Year L, 2008, Number 2, Page 126



Many scholars and observers of the process of European unification are today saying that the concepts of sovereignty and of state have now been superseded, and that we are moving towards a world without sovereignty, and above all towards a Europe without sovereignty. According to them, Europe is witnessing the emergence of a new phenomenon, in which sovereignty is no longer a prerogative of the member states, or of the Union.
In reality, however, this is a conclusion that tends to confuse the problem of the existence of sovereignty with that of its transfer to a higher level of government. In fact, the crucial problems currently besetting the process of European unification are the overcoming of the Union’s present structure (that of a confederal organisation of sovereign states, each weak), and the creation of a federation (state) that, far from being devoid of sovereignty, would actually embody the transition from national to European sovereignty.
The European Union, even though it is highly developed and organised on the basis of extremely advanced forms of integration, is nevertheless still an international organisation that relies on voluntary cooperation among its members.
The concept of cooperation among states is described excellently by Kenneth Wheare in his study of the constitutional structure of the Commonwealth.[1] In the first decades of the last century, there was some debate within the Commonwealth over whether the organisation should be transformed into a federal state, or instead continue to be a structure founded on cooperation among states. This latter solution is the one that ultimately prevailed. According to Wheare, whereas a federation rests on the existence of a government equipped with the power to decide and to implement its decisions on matters of common interest, cooperation instead means working or acting in concert, and it presupposes the freedom of all the subjects involved. While cooperation can range from mere exchanges of information to more complex arrangements entailing common actions vis-à-vis foreign countries or the joint administration of certain activities, the voluntary element is nevertheless a constant: states that cooperate with each other are bound by their joint decisions only insofar as they themselves decide to be bound by them.
Obviously, to reflect accurately the full machinery of the European Union, this definition of cooperation would need to be reformulated in greater and more precise detail; but it is, nevertheless, one that describes perfectly the action of the EU in the two sectors in which a state most typically manifests its sovereignty: those of foreign policy and defence and of economic and fiscal policy.
With regard to economic and fiscal policy, it is actually the Treaty on European Union (TEU) that affirms that the states are required only to coordinate their national economic policies.
But it is an affirmation that also applies to the area of foreign policy and defence. In fact, the European Union, despite the federal vocation originally envisaged for it, has evolved in a manner quite different from that in which all the classic federal states evolved. The latter all stemmed from the need to guarantee their member states security and prosperity. In other words, the fear of a foreign invasion, the presence of a common external enemy, and the desire for independence have always been key factors determining the formation of a federal union.
In the process of European integration, on the other hand, these elements have been far less apparent. Indeed, even though, in the 1950s, the idea of creating a European Defence Community sprang from the need to guarantee external security and, above all, from fear of the Soviet threat, after the collapse of the EDC project it was the pressing need to solve the problem of Germany and to guarantee security within Europe that prevailed. This characteristic of the European process of integration is linked to the international situation within which it unfolded, that is to say, the Cold War and the division of the world into two opposing spheres of influence. The fact that Europe was part of the Western bloc, and thus fell within the sphere of influence of the United States, was indeed a factor that contributed to the evolution of the process of integration (as long as the control of the global balance remained in the hands of the two superpowers, Europe was free to concentrate on creating, within its confines, an area of stability and peace from which the process of integration was able to benefit in many ways); but, at the same time, it placed a limit on the process: since Europe’s defence was taken care of by the United States, the Europeans were relieved of their responsibilities in this regard and, without the pressing need to defend themselves against an external threat, they were also left without the impetus to create a common defence and a federal state.
This lack of impetus emerges particularly clearly in the part of the Treaty (both the current version and the version modified by the Lisbon Treaty) relevant to the issue of common security and defence policy. The absence of any will to take responsibility for Europe’s defence and an acceptance of the fact that questions relating to the defence of the Europeans are decided outside Europe both emerge clearly in the new article 42 TEU, which reads as follows: “commitments and cooperation in this area [defence] shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.”
Even though, in this same provision, it is stated that the common security and defence policy will lead to a common defence whenever the Council should, by unanimity, so decide, it is quite clear, from the statement indicating that NATO remains the foundation of Europe’s collective defence and the forum for its implementation, that there is no real will to assume responsibility for this defence: states genuinely wanting to create an entity truly endowed with independence and sovereignty and, through it, to assume responsibility for their own security would never dream of stipulating, in the founding act of that entity, its subordination to an external forum.
The other provisions contained in the same article, moreover, highlight the fact that the EU’s common security and defence policy is today based on cooperation among its member states, which is the same as saying that it is entirely dependent on their willingness to cooperate. In fact, the Treaty states that “member states shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence policy, to contribute to the objectives defined by the Council.” And that “decisions relating to the common security and defence policy […] shall be adopted by the Council acting unanimously”, thereby decreeing that the opposition of just one member state is enough to paralyse any initiative. It is added that “if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.” What can such an affirmation mean, if not that relations between the member states in the sphere of security and defence are still governed by international law and that there exists not even an embryonic European power capable of intervening in the event of an act of aggression against a Union member state?
These problems, and the fact that the European Union should be capable of guaranteeing its own defence and of presenting a united front to the outside world, are clearly apparent to a section of public opinion and to some politicians. Indeed, whereas once (before the fall of the Berlin Wall), the substantial homogeneity among the member states and the stability of the international setting made it seem that cooperation might be able to go on working efficiently and make it possible to achieve important results, today the lack of this homogeneity, and of a stable international setting, lays bare the limits inherent in the system of voluntary cooperation among states, which, given the profoundly divergent national positions, is threatening to paralyse the Union completely.
Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, among others, have spoken of the need for a European defence, and this need has also been underlined by members of the SPD’s working group on security and defence policy in the Bundestag, in the context of a project for the creation of a European army.[2]
But the problem is that the question of the security and defence policy cannot be tackled without also tacking the crucial issue of sovereignty, and people must be aware of this.[3] The creation of a true European foreign policy and of a true European defence, like the creation of a European economic policy, means that the competence to exercise the relevant powers directly over the citizens (the power to impose taxes to fund their activities and the power to form an army) must be attributed at European level, and this, obviously, demands the creation, first, of a democratically legitimised European government.
This possibility often is viewed with alarm by those who do not want to see the European Union turned into a super-state. However, their fears are linked to ideas of sovereignty and of state based on experience of the European nation-states. Indeed, people say that Europe should not become a sovereign state, but only because they are influenced by the fact that the states they know — today’s European states — are themselves too small and too lacking in power to be able to exercise their sovereignty effectively. As a result, the concept of sovereignty assumes negative connotations. In the same way, the idea of a European federal state is rejected simply because the only model of state that people are familiar with is that of the centralised state, that is, an entity that tends to cancel out all the differences that exist within it.
In Europe, the real challenge is, instead, to demonstrate that there can exist a form of sovereignty able to overcome the European nation-state framework and take on continental dimensions, without, for this reason, erasing the traditions and peculiarities of each of the member states, given that the only competences attributed centrally would be those that are absolutely necessary in order to guarantee (echoing the intentions of the founding fathers of the American federation) the security and prosperity of the citizens of Europe.
No one can say whether this project will ever become a reality, because no one has a crystal ball with which to see into the future. What is certain is that, given the absence of theoretical and legal impediments, the only obstacle to the creation of such a federation is the lack of political will to take this step.
This is why all those who believe that the creation of a European federation is our continent’s only hope of a future should feel it their duty to remind their politicians and fellow citizens why a European federal state is necessary. Those who instead continue to insist that it is impossible to build a federation out of the existing nation-states should be more honest and admit that they simply do not want one.
Giulia Rossolillo

[1] K.C. Wheare, The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth, London, 1963, p. 128 onwards.
[2] Arbeitsgrupe Sicherheits-und Verteidigungspolitik der SPD-Bundestagfraktion, Auf dem Weg zu einer europäischen Armee, Positionspapier 5. Mai 2008.
[3] In truth, this point is raised in the above-cited SPD document, which, despite the remark that the creation of a European army is a “long-term” project, also quite rightly points out that the creation of a European army implies the need for a debate on the transfer of sovereignty from the member states to a democratically legitimisedEuropean power.

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