Year XXXVI, 1994, Number 3 - Page 211
1996: EUROPE BETWEEN FEDERALISM AND NATIONALISM*
There are moments in history when the most important problems that were brewing in a previous period come together in a single great conundrum, whose resolution determines the future of a people, of a continent or of the whole of mankind. Today, there are signs that lead to the conclusion that we are approaching one of these moments, and that what will be at stake in the 1996 intergovernmental conference is of incalculable importance. Hence this XVI congress of the UEF is being held at a crucial point of the European unification process: a time in which the federalists can play a decisive role.
The European unification process began after the end of the second world war. It was launched and driven forward by the widespread perception among the majority of European politicians and public opinion that the nation-state had been overtaken by history, that it no longer represented a structure that could guarantee the security and well-being of its citizens, and that its entrance into crisis had generated the monsters of fascism and of two world wars, leading Europe to ruin. Therefore, the unification process went beyond the narrow concept of national interest as the basis of politics, to replace it with a more open conception of the common good, one that would be able to ensure a solid foundation for democratic institutions and to drive out the spectre of war by affirming solidarity among peoples through concrete actions.
This awareness lay behind the establishment of the Atlantic Alliance and the European Community. The birth and evolution of the latter was motivated by the conviction (sometimes unexpressed, but always present) that it represented the first step of a process whose inevitable conclusion was the union of European peoples within a single grand federation that would be free and democratic, and which would be able to provide the world with an example of rendering war obsolete through the overcoming of national sovereignty.
This idea has not yet been realised because the reasons in favour of union have come up against those for conserving national sovereignties and against the vested interests that are linked to them. That such a conflict has emerged is entirely natural. What needs to be explained, however, is why it has not yet been resolved by one side winning through against the other, why the process of European integration has been able to continue for about 50 years, regaining its momentum after everyone of the crises it has undergone, without being consolidated and made irreversible by political unity; and why Europe enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity without precedent in its history without freeing itself of the burden of national sovereignties.
The success of the first phase of the European integration process has confounded the predictions of those federalists who, based on historical experience, argued that the Common Market would be short-lived. The federalists knew that a market can function only if it is supported by a political framework that guarantees its external security, places at its disposal the tool of a single currency (which is indispensable for its functioning), and imposes on participants the observance of precise rules that apply equally to all. This framework could be none other than a European federal state, whose creation would therefore have had to be simultaneous with the establishment of the Common Market.
The fact that European economic integration was able to proceed (albeit imperfectly) in the absence of a state framework can be ascribed to the cold war. The truth is that in the first part of its development, the process of European integration was supported by a political framework; and that this was guaranteed by America’s leadership. The United States guaranteed Europe’s security through NATO and the nuclear umbrella, and provided the Common Market with the dollar, a de facto pan-European currency. Hence their leadership substituted for a non-existent European state framework by supplying Europeans, through defence and the single currency, with the essential tools of sovereignty. Even more important, the US gave the governments of the states of Western Europe, a sort of legitimacy by proxy, involving them in the great ideological confrontation between democracy and communism, through their status as allies, albeit subordinate, in a grand common project. The prior call to the nation had in effect been deprived of its credibility, or at the very least seriously weakened, by the horrors of fascism and the war that the nation had been responsible for. On the other hand, the idea of a new legitimacy, to be identified with federal solidarity and with the championing of diversity through unity, made headway only slowly. Thus the common struggle against communism served in Western Europe in this period as ideological glue for civil co-habitation, and as a basis for citizen’s attachment to democratic institutions.
The end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet empire marked a sharp break in this process. In reality, the leadership of the United States had for some time been losing its vitality. This was particularly evident regarding the role of the dollar which, due to the relative weakening of the American economy, had lost, from the middle of the 70s onward, the stability that had previously enabled it to perform satisfactorily its function as an international currency (even if no other currency has since been able to substitute it). Now, with the disappearance of the Soviet enemy, even the function of the US as guarantor of European security has lost its justification. Since then, the Americans have begun to withdraw from Europe. And with the end of the confrontation between democracy and communism, the states of Western Europe (as indeed those of Eastern Europe) have been deprived of the semblance of legitimacy that they received from the role they played in the cold war.
The member states of the European Union now find themselves faced with the need to make the choices and to shoulder the responsibilities that in the previous period the Community had been able to pass on to the Americans. They must decide in particular if their monetary and security policy can be managed in future within the national framework or whether it will have to be managed in a European one, and they will have to face the institutional implications of this decision in light of the fact that American hegemony can no longer replace a non-existent European power. Simultaneously, they must face the problem of giving themselves a new legitimacy. This problem, that has existed from the end of the second world war, and whose solution was able to be delayed for almost 50 years thanks to a situation that no longer exists, represents by now an ultimatum. If the European governments and parties do not appreciate that the only way out of the crisis of legitimacy that is presently investing them is the federal union of European peoples, the only available alternative is to collapse back into nationalism and anarchy, tempered by a weak German hegemony over the Central and Western part of the continent.
The end of the cold war has therefore laid bare the real nature, and the dramatic urgency, of the historic choice which will determine Europe’s destiny, and that of all humanity: that between nationalism and federalism. It is certainly true that nationalism has its roots in a form of state that by now belongs to the past, and that therefore it has been ideologically overtaken: but that notwithstanding, it is destined to remain active until a new principle of legitimacy that supersedes it in terms of actions is established. The European Union, heir to that Community which in the preceding period could afford to advance slowly, wasting important opportunities, in the certainty that the political framework that supported the process of integration would nevertheless not prove lacking, therefore finds itself faced with the need to enact quickly the change to federalism, or to be dissolved by the centrifugal pressure of resurgent nationalisms.
Nationalism has already sown death and destruction in ex-Yugoslavia and the ex-Soviet Union, but it exists everywhere, and is again emerging in Western Europe. This represents a serious threat to democratic institutions. Moreover, what is happening in Italy, where an insistent reference to the “national interest” as the guiding star of the government’s actions has coincided with the entrance into the government of a neo-fascist party, must provide food for thought. On another occasion in history Italy opened up the way to a tragic sequence of events that overtook the whole of Europe. It should be added that with the passage of Italy into the Eurosceptic camp (which one hopes will not prove permanent), European unification has lost one of its main supporters: an actor that was certainly ineffective in the daily business of Community politics, but which has never failed to make its voice heard on the occasion of great decisions that have advanced the integration process. The current European framework will, therefore, be unable to withstand the attack of nationalism for long, if the European governments that are most aware of the importance of what is at stake are incapable of taking courageous decisions without delay.
Moreover, the prediction that over the coming years Europe must face decisive choices for the survival of its unification project has been confirmed by two further circumstances.
First is the irreversibility of the Union’s enlargement process. The European Union’s vocation is to expand to the western borders of the ex-Soviet Union. If it were to seal itself within a narrow area made up of the rich countries of Western Europe, it would lose its idealistic momentum and the capacity to make its message of peace and solidarity universal. It would betray the hopes that Eastern European countries, having freed themselves from Soviet oppression, have placed in it. For this reason its enlargement must be heralded as a positive process.
Yet at the same time it is impossible not to observe that the Union’s enlargement presupposes a radical transformation of its institutions. If that does not occur, the Union will be unable to avoid dissolving into a great free-trade area, politically weak because deprived of the democratic support of citizens and paralysed by a decision-making mechanism based essentially on the principle of unanimity; for this precise reason, it will be incapable of evolving toward better forms of union.
This transformation of the Union’s institutions can but signify the creation of a federal union. Moreover the proposals advanced in the CDU-CSU parliamentary group document of 1st September (the creation of monetary union and of a real foreign and common security policy, the extension of the European Parliament’s legislative powers over all matters under the Union’s competence, the transformation of the Council into a Chamber of the states and of the Commission into a real and effective government; all with full respect for the principle of subsidiarity) represent purely and simply the creation of the United States of Europe. The federalists must not feel embarrassed to say this out loud; they must not whisper to each other that the word “federalism” enjoys a bad press in many European countries, and that hence it would be opportune to replace it with euphemisms. The truth is that by avoiding the word, the understanding of the phenomenon becomes confused, and hence an awareness of the objective to reach is obscured. In fact federalism is by now out in the open. Everyone is discussing it, even if the enemies of Europe try to emasculate it by giving inaccurate meanings to the term. We, on the other hand, must proudly re-assert in political debate the correct use of the word that defines our identity and the profound motivations of our commitment.
Secondly, the process of European unification can not find an equilibrium point prior either to having reached its federal outcome, or to having been overwhelmed by the dissolution of the Union. It is condemned to advance so as not to go backwards. Following the Maastricht Treaty the process has reached a decisive point, beyond which there are no more intermediate objectives to achieve. Advancement with respect to Maastricht can only mean deciding in favour of the effective implementation of monetary union and the federal transformation of the Union’s institutions. The process, then, has reached to the heart of sovereignty.
The 1996 intergovernmental conference is the historic opportunity we are presented with. In 1996 the governments of the Union will have the opportunity to found the European federation. If they are incapable of so doing, the opportunity could be lost for ever.
The 1996 conference must therefore become in the months to come, the focal point of the federalists’ action.
For some time now the federalists have indicated the minimum essential contents that a federal constitution of the Union must possess. A further important contribution will be given by the first commission of this congress. Hence it is not appropriate to go into the details of a problem that has already been widely debated, about which there exists a considerable degree of consensus, and that will furthermore be more closely examined on other occasions.
Rather, there are two points that it would be useful to raise here. First is the observation, banal but crucial, that in 1996 the power to decide the political order and the destiny of Europe (and with Europe of the whole world) for the coming decades will belong to the heads of state and government. We may not like this, but it is a matter of fact. And hence our action must be aimed first at the heads of state and government rather than at any other actor. They need to be reminded primarily of the crushing weight of the historic responsibility towards Europeans that they are about to assume. Yet this is not to say that the other actors in the process will disappear from the scene. They will play an important role. But their action will be significant only in as much as it will be able to condition and influence the decisions of the heads of state and government; and in this sense our pressure will be directed toward the European Parliament, the national parliaments and the political parties.
Second, is the awareness that the willingness to enact the decisive step toward transforming the Union from its current form into a real and effective federation is not equal in all the Union’s member states, and in those that are about to join or that will join in the future. It remains true that the governments that will take the initiative will have to address primarily all the members of the Union. But it is equally true that some governments, among which in addition to Great Britain should be numbered even Italy for the moment, do not want to make the federal change and consciously seek to dilute the Union into a free-trade area. Furthermore, other states have economic structures and political traditions that are so heterogeneous compared to those of the core of the Community’s founding countries as to make it basically impossible for them to unite immediately in a federal bond with states that have more than forty years of integration behind them. Hence it is easy to predict that the 1996 intergovernmental conference will be unable to form a federal structure that includes the twelve current members of the Union (or its 16 future members, if the ratification process for the membership treaties of Austria, Sweden, Norway and Finland succeed).
But Europe can not wait for awareness to develop and economies to converge until the conditions are created such that, in an uncertain future and unspecified length of time, a federal structure may be created by the unanimous decision of all the Union’s members. Time is working against Europe and in favour of the strengthening of nationalism. Enlargement, within an institutional framework in which all deliberation of any importance is undertaken unanimously, will make any reform of the Union’s institutions increasingly difficult. It is therefore vital for Europe that the countries that have the will and the possibility to enact the federal change do so without being impeded by those that do not wish to, or are unable to. This plan was first proposed by the federalists ten years ago, and is today at the centre of debate. It is essential that the countries that wish and are able to decide to realise monetary union, create the structures of a real foreign and common security policy, extend the powers of the European parliament over all the Union’s competences, transform the Council of Ministers into a Chamber of the states and the Commission into a real government, responsible to the Parliament (that is, found the initial core of the European federation), do so in 1996, without waiting for the others.
It must also be hoped that this solution can win through with the agreement of the states that wish, or will initially have, to remain outside, in such a way that the initial federal core can co-habit with the Union in its current form, or in forms that it will adopt in the future, and participate with it on equal terms with the other member states. In any event, if this agreement can not be achieved it must not be allowed to block the process. Moreover, whatever procedure the circumstances permit, the foundation of the European federation will nevertheless not happen without a substantial break in legal continuity with respect to the current situation. Federation will be the result of hard-fought negotiations, that will require a strong political will. If the result can not be obtained with the consensus of all, it will have to be pursued against the will of those that are opposed, even at the cost of denouncing the treaties currently in place, in the name of a legitimacy that these treaties are no longer able to express.
It is important to reject decisively the objection that the proposal of a federal core would divide Europe. The truth is that it represents the only possible way to turn back the trend toward ever greater division that the rebirth of nationalism is provoking. The only effective answer to this trend is to give an initial realisation to federalism: and this result can not be reached in the framework of the Twelve and even less so within the framework of a Sixteen. The proposal of the federal core, then, indicates the path of unity against division, and its realisation would represent the first step along this path. It is clear that the initial federal core can not avoid being open from the moment of its creation to the states that will remain excluded of their own volition, so long as they unambiguously renounce their position. They will inevitably be attracted within a short space of time, as the entire history of the relationship between Great Britain and the Community demonstrates. At the same time, the initial federal core will exert a magnetic pull over the states that remain excluded for objective reasons, primarily of an economic and financial nature. Its very existence will allow their governments to avail themselves of the most convincing of arguments to obtain the support of public opinion for the unpopular policies that are needed to create the conditions for membership. Hence, the proposal of the federal core indicates the only way that will be able to lead to the creation of a European federation that stretches from the Atlantic to the western borders of the ex-Soviet Union within a reasonable space of time.
Yet for this dynamic to manifest itself, the real obstacle to overcome is that of the political will of the governments destined to make up the federal core, and in particular of France and Germany. If they are capable of agreeing to an unambiguously federal and democratic plan and to hold this firm against all pressures and against the temptation to give in to compromises, the others will follow. But to do this they must find the strength to overcome the inertia of the bureaucratic structures linked to the national states, to win through against nationalistic prejudices and rhetoric that exist within themselves, in the parties and in a part of public opinion, and resist the vested interests that draw advantage from maintaining national sovereignty.
Since the proposal for a Europe of concentric circles, revolving round a federal core, began to circulate, so started the defensive barrage of the experts; and they have competed with each other in denouncing the technical difficulties that would make it impossible to realise the project. We should answer them that the duty of experts is to resolve problems, not to hide behind them so as to obstruct the decisions of politicians. The proposal of the “federal core” is not an intellectual game, the elaboration of a theoretical scenario from among many possible outcomes, but a desperately needed political initiative, deriving from the awareness of the historic choice facing Europe and of the immediate danger of collapse that threatens Europe if it is incapable of taking rapidly in hand its own future. And the necessary choices are always also feasible ones. The real problem to resolve is not technical, it is political. Once the political decision has been taken, the experts will set to work not to decide if the creation of a federal core is or is not possible, but to find the ways to achieve it and to make it compatible with the maintenance of the Union.
The federalists must therefore struggle to reinforce as much as possible the political will of governments, where it exists, and to elicit it where it does not exist. They will have to commit themselves in all countries presenting the right conditions to persuading the governments to choose to enter the initial core, accepting the rules without reservations, and in those not presenting the conditions to encourage the others to go forward, in the awareness that only in this way will they be able, in the medium term, to become full members of agreat European federation.
Yet to do this effectively they must be aware of the dramatic significance of the 1996 deadline. They must know that on this occasion the outcome of the confrontation between nationalism and federalism will be played out, perhaps irreversibly, and that losing the opportunity could mean leaving Europe prey to disorder and instability, and endangering democratic institutions themselves.
Furthermore, they must be aware of being the interpreters of the will of the European people, a people that is not closed and monolithic as the national peoples are, but open and pluralistic. It is only with their support that it will be possible to make the political will of the governments take root. It is not yet a Staatsvolk, as has been pointed out by the Karlsruhe Court, since a European federal state does not yet exist. But it is an entity that is in the process of coming about, and that has been recognised by the governments through the introduction in the Maastricht treaty of the institution of European citizenship. The European people remain apathetic when they are called on to express themselves on confused and insignificant choices and objectives, but they are ready to activate themselves when faced with clear choices on which their destiny will depend, as will be the choice facing the governments in 1996.
The existence of the European people is the basis of the very existence of the federalists as a political group, since without a European people the European federation would be an unachievable objective. Hence it will be our task in the coming months to dedicate all our efforts toward the mobilisation of the European will of citizens.
The size of the task we face may seem out of proportion to the modesty of the means at our disposal. This apparent inadequacy is however the destiny of all political groups that propose radical changes which involve the replacement of an old legitimacy with a new one. These transformations are prepared in the subsoil, and are almost completely hidden from the light of day. Power retains to the very last its external majesty, supported by vested interests, by the inertia of the bureaucracy, by the servility of culture and by the short-sightedness of the media, and the presence of the bearers of change passes almost unobserved. But when the moment for decisive choices is reached, ones that the old order is no longer able to make, history undergoes a sudden acceleration and the emergence of the new order can not be resisted, so long as someone has previously worked patiently in obscurity to prepare the turning point, pointing to the path to go down in order to achieve the change.
Let us then not undervalue our capacity to influence events. We possess great force. We are the only ones able to elaborate a project based on the profound aspirations of the European people. We will succeed if we are capable of taking our struggle forward with determination, while maintaining our unity and our independence.