Year XLV, 2003, Number 3, Page 158

 

 

CONSTITUENT STRATEGY AND CONSTITUTIONAL GRADUALISM
 
 
Anyone embarking on a political battle to introduce change, to defend or to affirm values, or to respond adequately to the changing demands and needs emerging within society, cannot help but reflect profoundly on the theoretical line, the political line and the strategy that must be adopted. When the political battle goes beyond the confines of a consolidated power framework and seeks to call into question a centuries-old “political culture”, then this reflection must necessarily be all the more painstaking and pondered. Federalists, who pursue, on the one hand, the overcoming of the nation-state and the enlargement of the sphere of statehood, and on the other, the affirmation of the political culture of a united mankind, find themselves in precisely this position.
Of the three elements defining the federalists’ political struggle, strategy is the most concrete and, at the same time, the least stable. Impossible to formulate definitively, federalist strategy is, as regards its fundamental lines, closely bound up with the constant need to verify reality, in other words, to assess the present historical-political moment and the opportunities it offers to mobilise the forces in the field. Taking this as its starting point, the strategic line identifies the means with which to take on the national power that must be overcome in the creation of the new supranational power, and the manner in which this must be done.
By considering the two strategic lines that have been applied in the field since the birth of the European Federalist Movement, we can illustrate and clarify these concepts and maybe gain some useful pointers on how best to approach the present stage in the process of European unification.
 
The Constituent Strategy.
 
The expression constituent strategy refers to the strategy that sets federation as the direct and immediate objective. The first action reflecting this strategy was the one mounted by the MFE at the end of the ‘40s, through its “Petition for a Pact for Federal Union”, a campaign that involved Italy’s top politicians and ended with the signing of the petition, at the Teatro Sistina in Rome, by prime minister, Alcide De Gasperi, and foreign minister Carlo Sforza, in the presence of the President of Italy, Luigi Einaudi.
The backdrop to this campaign was the decay and power crisis of Europe’s nation-states, whose weakness was seen to be exploitable in the bid to get them to put their centuries of conflict and destruction behind them and unite in a federation. Not only this, the United States was also acting as a propulsive force in this very same direction.
The fact that the federal pact never came into being only exacerbated Europe’s post-war problems, the greatest of which was that of German sovereignty, and in particular, of the German army. The European Defence Community (EDC) project was the governments’ answer to this problem, and the battle for a European political community the federalist reaction.
But the failure of the EDC meant that federalists had to rethink their strategy and their role. Gone was the hope that the albeit weak federalist line that had been represented within the national political forces would bear fruit, and gone, too, the belief that the only thing federalists needed to do was support the governments in their work, encouraging their pursuit of initiatives that would, faced with the exceptional post-war situation, lead them towards acceptance of the federal pact.
With the ratification of the WEU and the restoration of Germany’s sovereignty, it was clear that the rebuilding of Europe was proceeding along national lines, and was based on the preservation of the absolute sovereignty of the states: federalists thus set themselves the task of creating the conditions that would force the national governments to relinquish their sovereignty, their intention being to fire popular demand for a constituent assembly, the convening of which could come about only upon the creation of a supranational political force that was firmly in favour of such a step and that was strong enough to impose it on the national governments. This political force, which would serve to increase European popular will until victory was achieved, and agreement to the constituent assembly wrung out of the governments, was to be the European People’s Congress (EPC).
“This is not a maximalist programme”, wrote Albertini in an article on the significance of the Paris congress, in January 1955, of the European Union of Federalists, which launched the idea of the EPC.[1] “It is a question of shifting the struggle to terrain where it can be won. Schuman himself, whose courageous address opened the meeting, said that European action must focus not on the national parliaments, but on the two spheres of opinion — public and government. National situations become crystallised in national parliaments, and even more so in national governments. But it is from national governments that public opinion must secure the first step, because national governments are the ones with the power of initiative.”
These were the considerations that led federalists — through the drawing up (by an ad hoc committee elected by the EPC in Turin in December 1958) of a draft treaty (federal pact) for the creation of the United States of Europe and for the convening of a European constituent assembly, and also through a campaign for approval of the same — to prepare the instruments with which to confront the national powers. “The vote of the EPC” — reads one of the articles signed Publius appearing in Popolo europeo in ‘58 and written to illustrate the significance and to set out the objectives of the campaign[2] — “does not create a parliamentary power, but counts more as a sort of protest, a claim to the European voting right… The general political meaning of this long-term work plan is essentially as follows: it tends towards the hegemony on diffuse Europeanism. Today, Europeanism is a zero force politically… But this situation can be overturned with the primary elections… In the same way in which someone who has liberal, socialist, trade union reactions immediately reports them to a given party or trade union, thus tomorrow someone who has European reactions will report them to the European People’s Congress and no longer to the ‘Europeanists’ of the national parties. When this is done, Europeanism will be a political force. It will then be a matter of using this force appropriately and decisively when power crisis situations arise. In such situations choices become strong, the masses awaken from their usual slumber and acquire the power of choice. Then the EPC will be able to stage the decisive battle.”
One must, then, be careful not to confuse the constituent strategy with what has often been defined the “constituent method”, an expression that refers to the assignment of what some regard as an autonomous role to assemblies of representatives of the European people that would be able, should they wish to do so, to seize power and create a European state through the drawing up of a constitution. This latter idea represents a strategic, as well as a theoretical, error given that a) it fails to take into account the fact that power can be relinquished only by those who hold it in the first place, b) the role of the European people, while it is still an embryonic people, is reflected in its efforts to force the governments to sanction the creation of the federation, c) the sovereignty of the European people can manifest itself only in a measure commensurate with the extent to which it actually becomes a European people, through the formation of the new political community of which it becomes a founding part, d) writing a constitution is not the same as creating a state (a fact clearly demonstrated by projects developed by the European parliament in the past, and, today, by the European convention convened by the Laeken summit); and in any case, even if a constitution were to make provision for federal institutions, this does not alter the validity of point a), above.
The course — opposition to the system of nation-states — embarked upon by the federalists with the EPC also emerged as the right one in the years that followed. When the governments, through the creation of the common market, started to move in the direction of simple economic integration, the strategy they adopted was inevitably to denounce the prevailing functionalist illusion, indicating the federation as its radical alternative.
The attitude of federalists towards the European Communities was thus strongly critical, and contrasted with the hope, then emerging, of a spontaneous evolution, in a federal direction, of what they defined Europe’s “pseudo-communities”. “Evolution”, wrote Albertini,[3] “means passing (gradually) from status X to status Y. Well, one cannot talk directly of a (gradual) transfer of the power of these pseudo-communities from a national (confederal) status to a European (federal) status for the simple reason that these pseudo-communities do not have any power, and as a result cannot go from having one form of power to having another; and neither is it possible to talk in indirect terms: since they are subordinate to and not wielders of power, they are not in a position to transfer it from a national to a European level. Whatever form they take, these pseudo-communities remain within the confines of the national sphere. In relation to the European sphere, they are, one might say, asymptotic: they can be thought to draw ever closer to it, they cannot be considered able to reach it…
Those who wish federation to be achieved cannot, therefore, be in favour of the pseudo-communities. So what must their attitude be? Indifferent, hostile? I would say that it must be hostile. Allow me to illustrate just one point: to unite Europe there needs to be a transfer of sovereignty from the state to the federation, and this can occur only if a sufficient number of individuals, firmly aligned in the European camp, turn against the national powers in order (to a great extent) to destroy them, while at the same time founding, in the same European camp, a political (constituent) power. We are talking about an extremely difficult revolutionary struggle… demanding exceptional force of reason. But as long as the pseudo-communities continue to be thought of as something intermediate, something that is evolving from the national to the European, then this struggle remains completely inconceivable. No one will ever opt for a costly, difficult and uncertain means if he thinks that there exists an inexpensive, easy and sure one. This is why those who truly wish to see Europe united must demonstrate that the pseudo-communities are not a suitable means with which to build Europe — must, in other words, oppose them.”
This political-strategic analysis brought federalists face to face with a difficult decision, one so contrary to the prevailing trend that to make it meant risking isolation. They were faced with a genuine dilemma: on the one hand there was the need to give consciousness to and organise the widespread Europeanism, in other words, the pro-European feelings of the citizens, and, on the other, the need to denounce the Europeanist policy pursued by the governments, a policy that, in reality, postponed the federal objective, and was feeding the widespread Europeanism that federalists themselves needed to be exploiting. “…Federalists”, wrote Albertini, “must be more concerned about Europeanism (support for the Communities) than nationalism (attachment to national sovereignty)… If they are, indeed, to unite a sufficient number of individuals behind them on the decisive front, the obstacle federalists have to overcome is that of Europeanism, which tends to set those same individuals on the dead-end track of the pseudo-communities; and not that of nationalism, which does not influence the individuals in question. At first glance, this might seem to suggest that federalists should be doing battle with those who favour Europe, albeit in a lukewarm manner, and ignoring those who are opposed to it… In reality, pro-Europeans do not favour Europe so much as the preservation of the nation states; and in reality the pseudo-communities are… the expression of a pro-national policy, i.e., the policy of the pro-Europeans. Europeanism is a) better equipped than nationalism to defend the states, which support themselves better through collaboration than through isolation, and b) compatible with a degree of nationalism acceptable to the regular politician, who, given the effective power of the states, is obliged to settle for little. Basically, Europeanism is another form of nationalism… it is the most dangerous facet of the nation state.”
This adoption of this tough stance was not without repercussions on the MFE. It produced splits and divisions, but it was also the decision that allowed the Movement to emerge from the severe crisis prompted by the failure of the EDC without slipping into the functionalist trap. Through the EPC and the subsequent campaign, the voluntary census of the European federal people, the new militant forces of an independent Movement were shaped — forces that have proved able to remain in the field to the present day.
Naturally, this identification of the strategic adversary (Europeanism) did not in any way obscure from view the federalists’ political enemy, the nation state, opposition to which was defined “community opposition”, an expression that reflected both the refusal to consider the national political communities as organic and permanent, and the political struggle to replace them with a new political community and state — the European federation.
We will see, later on, that many of the problems that characterised this strategic phase are extremely topical in the current phase, in which, in the wake of a long, almost forty-year, journey conducted according to a different strategic logic, that of constitutional gradualism, federalists once again find themselves having to confront the need for a change of strategy.
 
Constitutional Gradualism.
 
The firm logic underpinning the constituent strategy, i.e., the consideration that power cannot pass by degrees from the nations to Europe, is inherently, and therefore, always valid; it is one of the structural aspects on which to base analyses of the processes of democratic unification of states. But when applied to the question of strategy, it has to take into account the concrete situations that condition not so much its validity as its modes of application. That said, in the concrete situations examined above, the application of this firm logic was not subject to compromise: there existed the conditions needed to conduct a battle whose objective was to push the states directly into making the federal leap.
But no such leap was made: the nation states, impelled by their ever-increasing interdependence, continued to follow the path of simple collaboration, and developed a European policy of economic integration that allowed them to grow in strength and to achieve successes that were painted by the governments — and increasingly perceived by the citizens — as steps forward along the road to European unity.
Federalists thus needed to identify a new course, that started from this new situation, that is to say from the point reached by the process of European integration. On the horizon, and open to strategic exploitation, was the forthcoming end (following the creation of the customs and agricultural unions) of the transitory period of the Common Market. Upon reaching this point, the states would find themselves at a crossroads: a) if they wanted to go on reaping the benefits of economic integration, they would have to confront the question of economic and monetary union, b) in order to overcome the contradiction — which the governments more than anyone were coming up against daily — between the dimensions of the problems to be dealt with and those of the decision making centres, they would have to tackle the problem of the institutions and of their democratic control. Together, these two fronts were to be, for the federalists, the platform from which to re-launch the European objective, adopting a new strategic line: that of constitutional gradualism.
Clearly, the federal state remained the federalists’ objective, but in a situation that was characterised by a relative strengthening of the states, there was only one strategic course that could be followed: exploitation of the governments’ own European policy, pursuit of gradual strategic ends — which did not imply an immediate transfer of sovereignty — as a subtle way of driving politicians onto a “downward slope”[4] from the nations to Europe. This could be done by identifying a “slippery point”, or a problem (and the relative strategic objective), that could potentially induce the decision to transfer power. What they had to find, in other words, was one irrefutable contradiction in the whole integration situation, potentially recognisable (or already recognised) as such also by the governments and politicians, as a means of creating the contradiction between the partial response (the gradual constitutional objective of a constitutional nature) and the need for federal union.
As Jean Monnet had propounded in his Memorandum of 1950, it was a question of starting a “concrete and resolute action on a limited but decisive point, that will bring about a fundamental change in relation to that point and help to modify the way in which the problems as a whole manifest themselves”.[5]
Federalists, from the mid 1960s on, identified two such “slippery points” — one in the need to democratise the Community institutions, by creating a first centre of European political action (strategic objective: the direct election of the European parliament), and the other in the need to achieve a greater degree of economic-monetary integration (strategic objective: the single currency).
It was on these two fronts that they battled to create the contradictions intended to push the governments closer to deciding to create a federation, aware that this was a gamble, not a certainty, and aware that they would not be setting in motion a mechanism of cause and effect, but instead opening up a possibility.
This approach was radically different from the one they had adopted in the previous strategic phase: the immediate creation of a European federal state had become the building of it through a gradual process. The steps in this process were presented as the building bricks of a state under construction, as gradual strategic objectives whose realisation would open up the possibility of breaking with the old order and creating a new one, a true federal state. It was, as Albertini wrote,[6] the paradox of “creating a state to create the state” or, put another way, a question of viewing constitutional gradualism (the gradual construction of the state) in terms of political-institutional gradualism (the creation of imperfect institutions whose contradictory nature could be exploited in order to create the state).
The awareness that this gradual construction was a means to an end, a sort of trap intended to lead the states towards that decisive federal leap, was accompanied by the realisation that any possibility that this leap might actually be taken was limited, and still is limited, by the tendency of the national governments to concentrate only on the management of that which already exists, and to exploit all opportunities created by collaboration to one end only: the preservation of their own power. It was also recognised that an occasional European leadership, able to manifest a willingness to transfer sovereignty, and endowed with the strength to pull all the others in its wake, can emerge only in the presence of a truly explosive situation (a severe internal or external crisis).
Having set out on this road, federalists had to gauge carefully their attitude towards the national powers. In the constituent strategy phase, following the failure of the EDC, considerable emphasis had been placed on “community opposition”, and the Europeanism of the governments and politicians had been viewed as an obstacle; in the new strategic phase, on the other hand, the aim was to exploit the governments’ European policies, and a tactical three-stage approach was needed: 1) once the strategic objective had been identified, federalists had to begin “steering” the politicians, national and European, in the direction of that same objective, resolutely pointing out the constitutional implications of pursuing the gradual objective (European franchise and the single currency imply a government, since a democratically elected parliament that wields no power and has no possibility of controlling an executive would be entirely meaningless; in the same way, the government of a currency depends on the existence of a state power); nevertheless, the approach was not to condemn, so much as to collaborate with those who, while not yet willing to relinquish sovereignty, were, however, ready to take a step that would lead them onto a precipice from which it would be far easier to push them towards the federal leap; 2) having achieved the gradual strategic objective, the next step would be to exploit this success by demanding a constituent assembly; 3) were this entry into the field to produce nothing more than maintenance of simple collaboration, federalists would clearly have to abandon the field in order to denounce the compromise and prepare to wage a new battle.
Providing it is understood correctly, the constitutional gradualism strategy cannot be confused with the step by step policy, in other words, with those adjustments to the institutions and Community policies that, ultimately, do nothing other than facilitate — when the growth of interdependence makes this necessary — intergovernmental cooperation. Constitutional gradualism means identifying and pursuing objectives that have the potential to trigger a constituent process, objectives whose achievement, as we have said, lays bare the contradiction between the need for and the lack of a European power, and calls the question of sovereignty into play.
Neither can this strategy be confused with functionalism, which interprets the progressive steps towards integration as a course that will almost automatically lead to federation, and fails to take into account either power aspects or the question of will, i.e., the two elements crucial to a real understanding of how a process of integration can culminate in unification.
 
Back to the Constituent Strategy.
 
The achievement of the two objectives pursued by federalists over their forty-year adoption of the gradualist strategy has not been followed by the creation of a European federation. The process is thus incomplete, and in the face of this we must ask ourselves (as we have done in the past at every strategic turn) two crucial questions: 1) what is the current framework of world power? 2) what point has the process of European unification reached? The answers to these two questions help to indicate strategy we should be adopting today, and the concrete content of that strategy.
With regard to the global power framework, what we might say, very briefly, is the following: the international situation is highly unbalanced, and this imbalance is generating uncontrollable disorder and anarchy. To restore equilibrium to “global government”, new political subjects need to be set on the scales of power, and Europe, were it a state, would today be the only credible candidate (although other subjects, currently becoming established, may well emerge in the future). We might also remark that America is far less in favour of the birth of a European power than it once was (the current US policy towards the European states is, indeed, one of divide and rule). Looking, then, at the global power framework, it is clear that the world desperately needs Europe, and it is also clear that American policy is one of the obstacles to Europe’s unification.
But the greatest obstacles to European unity lie, in reality, within Europe itself, within this Europe that has pushed ahead with enlargement despite lacking sound democratic political institutions, this Europe whose rising tide of nationalism is the inevitable consequence of the absence of a single political community (deriving from a single state) equipped to manage its shared interests.
Considering the new European framework, we can see that gradual drawing closer to the federal objective, a process at one stage seen by federalists as the only possible avenue, is now out of the question, given that it is no longer possible to conceive of intermediate strategic objectives of a constitutional nature. Europe’s foreign and defence policies are not worthy of the name, given that a true European defence policy, i.e., “single” and not “common”, implies the immediate relinquishment of sovereignty, and is thus the premise for (from the point of view of the intention) and the consequence of (from the point of view of the decision) the creation of the European federal state, and as such, the ultimate point of arrival and not an intermediate step.[7]
But what conditions more than anything the possibility of pursuing the federal objective, and as a result also conditions the strategic choices, is the fact that everything that was built within the framework that began with the Six and lasted right through to the Twelve members of European monetary union risks remaining frozen at the confederal stage, or even being destroyed by the Union’s embracing of states that are not only not interested in, but often entirely opposed to European unification. Paradoxically, Europe’s salvation lies in its division, or rather in the creation, at its heart, of a federal core state able to serve as a guarantee of cohesion in the face of the dangers of disintegration and as a force for gradual enlargement, until such time as it embraces the whole of Europe.
Federalists have been indicating the creation of a federal core as the means of overcoming the resistance of resolutely anti-European states, like the United Kingdom, and the qualms of less responsible states, ever since the time of the very first constituent battles. Today, however, the divisive factors, both within and outside Europe, have become stronger and more complicated, and Europeans, if they are to avert disaster, now have very little time left to them in which to do it.
If, then, the gradualist approach is no longer a viable option, and if our analysis as regards the dangers of disintegration and the urgent need for union is correct, then federalists must go back to indicating the radical option, firmly resisting the temptation to seek evolutionary possibilities in a situation that is no longer influenceable. This is not only the logical conclusion of correct political analysis, but also the only way of safeguarding the autonomy of the MFE, that is to say, its capacity, at the opportune moment, to dissociate itself from false solutions and to indicate the only way out of situations of impasse.
We federalists must, then, go back to the constituent strategy, that is to the direct call for a federal state, not allowing ourselves to be conditioned by the sirens of Europeanism who, prisoners of the process whose advancement Europeanism has helped to bring about, persist in seeing the future in terms of a gradual drawing closer to the objective, and are unable to see that, in reality, this objective is not only in danger of moving further and further out of reach, but indeed of disappearing over the horizon altogether.
And we must also show those who are, potentially, invested with the most responsibility (the governments of the founder member states) what has to be achieved (an irrevocable pact of federal union and the democratic adoption of the same through a constitution drawn up by a constituent assembly). It is around these objectives that the citizens of Europe need to be mobilised.
 
Nicoletta Mosconi


[1] Mario Albertini, “Significato del V Congresso internazionale dell’Unione europea dei federalisti”, in La Provincia pavese (16 March, 1955).
[2] These writings, from 1957, are gathered in “Technical Analysis of the Struggle for Europe” (1959) in The Federalist, XXXI (1989), pp. 133 onwards.
[3] Reply to a letter by Gianni Merlini published in the “Discussioni” section of Il Federalista, III (1961), pp. 188 onwards.
[4] Mario Albertini, “Il problema monetario e il problema politico europeo” (1973), in Una rivoluzione pacifica, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, p. 184.
[5] Cfr. “Il Memorandum Monnet del 3 maggio 1950”, in Mario Albertini, Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993, p. 273.
[6] Mario Albertini, “Elezione europea, governo europeo e Stato europeo” (1976), in Una rivoluzione pacifica, cit., p. 225.
[7] The strategy of gradualism is for “keeping European unity on the agenda, but not for bringing it to a successful outcome. In effect it is worth nothing (as might be ascertained when an attempt was made to raise a European army to avoid the rebirth of the German army) when European objectives are such as to demand a transfer of sovereign power to Europe.” Cfr. Mario Albertini, “Theses for the 14th MFE Congress” (1989), in The Federalist, XXXI (1989), p. 128.

 

 

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