Year XXXV, 1993, Number 1 - Page 34
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF EUROPE IN THE WORLD AND THE ROLE OF THE FEDERALISTS*
I. The collapse of the communist regime in the USSR, the break up of the Union and the end of its hegemony over its ex-satellite states, means that the old balance of world power no longer exists. From the end of the second world war this balance ensured world government despite alternating periods of tension or detente. This world government was precarious and dangerous, being based on the threat of mutually-assured destruction. However it had a legitimacy of its own, whose basis was the conflict between communism and democracy, which guaranteed discipline within the two blocs by mobilizing alliances and reinforcing the power of the countries on either side of the divide. Certainly, the ideological confrontation between democracy and communism was a veil behind which power politics hid. Yet, this cover was dense enough to make world problems such as economic development, political emancipation and environmental protection recede into the background. These problems could not be solved within the terms of the US-USSR balance of power, and exploded with great virulence once that equilibrium collapsed.
The end of this global balance of power raised great hopes and opened up new prospects for the future. An awareness of mankind’s common destiny began to spread – that the great problems of our time, pushed into the background and frozen by super-power confrontation, could be solved through the mutual collaboration of the peoples of the world. But at the same time the end of the bi-polar balance of power tore off the ideological veil that had given a precarious and flawed justification to a world order which was equally precarious and flawed. Consequently, these new developments caused a crisis of legitimacy for existing world powers and led to the disorder and disintegration of world affairs. Some good examples of the devastating effect this has had are the situations in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union itself, the Middle East and Somalia, to name just a few.
The characteristics of the new balance of power which is seeking to rise from the ashes of the old world order are still unclear. However, an awareness has spread that only a global authority can create and consolidate a new order, based on peace and capable of solving the great problems on which the survival of the human race depends. The UN is called on to intervene in every place a crisis breaks out, or where economic or environmental problems become acute. The clear definition of a possible need is the first step towards a solution for the problem itself. Nevertheless the United Nations continues to be, as it has always been, inadequate for the many tasks given to it. It has no army, it is permanently beset by budgetary problems, and it lacks the political clout which could come from a broadly-based consensus expressed through democratic institutions. Its decision-making mechanisms are of a diplomatic nature, and hence ineffective. The very countries which call for its intervention often deny their financial support. In fact, the United Nations has only intervened successfully when its main backer has been the United States, the world’s last great military power.
At the same time the United States needs UN cover for its world hegemony. This is due to an important inconsistency in today’s global politics. With the disappearance of the enemy, the power of the US has lost its previous, albeit fragile, legitimacy. The world does not accept domination based on the naked exercise of power. Today, and for sometime into the future, power in world politics will remain separated from legitimacy. A true world order can be established only when legitimate world power is established, based on consensus and collaboration between all the world’s countries, with each accepting the responsibilities that this implies. Such a perspective can only mean the introduction of democracy within the United Nations, and its transformation into a true world federal government, endowed with a monopoly over the use of military force.
We are far from a solution. But the problem has been posed and it is no longer possible to ignore it. Each time the UN is called upon to intervene in a crisis, it will either fail, as seems to be happening in Cambodia, or be a cover for American action, as recently in Iraq and currently in Somalia. In both cases any hope of finding a real solution to these problems has been lost. This contradiction leads us to the conclusion that the world federalist ideal has found a concrete field of application and is therefore no longer an abstraction. A cosmopolitan federation has become the realistic political end point for all regional federalist struggles, starting with European federation. This can no longer be carried out on the assumption that Europe is a closed system and indifferent to the needs of the world.
II. Rather than lessening the importance of the struggle for European federation, this state of affairs increases it. A future world federation cannot unite the 180 countries represented at the United Nations. They are too many and all too different from each other in terms of population, political systems, and levels of economic development. A world federation can come about only as a union of great continental federations, the establishment of which will involve the consolidation of democracy and economic progress beyond the confines of the Western world. The whole process is centred on the dissemination throughout the world of an alternative political vision to the “nation” as the social base for the sovereign state. This new political culture will promote increased emancipation by widening the territorial scope of democratic statehood, while guaranteeing, within this framework, the independence of smaller and smaller areas. This is what is meant by federalism, and Europe is the place where it can for the first time form a great multinational state. This example will be able to influence mankind much in the same way as the French revolution diffused the nationalist ideal over the last two centuries, albeit with tragic results.
Only by being open to the prospect of world federation can European federation acquire legitimacy. European federation, the first step in this process, should have absolute strategic priority. The growth of a federalist consciousness between all people and not just between a few activists, depends on the success of the project for European unification. Federation is the only way to institutionalise the interdependence of the world’s peoples, and therefore to secure peace and progress. Should the project for European unification fail or be postponed indefinitely, the increasing intensity of political, economic and social relations would end up aggravating the instability of the world. Disintegration and violence would characterise the world stage for a long time. Europe, which by uniting could become a positive model for the world, would, by remaining a house divided, become a negative one. Nationalism or micro-nationalism, which have led to the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, could infect the whole of Western Europe and the European Community itself, where its seeds are already present. In such a situation, the illusions of those who believe that the acquis communautaire can be maintained without moving rapidly to monetary and political union will be dashed.
Without progress towards political union in Europe, democracy may itself cease to exist, or falter, in most of the member states of the Community. It is now impossible for political parties to present citizens with the vision of a better future in a national context. This route has been barred by history. The incapacity of certain politicians and political parties to think seriously in European terms has led to the increasing degradation of political behaviour and consequently a drastic loss of popular trust combined with a disturbing increase in the weakness of democratic governments. A natural effect of these changes is the growth of violent, xenophobic and separatist movements. It cannot be denied that these tendencies have been fuelled by intense immigration and the present economic crisis. However, it is also true that these problems are closely connected to the weaknesses of a divided Europe and to international disorder, which Europe is not only unable to control but is actually exacerbating. Federal union, therefore, is the only possible solution that can establish a new relationship between politicians and the public, and thereby lead to the rebirth of politics and democracy, which today is going through a worrying decline.
Ill. The process of European unification is at a crucial point in its history. The ratification of the Maastricht Treaty by Great Britain and Denmark is still uncertain. If it is not ratified, the Community will go into a crisis which will have unpredictable consequences. But even if the Maastricht Treaty is ratified, Europe will still not have a strong enough base to enable it to shoulder the burdens which loom upon it. The new Union will continue to lack an effective foreign and security policy and hence it will remain an impotent intermediary or a simple bystander in the conflicts which are tearing ex-Yugoslavia and the Caucasus apart. It will lack initiative in crisis areas such as the Middle East, where its active presence on the basis of a clear policy could radically change the political picture, fostering unity, peace and development. Add to this the weakness of monetary union: its far-off application date, the extremely fragile semi-fixed exchange rate mechanism, the setbacks the European Monetary System has suffered from the present crisis, and finally the scandalous reluctance of Community governments to endow the Community with the necessary resources to finance an effective policy of economic recovery. The EMS is currently exposed to international speculation and European governments are faced with the choice of aligning their interest rates with German ones and accepting the resultant deflation, or renationalising their monetary and economic policy, and hence returning to the catastrophic situation already experienced by Europe in the 1970’s.
Europe cannot afford the luxury of choosing between going forwards or standing still, because the very survival of the Community depends on its capacity to move forwards. Today the issue of enlarging the Community to include other members has been posed with insistence by the governments of Great Britain and Denmark, making the seriousness of the situation even more acute. The Danish presidency has begun negotiations with Austria, Sweden and Finland, is gearing up for others with Norway, Malta and Cyprus, and has an eye on future contacts on the same issue with the ex-Communist countries of Central Europe.
European federalists must make it clear that any enlargement of the Community which is not preceded by a profound reform of its institutions, will result in its dissolution. In its place will be a vast free-trade area lacking cohesion, democratic consensus and the capacity for effective action. Even the decision-making procedures of the Maastricht Treaty itself are only a small and hopelessly inadequate improvement in this direction. In a confederate structure, such as that laid down by the Maastricht Treaty, the very fact of an increase in the number of member states will increase the difficulty of reaching the necessary level of agreement to take any decisions. This situation will only be worsened by the different economic structures of the countries involved, and the variety of issues that they will present the Community.
The Community’s response to the radical challenge currently facing it is clear. It must first of all, before contemplating any enlargement, enact a federal constitution that sets up a European system of government based on the principle of subsidiarity (that is, with limited but real powers, unlike the present system which tends to extend competences indefinitely without creating effective democratic decision-making procedures). The new constitution should involve reforming Community institutions as follows: full legislative powers to the European Parliament, to be placed on the same level as the Council on all matters regarding the Union; the transformation of the Commission into a true government with full executive powers and answerable to Parliament; the transformation of the Council into a true Senate of nations, which takes decisions in public sittings on a majority basis; finally the conferment of the collective Presidency of the Union on the European Council.
Given the great instability characterizing the current state of affairs, it is impossible to foresee exactly what opportunities will present themselves in the immediate future regarding the objective of creating a federal Europe. The continuing turbulence of the money markets has led many governments, political parties and centres of economic power to express the desire to see monetary union brought about without delay. The most plausible solution involves taking a first step towards its introduction by limiting it initially to the most stable core, comprising certainly France and Germany. Such a decision can only strengthen the front favouring political union, because a monetary union without common democratic instruments of government would be inconceivable in the mid-term. While the political objective of the federalists is the reform of the Community’s institutions in democratic and federal terms, they should also view economic and monetary union as a strategic objective, that is, as a milestone on the way towards reaching their final goal.
Real action towards fulfilling these objectives means having to face two crucial political issues. The first is the need to involve the European federal people in the process through their legitimate representatives. With a view to the historic decision to overcome effectively the exclusive sovereignty of the Community’s nations, the intergovernmental decision-making mechanism, in use until now, will not allow any progress to be made whatsoever. This will remain the case unless governments are put under strong democratic pressure by the European Parliament. For this to happen each step towards the adoption of a federal European constitution must be taken in accordance with recognition of the constituent powers of the European Parliament. Of course a constituent treaty cannot exist without the cooperation of national parliaments and governments. However, for the constituent phase to reach its desired conclusion, the European Parliament must be the driving force behind it. Only the political will of the legitimate representatives of the people will be able to overcome the reluctance to relinquish sovereignty that all national governments by necessity exhibit. In concrete terms this means that the European federal constitution must be approved by the European Parliament according to a procedure by which diplomacy and national governments do not hold full sway, and the citizens of Europe are given a decisive role.
The second issue is the framework within which this decision will be taken. Whatever route the process will take, it is inconceivable that the will to give up sovereignty (even only monetary sovereignty) will occur simultaneously in all the member states. The level of maturity in European matters differs not only between governments and parliaments, but also between the public opinions of the twelve member countries. The present attitude of the United Kingdom and Denmark is a case in point. For this reason decisions of such historic importance as the establishment of a European federal union (or indeed monetary union) cannot be subject to the veto of a minority of dissenting countries. Those countries which make up the original nucleus of the Community must be able to forge ahead, both politically and economically, creating a union which will be open to others as long as they accept the terms of membership. The attempt to suffocate such initiatives by accusations of wanting to create first and second class nations is motivated solely by the desire to hinder any progress towards political and monetary union, so that all countries in the Community will remain second class. The fact is that any initiative taken to proceed with those willing, will create a pole of attraction which all the other member states would soon want to join, and will allow the Community to be enlarged without weakening its cohesion and efficiency. The Maastricht Treaty already lays down a similar procedure regarding monetary union. For political union, the problem can be dealt with by introducing a clause in the future constitution-treaty which will allow such a union to come into force if it is approved by a qualified majority of member states that represents a qualified majority of the Community’s population.
IV. In this era of historic challenges, there has not so far existed any centre for initiatives within the European political arena which is either aware of the epoch-making nature of these decisions or capable of expressing the political determination needed to enact them. It is true that at times the French and German governments seem to realize the need to act, and to act quickly, especially with regard to monetary union. However, the methods of inter-governmental agreement which they are condemned to follow are designed to enable compromises between national interests, and as such are structurally unsuited for decisions in favour of measures that are incompatible with national sovereignty. The European Parliament, with the exception of a small number of deputies, is weak and inert, and does not go beyond making a few good resolutions which are, however, destined to be pigeonholed. Political parties, apart from the occasions when there are extraordinary links between national political battles and decisions of European importance (as happened during the French referendum on ratifying the Maastricht Treaty), are strikingly narrow-minded since they are preoccupied with national issues.
On the other hand, the issue of political and monetary union remains, since all the most important problems which concern the citizens of the Community countries can no longer be solved at a national level. This realization emerges from time to time in the consciousness of politicians and public opinion. As events gather speed, the impotence of national policies and intergovernmental accords will become increasingly evident and dramatic. Crisis situations will arise that lead to the ever greater involvement of European citizens. The governments that set down the terms of the Maastricht Treaty realized the need to give formal recognition to the status of European citizenship, but neglected to confer on the newly-created European citizens the formal rights that their status implies. Such a contradiction may be exploited to enhance public awareness of European issues. Hence today, the role of the federalists can prove decisive. They can find support, because the democratic political parties (on which the real power of the European Parliament depends) will only be able to overcome their crisis and regain popularity if their policies start to reflect European issues. The citizens of Europe have abandoned their old political allegiances and are prepared to listen to the federalist point of view.
To gather the necessary strength for this struggle, the federalists must be able to get across the message contained in the Ventotene Manifesto, which defined the identity of the Federalist Movement at its foundation. They must not forget that their uniqueness lies in their awareness of the “very new line”, which today separates progress from reaction, those who struggle for peace and prosperity from those who wantonly or purposefully provoke violence and disorder. This line separates those who strive for European federation as the only salvation, from those who believe that a future still exists for nation states, and that it still makes sense to try and find nation-based solutions to the problems of our age.
The European Federalist Movement has been faithful to this message since its creation. Because of this it has created a new way of conducting politics, based on voluntary efforts by activists, and on political, financial and cultural independence. These methods have allowed the federalist movement to influence European political events considerably, without being entrapped by national power and experiencing the progressive deterioration which has led to its crisis. Its political prestige has benefited from its unclouded idealism, which has been its constant driving force from the outset. The European Federalist Movement will need to continue to draw on this idealism in order to stage a popular campaign which can mobilize the citizens of Europe, thus spurring political parties, the European Parliament and Europe’s governments to take the decisive step, which today is closer than it has ever been, to found the European Federation.
*Pre-congress paper for the XVI Congress of the European Federalist Movement (Pescara, 30 April -2 May 1993).