political revue


Year XXXIX, 1997, Number 1, Page 44



The construction of Europe is languishing because the parties and governments have followed a meandering path instead of a more direct way. After the end of the Second World War, the federalists, who had understood that the central issue of political life would be European unity, maintained that the first step was to build a European federal power through a constituent assembly. The parties and governments, on the other hand, which came to understand late and incompletely the decisive importance of the European problem, first sought the way to Europe by piecemeal methods (the specialised communities), then by the method of an economic Europe without democratic control. And Europe, lacking the democratic strength which derives from the people’s vote, is currently paralysed. Being unable to make its democratic will felt in the political world, not only is it unable to complete the economic union of the Six, and addresses awkwardly the problem of Great Britain and the other countries in the Free Trade Area, but it continues to suffer the east-west division imposed on it by the United States and the Soviet Union, stands impotently by as nationalism returns, has not yet defeated fascism in Spain and Portugal, and has seen it take hold even in Greece with American connivance, without being able to react effectively.
In this situation, some far-sighted people, in the context of the Europe of the Six, now recognise that the federalists were right when they declared that the Common Market alone would not lead to Europe, and are finally admitting that the construction of Europe demands the will to take a qualitative leap, which can be prepared, but not replaced, by an incremental policy. To become an operative criterion, the requirement to take a qualitative leap must however be more specific. What is this qualitative leap? Again the federalists say: the democratic creation of a federal power, in other words, the convocation of a constituent assembly.
This is not simply a statement of theory. In the first place, the battle for Europe can not be won, and Europe can not be given a progressive function, without mobilising the democratic will of the Europeans: and this mobilisation can come about only through a constituent assembly. Secondly, the current action can not be satisfactorily oriented without bearing in mind this objective. It is because they bear it in mind that the federalists propose to isolate De Gaulle through the unilateral direct elections of delegates to the European Parliament in countries outside France, in order to create an irresistible movement towards the European election of this Parliament and, once the parties at the European level have taken sides on this issue and popular consent has been obtained at this level, to move on to the constituent phase, which would become the logical outcome of the situation.
Is this a utopia? In any case, it is the touchstone of the democratic will of the parties. Is it legitimate to prevent the federal European people, which is being formed with a pluralistic European society, from controlling the Common Market through a democratic government? On the other hand, a glance at the past, and at the opportunity lost (the history of this century in Europe is a history of lost opportunities) is revealing. It is a fact that a federal power could have advanced the economic unification of Europe much better, without the haggling between the national governments which has given a conservative character to the common agricultural policy; and without legal, administrative and political obstacles deriving from national sovereignties which, while they subordinate the unions, confined within the nations, to the employers, prevent at the same time companies from grouping together effectively at the European level, thus permitting the assault of American capital on the leading companies of the Common Market.
It is also a fact that a federal power would have allowed the democratic potential of Great Britain to be fully exploited as soon as that country applied to enter the European Federation, as it would have chosen to do, finding itself faced with an initial federal nucleus, instead of only the Common Market. And it is a fact that with this power, we would not have seen the return of De Gaulle, and nationalism, in France and elsewhere. Yet that is not all. We need to consider the role that this federal power would have assumed in Europe and the world. As regards Europe, it is enough to ask how the thaw in Eastern Europe would have evolved in the presence of a European Federation ready to welcome all brother peoples; to consider that the impulse towards an economic Europe by Spain and Portugal, if confronted with a federal power, would have already brought down these old fascist dictatorships; and to remember that Greece, associated to the Common Market, would instead have been a member of the European Federation, which means that there would no longer have been a Greek army, the source of fascist reaction.
As regards the world, one need only recall that in the economic sector, where the Europe of the Six has already achieved a certain unity, however imperfect, it has succeeded with the Kennedy Round, and above all with the monetary discussions, in reaching a certain degree of contractual power with regard to the United States, sufficient to oblige the American government, in the monetary and customs sectors, to accept the equal partnership hoped for by Kennedy. There is more gold in the Europe of the Six than in North America and there are a great many dollars. A politically constituted Europe, threatening the American government with the demand for their dollars to be converted into gold (as the Americans threatened the English with selling the pounds in their possession to stop the Anglo-French military expedition against Egypt) could induce the Americans to suspend their bombardments of Vietnam, and to prepare the way to peace in a truly effective manner. This example is sufficient to understand what role Europe could play to foster an end to the super-power blocs, and in favour of detente and the evolution of the Third World. But it is not enough to understand fully the historical significance of the advent of a federal Europe.
The problem of peace can not be resolved, in the final instance, without a world federal government. The problem of democratic economic development can not be resolved, in the final instance, without the march towards peace, without planning at the continental level and without the autonomy of the regions, which gives the project a human scale and a basis in the community. This shows that the world can evolve only through the adoption of a federalist vision. With a federal constituent assembly, combining the glorious inheritance of the liberal, democratic and proletarian revolutions, Europe would by now have already given the world the federalist consciousness it needs.
After the Second World War, were it not for the internal obstacle constituted by the weight of ideological inertia and errors of judgement regarding the current phase of world history, nothing would have prevented the parties from convoking a European constituent assembly. An English socialist, Barbara Wootton, even declared during the war that it was unthinkable that the socialist parties would decide to re-establish once again the history of Europe on the basis of the ill-fated national divisions of the past, instead of on the basis of European federal unity. All this, unfortunately, did indeed come to pass, with the consequences which we have shown, and which we had foreseen. Yet we are still in time to remedy it. And the touchstone remains the European constituent assembly and the will to prepare it through the unilateral direct election of the delegates to the European Parliament.
Mario Albertini

*This article was published in French in the Le Fédéraliste, VIII (1966).



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