political revue


Year XLII, 2000, Number 2, Page 113



The Schuman declaration of 9 May 1950 is the real founding document of the process of European unification. This was where, on the basis of Franco-German reconciliation, the actual building of a united Europe began, which, while not yet having reached its conclusion, has achieved such progress as to make realistic, though not inevitable, the attainment of the final target. This target is indeed clearly indicated in the declaration, which defines the pooling of coal and steel production, under the direction of an authority independent of the governments and whose decisions were binding on France, Germany and other member countries, as “the first concrete foundations of a European Federation”. Precisely because the final target has not yet been reached, the declaration is as relevant today as in 1950, not only in the norms it established and the objectives it set, but equally, I believe, in the crucially important decision to make a qualitative leap without allowing itself to be blocked by national vetoes. This analysis of the Schuman declaration will be developed as follows: 1) its origins, 2) its federalist content, and 3) its current relevance.
1. To understand the attitude of the governments faced with the problem of European unification, we must begin with an illuminating reflection of Altiero Spinelli’s, implied in the Ventotene Manifesto, 1941 (the founding document in the struggle of the movements for European federal unification), and developed explicitly in the immediate post-war period. According to the founder of the Movimento federalista europeo, the national democratic governments are at once instruments and obstacles with respect to the objective of a truly united Europe. They are instruments, both because peaceful European unification, as opposed to that achieved on a hegemonic basis, can be obtained only as a result of the free and democratic decisions of national governments, and also because the irreversible historical crisis of the nation-states following the Second World War (bound up with the structural impossibility of tackling the fundamental problems of economic development, democratic progress and security on the basis of national sovereignty) has confronted the governments with the inescapable alternative, “unite or perish”. At the same time the national governments are obstacles to unification because the holders of national power are objectively impelled — by the law of self-preservation of power expounded by Machiavelli — to oppose the actual transfer of the substantial share of this power to the federal supranational institutions without which effective European unification cannot be achieved.
Spinelli emphasised that this tendency is destined to manifest itself more intensely in permanent government staff such as the diplomatic service, senior civil service and military bureaucracy, than among the relatively transient personnel, i.e. heads of government and ministers. The former are not only the natural depositories of nationalist traditions, but, in the case of transfers of sovereignty, would immediately suffer substantial reductions in their power and status. For the latter the situation is more complex, in that they represent democratic parties, whose ideological make-up includes an internationalist and more or less generically Europeanist component, and in that they have a direct relationship with public opinion, which, in view of the catastrophes produced by nationalism and the glaring impotence of the nation-states, inclines to an increasingly favourable attitude to the idea of European unity. Given this contradictory attitude within the national governments, a strong policy of European unification, one which goes beyond simple intergovernmental co-operation based on unanimous resolutions, can only emerge from the governments when the situation of structural crisis of the nation-states is translated into conditions of acute power crisis, of genuine impasse, and depends on the existence of courageous statesmen and the active intervention of personalities or movements committed to the federal unification of Europe above all else.
Such a situation indeed underpinned the Schuman initiative in 1950. By then a policy of European unification had come into being in western Europe (the only part of the continent which had a relative possibility of choice), in response to the outbreak of the Cold War and the American decision to subordinate aid for reconstruction, through the Marshall Plan, to the beginning of European co-operation. The international organisations born as a direct or indirect consequence of American pressure, namely the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, the Brussels Pact (which in 1955 became the Western European Union) and the Council of Europe, were however characterised by a particularly weak confederal structure, particularly because Great Britain (a country in which the historic crisis of the nation state had manifested itself less evidently) persisted in defending the prerogatives of national sovereignty, and the other partners were not prepared to proceed without the UK. The qualitative leap from these first, weak forms of European co-operation to the beginning of the process of community integration was made possible by the evolution of the German question induced by American policy.
A fundamental corollary of the American strategy of containment of the Soviet bloc (which had led to the Marshall plan and then to the foundation of the Atlantic Alliance) was the decision to go ahead with the economic and political rebuilding of that part of Germany occupied by the western powers, eliminating the remains of the previous policy of maintaining the division between the zones of western occupation and of strongly limiting their economic development. This decision was guided by the knowledge that without a full recovery of what had always been one of the fundamental strongholds of European economic development, western Europe would remain irremediably weak. In this context, the Americans, having obtained the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, set the goal of eliminating all obstacles to the full development of the German economy, opening the way for the Germans to re-appropriate their own heavy industry, which was subject to the international authority governing the Ruhr, and therefore to production limits. Faced with this American decision, the French government, whose foreign policy had come under the leadership of Robert Schuman, an exponent of the “party of reconciliation with Germany”, found itself caught between two fires: on the one hand concern about the resurgence of German power, of which economic rebirth was the premise, and on the other the prospect of a tough diplomatic clash (bound to end in defeat) with the Americans, who were determined to promote the full economic recovery of western Germany without delay. Yet from this impasse France was able to emerge in an evolutionary way with the courageous proposal, suggested by Jean Monnet, to bring under joint European control both the German coal and steel industry, and that of France and of other European countries prepared to participate in the venture. Following the immediate positive response from Germany under Adenauer (the leader of the German party for reconciliation with France), from Italy under De Gasperiand from the Benelux countries, the problem was resolved by creating a new kind of body on the basis of the Schuman Plan, quite unlike the Brussels Pact, the OEEC and the Council of Europe: the European Coal and Steel Community.
There is therefore a crucially important link between the German question and community integration, but this does not mean that the essential goal of the latter was that of controlling Germany. In reality the fundamental and permanent impetus behind European unification lies in the irreversible crisis of the system of the European nation-states, which in the era of world wars and anti-fascist Resistance led to a widespread awareness of the need to unite. Against this background, without which the process of European unification could not have begun and developed, the question of peaceful co-habitation of Germany (the last power in modern history to lay claim to European hegemony, after the precedents of Spain and France) with other European countries has played a crucial role, in that it has offered the more advanced Europeanists, in France as in Germany and in other partner countries, the concrete political possibility of overcoming nationalist resistance to a policy of supranational unification in depth.
The success of the ECSC is on the other hand linked to the method by which Schuman developed his initiative. He prepared for its launch by excluding any involvement of personnel from the Foreign Ministry — knowing full well the potential here for resistance capable of stifling the initiative at birth —, entrusting its preparation to Monnet and his collaborators at the planning commissariat, and soliciting the support of public opinion in France and other countries, so as to make it more difficult for manoeuvres to shelve it stemming from the diplomatic service or those with economic interests.
2. The innovative significance of the ECSC is bound up with the fact that it contains the prospect of federalism. If by federalism one means the overcoming of national sovereignty through its transfer to democratic supranational institutions, in whose decisions the member states participate, thus keeping a substantial and intangible autonomy; if by federalism one means, in other words, the construction of a federal state (a state of states), it seems clear that the prospect of federalism is present in Schuman’s initiative. Indeed, though it did not give rise to a fully developed federation, it went beyond simple intergovernmental co-operation and therefore prepared for the actual construction of a federal state; for only the courageous and dramatic decision to begin overcoming national sovereignty was enough to block the prospect of the full reconstruction of German sovereignty, which was justly perceived as pregnant with devastating implications.
In more precise terms, any explanation of the federalist content of Schuman’s initiative must first of all make reference to Monnet’s vision, which was the inspiration behind it. What the functionalist approach to European integration, whose clearest and most effective advocate was Monnet, has in common with the federalist approach, whose greatest exponent was indisputably Spinelli, is the objective of federation: the two approaches are therefore part of the same alignment in contrast to confederalism, whose principal points of reference are Churchill and De Gaulle. That said, Monnet’s functionalist approach is characterised by the conviction that the way to overcome resistance to going beyond national sovereignty lies in the gradual development of integration in limited sectors or functions of state activity, but gradually adding more important ones so as to achieve a progressive and almost painless depletion of the national sovereignties. Monnet, who had been the instigator of specialised supranational bodies created during the two world wars to pool the Allies’ economic and military resources and make their war effort more effective, was convinced that the method tried during the war could also be applied in peacetime to advance European unification.
In concrete terms, the method he proposed after the Second World War was to entrust the administration of certain state activities to a special European administration, which would receive the nation-states’ common directives, formulated in special treaties and in further intergovernmental decisions; this administration should however, in the context of these directives, be separate and independent from the national administrations. Those national policies which were to be made joint were those likely to produce the most serious motives for rivalry between the European states and therefore, in particular, those relating to coal and steel, at that time considered the two basic products of the economies of industrialised countries. Bringing the production and distribution of coal and steel under common rules, applied by a supranational administration, would create a solidarity of interests in economic life so deep as to push towards gradual integration of the rest of their economies and subsequently of other fundamental state activities, including foreign policy and defence. The unification realised by the various agencies specialised around concrete interests and efficient supranational bureaucracies would in the end find its logical conclusion in a federal constitution.
It should here be observed that, beyond the superficial differences that have emerged in the context of political polemic and in moments of exasperation, not lacking on either side, the substantial difference between the federalist and the functionalist approach can be summed up in two points: the conviction that European integration is destined to remain precarious and reversible until a federal constitution has been achieved; and the belief, contrary to functionalist automatism, that a federal state cannot be achieved without activating a movement for European unity autonomous of governments and parties and capable of mobilising public opinion by campaigning on the structural limits of functionalist integration, in particular its precariousness (due to the persistence of the criterion of unanimity on essential questions) and the democratic deficit (the depletion of national sovereignties without the institution of a fully developed supranational democratic sovereignty). The two approaches are therefore different, but at the same time dialectically complementary, in the sense that each has an autonomous and decisive role.
Returning to the relationship between the functionalist approach and Schuman’s initiative, the impasse in which the French government found itself, described above, offered Monnet the opportunity to realise his invention, his revolutionary community. What the ECSC had in common with the first European intergovernmental organisations was that in the final instance decision-making power was kept in the hands of the national governments, in correspondence to the fact that not all governments were prepared to accept an irreversible transfer of sovereignty to supranational bodies (the treaty had a limited validity of fifty years!). The ECSC did, however, contain some important seeds of federalism: the decisive role attributed to a body autonomous of governments, the High Authority; the direct efficacy of normative and community law; the attribution of its own resources to the community budget; the principle of the majority vote for some resolutions in the Council of Ministers; and the possibility of direct election of the joint Parliamentary Assembly, which also had the power to pass a vote of no confidence in the High Authority. The governments had to accept all this because the realisation of an objective far more advanced than simple liberalisation of trade objectively required stronger and more effective institutions, which would have to be democratised, at least in the future, in order to prevent those competences transferred to supranational level from being permanently removed from effective democratic control. The final target of federation was not indicated in the text of the treaty; it was however made explicit in the text of the declaration on the basis of which the negotiations were conducted.
Apart from these elements contained in the Schuman declaration and in the treaty which derived from it, the federal prospect is also identifiable in the decision to proceed on the basis of a more restricted group than the circle of states involved in the first Europeanist initiatives. When the proposal of the ECSC was launched, the OEEC had existed for over two years and the Council of Europe for a year, including, apart from the Six, Great Britain and the majority of western European countries. Thus, the crucially important procedural choice taken by Schuman was precisely that of operating outside the legal context of these two organisations, within which Great Britain and then the Scandinavian countries and Portugal would have eliminated the innovative aspects of the initiative, and of opening the negotiations only between those governments which were prepared to discuss the creation of a supranational authority. In this way a hard core was formed within a broader, purely intergovernmental circle, in the belief that the success of the enterprise would later draw in the initially recalcitrant states (as indeed then occurred).
Contributing to the adoption of this procedural choice were both the nature of the problem to be resolved (to avoid the rebuilding of full German sovereignty), and the initiative of the Movimento federalista europeo, led by Spinelli, and the Union of European Federalists (UEF), of which the MFE constituted the avant-garde. In fact, immediately after the coming into force of the Council of Europe, the federalists organised a grand popular campaign throughout Europe promoting the agreement of a federal pact to establish a supranational political authority, democratically elected and provided with the powers necessary to realise progressive economic unification, to conduct a common foreign policy, and to organise a common defence. The coming into force of the federal pact between the ratifying countries — and this was the salient point — would not have required the unanimous agreement of the member-countries of the Council of Europe, but ratification by at least three states with a joint population of a hundred million would have been sufficient. In substance the federalists proposed to apply to European unification one of the fundamental principles of the procedure by which in North America the Convention of Philadelphia created the first federal constitution in history: setting aside the requirement of unanimous ratification. This initiative of the federalists undoubtedly reinforced the determination of Schuman and of the other governments of the Six to proceed with the strategy of the “hard core”.
3. The great progress achieved by community integration — right up to the historic step of monetary union, which would not have been possible without the option of the avant-garde method, and until the opening of the process of enlargement to almost all the European countries — demonstrate, with the irrefutable force of facts, the validity of the choice made in 1950 to go beyond simple intergovernmental co-operation and to introduce into the politics of European unification the federal prospect, both on the level of institutions and on that of the procedure by which to create them.
To have a proper understanding of the process, one must however emphasise the decisive contribution made to this progress by the Europeanist movements of federalist orientation. Not only have they kept alive, by constant, systematic and widespread action, the idea of the European Federation and of popular participation in its construction on the basis of the democratic constituent method; but they have also played an essential role at certain crucial junctures in the building of Europe. Noteworthy among these are: the campaign for the direct election of the European Parliament and for the reinforcement of its powers; Spinelli’s initiative promoting the European Treaty of Union, approved by the European Parliament in the first half of the 80’s, and which greatly contributed to the birth of the Single European Act; and their constant commitment to the European currency since the end of the 60’s.
The final target of the European Federation has not yet been reached: considering the obstacles lying between us and its creation, it is important to reflect on the current relevance of the Schuman declaration. This is because today, from many quarters, the validity of the distinction between federation and confederation is contested, and many deny the necessity or possibility of the process of European integration resulting in the creation of a federal state, on the basis that, in the context of globalisation, the state form is not only objectively in crisis but actually destined to be overtaken by something which however cannot be clearly defined.
In reality the federalist argument is entirely relevant today, and can be subdivided into the following considerations:
a) The model of the federal state which could reasonably emerge from European unification will be different to previous federal systems because it will, for the first time in history, federate historically-consolidated nation states and a continent characterised by a cultural, linguistic, religious and socio-economic pluralism (a rich heritage to protect and value), without equal in the world. The European federal state will therefore be strongly decentralised, but will exclude any form of national veto, while there will be plenty of room for qualified majority decisions; there will be a federal monopoly of legitimate force; and the principle of democratic responsibility of the supranational political bodies must be fully applied. These are the essential conditions if the deficit of European integration on the level of efficiency and democracy is to be overcome at the root, thus making integration irreversible.
b) The only valid response to the depletion of state sovereignties consequent to growing international interdependence, of which globalisation represents the most recent development, is not resigned acceptance of the decline of statehood, but rather the enlargement of the dimensions of the democratic state and the reinforcement of the instruments of democratic participation, which are made possible by the principle of subsidiarity that is proper to a fully developed federal system. Since statehood is the irreplaceable basis of the pursuance of the general interest, in other words of peaceful coexistence, of the protection of democratic liberal rights and of solidarity, the most important commitment in an increasingly interdependent world is the creation of a federal European state. This after all, as it says in Schuman’s declaration, must be understood as a fundamental contribution to world-wide peace, which means that the European example must foster the formation of other continental federations and in the end contribute, as it says in the Ventotene Manifesto, to the federal unification of the whole world. The alternative to this development is the prevailing of a neo-feudal dispersion of sovereignty and therefore of a generalised anarchy, which with irresponsible thoughtlessness the theoreticians of a new mediaeval period appear disposed to accept.
c) The process of European integration has reached a point where putting off the federal outcome opens the way to the dissolution of the European Union. On the one hand, monetary unification (the greatest success achieved so far) has accentuated the contradiction with which functionalist integration has always grappled because of the postponement sine die of the construction of supranational democratic sovereignty. The democratic system will end up going into a fatal crisis and the community framework is destined to fall apart unless the depletion of the capacity to govern the economic process through national economic and social policies is answered by the creation of a democratic European government. This must be capable (on the basis of the elimination of the national veto in matters of macro-economic, and in particular fiscal policy) of ensuring socio-economic cohesion and the competitiveness of the European economy in the context of globalisation, and more generally, of overcoming the abnormal mismatch between the dimension of politico-democratic responsibility, which is still fundamentally national, and the dimension of effective decisions. On the other hand, a transition to a federal system (which also means a single foreign, security and defence policy) within a short time-scale is imposed by the international context following the dissolution of the bipolar system. In this new context, on the one hand the European Union must become a producer of global security instead of remaining a simple consumer of security, sheltered by the American umbrella; on the other, the creation of democratic and effective supranational institutions is indispensable, to tackle the problems of the enlargement to central, eastern and Balkan Europe. Enlargement is a huge challenge (and a demonstration of the success of the European project), but is destined to produce explosive consequences unless the limitations of functionalist integration are overcome at the same time.
For these reasons the need to realize the final goal of Schuman’s declaration, the European federation, is acutely relevant today, as is the strategy of the “hard core” or avant-garde nucleus proposed in it. This strategy is the only way to stop national vetoes holding up crucial advances and to tackle the current process of enlargement (which must not be delayed, inter alia so as not to compromise the stabilising effects of this prospect, in terms of progress in the field of human rights, the protection of the minorities, ethnic-territorial conflicts, and political and economic reforms) and the consequent danger of institutional paralysis. To create a hard core adequate to the current challenges does not mean however the concession of further opting out, the admission of constructive abstentions or the realisation of reinforced co-operation, which, despite the usefulness of these devices in certain specific cases (in particular opting out of monetary unification), lead to a Europe à la carte destined to disintegrate at the first serious crisis.
If Schuman’s initiative in 1950 gave rise to a pre-federal community in the broader context of the Council of Europe, to take inspiration from that example in the current situation of integration means to establish a federal community among those states which are agreeable: a community with its own institutions and which, as a unitary subject, is part of the broader circle constituted by the European Union. The latter must be kept alive to guarantee its fundamental acquisitions, in particular the single market, and it must be possible at any moment to move from it into the federal core, on the sole condition of accepting its rules.
Such a choice requires a separate treaty, as in the case of the ECSC, in order to prevent the initiative being blocked by governments not disposed for the moment to make the federal leap, but on the other hand requires a Treaty-Constitution, to establish a constitution for a federal state. And by consequence it means by-passing the method of intergovernmental negotiations and activating a democratic constituent method which assigns an essential role to the representative organ of the European people.
Sergio Pistone




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