Year XLIX, 2007, Number 1, Page 61

 

 

THE EUROPEAN VANGUARD

 

 

Introduction: at the Root of the Failed Referendum.

 

The “Yes” campaign in the French referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was conditioned by two misconceptions, one generational (concerning the vision of Europe) and the other a result of political hypocrisy. First, the argument used, which focused on the prospects of peace and prosperity, is now largely superseded. It no longer reflects modern aspirations and strikes a chord only with the populations of the new member states and with the older generations within Europe’s founding member states; indeed, the younger generations in these countries consider war in western Europe no longer possible. Meanwhile, the argument that the process of European integration leads to prosperity has in fact been disproved, over the past quarter of a century or so, by persistently high levels of unemployment and slow growth in the countries that constitute the heartlands of western Europe. The second misconception derives from the insincerity of the governments when they talk about Europe. While on the one hand they extol, in saccharine terms, the virtues of European integration, on the other, they never miss an opportunity, whenever it is necessary to push through some unpopular liberal reform, to level accusations at Brussels, often forgetting that their own representative on the Council has approved them. By dint of use, this ambiguous language has given the European peoples the impression of a Union that holds, illegitimately (given that it is considered technocratic), an occult, supreme power.

In truth, the “democratic deficit” derives not from the Commission’s technocrats, who are actually few in number, but rather from the weakness of European integration. The principles on which a confederation is based are, by definition, less democratic, given that they rest on the power of the states, or rather, the power of the direct and indirect representatives of the governments (ministers on the Councils, but more often commissioners). The decisions are thus taken by individuals who are representing the peoples at second- or third-hand. What is more, the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, unlike the Maastricht Treaty which contained the project for the single currency and thus touched an important aspect of sovereignty, has no solid core. This intrinsic weakness attracted strong criticisms on the part of those opposed to it, and left its supporters able to offer only the weakest defence of it. A further handicap, finally, was the lack of a clear objective for the EU: according to the official line, the federal objective is too vague, a prospect too remote to allow any of its benefits to be felt, while the lack of geographical limits — the Turkish problem strongly influenced the electorate — with indefinite enlargement as its corollary, inevitably weakens the cohesion of the whole and foments fears.

Realisation of the impasse to which the so-called Monnet method (which tends to give priority to “practical achievements”) leads opens up the way for another form of construction. This means planning a federal entity, a structure built around its own internal cohesion. But this project for a federal state must nevertheless take into account and be coordinated with the continued existence of a confederal European Union.

 

The Limits of the “Monnet Method”.

 

Jean Monnet proposed that the construction of Europe should start with “practical achievements” that would lead to the creation of “de facto solidarities” whose accumulation, it was believed, would trigger an irreversible process. But the creation of co-operations in the absence of political leadership has left Europe sinking in quicksand. This approach has undoubtedly had its successes (the European Coal and Steel Community, the customs union, the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP, projects in specific fields outside the ambit of the Community institutions, such as Airbus and Ariane, and so on), but these are achievements that remain scattered in different sectors and that are not, through the creation of a single political will, exploited politically. And all this, often, is the source of provisional or unsatisfactory situations: the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is defined as “a currency without a state”. Paradoxically, some of the progress made merely reflects, in part, a return to the situation that characterised the years up to 1914 and thus should not be overemphasised: in the period of La Belle Epoque, after all, there were already fixed exchange rates and free circulation of people in Europe.

Although the spirit of the “Monnet method” was right in order to set Europe on its journey, Europe today no longer needs to “‘get started”. It was implicit that subsequently, once a certain level of integration had been reached, it would be replaced by a more direct method. Today, if we look at all that Europe shares, it is objectively an enormous amount: Union law or common European regulations affect nearly all areas of daily life, yet without ever (with the exception of monetary policy) casting doubt on the sovereignty of the member states.

The current malfunctioning of the European institutions, which is due to their essentially confederal nature, creates two opposing obstacles. On the one hand, there is the problem of the paralysis of the Union’s decision-making mechanisms. Without consensus, the Union cannot take decisions and as a result, issues are postponed and never resolved — we may cite, as examples, the constant CAP reforms, the question of British concessions, and EU budget limits — and with regard to many of the great issues, this is, frankly, a real problem. On the other hand, consensus is sometimes obtained by forcing the hand of the weaker states and this “tyranny of consensus” clearly damages the smaller states and works to the advantage of the larger ones. Austria, for example, was recently forced to drop its opposition to the process of Turkey’s accession to the EU so as not to damage Croatia’s chances of joining, Croatia being much closer to Austria both historically and economically.

These difficulties linked to the confederal principle — and aggravated by the failure to deepen the Union, a deepening that was proposed unwisely after its great enlargement — make it necessary to get the process of European integration back on track through integration in areas of sovereignty: integration from the top, and no longer just from the bottom, is the very condition of federalism.

 

The Federal Design.

 

The federal entity must be able to operate independently. Obviously, this federal “hardcore” will not be as large as the current Union, given that today there is no consensus on the ultimate European objective; it is, in fact, clear that the United Kingdom has its own design and that this design is not federalist. In these conditions, the narrower entity mentioned above must be able to operate, in the areas within its sovereign competence, without being impeded by the decisions, or non-decisions, of the states. This is why this federal entity must respect the democratic principle according to which legitimacy is based upon the election by direct universal suffrage of leaders, or of the assembly before which these leaders are answerable. The need for effectiveness also demands the presence of a head: experience has shown that joint leadership of a sovereign state, even a federal one, is ineffective and, in fact, such situations are exceptional. With regard to the question of sovereignty, the Swiss Confederation, on account of its traditional neutralism, is a peculiar example of such a collegiate executive. In any case, the federation will have to have its own institutions, distinct from those of the Union both in their workings and their composition.

The federation must be made up of states that have relinquished their sovereignty in the sphere of foreign policy relations. In line with the Austro-Hungarian model of the period 1867-1918 — even though the European federation is based on a rationale of association and not division, a difference that distinguishes it from the state born of the Ausgleich agreement—, the very minimum federal basis must include at least three ministries: a defence ministry, a foreign affairs ministry and the relative finance ministries. The first naturally rules out neutral countries that are not part of the Western European Union (WEU), while the third closes the door to those that reject EMU. While the presence of these three pillars obviously does not prevent the federation from extending its competence to other spheres, they are enough, a priori, to guarantee its existence. There remains the question, which is more cultural, of the unifying myth. In Austria’s case, it was the Emperor, the dynastic legitimacy of the hereditary states, the Catholic religion, the shared history. As far as the European federation is concerned, of course, there is no likelihood immediately of any manifestation of sentiments arising from a collective consciousness as deep-rooted as this. But wouldn’t it be true to say that it is the destiny of all federal projects to forge their own unifying myth, able to create an indissoluble bond? Anyhow, in the case of the United States the federation did not become indissoluble until very late, after the victory of the northern states in the American Civil War.

The obstacles are not insurmountable, since public opinion in Europe is ready to receive the federal argument. In the wake of two the World Wars that left the continent in ruins, and of the disintegration of the colonial empires, it has become much easier to let go of national pride and many Europeans have accepted this. The resistance will be much stronger within the state bureaucracies and in particular within the departments responsible for key areas of sovereignty. The ones likely to find it hardest to renounce their status as international powers are the big countries: Germany, Italy and particularly France, which, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, holds the right of veto. For France, it would mean giving up its privileged position within the concert of nations. Germany has little prospect of obtaining a seat on the Security Council and would do well to give up on its efforts to do so, while Italy needs only to accept that it is time to stop trying to ensure that Germany is not assigned such a seat. The smaller European states are under no illusions as regards the power they wield and are happy to settle for the advantageous protection of the Atlantic Alliance. On the contrary, provisions need to be made for practical forms of integration, such as the merging of military commands and diplomatic corps, moves bound to encounter the resistance that is typically mounted whenever separate organisations merge. Finally, widespread misgivings have to be set aside: it will certainly not be easy for German public opinion, pacifist and entirely opposed to civil nuclear energy, to accept a European federal state equipped with its own nuclear weapons.

Functioning separately, the federal state and the Union — since the purpose of the former is obviously not to eliminate the latter — will have to find a way of coordinating their roles.

 

The Role of the Federation Must Be Coordinated with that the Confederal EU.

 

This need to coordinate the role of the narrow federation with that of the larger confederation is satisfied by the very principle of the “hard core”. The federation is characterised by more solid integration than the confederation. Obviously, EU membership is an essential prerequisite for joining the federal core, as is membership of the Union’s most advanced forms of integration, such as EMU, WEU, the Schengen area, etc. The outlines of the core are thus traced, on the basis of these conditions, by exclusion: in fact, these conditions exclude the British and the Scandinavians. The final selection among the remaining countries will be determined by the will, or the lack of it, of the different populations to take part in the project. This will would have to be ratified by the citizens and a referendum clearly seems to be a necessary step for a decision as vitally important as this. Finally, the creation of a federal core presupposes the reaching of a critical mass through the participation of two or three of the large founding member states, and by implication of a larger number of small countries, regardless of how long they have been members of the Communities or of the Union.

The federation replaces, by full right, its single members with regard to EU policies, while also retaining the federal competences that have been assigned to it. This inevitably produces two effects. First, the critical mass of the hard core effectively imposes, as priorities, its own positions, while the member states that are not part of the core find themselves sidelined, if not actually marginalised. These countries, of course, are in no way obliged to take part or to join, but by not doing so they lose any real possibility of opposing the important choices made by the federation; against that, however, they stand to benefit from a clear protection whose costs they are not required to sustain. All this is destined to give rise to some form of dissociation, given that the confederal policies of the Union in areas that fall within the competence of the federation, such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), will naturally tend to become void as a result of the loss of autonomy of the marginal countries. These two processes — convergence of Union and federation policies in the sectors that fall within the competence of the federation and disappearance of autonomous confederal policies in these sectors — will naturally advance at the same rate, without it being possible, apparently, to avoid this.

However, the fact that the other states of the Union conserve their independence implies that the members of the federation should, in the areas of confederal competence, also be represented singly within the bodies of the EU. In fact, were the federation to be considered a single member state within the Union institutions, this would reduce excessively its demographic weight but also create a situation in which, in view of the weight of the critical mass, the other member states would be completely silenced, given that they would never be able to reach a majority without aligning themselves with the European federal state that they have chosen not to join. This last hypothesis would lead to an antidemocratic and absurd situation, which, for the federation, would turn the European Union into a means of dominion over the marginal states, and it would be in no one’s interests to be a part of it. To prevent the EU from being thrown into such a crisis, it is important to ensure that, in those sectors outside the competence of the federation (and thus, a priori, in most of the sectors that do not concern its foreign policy), the federated states are not replaced by the federation but instead continue to be full partners of the confederation. This situation, unusual as it may seem, is certainly not the only question relating to the danger that the imposing EU construction might crumble in the wake of the birth of the federation. It does however have the advantage of ensuring that the governments of the federated states conserve a role — albeit limited to the sphere of “intra-confederal” diplomacy — in the conducting of foreign policy within the bodies of the EU. In this way, the federation will become more acceptable both within and outside its own borders.

In the meantime, the creation of this federation, independent but in symbiosis with the Union, will be more than sufficient to exert a force of attraction. In reality, joining the federation will be in the interests of all the countries in the confederation whose peoples want to be heard in the areas of federal competence. Meanwhile, it will be in the interests of the federation to expand progressively, given that its raison d’être as regards its external sovereignty will naturally lead it to want to increase its weight. The limits of this expansion will be dictated by the federation’s concern not to undermine its internal cohesion by allowing itself to become, culturally, too heterogeneous. This question of limits will have to be considered quite early on, in order to avoid the paradox of the current EU, which considers the question of limits only after it has promised or agreed to enlargements without having first formulated the essential principles of cohesion.

In addition to all this, the progressive extension of the competences of the federation, in line with the trend shown historically many federations, would strengthen the other EU member states’ interest in joining the core. It is this logic of progressive enlargement of an initial federal core that makes it a true European vanguard.

 

Conclusion: what Method Should Be Adopted?

 

There is an increasingly widespread awareness of the need to take the process of European integration further and to overcome the obstacles that the European Union currently places in its way. Having outlined the federal core, and appreciated the need for close coordination with the European Union in order to guarantee the maintenance of its acquis, the supporters of the federal project must naturally ask themselves by what means it can be achieved. This process of creating a federal vanguard can be started only if an important section of the political class and of public opinion can be convinced of its worth. In short, the crucial decisions will have to be based on electoral majorities.

The task of militant federalists today is thus to convince, and there are two complementary courses of action before them. First of all, it is necessary to align the European citizens and their leaders, getting them involved in a problem that is certainly familiar, but whose solution, which lies in federalism, is not yet clear to everyone. It is necessary to make the project public so as to stimulate debate, and it will be up to the federalists to broadcast their solution through the media, before politicians and commentators, and within the political parties to which they belong. Only by so doing will they succeed in winning the support of leaders and political parties for the federal project. Second, it is their responsibility, within their respective political parties, to press for a political evolution of the Union whose current confederal modus operandi, rather than the fruit of an institutional framework, reflects its having inherited a method of European integration conceived as the implementation of a form of international cooperation, in which everyone conserves, at national level, their own ideas, values and political affiliations. On the contrary, Europe needs to operate within the field of real democratic political competition and therefore must stop being, above all, a framework for decisions based on consensus. This is the only way in which to arouse the interest of the media and public opinion in the political competition and power games that concern Europe. To this end, every effort must be made to dissolve the “great coalition” between the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Socialist Party (ESP), which neutralises, politically, the European bodies of a federal nature, such as the Commission and the European Parliament. Breaking this taboo of consensus — let us remember that consensus is necessary only on questions of a constitutional nature — would not only restore some weight to the European institutions, but also constitute the precondition for the existence of a fully democratic European Union, making it possible for the European citizens to choose, through a modifiable parliamentary majority, a political team and its leader, the President of the Commission. In this way, the Commission will cease to be made up of representatives of the EPP and the ESP, a state of affairs that keeps the representatives of the states in the foreground. Paradoxically, abolishing the criterion of consensus over the content of European policies is without doubt the best means — given that it opens the way for political competition and true debates with the European electorate — of creating the conditions for the emergence of true consensus over the institutions needed for the creation of a federation.

 

Frédéric Le Jehan

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