Year XLIV, 2002, Number 2, Page 110
BUILDING EUROPE OR WRITING A “CONSTITUTION”?
Many confuse building Europe, understood in terms of the creation of a power that is lacking, with the writing of a series of rules for a power that does, in fact, exist. This confusion can imply one of two things: in some cases, it is the consequence of an incapacity to distinguish between words (the drawing up of the text of a “constitution”) and deeds (the creation of a European power); in others, it is the expression of a deliberate desire to sanction, solemnly and definitively, Europe as it is today, or even to render impossible any real transfer of power, removing from the Treaties even the seeds of supranationalism they contain.
It is important that federalists do not allow themselves to fall prey to this confusion or to forget that the Movement was born in order to strive for Europe’s political unification, that is to say in order to confront the enormous problem of creating a new state in an area where there currently exist numerous sovereign states, and certainly not in order to engage in academic disputes over the small improvements that it might be possible to make to the inefficient and cumbersome apparatus that is today’s European Union.
What federalists — all federalists — must do therefore, showing that surge of pride of which Spinelli so often spoke and wrote, is to return to the ideals that originally inspired them. Failing this, there will inevitably be a growing tendency in our ranks to renounce our role as an autonomous actor in the process of European unification, the only one with a real awareness of the true nature of its point of destination, and to allow the official Europeanism of the governments and European institutions to dictate our stances and strategic directions. The autonomy of the Movement has always been a condition crucial to its survival. But for us to tow the official European line today, a time in which we are seeing a strong involution of the process, and in which even the most pro-European of politicians are becoming convinced that Europeanism does not pay at the polls and tending to fall back on ambiguous solutions, such as the “Federation of Nation-states”, or to hide behind the principle of subsidiarity to justify the maintenance, and even the strengthening of the power of the states, would be to show that we are relinquishing, unacceptably, our post.
Clearly, forming a new united federal state from a large number of independent states implies, among other things, agreement upon certain rules. Power is consensus, and consensus must be directed at a new form of living together, and thus at new rules that render possible and regulate the same. It is therefore impossible to divorce rules from power entirely. And in this regard, there are two points that need to be made with clarity. First, these rules must not be the product of a purely academic exercise that culminates in the writing of a series of articles, but rather the result of a strong act of will that constitutes the manifestation of the birth of a new people. Second, the rules whose coming into force marks the birth of a federal state must all come down, substantially, to a single principle: the establishment of a direct relationship between citizens and government, both from the bottom upwards (in the sense that government must be the expression of the people, regardless of the mechanism (parliamentary, presidential, etc.) through which this expression manifests itself), and from the top downwards (in the sense that the government must have the power, within the sphere of its competencies, to act directly on the citizens and, having at its disposal the instruments needed to impose on individuals observance of the laws of the federation, not limit itself to the simple issuing of directives to member-states).
This idea was, with good reason, the main concern of the authors of the Federalist, Hamilton in particular. It is essential to bear in mind that the Articles of Confederation, whose manifest inadequacy spawned an awareness of the need to found anew, and on new bases, the coexistence of the former American colonies and their citizens, had in many ways mapped out an institutional structure more advanced than that of the present European Union (even though it is only right to recall the diversity of the two historical situations). To cite only the two most important aspects, the United States Congress not only had responsibility for foreign policy and defence, but also decided all questions (apart from reforms of the Articles of Confederation themselves) by majority vote, even though, in the key policy areas, the favourable vote of nine of the thirteen states was required. What paralysed the Confederation, therefore, was neither a problem of competencies, nor the decision-making mechanism itself, but rather the fact that the Confederation was the expression of an agreement among sovereign states; and of its own incapacity to implement its decisions and impose observance of the same on the citizens.
This was because decisions taken by Congress resulted ultimately in nothing more than a series of recommendations to member-states to put them into practice. Consequently, whenever they looked likely to jeopardise the interests of one or more of the member-states, decisions would not be acted upon. The member-states often refused to provide Congress with the military contingents it was their duty to supply or the monies it fell to them to pay. And they were able to do this because Congress did not have the power to recruit troops or to impose taxes directly, these being areas that remained the sole prerogative of the member-states.
The overturning of this situation, and the attendant creation, in certain essential sectors, of a direct tie between citizens and government, was the revolutionary outcome of the Philadelphia Convention. At Philadelphia, and through subsequent ratifications, a new power was created. And it was this power that on the one hand opened up the way for the introduction of new rules, and on the other rendered workable rules that already existed but had, in the old power framework, proved inapplicable or capable of generating only situations of impasse.
Europe has lessons to learn from all of this. Let us take, for example, the question of the extension of majority voting and the abolition of the right of veto. Majority voting is often regarded as the deus ex machina that will allow the definitive federal step to be taken. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it is not through majority voting that a federal state will be created, rather it is through the creation of a federal state that majority voting will become possible. In confederations, in which a measure of unity is guaranteed only thanks to the tacit maintenance of an agreement among sovereign states, and in which the citizens perceive the organs of the Union as bureaucratic monsters that are both remote and invasive, the taking of decisions by unanimity in key areas is a decisive instrument serving to prevent the majority from repeatedly overwhelming the minority, a circumstance that would inevitably, in the medium term, lead to the dissolution of the confederation. This is why provision is not usually made, in key areas, for majority voting; moreover, in areas where majority voting is introduced, it is not applied, because the states tend to opt for unanimity even when they could theoretically decide by a majority vote; and in the cases in which majority voting is actually applied, decisions reached are not executed by the states that constituted the minority. The opposite is true of federations, in which sovereignty is transferred to the Union as such, and strong popular support for it guarantees the indestructibility of the federal tie. In federations, the citizens feel that they are part of the decision-making process and are aware that the latter is driven by a desire to pursue the common good. And anyhow, the federal government has at its disposal the instruments needed to impose its decisions on the citizens. Thus, of all the unions of states, it is only in a federation that democracy, founded on the dialectics of majority and minority, can truly work.
The crux of the problem is thus the transfer of sovereignty to the Union, which can come about only as the result of the application of a single rule (even though the overall Union order will clearly have to be regulated by a constitution, whose ratification could take place at the same time as, before or after the actual transfer of power). This goes entirely against the task that the Laeken European Council, tabling over fifty issues, set the Convention. There is indeed no surer way of emptying a problem of all its meaning than to divide it up into a large number of smaller problems, in such a way that even those genuinely wishing to find a solution to it become bogged down by detail and unable to see the true nature of the objective before them.
In this regard, we might, by way of examples, consider some of the issues most often raised in debates on the European “constitution”, problems such as the composition of the Commission, the system for electing the European Parliament or for selecting the members of the Second Chamber. Obviously, the significance assumed by each of these problems varies according to whether it is raised in the context of the current power situation or in that of the creation of a federal power. In the first instance, the adoption of one or the other solution will determine the procedures through which compromises are reached between states, establish the power of small versus large states and, in some cases, even prolong or shorten the life of the Union. These problems thus assume vital importance but are, at the same time, extremely difficult to solve. In the second instance, with the permanence of the Union guaranteed by the citizens’ strong support for the institutions and by the power of the government to impose directly observance of the laws of the federation, these same problems instead assume only secondary importance. Indeed, in a true federal state, even allowing for the fact that sometimes vastly diverse local interests are bound to emerge within it and be expressed in its political arena, the existence of a single, albeit pluralistic people, and the awareness this engenders of the prevalence of the common good over single interests, means that the number and provenance of ministers and the way in which members are elected to the first and second chambers, as well as many of the other issues today raised in the debate over the future “constitution” of the European Union, become less important and start to be regarded as mere alternatives.
It is therefore right that we should reflect on the characteristics with which the ideal constitution of a future European Union should be endowed. But it is far more important that we make plain what founding a federal state really means and, on the basis of this, strive to define a coherent strategy for federalists.