Year XXXVIII, 1996, Number 3 - Page 213
FOR A EUROPEAN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY*
1. It is well-known that the degree of Euro-enthusiasm among the governments of the Union is very unequal. While the consensus to carry out EMU by the fixed date seems established, the same is far from being true for the reform of the Union’s institutions. Some governments sincerely believe, on the basis of experience, that it is necessary to go beyond the intergovernmental decision-making mechanism, extend the scope of majority voting and democratize the Union. Others are squarely against. This is why the IGC is utterly incapable of finding an agreement on any important institutional issue. The foresight of such incapacity prompted the idea of the core, to be formed by the countries whose governments are ready to proceed, thus pushing the others — or part of them — to follow suit.
2. The idea of a core makes sense only if it falls in one with that of the foundation of an embryo of a European Federal Union, involving a real transfer of sovereignty from the member-states to Europe — albeit, in a first phase, limited to the economic sector. Yet few, if any, of the governments involved are ready to acknowledge this truth. Many of them hide behind the meaningless formula of “reinforced co-operation”, as if the recent European events were not proof of the outright failure of the method of intergovernmental co-operation as such. As a matter of fact, if the goal of a real transfer of sovereignty from the member-states to Europe (the foundation of a European Federation) is lost sight of, and thus any clear perception of where the breaking-point in the negotiations should lie vanishes, everybody comes unwittingly to accept the logic of compromise, of a kind which means surrendering to the tactics of the anti-Europeans. As long as things stay as they are now the building of a core is highly improbable.
3. However, a democratic and federal reform of the institutions of the Union is urgent. EMU is set to be established by 1999, and it is unthinkable that it can function for long without a real economic government of Europe and a strong degree of popular legitimacy. The enlargement of the Union cannot wait. The stalemate in the IGC cannot be indefinitely accepted by a part of the governments involved, even if almost all of them (with the exception of Chancellor Kohl) do not see how they can exit the crisis. Tensions between the European governments are set to grow stronger and stronger. A major crisis is impending which, if it not adequately met, will give rise to disastrous consequences.
4. The truth is that a European Federation, either as a core or in a larger context, will not come about without the support of the people. Europe cannot be created by conquest, nor imposed by an external power. It can only be the result of the exercise of the constituent power of the people of the European nations. This does not mean that governments have no decisive role to play. Some of them are decidedly Europe-friendly. But alone they are not strong nor determined enough to consent the necessary abandonment of sovereignty. In the face of a crisis, the only way out for the most conscious of them would be to appeal to the people by calling a European Constituent Assembly. Such a body could be the same as the new European Parliament to be elected in 1999 (provided the election ensues after an electoral campaign focused on the task of founding a European federal State and giving it a constitution), or a part of it, or an assembly made up of members of the European Parliament and members of the national Parliaments, or an assembly elected by the people expressly to perform this task.
5. It has to be added that the political nature of the Union that will emerge from the events of the coming years will not depend exclusively on the kind of institutional settlement agreed, important as it will be. A real transfer of sovereignty is mainly a question of consensus, of whether the main theatre of political confrontation is shifted from the nations to the Union. Hence the nature of the European Union of the future will be strictly linked with the way in which it has come about. An act of foundation consisting in the expression of a strong popular will can breathe life even into partially flawed institutions, while good institutions not supported by popular consensus would risk to remain empty shells. We will have no European federation provided with a real legitimacy without a constituent act accomplished ultimately by the European people.
6. It is objected that public opinion is not yet ripe, that euro-sceptical attitudes are common among the citizens in all European states. Public opinion reflects, at least in part, the short-sightedness and timidity of governments and national political parties, who focus their attention on petty national issues and shrink from posing the European problem in its real terms. This attitude is strongly amplified by the media. All of them have actively contributed to spread an image of Europe as a bureaucratic monster, from which the citizens must only defend themselves, and not as a great task they are called upon to realize. Public opinion is largely nationalized. Thus we seem to be in a vicious circle. The timidity of the governments feeds inertia in public opinion and viceversa.
7. Were this the whole story, Europe should be doomed to an inevitable failure. In fact history has witnessed innumerable radical changes, in which ideas — which as such have no power — have defeated the powers that be: and each of these changes has come about by breaking a vicious circle. As a matter of fact, the necessity of a political unity of Europe looms in the consciousness of citizens, if indistinctly, in spite of the smoke-screen put up by national politics and the media. The people of the European nations is maturing. In normal times it is dormant, but in the face of a major crisis it could become aware of its own identity, be mobilized by an active minority and become a decisive actor in the play.
8. For this to happen, someone has to take the initiative before the crisis comes, and begin to spread the appropriate watchwords. The federalists are those who are called upon to play this role. They must undertake a campaign in favour of a European Constituent Assembly. Their endeavour will be unpopular at first, or at least meet indifference. Their goal will hardly be understood. Their work will go unnoticed as usual, like that of the Hegelian mole, digging underground tunnels beneath the castles of power, thus undermining their foundations. But the federalists incur the destiny of all innovators, who must not take stock of the state of public opinion as it is, but try patiently to change it. If their cause is right, they will gradually be understood and supported, find powerful allies and finally succeed in their undertaking.