Year XLVII, 2005, Number 3, Page 183

 

 

THE MESSINA CONFERENCE AND THE ADVANCE OF EUROPEAN UNIFICATION
 
 
On 1 and 2 June, 1955, Messina (and Taormina) provided the venue for the conference of the foreign ministers of the six member states of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) — convened by Italian foreign minister, Gaetano Martino — that marked the start of the procedure that culminated in the signing, in Rome on 25 March, 1957, of the Treaties of the European Economic Community (EEC) and of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).[1] The fiftieth anniversary of the Messina Conference presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on the importance of this event within the framework of the history of European integration. In this regard, I feel it is important to draw attention to two fundamental choices made in Messina: that of the sector within which to carry forward European integration by means of the Community method, and that of the method for drawing up the new Treaties.
 
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As far as the first of these choices is concerned, we must begin by recalling the profound reasons for which, following the dramatic collapse (before the French National Assembly on 30 August, 1954) of the European Defence Community (EDC) and the associated European Political Community (EPC), and despite the disappearance of the factors favouring European integration — Stalin was dead and American pressure had abated —, the Six were still driven to press forward with the process of building Europe. The main reason was the historical crisis of the European nation-states, in other words, the conflict between the nation-states’ growing economic (and not only economic) interdependence, induced by the advanced Industrial Revolution, and their own narrow and stifling dimensions. A previous attempt to resolve this conflict had taken the form of the imperialist expansionism that had produced the two World Wars, or put another way, the attempt to unite Europe by the “sword of Satan”[2] in a totalitarian empire. Then, the collapse of the power of the nation-states had turned the choice “unite or perish” into a crucial and permanent political consideration,[3] strengthening the determination of European governments and democratic forces to pursue the peaceful unification of the continent. The impasse reached in 1954 was never going to be enough to get in the way of this determination, which in the Six — these countries shared a particularly deep level of interdependence and an acute sensitivity to the widespread phenomenon that was the crisis of the nation-states — was particularly strong.
Added to this, there was the pressing need to fit Germany — strengthened after 1954 by the country’s re-armament, albeit under the umbrella of NATO, — into a framework of increasingly deep supranational integration. It was precisely this need, stemming from America’s decision to rebuild Germany, that had allowed the birth of Jean Monnet’s Community system, which was based on the implanting of federal embryos into a structure of international cooperation.[4]
Whereas, on the one hand, the reasons feeding this determination to proceed with the Community building process were strong — and to these we must also add the success of the ECSC —, on the other, it was, for the governments, unquestionable that this process should involve only the economic sphere. The economic sphere, unlike the political and military sphere, would not present, from the outset, the problem — a difficulty into which the EDC-EPC project ran — of the need to transfer national sovereignty to a fully federal system. The question, therefore, was whether to pursue vertical economic integration, i.e., within a limited sector, along the lines of the ECSC model, or horizontal economic integration, which would involve the economy as a whole. The first option was favoured by Monnet, who considered the idea of total economic integration too ambitious, and proposed the Euratom project, which he felt would be more acceptable to the French government, not least because of the latter’s interest in national atomic armament. On the other hand, the common market idea was supported, mainly, by Willhelm Beyen, Paul-Henri Spaak, and Joseph Beck (respectively, the foreign ministers of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg), and their memorandum was approved by the German and Italian governments.
Thus, although Monnet’s proposal was not dismissed, the Messina Conference decided to focus, essentially, on horizontal economic integration. This choice proved to be one of enormous historical significance, because whereas no major developments arose from the Euratom project,[5] the EEC, instead, went on to become the key structure in the furthering of the process of European integration, provided the framework for such achievements as the Common Agricultural Policy, the single market and, monetary union (which have brought about a continuous enlargement of European integration), and has, ultimately, led to an explicit raising of the question of a European constitution, that is, of political union. To understand these developments, one must analyse the powerful, dynamic force inherent in the project to build, on the basis of the Community system, a European common market.
It must first be underlined that the growth of economic integration, despite not being accompanied by a comparable growth of political integration, was possible because the American hegemony within the framework of the bipolar system ensured an extremely strong convergence of the EEC member states’ foreign and security policies, and thus undermined the protectionist forces generated by the power conflicts between these states.[6] That said, the key point is that a common market is not a simple customs union, but involves the four liberties (of movement of goods, people, capital and services), that is the creation, within the EEC, of a situation comparable to that of the single domestic markets. The implementation of this design depended on the presence of a broad and effective supranational legal system. In this regard, a decisive role was played by the Court of Justice, which ruled that Community law should come into immediate effect and automatically prevail over national law. This started the process that led to the introduction of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which had become essential in order to prevent the guarantees established by the national constitutions from being forfeited in the framework of the Community system to which these constitutions were being rendered subordinate.
On the other hand, in building the common market, negative economic integration (the removal of obstacles to the four freedoms) had to be accompanied by a growth of positive integration (that is, by the development of the European public policies needed to tackle the regional, social and sectorial imbalances that market automatisms cannot correct). Thus, the growth of European integration (involving sectors of fundamental importance in the life of the states), and subsequently of Community law, threw into sharp relief the problems of the Community’s institutional system: the efficiency deficit (resulting from the prevalence of decisions taken by unanimity) and the democratic deficit (or the absence of democratic legitimisation of the increasingly important decisions taken at supranational level). This situation prompted a progressive enlargement of the areas subject to majority decisions by the Council of Ministers and a drive for democratic legitimisation, through the direct election of the European Parliament (EP) and a strengthening of its powers. The process of forming the common market (later referred to as the single market) inevitably led to monetary unification (without which it would have become unsustainable), and highlighted the need of the European countries to tackle, together, the problems of domestic security and of foreign policy and external security.
In this way, the process of European unification has now reached a point at which it is faced with two alternatives: either to proceed in the direction of full federal unification, or to jeopardise all the results, in terms of integration, thus far achieved. And one cannot sit on the fence indefinitely. This is the setting in which concrete attempts have been made to tackle of the issue of the European Constitution, which is progressing amidst enormous difficulties, but which is, at least, on the table.
Let it be noted that the dynamics triggered by the common market project did not produce an automatic growth of European integration. In truth, the fundamental advances in the process of European integration have been made thanks to the decisive intervention of courageous and farsighted politicians and European officials, to major international crises (one might consider, as a highly significant example, the relationship between the end of the bipolar system, German reunification, and monetary union), and — not least — to the movements for European federation. In this regard, the main examples are the direct election of the EP and the Spinelli draft Treaty, approved by the EP in 1984. In reference to the first of these, it is true that the Treaties made provision for the direct election of the EP and that the need for democratic legitimisation became increasingly apparent as the process of integration advanced. But it is also true that the relentless and systematic action on the part of the federalists (who, in 1969, even introduced a popular bill for the direct election of Italy’s EP members) was a crucial factor in the actual bringing about of European elections.[7] Similarly, the Spinelli draft Treaty, also the fruit of a federalist initiative, although rejected by the governments, proved to be a crucial catalyst for the institutional reforms subsequently introduced.[8]
Having said this, it is necessary also to appreciate that these factors were able to play a role precisely because the common market project threw up a series of profound contradictions, and thus created the conditions that allowed them be effective.
Having clarified, through the above observations, the historical importance of the decision, taken in Messina, to opt for horizontal economic integration, it is also useful to analyse why this choice was made. In addition to a general factor — I refer to the historical crisis of the nation-states, discussed earlier, which prompted the creation of an economy of continental dimensions[9] —, there was also a specific factor that must be emphasised here. I refer to the connection between the failure of the EDC and the re-launch, in Messina, of the process of European integration.
It is necessary, at this point, to recall that the EDC, placed on the agenda by the problem of German rearmament and initially conceived as a project for sectorial integration, along the lines of the ECSC model, was transformed, thanks to the intervention of De Gasperi and the European Federalist Movement (MFE) led by Altiero Spinelli, into a much broader project for general European unification along federal lines.[10] The federalists and the Italian prime minister, in fact, made a very strong case for political union, underlining the impossibility of creating a European army without also building a European democracy, a solid common European economy, and a European homeland — in short, a European federal state. It was because of this that — under Article 38 of the EDC Treaty — the Parliamentary Assembly of the ECSC (temporarily enlarged by nine members and referred to as the Ad Hoc Assembly) was entrusted with the task of drawing up a draft statute of a European Political Community. The text adopted by the Ad Hoc Assembly was a plan for federal union whose main objectives included — this is where Beyen’s proposals had proved decisive — European economic unification, and this had generated great expectations in the more advanced economic circles. As a result, the collapse of the EDC (and, with it, the draft statute of a European Political Community), created the problem of how to quell all these frustrated expectations, and this was a factor that influenced the decision, in Messina, to choose the economic part of the EPC project as the mainstay of efforts to further the process of integration.[11]
 
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We now come to the second decision of great historical importance taken by the Messina Conference, that regarding the method for creating the legal-institutional framework within which to further the process of integration. The key point to underline here is that, rather than immediately instructing a classic intergovernmental conference to draw up the new Treaties, the Conference instead decided to entrust a committee with the task of making proposals for closer economic integration. The Spaak Committee[12] was a group of experts, appointed by the governments and the European institutions, but led by a “political coordinator”. Its mandate was to study the feasibility of the two projects on the table, that is, the creation of a joint organisation for the peaceful development of atomic energy and the constitution, in stages, of a European common market, through the progressive reduction of quantitative restrictions and the unification of customs regulations. The strong political guidance of the Committee was provided, as its name indicates, by Paul-Henri Spaak, who, as president of the European Movement from 1950-1954, had, with Spinelli, led the battle for the EPC, fulfilling, among other things, the crucial role of President of the Ad Hoc Assembly.
The groundwork done by the Spaak Committee concluded with a report (the content of which was very advanced and detailed) presented to the meeting of the Council of Ministers in Venice on 29 and 30 May, 1956. Spaak, as its president, had contributed greatly to this work, adopting an approach highly reminiscent of the one previously used by the Comité d’études pour la Constitution européenne, that is, by the committee that, under Spaak and Spinelli, had done the groundwork for the Ad Hoc Assembly.[13] Indeed, the debate within the ambit of the Spaak Committee focused on working papers, for the most part “pre-packaged” by loyal collaborators of the president, primarily Pierre Uri and Hans von der Groeben, and it closed with resolutions intended to provide the basis for the sections and paragraphs of the future Treaties. The Spaak Committee’s final report had a decisive influence on the work of the IGC that approved the texts of the Treaties of Rome and this can be attributed not only to the extreme depth of its content, but also to the fact that this content had been made known in advance to public opinion, winning widespread consensus and generating considerable expectations that strongly conditioned the intergovernmental negotiations, and thus curbed the nationalistic tendencies that are structural manifestations of such negotiations.
To appreciate fully the extent to which the Spaak Report influenced the content of the Treaties of Rome, I feel that it is useful to consider the two opposing models proposed since the very beginnings of the European adventure as methods for creating the legal-institutional framework within which to carry forward the process of integration. On the one hand, there is the model of the intergovernmental conference, open only to government representatives and, in particular, diplomats, whose decisions are taken by unanimity and in secret, and whose proposals must be ratified unanimously. On the other, there is the European constituent assembly model, proposed by the MFE and inspired by the Philadelphia Convention, which, in 1787, drew up the Constitution of the United States of America — history’s first federal state. In this second model, the assembly entrusted with working out the legal-institutional framework within which to realise European integration is a parliamentary assembly, its decisions are taken by majority and transparently, and, finally, its proposals are adopted in the ratifying states even when unanimity is not reached.
To the MFE, this kind of procedure represented the only possible way of obtaining a federal constitution that, involving a definitive transfer of sovereignty, would lay the foundations for democratic, efficient and irreversible European unification. In the case of the intergovernmental method, dominated by the national governments (which are prompted by the crisis of the nation-states to pursue a policy of European integration, but are structurally inclined towards conservation of their own power) and where the unanimity rule imposes the least common denominator, the choices that inevitably win through are ones of a confederal nature that leave the basic decision-making power in the hands of the governments. With the democratic constituent method, on the other hand, a dominant role is played by the representatives of public opinion (which, in the historical context of the structural crisis of the nation-states, is induced to favour supranational unity), and the paralysis induced by the unanimity rule disappears.[14]
On the basis of this conviction, the action of the MFE has always been shaped by its determination to promote the democratic, constituent alternative to the intergovernmental method, gaining leverage from the contradictions and crises that arise from the democratic and efficiency deficits structurally inherent in integration founded on prevalently confederal institutions. In this context, we can recall the European People’s Congress, which was active from the time of the Messina re-launch of the process of European integration through to the early years of the EEC. Based on popular mobilisation, it was a campaign for a directly elected constituent assembly[15] — between 1957 and 1962, the votes of 650,000 European citizens in favour of a supranational congress were collected — and, when it was started, it criticised not only the democratic and efficiency deficits that characterised the Community system, but also the EEC’s founding fathers’ declared belief that integration based on Community method was bound to increase almost automatically. But this critical approach was rather rigid and, at the time, the campaign failed to appreciate fully the great dynamic force inherent in the common market project. Having said that, the popular campaign for a European constituent assembly does deserve recognition for keeping this demand very much to the fore, and for later making it instrumental in securing the direct election of the EP and the EP’s commitment to the democratisation and strengthening of the Community system.[16]
From this comparison of the democratic constituent model and the intergovernmental model, it seems, to me, clear that the decisive steps forward in the process of European unification have been taken at precisely those times in which some element of the original (Philadelphia) model intervened, modifying the purely intergovernmental process and limiting the dominant role played by the national diplomatic services. This was obviously true in the case of the Messina Conference, in whose wake the intergovernmental conference that defined the Treaties of Rome was clearly conditioned by the groundwork done by the Spaak Committee. But also in the case of the procedure that led to the founding of the ECSC, it is significant that Schuman, to get round the predictable resistance of the French diplomatic service, involved the latter only after his plan (drawn up by Monnet with the prior agreement of Adenauer) had been formally presented to public opinion, and won a level of consensus that left the Quay d’Orsay with its hands tied. Furthermore, the EDC project, which, as we have seen, strongly influenced the choices made in Messina, was drawn up by a parliamentary assembly, even though the governments retained the final word on it.
In the wake of the Treaties of Rome, parts of the Philadelphia model were introduced, with the direct election of the EP, which, by approving the Spinelli draft Treaty, paved the way for the subsequent institutional reforms, and with majority decisions on some crucial issues.[17] In particular, we might recall: the decision of the Rome European Council, in December 1975, to proceed with the direct election of the EP, in spite of the reservations expressed by the United Kingdom and Denmark; the convening, by majority, of the intergovernmental conferences that drew up the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty; and the majority decision, taken by the Rome European Council in October 1990, to accept the Report of the Delors Committee (a body similar to the Spaak Committee) on economic and monetary union as the basis for the work of the IGC that led to the Maastricht Treaty. Finally, the European Convention was composed, mainly, of parliamentary representatives and had a transparent mode of operation that included the systematic consultation of civil society; this made it practically impossible for the final IGC to reject the most advanced proposals it put on the table.
Clearly, leaving aside the uncertainty over the ultimate outcome of the process of ratification of the European Constitution, in the context of which there has emerged a crucial confrontation between those who support the principle of ratification by majority and those who refuse to accept the overcoming of the unanimity rule, no entirely democratic constituent method has yet been established. The problem has, however, become unavoidable, because if full federalisation of the European Union cannot be achieved within a reasonable space of time — and unless the method that will allow this can be introduced, a method that must necessarily include the possibility of federation among those ready to take this step — then the process of European integration is destined to undergo a fatal regression.
 
Sergio Pistone


[1] A good reconstruction of this stage in the process of European integration can be found in Enrico Serra (editor), La relance européenne et les Traités de Rome. Actes du colloque de Rome 25-28 mars 1987, Brussels, Bruylant, 1989.
[2] With this image, Luigi Einaudi interpreted the two World Wars as the imperialistic response to the crisis of the nation-states, which must be set against the federalist response, that is union by “the sword of God”. See L. Einaudi, La guerra e l’unità europea, Introduction by G. Vigo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1986, pp. 43 onwards. Along the same lines, L. Dehio, The Precarious Balance. Four Centuries of European Power Struggle, New York, Knopf, 1962. In general, with regard to the concept of the crisis of the nation-state as the fundamental historical factor at the root of the process of European integration, see: A. Spinelli, La crisi degli stati nazionali, edited by L. Levi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1991; M. Albertini, Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993.
[3] This phrase is contained in the proposal for European unification presented by Aristide Briand to the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1929. See: S. Pistone (editor), L’idea dell’unificazione europea dalla prima alla seconda guerra mondiale, Turin, Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 1975; S. Minardi, Origini e vicende del progetto di unione europea di Briand, Caltanisetta, Salvatore Sciascia Editore, 1994; Fondation Archives Européennes, Le Plan Briand d’union fédérale européenne. Documents, edited by O. Keller and L. Jilek and with Introduction by A. Fleury, Geneva, Fondation Archives Européennes, 1991.
[4] For more on the connection between the German question and Community integration, see: S. Pistone, La Germania e l’unità europea, Naples, Guida, 1978.
[5] This is not to detract from the enormous historical merit that must be attributed to Monnet as creator of the Community system. This system, by managing to plant embryos of federalism in an institutional framework dominated by the national governments, allowed the achievement of a level of integration that would have been impossible with a purely intergovernmental mechanism. See: Mario Albertini, “La grandezza di Jean Monnet”, in Il Federalista, XIX (1977), n. 1.
[6] Mario Albertini offers the most convincing explanation of why European economic integration was able to progress in spite of the postponement sine die of the creation of a fully democratic, federal European political authority. According to his analysis, this progress was rendered possible by the fact that, in the absence of a European democratic power, there intervened, as a decisive factor for integration, a de facto political power based on the “de facto eclipse” of the national sovereignties and on the “de facto unity of the raisons d’état. Basically, he was referring to the endemic weakness of the European nation-states, which forced them to cooperate in order to survive, and the strong convergence — ensured by America’s hegemony — of their foreign, defence and economic policies. And he pointed out, moreover, that this political basis for European economic integration was structurally unstable, not least because the relative strengthening of the nation-states, produced by their economic integration, was destined, in the long run, to undermine the foundations of the convergence of their raisons d’état, unless this convergence could be stabilised through the creation of strong supranational institutions. See: M. Albertini, “La ‘force de dissuasion’ francese”, in Il Federalista, II (1960), n. 6; Id., “La Comunità europea, evoluzione federale o involuzione diplomatica”, in Il Federalista, XXI (1979), n. 3-4.
[7] See L.V. Majocchi and F. Rossolillo, Il Parlamento europeo. Significato storico di una elezione, Naples, Guida, 1979.
[8] See R.A Cangelosi, Dal progetto di trattato Spinelli all’Atto unico europeo, Milan, F. Angeli, 1987; J. Delors, L’unité d’un homme, Paris, Editions Odile Jacob, 1994; A. Landuyt and D. Preda (editors), I movimenti per l’unità europea 1970-1986, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2000; L. Angelino, Le forme dell’Europa, Spinelli o della federazione, Genoa, Il Melangolo, 2003.
[9] At this point, it should be explained that the botched Suez adventure at the end of 1956 was one of the main reasons why France (at the time the most protectionist of the Six) accepted the EEC. This circumstance strengthened the position of those who felt that it would be in France’s best interests (in terms of development) to become part of a European economy rather than cling to a crumbling colonial empire.
[10] For more on the EDC and EPC, and the role played by De Gasperi, Spinelli and Ivan Matteo Lombardo, see: G. Petrilli, La politica estera ed europea di De Gasperi, Rome, Cinque Lune, 1975; M. Albertini, “La fondazione dello Stato europeo. Esame e documentazione del tentativo di De Gasperi nel 1951 e prospettive attuali”, in Il Federalista, XIX (1977), n. 1; S. Pistone, L’Italia e l’unità europea, Turin, Loescher, 1982; D. Preda, Storia di una speranza. La battaglia per la CED e la federazione europea, Milan, Jaca Book, 1990; Id., Sulla soglia dell’Unione. La vicenda della Comunità politica europea (1952-1954), Milan, Jaca Book, 1994; Id., Alcide De Gasperi federalista europeo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2004.
[11] Also, the fact that article 138 of the EEC Treaty entrusted the EP with the task of making proposals for its direct election retrieves part of Article 38 of the EDC Treaty which gave the European Parliamentary Assembly a similar task, in addition to that of proposing a draft EPC Treaty.
[12] See: Luigi V. Majocchi (editor), Messina quarant’anni dopo. L’attualità del metodo in vista della Conferenza intergovernativa del 1996, Bari, Cacucci, 1996.
[13] See: Daniela Preda, Per una costituzione federale dell’Europa. Lavori preparatori del Comitato di Studi presieduto da P.H. Spaak 1952-1953, Padua, CEDAM, 1996.
[14] See: Altiero Spinelli, Una strategia per gli Stati Uniti d’Europa, edited by Sergio Pistone, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989.
[15] See: Cinzia Rognoni Vercelli, “Il Congresso del popolo europeo”, in S. Pistone (editor), I movimenti per l’unità europea 1954-1969, Pavia, University of Pavia, 1996, and Ibid., S. Pistone, “I movimenti per l’unità europea in Italia”, in which he traces the campaign for the Voluntary Census of the European Federal People, through which the MFE, under Albertini, from 1963-1966 campaigned for a constituent assembly. From 1967 onwards, this campaign was continued as a campaign for the direct election of the EP.
[16] See: S. Pistone, “Il Movimento Federalista Europeo e i Trattati di Roma”, in E. Serra, op. cit.
[17] See: B. Olivi and R. Santaniello, Storia dell’integrazione europea, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2005.

 

 

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