Year XXXIX, 1997, Number 2, 91
POLITICAL REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT
AT THE 17th CONGRESS OF THE UEF
(Vienna, April 18-23, 1997)
Mister President, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
The process of globalisation, which is now continually gaining momentum, is turning mankind into a single community of destiny. The marked increase in the interdependence of human relations makes it impossible to understand any regional process unless it is interpreted within the context of the world political and economic balance.
Yet the essential characteristic of the current phase of globalisation is that it is not governed by politics, that is, the conscious will of men. The great networks that today connect the most remote areas of the world, rendering quick and easy the flow of information, capital, people and goods, serve only to promote private interests and not the common good. Technocracy is shirking the management of democracy. Moreover, interdependence, by putting profoundly different lifestyles and standards of living in contact with one another, lies at the foot of impending tensions, of the spread of local wars, of mass migrations, terrorism, drug trafficking and the spread of epidemics.
On the other hand, the de-humanising of human relations brought about by the technocratic nature of the globalisation process, has produced in reaction a search for the community values, which it endangers, in true or fictitious religious, ethnic or cultural identities that are devoid of any connection with a specific territory and which express themselves in turn in an outright rejection of the universal values which are the basis of democratic debate. This development causes the growth of closed communities which can not conceive of their own diversity as their original contribution to the creation of a single, universal community of communication, but experience it as a closed specificity which rejects all forms of dialogue and confrontation other than violent ones and calls into question the very idea of truth. Furthermore, this phenomenon is running out of the control of politics and is contributing to the crisis of democracy, which now involves not only the countries of Europe, but also the United States of America.
Unless a radical change of direction takes place, the world is destined to fall into disorder and war. It is therefore necessary and urgent that men and women regain possession of their destiny by reviving the supremacy of politics as the guarantee of ordered civil co-habitation, by restoring the democratic control of economic and technological processes by citizens in specific territorial contexts with a view to pursuing the common good and thereby recuperating the capacity to imagine and plan the future.
The nation-state has proved to be definitively superseded as regards this objective. The process of globalisation and the “identity” and micronationalistic reactions that are following on from it have deprived the nation-state both upwards and downwards and removed the possibility of its being a reference point for the consensus of its citizens. Today, a radical re-thinking of politics and its instruments is therefore necessary. We need to extend democracy to the level of international relations, to allow it to deal with problems which are now continental and worldwide issues; and at the same time we need to allocate power so that the disorganised communitarian impulses that currently represent factors which are tending towards the collapse of civil co-habitation are channelled into an institutional framework which is able to discipline them and transform them into forces which rekindle the debate at the local level and consequently boost democracy at the grassroots level of daily life.
For this reason, the 21st century will either be the century of federalism or of chaos. Mankind will be able to meet the challenge of globalisation and its consequences only if, on the one hand, it succeeds in creating great pan-continental federations which are able to achieve a more advanced order within their borders and, on a world scale, to take on the responsibility for guaranteeing through the UN the introduction of a peaceful balance based on justice, which will open the way towards the creation of the world federation; and if, on the other, it proves possible to organise the institutional structure of these great federations, with a more long term view to the creation of the world federation, into multiple governmental layers which will allow a return to the independence of local communities and therefore to the values of participatory democracy and practical solidarity.
This implies a profound change in the categories which normally define political activity. The main issue to resolve will no longer be that of governing as well as possible the existing states, but that of questioning the dimensions of the framework in which the political struggle has been played out to date, and transferring the democratic contest into progressively larger spheres.
The region of the world where this process must start, so as to be able subsequently to spread and grow in strength, is Europe. Moreover, it is in Europe that the bases of nationalism have been fundamentally upset by the experience of the Second World War, that a process of economic integration has been launched which has generated a profound convergence among the interests of its member states, and that an institutional structure has been progressively developed which, though insufficient, is without historical precedent and unique in the world. It is in Europe that the ambitious plans to create a common currency and therefore transfer monetary sovereignty to the European level are at an advanced stage. Hence, the meaning of the European unification process extends well beyond the borders of Europe and corresponds to the beginning of the federalist phase of world history.
If Europe does not prove equal to its responsibilities, the most likely alternative to its unification will be the advent of a second Middle Ages, in which the collapse of sovereignty and legitimacy will make civil cohabitation precarious, the rule of law uncertain, the state feeble, and the idea of the common good disappear from the horizon of human action.
The European Union is presently facing decisive deadlines. The third phase of monetary union, namely when the single currency comes into force, must start on 1st January 1999. The Intergovernmental Conference for the revision of the Maastricht Treaty, whose task is to tailor the European Union’s institutions to the requirements imposed by the single currency and by the enlargement of the Union to the countries of Central Europe, a process which can be delayed no longer, will come to an end this June. In 1998, the extent of the Community’s resources, namely the size of its budget, has to be decided. The very vicinity of these deadlines is the clearest indication that Europe’s monetary union and political union are not two different processes, but different aspects of the same process. The failure of one of these aspects would result in the failure of the other.
European monetary union, if separated from the existence of a government that is able to implement a satisfactory budgetary policy, will not be able to correct the imbalances that, regardless of any stability pact, could not help but arise between the different economies of Europe. Without a European economic government, monetary union would be condemned to premature collapse and would throw the entire process into crisis. Yet there is more: the uncertainty of financial markets over the prospect of the rapid creation of democratic European political institutions that are capable of effective action is calling into question the very creation of monetary union, by creating uncertainty in the expectations of market operators, who penalise the weaker economies, favour the stronger ones, and therefore render it increasingly difficult, the closer the date for the start of the single currency draws, to respect the convergence criteria laid down by the Maastricht Treaty. In this way, rumours grow of a postponement of the 1st January 1999 deadline, which in turn provokes speculative flows which make such rumours all the more credible.
The federalists should make respect for the 1st January 1999 deadline one of the main priorities of their struggle and oppose strenuously those who, while often professing to be supporters of Europe, hold up a prospect which would render less credible all the commitments to Europe that the various governments have undertaken, and would cast doubt on the implementation of the entire process. The federalists must not provide a mechanical interpretation of the essential indivisibility of the monetary and political unification of Europe, because in doing so they would accept the insidious logic of many false Europeanists who, ostensibly wishing to postpone monetary union until a real political union is created, actually aim to ensure that neither one nor the other is implemented. The fact that monetary unification and political unification are two different phases of a single process does not mean that monetary union cannot be achieved before political union: without political union, however, monetary union will not be able to last long and indeed, once monetary union has been created, it will throw up such evident contradictions as to render inevitable the rapid creation of a democratic and federal government, or collapse. This awareness must strengthen our resolve to channel all our efforts into the fight to ensure that monetary union is created on 1st January 1999, if not earlier, as allowed for in the Treaty.
Yet this does not in any sense mean that the federalists should not commit themselves right now with all the forces at their disposal to the issue of political unity, and that they should not try to influence the work of the Intergovernmental Conference. We are all aware of the fact that the results achieved so far are disturbingly meagre. We also know that progress will accelerate in the final phase, when the heads of state and government will take part directly, rather than their representatives. Yet we nevertheless know that agreements among the Fifteen will provide the Union with an institutional structure that does not go beyond the current intergovernmental philosophy and that, whatever improvements there may be decided regarding the details, the overall result will be neither democratic nor federal.
The federalists have repeatedly highlighted the minimum requirements of a reform of Europe’s institutions that will permit them to govern the single market, to complement economic and monetary union and to survive the challenge of enlargement. The reform must provide for the extension of the co-decision making powers of the European Parliament to all the competences lying within the first and third pillars, the transformation of the Council of Ministers into a true senate of the Union, and of the Commission into a European government which is answerable to the Parliament. Furthermore, it should turn the European Council into the Union’s collegial presidency and the Court of Justice into a real supreme court; it should also, in the longer term, provide for the transfer of responsibility for foreign and security policy to the Community level.
The federalists have been arguing for many years now that such a reform will never come to pass by a unanimous vote of all the members of the Union. This assertion, which was already true in the Europe of Twelve because of the attitude of Great Britain and Denmark, is truer than ever in the current Europe of Fifteen. The reality is that the degree of European awareness of governments, political forces and public opinion is not everywhere of equal strength. This is why for a long time, initially within the Community and subsequently within the Union, we have promoted the idea of a federal core which, while not compromising the acquis communautaire of those who do not wish to enter it or causing them to lose any of their acquired rights, nevertheless allows the states which desire to link themselves by a federal-style constitutional bond to do so without being hindered by the other states. This idea has been widely debated in Europe since the 1992 Schauble-Lamers document circulated the proposal of a solid core in European political circles.
That this idea corresponds to a serious need is demonstrated by the fact that one of the subjects for discussion in the Intergovernmental Conference is “flexibility” or “strengthened co-operation.” This mechanism should allow a variable number of the Union’s governments to establish forms of increased integration in certain sectors through majority decisions, so long as they receive the Council of Ministers’ unanimous authorisation and respect the indivisibility of the Union’s institutional framework. Yet in reality, these formulas are a distortion of the idea of the federal core that we have always supported and which is expressed in the Schauble-Lamers document, precisely because they propose to reinforce a method (the intergovernmental one) which has already fully demonstrated its inability both to produce rapid and effective decisions and to carry the process forward. In reality, the problem of the solid core becomes decisive only when it involves the institutions specifically, that is, when it enables certain states to go beyond the intergovernmental method and organise their relations on the basis of the federal method.
The federalists must have the courage to say that raising the problem of the overcoming of the intergovernmental method means raising the problem of sovereignty, that is, of the transfer of the principal stage of the political struggle from the nations to Europe, in other words the creation of a federal state, whose components are the current national states. Yet at this stage it is necessary to formulate the decisive strategic question: is it possible to overcome the intergovernmental method through the intergovernmental method? Will the Union’s most advanced governments be sufficiently lucid and determined to establish a federal core, even in the face of strong resistance from the opposing countries? Both distant and recent experience of the European unification process and the hardly encouraging spectacle of disagreement expressed over virtually all the issues under discussion in the Intergovernmental Conference must lead us to the conclusion that this lucidity and determination do not exist, and that even the countries that are most conscious of the need to pursue the path of political union will end up seeking a compromise on the basis of a platform which will not change the confederal nature of the Union. This compromise will be presented to public opinion as a success and will probably represent in theory a step forward along the path toward integration. Yet in practice it will be no such thing, since the time available for turning the Union into a democratic body capable of action is short and the era of little steps forward has gone for good. Europeans have now got used to considering the continent’s unification process as something similar to Zeno’s arrow, which keeps on flying without ever reaching its target. Yet they must shake themselves out of their torpor and enter the next era, before it is too late.
The reality is that in order to achieve a solid federal core inside the Union a new actor must participate in the process: Europe’s citizens. Europe cannot be the result of a conquest nor be imposed by an external power. It can only derive from the exercise of the constituent power belonging to the people of Europe’s nations. This does not mean that we should underestimate the role of the governments. They will wield power until such time as a federal constitution drawn up by the representatives of the citizens is ratified by the national parliaments. Moreover, the citizens’ representatives will act on the basis of a mandate which will be conferred on them by the governments. Nevertheless, the governments alone will not be able to extract the European unification process from the impasse in which it presently finds itself. They need the support of the European people, as the source of the new legitimacy which Europe is currently looking for, even though they will resort to it only when confronted with a serious crisis and in the presence of a conscious movement of public opinion which allows them not to feel alone when faced with a responsibility that, on their own, they are not able to shoulder.
The political nature of the Union which will emerge from the events of the coming years will not depend only on its institutional composition, however important that may be. A real transfer of sovereignty is above all a matter of consensus, linked to whether the principal stage of the political struggle will, or will not, be transferred from the nations to the Union. From this derives the fact that the nature of the future European Union will depend very closely on the nature of its foundation. If its foundation is an act of expression of a strong popular will, it will be able to give life and strength even to imperfect institutions, while good institutions which are not supported by the popular consensus will run the risk of remaining empty shells. For this reason, we will never have a European federal union which is endowed with real legitimacy without a constituent act carried out in the final instance by the citizens of Europe.
The common objection to the above is that public opinion is not yet ready and that Euro-sceptic attitudes are widespread among the citizens of all European states. Yet, public opinion reflects, at least in part, the short-sightedness and timidity of the governments and political parties, which focus their attention on petty national problems and avoid raising the European issue in its real terms. This attitude is in turn dramatically exacerbated by the media. All these actors have actively promoted the diffusion of the idea that Europe is a bureaucratic monster against which citizens need primarily to seek protection, and not a great task which they are called on to undertake. Public opinion is overwhelmingly conditioned in a national sense by the combination of these influences. In this way, it seems that we find ourselves in a vicious circle. The timidity of the governments feeds the inertia of public opinion and vice versa.
If there were no escape from this vicious circle, the European unification project would be inevitably doomed to fail. Yet in fact history provides numerous examples of radical changes, where ideas (which do not have power) have defeated the powers-that-be: and each of these changes has been achieved thanks to the breaking of a vicious circle. The truth is that the need for the political unity of Europe exists within the consciousness of citizens, albeit in an undefined way, despite the smoke screen that has been created by national politics and the mass media. The people of the European nations is maturing. In normal times, it is not conscious of itself and of its own identity, but the succession of crises and dead-ends will force it to gain this awareness. An active minority will be able to mobilise it and turn it into a decisive force in the process.
For this to come to pass, it is necessary that a group of men and women who are independent and aware is able to take the initiative, hold firmly to the European people’s point of view and indicate resolutely the path to follow. Such a group can not but be the federalists, because only the federalists have chosen to make the struggle for the political unification of Europe the sole reason of their political existence. They have the specific responsibility to draw the conclusions of their analysis of the process and to promote a campaign in support of a European constituent assembly. They must be prepared for a difficult beginning. Initially, their ideas will either generate scandal, or be derided or ignored. They will have to work like the Hegelian mole, which digs tunnels under the walls of the castle of power, undermining its strength until it collapses. Their destiny is that of all innovators, who must not confine themselves to taking account of the state of public opinion, but must strive patiently to modify it. Yet their function is indispensable, since they represent the conscience of the process.
Mister President, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
As many of you already know, I am no more to stand as a candidate for the presidency of the UEF. I have held this position for seven years, and I am firmly convinced that, particularly within international organisations, there comes a time when one should hand over the reins to new people who come from different places, who bring a different set of experiences and who can bring fresh energy to the role. On this occasion, fortune has favoured me and the UEF, because a young German politician, Jo Leinen, who is a representative in the Saar Parliament and a long time federalist, has indicated his willingness to take on the position. His candidature corrects what up until now has been a serious omission in the UEF’s history. In fact, since 1973, the year of the UEF’s re-founding, no president has ever come from the strongest of the UEF’s member movements, the Europa-Union Deutschland. The righting of this state of affairs will help to improve even further our organisation’s internal relations. I am sure that Jo will be an excellent President of the UEF and that, in carrying out this role, he will be able to put the interests of the UEF above his party membership. As far as I am concerned, I have not the slightest intention of reducing my federalist commitment and I will be at the disposal of the new President to give him all the help which my past experience will enable me to. I invite the delegates to use their vote to express their complete trust in and unanimous support for him.
The UEF is a difficult organisation. It covers a vast territorial area; its members speak many languages; they come from different political environments; and mutual understanding is not always easy. The means at the disposal of the Brussels office, in terms of staff and finances, are totally inadequate in relation to the size of the tasks which it faces. In spite of this, throughout these years, the relations within the Bureau and the Federal Committee have strengthened, and we have started to talk a common language, which has allowed us to take some very advanced and coherent stands. Relations with the national organisations have gradually grown more intense and substantial. Certain demonstrations have involved thousands of federalists coming from all the countries in which the UEF is present, and have been highly successful. Please allow me to take this opportunity to highlight the decisive role during the years of my presidency that some genuinely disinterested, skilled and committed people have played in the running of our movement: starting with Gerard Wissels, without whose commitment it may be asserted without the slightest exaggeration that the UEF simply would not exist today; and also the greatly-missed treasurer Henk Ijdo and the present treasurer Theo van Rhijn; and finally the current deputy secretary general Bruno Boissière, whose great commitment and spirit of initiative many of you have had the opportunity to appreciate, as well as the kind, ever-helpful and tireless Bibiane Cogels. I wish to thank all of them most sincerely, both personally and on behalf of the Congress itself.
In all political circles, leaving aside the condescension that those who believe themselves to be the true politicians and to wield real power inevitably display towards those who pursue an ideal, federalists are thought of as the spearhead of the European unification process. It is no coincidence that the name “federalist”, with connotations that are positive or negative depending on the case in point, means for all people, be they Europeanists, Euro-sceptics or nationalists, the attitude of those who are resolutely in favour of Europe’s political unity, without the hypocrisy and compromises that are justified in the name of a “realism” which is nothing other than cowardice. It is our duty to continue to honour in this way the name which denotes our identity. It was one of our founding fathers, Altiero Spinelli, who wrote that Europe will not fall down from the sky. This is a phrase which we must not forget. We must continue to feel the task of European political unification as the personal responsibility of each one of us. As long as there exists a group of men and women which possesses this awareness and this moral independence, our battle cannot be lost.