Year XLVIII, 2006, Number 2, Page 135
Towards the European Union*
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to begin by thanking President Maihofer, and the Institute, for giving me the honour of delivering this sixth Jean Monnet Lecture and, even more, for the contribution they have made to the work done by the European Parliament’s Committee on Institutional Affairs.
This month, the European Parliament enters the final year of its mandate, during which time it will have to carry through its undertaking to propose a reform designed to turn the Community into a true political and economic union, equipped with the competences and the institutions it needs in order to be able to tackle effectively and through democratic procedures the serious and growing problems shared by our peoples.
To understand the significance of this undertaking, we need, I think, to answer three questions: 1) Why has the European Parliament taken on this constituent task? 2) What is the substance of the proposal that the Parliament is about to advance? 3) What will the Parliament have to do in order to ensure that its proposal is adopted by the member states and brought into effect? Let us begin with the first question.
The Reason for the Reform.
When the directly elected European Parliament set to work four years ago, the Community and its collateral structures had been in a state of deep crisis for some time. Yet, initially, the Parliament was not driven by any great urge for reform; indeed, there were few revolutionaries and doctrinarians in its ranks. There is no doubt that most of its members were proudly conscious of the fact that they had been invested with the highest political legitimisation imaginable in our democracies (election by popular vote), and that they thus wielded considerable political authority. But on European questions they were, with the odd rare exception, moderates: all of them, from the far right to the far left.
Despite being aware of the crisis enveloping the Community, they set about carrying out their mandate with caution, sticking closely to the competences assigned them by the Treaties and hoping, in this way, to help to re-start the process of building Europe.
The European Parliament is, essentially, an observatory before which all the problems relating to the establishment of European responsibilities are brought and discussed. This role exposed its members to a series of different and unexpected experiences.
The first experience. The European Parliament was equipped with limited budgetary powers and the first time it was called upon to ratify the EC budget it proposed various changes that, while leaving the structure of the budget largely intact, revealed the Parliament’s determination to put a stop to budgets that were little more than records of the costs of decisions already taken, and to use the budget, instead, as a serious indicator of policies needing to be introduced or developed.
Since the Council of Ministers stubbornly refused to embrace this thinking, the Parliament, in December 1979, resoundingly rejected the proposed EC budget, which it had the faculty to do.
This seemed, at first, a great victory, a breathing of new life into the Community. But it was not long before the Parliament was forced to acknowledge that rejecting the budget was, as a weapon, a “blunt sword”, since the Commission, in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Treaties, could go on using the system of provisional twelfths indefinitely. All it needed was for the Commission and the Council, between them, to let six months elapse before the presentation of a new budget, and there would be, by mid-year, very little planning for the current budgetary year left to do. This meant accepting a budget that was practically the same as the previous one.
Every year brought some new clash over the EC budget, and every year it could be seen that the Council had pretty much the final say on it, not to mention a very dismissive attitude towards it. It was also clear that the Commission was strangely in thrall to the Council.
The second experience. In accordance with the provisions laid down in the Treaties, the Parliament regularly and conscientiously expressed its opinions on the proposed rulings and directives that the Commission put before the Council. And it saw that while the Commission, in its unquestionable freedom, would sometimes take into consideration suggestions made by the Parliament and include them in the proposals that went before the Council, the Council, in turn, would always ignore, entirely and disdainfully, the Parliament’s proposals, and base its decisions solely on agreements reached or not reached in intergovernmental negotiations between member states.
The third experience. Wanting to urge the Commission to be enterprising, and the Council to make laws from a broad perspective and taking into account the current situation and problems, the Parliament took it upon itself to tackle a series of major areas of Community policy. It has thus proposed various initiatives regarding, for example, the new resources needed by the Community, the creation of monetary union, agricultural policy reform, the setting up of a transport policy, and a new research policy. The Committee on Institutional Affairs has gathered together, in a single publication, all the proposals on common policies needing to be introduced, developed or modified (these include both proposals already adopted by the Parliament by large majorities ,and others that will have been by the end of its mandate).
The Parliament has thus shown not only that it is keenly aware of what needs to be done in the interests of the peoples of the Community, but also that it is possible to gather considerable political consensus around these proposals, both on the left and on the right.
But the Parliament has been forced to realise that the Commission remains almost entirely deaf to these requests and will consider them — I cannot go so far as to say approve them — only as far as the Council allows it to. The Council, with its hints and its enigmatic phrases, is the true initiator of Community policies, and it disregards entirely the proposals advanced by the Parliament.
The fourth experience. Feeling that Europe has political, economic and moral responsibilities that extend far beyond the limited economic competences of the Community and the areas dealt with in the ambit of European Political Cooperation, the Parliament has taken to expressing its opinions and issuing invitations in relation to international political problems of security, human rights, the keeping and restoration of peace, and so on, and it has to be said that the Parliament, in its adoption of these stances, may be criticised for a frequent tendency to display emotional responses. Furthermore, while, on the one hand, these debates have allowed it to draw attention to the need for a common foreign and security policy, on the other, the Parliament has had to realise that nothing can come of its discussion of all these issues, because the natural and necessary interlocutor is lacking. In other words, there is no executive responsible for common foreign policy, which, through its concrete action, establishes definite points of reference for parliamentary debates.
The fifth experience. Finally, seeing that the institutions work badly, and hoping that it might prove possible to improve substantially their modus operandi, through adaptations and adjustments made within the framework of the existing Treaties, the Parliament has put before the Council and the Commission a whole series of proposals along these very lines. And it has found that, with the exception of a few fine words, no real response to its requests has been forthcoming, either from the Council or from the Commission, because the Commission scarcely dares claim back powers that have been usurped by the Council, and the Council is too busy struggling with its own incapacity to overcome the problem of similar calls for institutional adjustment originating from within — I may cite, for example, the report of the ‘Three Wise Men’ and the Genscher-Colombo Plan — to be able to pay any attention to those coming from the Parliament.
The sixth experience. Every six months, the Council’s incoming president sets out, before the Parliament, all that the Council proposes to do. These meetings should really be the most important occasions for the Parliament; after all, the whole European structure is founded on the principle that whereas, on the one hand, all common endeavours can be delegated to the Commission, the Parliament controls the work of the Commission, and the Court of Justice guarantees the upholding of the law within the Community, on the other, the power to decide which rulings and directives are introduced and how they are applied, which policies are adopted and which are not, and which decisions and reforms are proposed and which are not, is practically all in the hands of the Council of Ministers.
So, every six months, the Parliament listens dispiritedly as the outgoing president of the Council relates how little the Council has actually managed to achieve. And in addition to him, the president of the European Council regularly comes along to remind the Parliament just how serious Europe’s foreign policy problems are, and just how vague, full of gaps, and lacking in any guarantee of continuity the meagre advances obtained through political cooperation.
If the political and economic questions, internal and international, that face the Community and demand to be resolved through common actions were few in number, of secondary importance, and even on the decline, then today’s inefficient system could be tolerated, or indeed simplified. The Parliament, with its cumbersome periodic elections and its demands to be involved in decision making, could be suppressed. The Commission, with its independent administration, could be reduced to a streamlined secretariat serving the Council. The few common actions needed would be undertaken only by those wishing to undertake them, and could be entrusted to specialist agencies controlled by intergovernmental committees. In short, there would be a return to the “good old days” of cooperation — casual, desultory cooperation, of limited duration. It is no secret that there are some who do, indeed, envisage such a future for the Community, and who believe that these ideas are original and adequate for the current situation. Once there was talk of Europe à la carte, then of variable geometry Europe, and now, the Europe of agencies…
But the fact is that, year in, year out, the European Parliament, practically on a daily basis, finds itself addressed by the Commission, by the Council, and even sometimes by statesmen from third party nations, on the subject of the numerous, growing, and severe economic and political problems that would be better tackled collectively by the Europeans, or indeed that the Europeans can only tackle collectively. On this occasion, I will spare you, ladies and gentlemen, the full list of these problems, since those who speak out on the subject of Europe are perfectly capable of drawing it up for themselves, and indeed do so. The Parliament’s own awareness of these problems is demonstrated by the relative ease with which, in its work, the Institutional Commission has managed to identify and define the great issues facing the future Union.
The fact that it seems impossible to impart continuity to each of these, and to deal with them with the due sense of perspective and solidarity, must be blamed essentially on the decision-making method used within the Community.
In any organised political body, decisions are worked out on two fronts, which ultimately converge: there is the strictly political maturation of the decision, and there is also its bureaucratic maturation. The political groundwork that must be done ahead of decisions of a European dimension should involve debates, electoral campaigns and compromises, all serving to reveal the degree of consensus, among the citizens, on which these decisions need to rest. This is why we have elections and a European Parliament. And, over a number of years now, the Parliament has shown that it is capable of working out genuinely European stances. But none of this counts in the actual taking of the decisions, which is done by a number of ministers (first six, then nine, then ten, and soon twelve) whose political roots lie in the terrain of national rather than European political life.
On a bureaucratic level, the groundwork for decisions pertaining to Europe should be carried out by European administrative offices that can guarantee their continuity with the existing Community patrimony. This is, indeed, the reason why the Commission holds the right of initiative in the Community lawmaking process. But none of this counts in the actual formulation of the decision, which the Council of Ministers does on the basis of six, nine, ten, and before long twelve dossiers, drawn up by as many national offices, each of which (being bound to prepare, for its ministry, a dossier that highlights and imposes, above all, the national interest) has reduced the proposal of the Commission to little more than a working document.
In other words, there is the realisation, in the Community, that common problems exist; there is the sense that these problems need to be met with common responses; and there is the capacity to plan these responses in a European political sphere and in a European administrative sphere; but the Community method makes it very difficult and often impossible to develop the European concept and the gathering of European consensus around this concept, while it encourages, indeed magnifies, the development of national interests, and favours the gathering of consensus around these.
The entrusting of EC decisions to such a procedure has made it quite impossible to guarantee the Community’s orderly development, because the decisions taken cannot be anything other than the algebraic sum of the processes and decisions, unfolding at national level, that preceded them, and between which there is no preordained accord; which, in fact, are highly likely to present divergences, due to different customs, political balances and so on.
Intergovernmental decisions are thus very often impossible, and on the rare occasions when they are reached, they are reached late, and are inadequate, disconnected from one another, and lacking in any guarantee of continuity.
It must be added that the Council is not only organically ill-equipped to pursue the policy of the progressive building of European unity. It is also an extremely arrogant body, since, contrary to all the evidence, it considers itself to be capable of tackling and carrying forward absolutely any common policy that Europe might need. When the problems multiplied, it, too, multiplied into a series of specialist councils. When, later, it proved necessary to confer unity on this increasingly fragmented and disparate series of councils, it spawned so-called summits, and subsequently the European Council of Heads of State and Government.
Yet, despite the fact that the general inefficiency was still every bit as bad at the time ministers Genscher and Colombo sensed the growing discontent rife in the European edifice, and also saw the need for Europe to tackle, as one, other issues, such as security, all they were able to suggest was: to extend, to new areas, the method of intergovernmental cooperation, already seen to be ineffective; to reduce further the autonomy of the Commission; and to keep the Parliament devoid of any real powers.
The glaring contradiction between, on the one hand, the need for more Europe, and on the other, the incapacity of the Europe of the Council of Ministers to respond to this need, clearly could not be overcome. It was the realisation of this bitter truth that prompted the European Parliament, despite being made up of moderates, to adopt the proposal first advanced by the nine MEPs (from different political parties and from different nations) who, meeting in July 1980, had founded the now famous Crocodile Club. In this way, the European Parliament, on behalf of the citizens that had elected it, took on the task of drawing up and proposing a global reform of the Community and of its other collateral structures.
What Does the Reform Contain?
Having given the Committee on Institutional Affairs (in July 1982) a few general pointers on the direction in which it should move, the Parliament is now getting ready to debate, point by point, a long resolution, prepared by the said Committee, which sets out in detail what the future Treaty will contain.
After the Parliament has approved this resolution in September, the Committee will transform it into a clear draft Treaty establishing the European Union. The Parliament will then be required to examine and, in the first months of 1984, to approve this draft in its final version, thereby crowning its mandate, which ends in June 1984, with this clear proposal for institutional reform.
Let us look briefly at what the Committee on Institutional Affairs has put into this draft Treaty, albeit not yet in its final version.
The first problem the Committee faced was that of how to preserve the existing Community patrimony — known as the acquis communautaire — while also redefining competent institutions and decision-making procedures.
The option of drawing up a treaty containing a series of amendments to the existing Treaties had to be discarded. First of all, this would have resulted in a document incomprehensible to most people because of its continual references to other texts. Furthermore, to amend the existing Treaties, a specific procedure has to be followed, as laid down in the Treaties themselves: the Commission must first put forward an initiative — it has always obstinately refused to do this — which assigns the Parliament a subordinate consultative role, attributes the power to make proposals and amendments to the Council (which has repeatedly shown, as currently in it its treatment of the Genscher-Colombo plan, that it is unable to fulfil this task), and leaves it up to the member states to organise a diplomatic conference among themselves, and to have their own diplomatic services draw up the texts of any amendments.
It was the sheer impracticality of the amendments route that induced the Committee to draft a Treaty formally establishing the Union from scratch, an approach that allowed it to decide coherently the Union’s structure and competences, as well as the stages in and manner of its creation.
In this way, the Committee not only enabled itself to present a comprehensible text, but also extracted itself from the obligation to adhere to the absurd decision-making procedure in place for amending the Community Treaties.
The new political body will be given the name Union, because this is the expression that has been used, ever since 1952, to indicate the ultimate objective of the European constitution.
In order to preserve the acquis communautaire, the Treaty will establish that the institutions, aims and competences of the Union will replace, entirely, the institutions, aims and competences of the Communities, of political cooperation, and of the EMS, while all the legislation contained in the EC Treaties, as well as all the rulings, directives and decisions issued by the Communities, or in the ambit of political cooperation and the EMS, will remain in force until they are amended by the Union through application of its own procedures.
Having, in this way, guaranteed that the transition from the old Communities to the new European Union will be characterised by legal and political continuity, our resolution brings to an end the fragmentation due to the multiple presence of Communities, cooperation, and monetary system; it brings the entire European edifice under the banner of the Union, and establishes that all acts of unification will, from now on, be accomplished within its ambit, and in accordance with the forms and procedures set out in the Treaty establishing the Union.
One of the most important aspects of the draft Treaty is that while, on the one hand, it clearly outlines the Union’s institutions and their competences, on the other, it makes provision for different degrees of integration.
It recognises the sphere of intergovernmental co-operation, a sphere of necessarily basic and uncertain integration. Above this sphere lies a field of actions destined to become common actions, that is to say, actions that will eventually be decided and carried out by the Union’s institutions but that, for the time being, are still managed by the member states, and will continue to be until the Union takes their place. Finally, there is a third area in which only the Union, through its decisions, can act.
The transfer of competences from each of these areas to the next is governed by the principle of subsidiarity. In other words, it occurs only when tasks are more effectively carried out by the member states acting in concert, as opposed to separately, or when they can only be carried out in concert. Procedures and special guarantees, which I will not dwell on here, are in place to guarantee the transfer from one level of unity to the next, higher level.
This approach has made it possible to avoid the mistake of attempting to define in advance, rigidly and definitively, what falls within the province of Europe as a whole and what falls within that of the single nations. In the current situation, any attempt to make this distinction would very likely result in excessive diffidence in the face of each definition, and in a prevalence of restrictive interpretations and incorrect allocations.
Moreover, it has introduced procedures more streamlined than Treaty revisions in order to advance the process of putting together common policies and laws.
The resolution of the Institutional Affairs Committee proposes that the institutions of the Union should be, as far as possible, the same ones already present in the Communities, but with some important changes.
Accordingly, the European Council becomes an institution of the European Union, but is clearly distinct from the Council of the European Union. The European Council is made up of the heads of state and government, and it is the assembly where cooperation actually takes place.
The European Council can decide to transform some forms of cooperation into common actions, entrusting the Union’s legislative and executive bodies with their management. In other words, it has been calculated that force of circumstance will very often lead the heads of government to see the need for common actions, but when they do see this need they will be required not to entrust their own ministers and national functionaries with realising their vision (because were they to do this, everything would quickly be seep back into the old national frameworks), but rather to assign the task to the appropriate Union bodies.
The European Council, in choosing the president of the Commission and inviting him to form the Commission, also fulfils a role similar to that of the heads of state.
The Council of the European Union, not to be confused with the European Council, is made up of government representatives, who, depending on the Treaty in question, will make decisions by more or less qualified majority voting, but never by unanimity. The Council of the Union and the Parliament will share legislative powers and, together, will be responsible for approving the budget and giving the Commission its mandate. The Parliament will cease to be a purely consultative body and will become a branch of the legislative and budgetary authorities.
The Commission will become a true centre of government with a political physiognomy and political responsibilities. It is formed by a president, nominated by the European Council.
The Commission becomes operational only after it has presented its programme to the Parliament and to the Council and received its vote of investiture.
The Commission’s term of office is aligned with that of the European Parliament, but the Parliament has the faculty to dismiss the Commission on the basis of a motion of censure passed by a large majority. Retaining the current form of censure, the idea of the Institutional Affairs Committee is to combine the custom of the vote of no-confidence, which exists in all our countries, with the idea of a directorial government, like that which exists in Switzerland. No-confidence votes are not admissible at the drop of a hat, but only in the event of major conflicts between the Parliament and the Commission.
The Commission becomes the Union’s sole executive body. In particular, it acquires the power to issue application regulations, thereby putting an end not only to its current obligation to obtain, in relation to practically all such regulations, opinions from the Parliament and decisions from the Council, but also to the practice, usurped by the Council, of — through its advisory committees — taking the ruling away from the executive, and appropriating it.
The Court of Justice sees its powers strengthened on the basis of predominance of Union law over national law. The areas in which the Union extends its competences — potential, concurrent or exclusive — and acts through its own institutions are those of economic policy, social policy, foreign policy and security. But in addition to all these areas, there is the undertaking, lacking in the present Communities, to respect, and to oblige all the member states to respect, civil and political as well as social and economic rights.
The financial autonomy of the Union is guaranteed, as is — thanks to periodic consultations and the development of pluriannual financial programmes — a permanent relationship between the needs of the European and the national taxation systems.
This, broadly, is how the proposal of the Committee on Institutional Affairs looks. The design proposed by the Committee undoubtedly constitutes a qualitative leap forwards in terms of the structure of the institutions, because it recognises the importance of the representations of the single member states, and indeed leaves them complete sovereignty in the whole area of cooperation, whereas in that of common actions it takes away their monopoly on legislative power, and denies them the instrument of the unanimous vote.
The plan improves the idea of competences, too, in that it leaves their boundaries very loosely defined, recognising that it is impossible to establish in the abstract, and in advance”, exactly how far they should be extended, but at the same time it demands strong consensus, both within the Parliament and within the Council, before any real advance can be sought.
The project, which is realistic, rests on the idea that the effective building of a European economy, a European society, and a European foreign and security policy must necessarily be gradual. It therefore makes provision for transitional phases, steps, and trials of consensus. But in so doing, it makes sure that there is no room for the current perversion of the formation of political will, by which I mean that process that suffocates European but heightens national political will. In this project, the two are at least placed on an equal footing, which means that, in each situation, one will have to prevail over the other, thereby doing away with today’s automatic assumption that national political will is the stronger.
The draft Treaty developed by the Institutional Affairs Committee probably presents numerous defects, but, in the balance it strikes between courage and caution, it clearly surpasses all those that have preceded it. If the European Parliament adopts it, as I hope it will, it may justifiably be proud of the work it has done.
And now I come to the third and final question.
What Is to Be Done With the Draft Treaty?
The greatest mistake the Parliament could make would be that of believing that its political battle ends with the approval of the draft Treaty, thereby allowing the text to be merely referred to in a resolution ending with the sacramental phrase that closes all resolutions: “The Parliament instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, and the governments of the member states”.
Were this to happen, one may be quite sure that the Commission would just shrug its shoulders; the Council would probably remark that the text was not admissible, not being in conformity with art. 236, and, in the best possible scenario, would entrust it to one of its committees, after which it would end up exactly as the project of the Ad Hoc Assembly, the Tindemans Report, and the Genscher-Colombo Plan all did; the text would probably never actually reach the single governments, despite their being cited as its intended recipients, because in a sense it would, on reaching the single members of the Council, be regarded as already having arrived at its destination, and go no further.
The Parliament must realise that its battle for the European Union, far from ending, will, in reality, begin with its definitive approval of the draft Treaty, and that it will have to have its own political strategy in place, which we might summarise as follows.
The text that the European Parliament will have approved is, in content, a genuine constitution, because it defines the institutions, competences, and aims of a political body that is distinct from its member states, even though it is still linked to them in the ways indicated in the text.
From a formal point of view, the text is, instead, a treaty, because it can come into force, and produce the effects for which it makes provision, only if it is ratified by the states that are destined to become its members.
This dual legal character of the Parliament’s design demands that, as a constitution, it be processed and voted by the assembly that legitimately represents all the citizens who are called upon to be part of the Union. As a rule, it is parliamentary assemblies that vote on constitutions, because it is in parliamentary assemblies that the different political families to which the citizens belong freely exchange their views, and freely find the convergences around which the greatest possible degrees of consensus can be gathered. There is no reason why the Constitution of the European Union should not come into being in the same way, through this kind of coming together, this kind of quest to find points of convergence and consensus, particularly since the Union is the product of the natural maturation and metamorphosis of the Community, that is to say, of a political body already distinct from the states, in existence for over thirty years, and equipped with its own, directly elected parliament.
The drawing up and voting of this Constitution is the European Parliament’s exclusive political right — not written, but valid because it is based on a solid democratic tradition — and the Parliament must claim this right, doggedly resisting all attempts to transfer this work to experts, diplomats, ministers, or anyone else. Were the European Parliament to give way on this point, were it to admit that its work has been preparatory, destined to be manipulated by others, then it would become little more than a talking shop and spontaneously relinquish its role as representative of the citizens of the Community. In so doing, it would deny the very purpose for which the elections took place. Many voices will be raised in protest against the European Parliament’s claim — we can be quite certain of this — but the Parliament must know that it cannot abandon this position without the whole front line of its battle for the European Union collapsing.
As a treaty, the European Parliament’s proposal can come into effect only if it is ratified by the states called upon to be members of the Union, each according to their own constitutional procedures.
No constitution, written or unwritten, in any of our countries lays down the procedures for drawing up treaties. This means that there is no legal obstacle preventing the draft Treaty from being drawn up by a parliamentary assembly (rather than the usual intergovernmental diplomatic conference) that adequately represents the citizens of the state it will be called upon to ratify.
Instead, in one way or another, the constitutions of all the EU states decree that only a country’s government (or alternatively, in France, a referendum) has the authority to request its parliament to ratify the treaties. Having approved the draft Treaty establishing the European Union, the European Parliament must thus dispatch, to all the governments of the EC member states, delegations who will ask the governments to present it to their parliaments (or to referendum) for ratification.
It cannot be expected that the governments will rush to request this ratification. Some will be more and others less well disposed to do so, but they will all stall for time because it is entirely natural that they should want to weigh up the political impact of the European Parliament’s request before deciding what to do about it. It is thus of primary importance that among the draft’s final provisions there is one that decrees that the draft Treaty establishing the European Union should come into force, and the European Union be founded, when a critical mass of support is reached, for example a group of states whose populations together account for two-thirds of the entire population of the Community. This would prevent a single government from being able to stop the creation of the Union, simply by deciding not to respond to the European Parliament’s request.
There is thus set to be a hesitant and uncertain period during which the European Parliament, together with its members and the political groups who voted in favour of the proposal, will, with dedication, have to work to overcome the indecision, doubts and opposition present in each country.
The second European elections in June next year, coming just a few months after the approval of the draft Treaty, will provide the first and fundamental opportunity to carry out this action. For a period of around two months, candidates and parties in all the EC countries will, simultaneously, be urging the citizens to consider the fundamental problems of the Community, and to elect MEPs who will go to Strasbourg and act with a view to solving them.
In this scenario, the MEPs and parliamentary groups that voted in favour of the draft Treaty will be particularly determined to convince their parties, who will be conducting the electoral campaign, that the question of Community reform is destined be the central problem on which the electorate will be called upon to decide — the question that will invest the elections with European-wide political significance. They will then have to win popular support, to ensure that there is, in the new European Parliament, a secure majority determined to see the previous Parliament’s proposal accepted. Popular support will be needed, too, to ensure that the parties present first in the European campaign and then in the European Parliament — but also present in the national parliaments and governments — demand, at government level, when these parties are in government and otherwise through the tabling of parliamentary motions, that the governments bring before their parliaments (or put to referendum) for ratification the draft Treaty establishing the European Union presented to them by the European Parliament.
The current European Parliament must approve the draft Treaty and transmit it to the single governments before the forthcoming European elections. This is hugely important, because this is the only way in which this crucial question, clear and equally applicable to everyone, can next year be posed at European and at national level — this question to which citizens, parties, parliamentarians and governments will be required to respond with a yes, or a no.
If the current European Parliament ends its mandate without carrying out this action, the next electoral campaign will merely be a cacophony of slogans, insubstantial and demanding no commitment, that will differ from country to country, party to party, and candidate to candidate, and we will have lost the opportunity for a great popular mobilisation, homogeneous and conscious of its aim.
It is more than likely that the electoral campaign will not be sufficient to make resistances buckle, and that the battle to obtain the ratifications will have to continue after the elections. But, in the wake of the campaign, many resistances will very probably have started to waver, and there will also have been a strengthening of feeling in favour of ratification; furthermore, the Parliament that emerges from the ’84 elections will be a strong political centre that will feel committed to continuing this action.
No one, today, can say how long the battle for ratifications will last, or what its outcome will be. But what is certain is that if the Parliament and its new members and the Europeanist groups prove able to act within the timeframe and in pursuit of the objectives just now indicated, then the battle will take place, and the chances of wearing down resistances, of convincing the hesitant, and of winning it will be great.
Do not come to us and tell us that there is no government, today, that would accept our proposal. My answer to this would be that our governments are all convinced of the need to move Europe forward, but are incapable of putting together a few ideas in order to get it effectively on its way, because they draw all their ideas from the intellectual arsenal of their diplomatic services, that is to say, from a source that proposes only futile intergovernmental action.
Since the governments’ impotence in European matters gives them a very guilty conscience, we need to exploit this, showing that the Parliament’s proposal is the answer, the only answer, to the need — a need which they feel as well — for greater European unity.
Do not come to us and say that the parties, today, are not aware of European problems and do not concern themselves with them. Why ever should they, since they never run into them directly? But in the next elections they will run into them, and because of this we will be able to urge them to start opening their eyes and ears.
Do not come to us and say, finally, that all this is too ambitious, that we need to keep our feet on the ground and advance by small steps. You can all see the disastrous point to which we have been lied by feet-on-the-ground and small-steps policies, mistakenly defined the policies of pragmatism, but which are, in truth, policies based on a lack of ideas and vision, or, to be more accurate, based on intellectual enslavement to old ideas that are now entirely inadequate. In the next electoral campaign we must make everyone see that Europe should count for a very great deal in the world, yet counts for nothing; that it should be doing a lot for its citizens, but is capable of doing very little at all; that for these reasons it is necessary to found, and to found quickly, a true European Union.
I have finished, ladies and gentlemen, but if you will allow me, I would like to end with a brief personal reflection.
It is highly probable that my advanced years will not allow me to follow this action for very much longer. But when I think that the first elected European parliament would today be a quite different thing from what it actually is, had it not taken on the constituent role of which I have spoken, and when I think that my now long life as a champion of Europe has culminated in this action, then I cannot help murmuring to myself, with a measure of pride, the words of Saint Paul, “Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi”.
* This is a translation of the “Jean Monnet Lecture” given by Altiero Spinelli on June 13th 1983. These are lectures organised annually by the European University Institute of Florence.