Year XXIX, 1987, Number 3, Page 222
CONSIDERATIONS PRELIMINARY TO A REFLECTION ON FEDERALIST STRATEGY*
In drawing up their strategy, federalists should never forget that theirs is a particularly difficult political task. To appreciate this all we need to do is compare the nature of our political action with that of the political action of political parties. The latter are involved every day in the realization of a wide range of political objectives and the conquest or maintenance of the largest possible number of power positions in the existing institutional framework (governments, national parliaments, European Parliament, regions, municipalities etc.). For federalists the problem is completely different. It is true that in the past federalists have fought and won many battles and equally true that they have lost many battles. In the course of their history, they have certainly accumulated a precious capital of prestige and influence. But the very nature of their objective — which is not the conquest of existing power, but the creation of a new power — keeps them structurally outside the existing institutional framework. This forces them to do without the normal incentives of political struggle based on the prospect of obtaining short-term concrete results, such as changes in the power situation or in the balance between sectoral interests. For federalists then it is much more difficult to keep their forces on the field than it is for the parties.
The federalists, in their strategic reflection, must also be fully aware of the nature of the process of European unification and the role that they have in this process. In this respect, two (apparently banal) considerations need to be rigorously borne in mind to avoid falling into error: 1) that the federalists are an indispensable factor in the process of European integration and 2) that they are not the only factor.
The current situation. The minimalist temptation. The decisive nature of the federalist initiative.
That the federalists are an indispensable factor in the process must not be overlooked in any way in a delicate moment like the current one. After the serious setback constituted by the Luxembourg Single Act, the goal of Union seems to have disappeared from the political scene. And as always happens after a defeat, many are tempted to lower their sight, look for easier goals and commit themselves to more modest objectives. This is why within the UEF invitations to concentrate our energies on more “concrete” objectives, like that of fulfilling all the institutional potential of the Single Act or the internal market envisaged for 1992, rather than on the “unrealistic” objective of the Union, have become more insistent.
This minimalist deviation derives from the failure to recognize the specific role of federalists in the process of European unification. By passively adopting as our objective what the political situation beyond our control imposes on us from time to time, we would end up by renouncing our autonomy and forgetting the decisive role of initiative that we have so far always had in the process of European unification (EDC, European elections, EMS and the Draft Treaty establishing a European Union). And we would be overlooking the fact that this role must be manifested with particular determination in difficult times, when Europe seems to be no longer on the agenda of the governments and the European Parliament is inert and discouraged. Our specific characteristic is that we are the only agent in the process whose raison d’être is the exercise of initiatives by which to achieve the European Union. This is not true for the European Parliament, whose activity consists in the vast majority of cases in drawing up statements of position on the most disparate matters, almost as if they were a real Parliament in a real state, rather than in undertaking the task of stimulating the process of the creation of a European state. And it is certainly not true for the governments whose raison d’être is the management of national realities and who run European policy as a sector of their foreign policy. This means two things: 1) that in inert phases, the objective of political unification of Europe can be maintained only by the federalists, which creates the conditions for the process to restart when the general political context becomes more favourable and 2) that for the federalists the renunciation, during the phases of inertia in the process towards European integration, of the goal which defines their identity and is the cornerstone of their existence would be pure political suicide.
The maximalist temptation. Opportunity.
It is equally important, however, to recall that, while it is true that the federalists are an indispensable agent in the process, it is also true that they are not the only agent. The others are national governments, together with the Parliaments by which they are expressed, and, today, the European Parliament. This means that, though, on the one hand, structurally speaking the federalists have responsibility for initiative and mobilization — that nobody can take on in their stead — they must be careful not to fall into the temptation of thinking that they act in a political vacuum, i.e. that the success of their struggle depends only on them. On the contrary, for the federalists success of the initiative firstly, and mobilization subsequently, depends on the fact that the political process, as a result of the action of all its components, provides them with an opportunity. The battles where the federalists have been most incisive in the process and which have most strongly attracted the media, have been made possible because of the existence of a favourable political climate, thanks to which the governments — within the framework of the Community — and the European Parliament have been particularly sensitive to their demands. We need merely recall that the long struggle for direct elections benefited from the fact that this objective was taken up by Giscard d’Estaing and subsequently by the European Council as a whole. Or we could mention the European currency to which both Giscard and Schmidt very quickly committed themselves by creating the EMS. Or again the reform of the Community institutions which was immediately championed by the European Parliament under the guidance of Spinelli. Or finally the success of the Milan demonstration, due, apart from the federalist commitment, to the fortuitous circumstance that a meeting of the European Council of Ministers whose main theme was the decisive one of institutional reform was held in the only European city where it was at the time possible to organize a great demonstration.
There is thus a further error, which is symmetrical vis-à-vis the previous one, which it is equally important to avoid and which consists in forgetting that our action can be successful only when the external circumstances permit it. This means that the second essential element in our strategy, as well as initiative, is opportunity. Ignoring opportunity means making the maximalist mistake of thinking that the success of our struggle depends only on the intensity of our commitment and hence that the only true problem is throwing all our forces indiscriminately into the battle which from time to time we carry out, as if it were the last decisive battle without worrying about whether we can make it part of an overall strategic design or how to keep our forces on the field in the case of defeat. This error causes those who make it to lose contact with the majority of the forces who are likely to side with us (in our case the rest of organized and organizable Europeanism and the European Parliament itself) with the consequence that all the material and moral energies of the activists are burned up in fanciful battles which are lost from the outset, leaving them discouraged and with no prospect of victory, and thus exposing our organization once more to the risk of dissolution.
All this leads to the conclusion that we must formulate an instrument of action which is independent of the situation and which allows us to remain on the field, if necessary, even for a long period of time, waiting for the opportunity.
The European dimension of the federalist struggle.
A second factor which makes our struggle particularly difficult is its necessarily supranational nature. It is a feature which has remained partly hidden from the awareness of activists while the European political scene was full of projects which, despite having federalists as their initiators, were rapidly adopted by the great national leaders or by the European Parliament. This was the case with the direct elections to the European Parliament and the Draft Treaty establishing a European Union. The existence of these great reference points gave an objectively supranational nature to federalist activity even though so far it has de facto been carried out essentially at a national level and only weakly co-ordinated at a European level. Today, as we have seen, the situation is different. No great political project is present on the scene. Indeed the external factor (which until recently gave the federalists an objective unity in federalist action at a European level) is missing. It follows, on the one hand, that the unity of federalist action, in the absence of external factors of cohesion, has become all the more necessary and that, on the other hand, its achievement depends only on us. Moreover, it is a need that all those who are involved in the struggle for Europe perceive today as a basic fact which is immediately obvious. The activists of any of the national UEF sections, however strong they may be and however effectively they manage to get their influence felt by the government, Parliament and the political forces of their own country, realize that their action will remain fruitless for as long as it is confined within the national framework and that their efforts are condemned to sterility if they are not added to those of all the federalists who are active in the other European countries.
The nature of the UEF.
Faced with this requirement, which everybody feels and which, because of an only apparent paradox, those who are committed in the most active and best organized national sections feel most acutely, lies the reality of the UEF. The UEF is the first supranational political organization in history. And it is the organization to which all those who in Europe recognize themselves in federalism belong. It is thus the only natural framework in which it is conceivable to achieve the true unity of action of all federalists. This statement seems to me to be decisive, because it must give the measure of our importance in the European political chessboard and the urgency of our responsibilities.
What we must ask ourselves then is whether, and under what conditions, the UEF is capable of expressing a sufficient degree of unity of action. We must not hide the fact that so far the supernationality of the UEF has been much more formal than substantial. It has so far played a symbolic role of extreme importance, which however cannot hide the fact that the true centres of federalist initiative are still the national organizations, where they exist (and where they do not exist, the UEF is not able to develop the role that they should have if they did exist). Finance and organizational efficiency only exist — if they exist — at a national level. The UEF so far has voted many resolutions but, every time that the problem of action has been raised, they have done no more than bear witness to the actions decided and carried out at a national level. In any case it is very clear — and it would be hypocritical to hide this — that the power of decision in the federalist universe (where there is something to be decided, because in the countries where a federalist movement exists only on paper it would be ridiculous to speak of a power of decision, whatever it may be) resides in the national level. Hence when something is decided at the UEF level, it is done only because they manage to achieve a compromise between national movements — exactly as happens in the Council of Ministers of the Community — or because the UEF agrees to lend its name to actions that in actual fact are decided and realized at a national level.
This is an objective fact, for which nobody bear responsibility. It is inevitable that even the European organization of federalists will undergo the conditioning of the institutional reality in which it must act. And this is a fact which must necessarily be taken into account, because in politics incapacity or refusal to take into account reality necessarily leads to paralysis of the will, and hence impotence. The problem to which we must address ourselves then is not the highly unrealistic goal of reversing the relationship of the forces between the national and European levels within the UEF, but simply the task of giving some substance to the formal supranationality of our organization creating the presuppositions for a real, albeit modest, degree of unity of action between European federalists. This needs to be done in the awareness that it is the indispensable condition for the reinforcement and the very survival of the national federalist movements themselves, which cannot any longer afford to present themselves to public opinion and the political class of their respective countries with a line of action limited to the horizon of their own country since this exposes them to the risk of losing their credibility.
The Campaign for European Democracy as the framework for the action of the UEF.
It is a question then of identifying the instruments which have the function, on the one hand, of guaranteeing and making visible the continuity in our action and the permanent character of our strategic objective and, on the other hand, of guaranteeing and making the European dimension visible. This can be done by making the efforts of each of our basic organizations and each of our militants add to each other in such a way as to be perceived by the political class as belonging to a single strategic design, without abandoning our right to adapt our strategy according to the evolution of the political process and without our being prevented from differentiating it according to the diversity of the local, regional and national situations. What we must develop is a framework for action which acts as a vehicle and container for all federalist actions in Europe in such a way as to give them unity, and hence political effectiveness, despite their variability in time and space.
It is in this light that the Federal Committee of the UEF has launched the Campaign for European Democracy, an action whose main objective is the demand that the governments of the Community confer a constituent mandate on the European Parliament. This action has three common elements that identify its physiognomy and guarantee its unity: 1) name, 2) a uniform text and 3) a body which steers action and causes information to circulate.
The common name (Campaign for European Democracy) has the function of making it possible for any action carried out by any basic organization of the UEF to present itself as an episode in a single strategic design, whatever its contents. Clearly if journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens, in their movements from one European city to another, become aware of actions, however different, which are presented under the single name of Campaign for European Democracy, they will be induced to attribute to each of these initiatives a political relevance which is far greater than they would have had if the same action was presented under different names; and to attribute greater power to the organization which carries them out, with consequent greater impact on the media.
A similar argument must be made for the uniform text. Once it is used to collect the signatures of local bodies, associations of various kinds and citizens, it would provide all our grass roots organizations — and even the most isolated activists in countries where federalism is badly represented — with an instrument of homogeneous action, which as such makes it possible to sum up the results obtained by all the local sections and to make the few courageous active federalists in countries in which our organization is weak feel they are participants in a design of a European dimension in which they can be usefully inserted. This common text — like that approved by the Federal Committee — must indicate the long-term objective of the Campaign, to guarantee that permanent character of the goal of our struggle without which every partial defeat would risk provoking frustration and discouragement.
Action thus conceived must in some way be co-ordinated by a single guiding centre, whose function must be to work out the technical instruments needed to carry it out, to draw up and diffuse the practical instructions for the groups and isolated activists, to collect information and to get them circulated, to propose and decide in cases of urgency, on condition that its decisions be ratified by the UEF bodies, the adaptations made necessary by the evolution of the political situation.
A final characteristic remains to be considered — as suggested by Gerhard Eickhorn — that this action should have. If its physiognomy only remained what has been delineated so far, it would run the risk of being considered by our grass roots organizations as being only poorly mobilizing — and by the mass media as being dull — because, in the final analysis, it would not be distinguished in any substantial way from the numerous campaigns to collect signatures that the federalists have carried out in the past and which have certainly generated a certain tiredness among our militants, in the media and among the citizens themselves vis-à-vis an overused instrument. To prevent this from happening, it is necessary to introduce into the action an element of novelty which reflects the specific nature of our action and our organization which is supranationality. This may be obtained by addressing the appeal to governments, parliaments, party leaderships, unions etc. of one or more of the other member countries of the Community (and in particular the two decisive countries, France and West Germany). It is easy to realize that this character of supranational novelty would attract the attention of the press, television and public opinion in general both in the country where the collection of signatures is organized and in the country where the government and other bodies are addressed and hence it would acquire much greater power of mobilization vis-à-vis our militants.
The subdivision of the Campaign into phases. The first phase.
For groups organized at local or regional level to be activated, it is essential that they have sufficient room left for the creativity of each and the possibility to approach the European issues from a standpoint which takes the special problems arising in the various parts of the territory into account and which adopts the style and the language which correspond to the different nuances that are presented, albeit within the substantial unity, by the political culture of the various European countries. It is for this reason that a framework for action, like the one approved by the Federal Committee, will present the characteristics of an authentically federalist action, leaving space for local differences, but allowing the accumulation of efforts thanks to some common elements.
This does not detract from the fact that it can serve as a vehicle also for other unitary battles designed, however, to achieve intermediate objectives on the road to the achievement of the Union. This means that without ceasing to follow and highlight the long-term objective of the constituent mandate to the European Parliament, the Campaign can be articulated into different phases which are stages in the process which must lead to the achievement of this long-term objective.
The possible content of the first of these phases (the subsequent phases could be decided in future on the basis of the development of the situation) has already appeared in the pre-congress debate of the UEF and its national sections. It is essentially a commitment to the achievement of three objectives: a) a referendum on the European Union and its contents to be held jointly with the next European elections; b) the achievement of the institutional presuppositions of real involvement of the national Parliaments in the process of democratic reform of the Community institutions and c) the Brussels demonstration on the occasion of the European Council on June 29th next.
The proposed referendum has so far raised conflicting reactions. The perplexity that it has generally raised derives from the feared constitutional impediments that would make it impossible to hold it in some of the countries of the Community, or which in any case would subordinate its possibility to complex and improbable procedures of constitutional revision. Now these perplexities are well-founded, and the prospect of a referendum within the context of the national legal system would be considered in those countries as utterly unrealistic and therefore not credible for the activists who would have the task of carrying it out. But a different conclusion arises if the proposed referendum is envisaged in the framework of the European legal system. And this woul dbe the case if it was the object of a formal decision of the Council of Ministers of the Community, previously solicited by a solemn appeal of the European Parliament and subsequently ratified by national Parliaments. In this hypothesis, no constitutional objection would any longer be raised, in force of the principle, which has been upheld several times by the Court of Justice of the Community, to the effect that Community law prevails over national law.
I know that against this affirmation it could be objected that not all the Constitutional Courts or other bodies with powers of constitutional control in the Community states would equally recognize this principle. But it would be simply scandalous if the European Parliament justified its inertia by interpreting the relationships between Community law and national legislation in a way which runs counter to the interpretation of the Court of Justice (quite apart from several Constitutional Courts and a large number of jurists of international renown).
There can be no doubt that the success of this battle — which has, moreover, begun both inside and outside the European Parliament — must be considered possible, but not probable, because of the foreseeable resistance of national governments. But this is still a battle which is worth fighting. Its objective is indeed credible and as such can, on the one hand, mobilize the energies of our militants to bring pressure on the European Parliament and, on the other hand, to give the European Parliament an instrument for once more placing the question of the Union on the order of the day so that it becomes the leitmotiv of the next European electoral campaign. It is a point on which European Parliamentarians ought to be very sensitive, because the Union — i.e. the democratic government of the Community — is the only theme capable of bringing life to an electoral campaign which is otherwise going to be desperately short of prospects and hence destined to degenerate into twelve squalid conflicts of power between national parties on national themes. The electors who have now reached their third European appointment, would begin to see an election for the European Parliament which has no power and which does nothing at all to gain power as a legpull and would abandon the polling booths. The prestige of the political career of the newly elected members would be seriously compromised. It may be concluded that, conceived of in this form, the battle for the referendum, even if it should be lost, would strengthen the front of the forces struggling for the Union and weaken those forces which oppose it.
The involvement of the national Parliaments in the process of Community reform.
The problem of a stricter link between the European Parliament and the national Parliaments — whose absence has undoubtedly adversely conditioned the outcome of the Draft Treaty — was placed with force by the Europa-Union Deutschland and by the President of the German Council of the European Parliament (and President of the Bundestag) Philipp Jenninger. The goal is co-ordinated pressure both on the national Parliaments and on the European Parliament so that both set up formal commissions whose specific task it is to guarantee — even by organizing common sessions — that the national Parliaments are informed and consulted on the problem of reform of Community institutions and are thus involved in an increasingly intense way in the process of reform. To achieve this programme we could count on the precious help of the federalist intergroups that have been formed or which are being formed within the European Parliament and the national Parliaments.
It is also in this case a theme which offers our local sections the chance to activate the ties that they hold with MEPs, with national members of Parliament and with political forces in general. The UEF leaders will have the task of formulating juridically well-founded, and politically achievable, proposals to give the sections and the militants effective instruments of pressure.
The Brussels demonstration.
This leaves the Brussels demonstration which, owing to the admirable commitment with which it is being organized by the Belgian friends, ought to take on dimensions comparable with those of the Milan demonstration. In this respect we should recall the importance demonstrations have during the meetings of the European Council (even the least spectacular ones) both from a political point of view — to remind political leaders that there is a supranational movement which represents the electors constantly surveying their behaviour every time Europe is at stake — and from the point of view of consolidating our organization. Many activists, in particular the younger ones, become aware for the first time during these demonstrations that they are not alone in their country working — usually with much toil and little gratification — for the unity of Europe, but that they belong to an organizational reality which is numerically modest, but of European dimensions. It is an awareness which reinforces their will to struggle. Moreover, the mobilization of forces, together with political initiative on the theme of the European Union, is the task which justifies our existence. In this we should not fail even in the least favourable phases of the process. For this reason we must assign, in the forthcoming months, a high degree of priority to recruiting participants for the Brussels demonstration.
The internal aspect of the Campaign. The use of twinning.
In the structure of the Campaign, as presented so far, it is impossible to separate the external effects from the internal ones. It is evident that the organization will become strengthened and will become aware of its European dimension in that it will acquire the capacity to carry out an action directed towards the institutions and the national and European political forces. All this does not alter the fact that the weakness of the UEF — and its virtual absence in some countries of the Community — forces us to reflect on the advisability of giving the Campaign instruments of action whose goal is the reinforcement of the organization introducing, on the one hand, in the UEF an element of concrete supranationality which reaches down to the grass roots and, moreover, places the experience of the stronger sections of the UEF at the service of the development of organized federalism in the areas where it is weak or non-existent.
One recommendation in this sense is made by Mario Albertini, who identified in the twinning between European cities an important instrument for the achievement of these objectives. Thanks to the precious action over various decades of the CEMR (Council of European Municipalities and Regions), each of our cities is linked to many other cities in the Community, and it is well-known that in many cases the federalist groups of the twinned cities have established useful and interesting contacts exploiting the occasions which twinning offers. It is a question of generalizing this practice, introducing it into the framework of the Campaign and thus stressing the transnational character of the latter, coordinating the various initiatives already underway insofar as this is possible, starting new ones and dedicating particular attention to contacts with the cities where there is no federalist group, with the intention of creating one, by means of the organization of seminars, debates, round tables, meetings with schools to be carried out in collaboration with the AEDE (Association Européenne des Enseignants) and so on.
The very great interest in this proposal lies in the fact that, if it were accepted by the sections, the task of reinforcing the UEF, deepening its substantial supranationality, its extension to the areas in which it is very weak or completely absent, would become the task of each local group, in that every federalist section in every town where the UEF is represented would be entrusted with the task of following and developing contacts and the political and cultural debate with federalist groups of the twinned cities, where they exist, and creating new ones, where they do not exist. Evidently, the effectiveness of action carried out in such a capillary way would be much greater than that of any other initiative studied and achieved exclusively at the level of the leading European and national bodies, which would not make it possible to place the more active groups at the service of weaker or inexistent groups.
The Campaign for European Democracy, thus articulated, may seem a relatively modest action. It is modest because our forces are modest and our degree of unity is modest. But we should not forget that, despite the reduced consistency of our forces, our weight has made itself felt in a decisive way in the process of European unification every time a favourable occasion has presented itself and we have been able to indicate the correct reply and carry it out with commitment, independence of judgement and combativeness. Nor should we forget that the opportunity may arise at any moment. Today the absolutely priority duty is to stay on the field agitating for the Union. What we can rely on is that if we are able to create an embryo of political action which is really European, which will be so in deeds and not only in words, we will make an important contribution to the growth of our awareness, our force and unity.
*This document was presented to the I Commission of the XII Congress of the UEF, in Strasbourg, on April 10-12, 1987.