form of a European Government. The other essential quality of the project is the fact that the creation of this direct channel – the first experiment of European political life true and proper – is not at all the fruit of any dangerous improvisation, nor gives rise to any “leap in the dark”. This is demonstrated both by the fact that the unanimous vote (the right to veto) in the Council of the Union when “vital national interests” are at stake, is safeguarded for a long period of time. It is also demonstrated by the fact that, as regards foreign policy and security, in the Union the old inter-governmental (confederal) decision-making mechanism will remain, so that the decision-making power of states will not be affected in any way. This option is, from the point of view of political prudence, reasonable. Only when the Union has demonstrated that it is able to function properly will it be possible to have the large majority necessary to give the Union sovereignty in the field of foreign policy and defence as well. For the meantime, on the basis of a true political unity in the economic and monetary field, we could supply a very solid base to political co-operation, thus giving more space to a Europe able to speak “with a single voice”. As may be appreciated, there is nothing uncompromising or unrealistic in the European Parliament’s plan. Apparently, those who have expressed such an opinion cannot have read the project. There is, it must be stressed, only the institutional minimum to found the European decisions on the consensus of citizens; and hence to restore to democratic control those European decisions which national Parliaments no longer control, and that the European Parliament does not yet control.
6. - The European Parliament not only managed to draw up a good project, it also managed to bring it to the governments’ attention, a rather hazy feat which needs to be explained. Like all true historical innovations, the events which revealed the European Parliament’s capacity for action came quite unexpectedly and were quite unreasonably underrated on, every subsequent occasion. Briefly, the sequence of events together with the attempts to play them down was as follows.
When Altiero Spinelli suggested to the European Parliament that it should draw up a Draft Treaty for the European Union, to be submitted to the states for ratification, everybody said it would never have obtained a majority, not even in the European Parliament. When there was a majority, and the Draft Treaty was approved (February 14th, 1984, 229 votes for, 31 against and 42 abstentions), everybody said that no government would ever take it into serious consideration. When the Italian Government and Parliament voted in favour of ratification, everybody said that it was unthinkable that the other governments, the French and German Governments in particular (let alone the British Parliament certain to be hostile), would have taken the same attitude. But then came Mitterrand’s declarations of support for the Draft Treaty on May 24th, 1984 in the great speech he made before the European Parliament, followed by similar commitments by Kohl in the Franco-German meeting soon after Mitterrand’s statements. Subsequently, undertakings were made by the parliaments and leaders of other Community countries, to the point where the minimum number of states needed to found the Union (under the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty) was exceeded.
At this point, the second phase of the procedure to create the European Union began – against all the experts’ expectations. This stage consists in the search for an agreement among the governments or between a sufficient number of them. On June 26th, 1984, the European Council at Fontainebleau named a committee of personal representatives of the Heads of State and Government (the Dooge Committee) to examine the matter. The Dooge Committee presented its report to the European Council in Brussels (March 29-30th, 1985). This report was, of course, discussed at the European Council meeting in Milan (June 29-30th, 1985) which, at Italy’s suggestion, decided by a majority vote, which caused a sensation, to call a diplomatic conference, under Art. 235 of the EEC Treaty, on the European Union and the necessary Treaty amendments.
7. -These are the facts to date. But what meaning can be given to them? Much progress has been made but a lot remains to be done. And we cannot yet say how far down the road to Union we will get or whether in fact we will get to the end. The Union is an embryonic form of state, and nothing is so difficult as creating a new state in an area which is already covered by many states. At every moment, right up to the very last moment, the undertaking is liable to fail. But what has already taken place is enough to make us realize that the European Parliament has managed to bring Europe to the very threshold of Union.
While this may give us hope, it also makes it possible for us to deepen our theoretical insight into the process of unification. Until today, we were unable to say what role the European Parliament would have played after the direct elections simply because there is no exhaustive theoretical model of the transition from one system of states with absolute sovereignty to a federal system. Nor could anybody have known before what capacity for action a Parliament elected by the people would have in a political system with no government of its own.
Now we know. The European Parliament had enough strength to play another round in a game which seemed to have been lost. The road towards Union, vainly pursued by governments, who did not even manage to draw up a decent project, has been re-opened. Without the intervention of the European Parliament it would still be closed, perhaps forever. Although it has no powers regarding the government of Europe, nevertheless the European Parliament has a power which for the time being is more important: the role of “federator”.
This is the lesson to be drawn from the facts. When constituent power is used to promote new phases in the construction of Europe and further progress towards integration, the only effective partner for the national governments is the European Parliament. This is true both for current action and action that will have to be undertaken in the future, when it will be necessary to give the Union powers in foreign policy or begin everything from scratch or carry out a long “trench war”.
My examination ends with these observations. But I would like to end my commentary by recalling the meaning that Luigi Einaudi gave to the struggle for Europe. He expressed it in a very memorable way when he wrote on March 1st, 1954, “In the life of nations usually the mistake of not knowing how to grasp the fleeting moment is irreparable. The need to unify Europe is self-evident. Existing states are dust without substance. None of them is able to stand the cost of independent defence. Only the Union can make them endure. The problem is not between independence and the Union but between existing united and disappearing. The hesitations and disagreements among Italian states at the end of the 15th Century cost the Italians the loss of independence for three long centuries. The time which they had to decide in was a matter of a few months. The time remaining for the creation of the European Union will only last while the ideal of freedom survives in Western Europe. Are we sure that the factors which run counter to the ideal of liberty will not unexpectedly acquire sufficient strength to prevent the Union – by making some states fall in the North American sphere and others in the Russian sphere? An Italian territory will still exist, but no longer an Italian nation, destined to live as a spiritual and moral unity provided it renounces an absurd military and economic independence”.


*This is the inaugural lecture to the University of Pavia’s 1985-86 academic year. As compared with then (November 5th, 1985) the new events are the Single Act, i.e. a setback on the road to Union (but without the European Parliament’s action, there would not even have been a Single Act) and the sad loss of Altiero Spinelli, who died in Rome on May 23rd, 1986. In the last few months of his life, Spinelli had already worked out a new plan for the struggle for the Union (cfr. the Herman report of March 17th, 1986).

 

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