Year XLV, 2003, Number 1, Page 44
That the framework of a fifteen-member, to say nothing of a twenty-five-member, European Union is incompatible with the foundation of a European federal state is both obvious and widely acknowledged. But recognition of this fact can lead to one of two conflicting conclusions: either one can opt to conserve the fifteen-member (and in the near future twenty-five-member) framework, which would imply abandonment of the federal state objective and acceptance of the prospect (quite devoid of any future) of minor adjustments and small-scale reforms; or, one can retain the objective of the federal state, in this case abandoning the idea of the fifteen- or twenty-five-member framework.
Those committed to the struggle to bring about Europe’s political unification must inevitably choose the second alternative, which is to say the formation of a federal core. The reasons in favour of this choice are so obvious that they do not need to be set out again here. What is worth reiterating, on the other hand, is the fact that the strategic choice represented by the federal core objective is by no means based on the certainty that there currently exists, in an adequate number of member states, the real will to form such a core. Indeed, it would be patently false to claim that this is the case. All that can be affirmed with certainty is that some EU member states, regardless of the positions of their respective governments, are more ripe for the European endeavour than others, this greater maturity being attributable to the deeper level of interdependence between them and to their longer history of integration, and that this is reflected both in the receptiveness of public opinion to the federalist message and in the contradictions and ambiguities that emerge among these countries’ ruling classes. It is not, therefore, a question of distinguishing between countries whose governments want a European federal state and countries whose governments do not; rather, it is a question of identifying a framework within which there exist the prerequisites for the formation of the will to found a European federal state and within which it makes sense to strive for its birth. Any contribution to the creation of this framework constitutes a step towards the creation of a European federal state.
The federal core debate is sometimes obscured by a series of misapprehensions and misunderstandings. These are due to the fact that, in the framework of the present Union (and even more so in that of the future Union), there exist not two, but several different degrees of maturation of European consciousness, which are linked to different roles and responsibilities within the process. It is thus crucial to establish how the latter is destined to unfold and to analyse the situation more precisely in order to ensure that the strategic objective of the federal core is clearly understood, since the use of vague terms could easily lead to a dispersion rather than a mobilisation of energies. Indeed, before a political strategy can be developed and executed, the context within which it is to be implemented must be identified with the utmost clarity, as must the interlocutors it will target. This is why it is meaningless to suppose that the objective of a federal core can be pursued without indicating at least initially (allowing for changes of direction along the way) the countries of which it will have to be comprised.
It must be made clear, first of all, that the process will have to have an engine — a driving force to get it started. This engine must inevitably be the willingness of the two countries that lie at the very heart of Europe and whose reconciliation first set Europe on its journey towards integration. The two countries in question are, of course, France and Germany. Should the will to found the initial core of a European federal state fail to emerge in either or both of these countries, then the process will not even be able to begin.
Should no other country be ready to adhere to this project from the outset, there is no reason why France and Germany could not set it in motion by themselves. And yet this is an unlikely scenario. The countries that will be part of the federal core vanguard must be few enough to guarantee the project sufficient cohesion and a high level of consensus, but at the same time numerous enough to constitute the critical mass needed to impart strength to the process and to guarantee the support of a large population that is ripe for the change. Let it be remembered that, since the very beginning of the process of European unification, France and Germany have attracted the support of another group of tightly knit countries, and any resistance to the idea of a federal core will be far more easily be broken down if, upon its official stipulation, the agreement between France and Germany is strengthened by the adhesion of these countries. Clearly, the countries we are referring to are the six founder members of the ECSC. Thanks to the long history of integration shared by these countries, to the degree of European awareness of their citizens and to the great symbolic value that is attached to their role as pioneers of the process of European integration, they find themselves on the same wavelength, and thus destined to assume this role. It would therefore be meaningless to develop a strategy targeting the governments, politicians and public opinion of France and Germany alone, excluding the other countries that are their natural partners.
Finally, there exists, within the context of the European Union, the group of twelve countries united by their adoption of the single currency. This, too, is a real and distinct group that is characterised by a certain level of interdependence. In view of this, some have been prompted to suggest that the federal core should be made up of the eurozone countries. Indeed, were a federal core to be formed, or were the Six to proclaim in unequivocal terms their irreversible will to found a federal core, many of the eurozone countries, faced with the decision to join it or to remain outside it, would quickly decide to join it. The core would not be a six-country core for very long, but would quickly expand to embrace the other eurozone members, albeit perhaps not all of them and perhaps at different times.
It cannot be denied that those eurozone countries that are not members of the Six have a much more recent history of integration, that some of them are radically opposed to the concept of a European foreign and security policy, on the grounds that it would undermine their statutory neutrality, and that in some of these countries, membership of the single currency and even membership of the European Union itself are viewed by the general public as decisions based purely on economic considerations. The fact that these countries would rapidly adhere to the project once an irreversible and non negotiable decision to found a federal core had been taken does nothing to attenuate the difference between the decision to join a group that exists (the alternative being to remain outside it) and the decision to contribute to its creation, the latter necessitating absolute clarity of vision and strong political will, as well as the strength to resist the temptation to look for compromises and false solutions. This will cannot be generated in the eurozone countries that are not members of the initial six European member states, and involving them in the negotiations would only suffocate it within the Six.
It has been said that the identity of the federal core will emerge from a process led by the European Convention or by some other organ (probably a twenty-five-member organ) that will replace the Convention in the wake of its failure. In the simplest scenario envisaged by some of those who believe this to be feasible, the Convention (or possibly its successor), has the capacity to propose, and the IGC to sanction unanimously, the birth of a federal core. This hypothesis rests on the assumption that countries not wishing to join a federal core themselves will nevertheless be willing to allow the others to found one, and that they will be willing to accept it within a European Union that will be much the same, institutionally, as the one we know today. This is impossible. The countries not wishing to join a federal core would not even be in favour of its formation. A state (such as Great Britain) that does not wish to sacrifice its sovereignty in order to join a federal union in which it would, as a member state, nevertheless continue to wield considerable influence is never going to be willing to accept the presence, on its own doorstep, of a large federation over which it exercises no influence and that would considerably curtail the freedom to decide of its own institutions. It is true that, were the federal core to become a reality, there can be no doubting that it would, as we have said, quickly expand; not only this, by becoming part of the European Union it would also give rise to a two-speed Europe. But for all this to come about, regardless of the will of the other members of the Union, and in some cases against their will, the federal core needs first to be founded.
The most extravagant scenario is that of a more complex procedure in which (once the Convention has approved a design for a federal constitution) it will be ratification of or failure to ratify the constitution that will determine which countries will be included in the federal core. In other words, the latter will be made up of countries that ratify the constitution, possibly through a referendum. But this scenario will never be realised unless the following conditions are created: a) the Convention would have to approve a proper design for federal union (without specifying which countries should be members of it), not an incoherent muddle that actually changes nothing (or more likely aggravates the situation); b) the intergovernmental conference would have to give the design its unanimous approval, yet without pronouncing on its composition; c) at the same time, again unanimously, the intergovernmental conference would have to alter the procedural rules established by the current Treaties, according to which the failure of just one member state to ratify a new treaty modifying the existing ones implies the need to renegotiate it. This rule, in particular, would have to be replaced with another stating that the treaty will come into force only in the countries that have ratified it. Clearly, none of these three conditions are possible.
The idea that a six-member core can be formed within the current fifteen-member (or future twenty-five-member) European framework without the need for a breakaway action on the part of some states is an illusion. Moreover, it is an illusion that cannot hide another harsh and uncomfortable truth, i.e., that the will to found a federal core can only be generated within the context of the Six (or possibly within an even smaller setting were one or more of the governments of Europe’s original member-states to refuse to adhere to the project) and that, from this perspective, the European institutions, far from being the driving force behind the process, would actually constitute an obstacle to its initiation and development.