Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Pre-print

 

 

HISTORY WILL NOT WAIT FOR EUROPE*

 

 

1. The work of the intergovernmental Conferences on Political Union and Economic and Monetary Union, summoned by the December 1990 Summit in Rome, is about to end. Hence, it is being decided whether, based on the single market, we are going to have a single currency, and thus also European monetary, economic, fiscal, etc. policies instead of national ones. A decision is also about to be made concerning which institutional modifications of the Community are required to conduct these policies and to guarantee the role that Europe, having reached this degree of capability to act, should and will be able to play on the world scene. This is the problem of the Union. Hence what appears to be coming is a much more revolutionary change than those which took place in the last century with Italian and German unification. By definition, this change would not only give Europe a renewed independence, but it would also make a series of age-old problems which have always been left unsolved disappear: those not determined by the real needs of men, but by the division of Europe into exclusive nation-states. However, this is not the way the political class, the world of culture and the media consider the events that are taking place, the decisions to be made and the prospects opening up. In Italy, for example, only other matters are discussed, particularly the national reforms to be introduced to achieve buon-governo, without taking into account the fact that the best possible Italy would be a meagre thing in any case, an entity destined to be shipwrecked in an ever stormier sea, if Europe does not find a way towards true unity, and the world a way towards peace.

It is true that the governments, including Italy’s, speak of Union, but they know perfectly well that they are concerned only with how to approach a Political Union, and not with how to achieve it. It is not, however, merely a matter of words. The fact is that by doing so they conceal to public opinion, to the world of ideals and of interests, what they are actually doing. If, along with the problems of a European currency and European defence they really did discuss the problems of a Union (in other words of a European democracy), public opinion would not be silent, as it is at present for lack of information, but with its questions, aspirations and opinions would arouse a much wider debate than the one presently in progress in Italy over the problems of internal reforms. In conclusion, the governments are making European decisions of prime importance in an anti-democratic way. It is not therefore chance that the real matter in dispute in practice concerns only a few defence and security problems and not also, as decided in Rome, the problems of European citizenship and democracy.

But what sense is there in a quasi-Union as far as currency and security are concerned? How will Community cohesion be ensured within the wider framework which is rapidly going to assert itself on the basis of the agreements already made with EFTA countries and with the inevitable, and hoped for, entry of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary into the Community? How will Europe be affected by the time factor which is making the very survival of the ex-USSR doubtful, and is leading the world ever closer to the final alternative between integration and disintegration?

A few governments intend to meet this challenge with the creation of a small European army side by side with real defence, which is still entrusted to national armies, whether integrated in NATO or not. But in this way they lead the undertaking of European construction into the sphere of division, because they continue to propose the choice between an autonomous European defence, and one depending on the USA, before even having the basis for an autonomous defence: European power. There is only one sphere in which Europe can really be united: that of European democracy, and of the overcoming of the national framework as the supreme point of political reference.

In fact, the basic historical problem, which must be confronted is not that of a unipolar world, as is commonly stated, but of its inevitable failure if in a not-so-remote future the force of the USA, at present enlightened, is not flanked by that of the ex-USSR as a nuclear power, and by a strong European centre; or at least by the latter, if it is already too late to defend the unity of the ex-Soviet Union. It is by this standard that what Europe will be able to do in the next few years should be evaluated; whether its structure will still be those already in existence and prevailing within the intergovernmental Conferences, or whether it is provided with a true democratic government. If we allow that Europe has a potential equal to one hundred, it is certain that today, being still divided in the political sphere, it only exploits a minimal part of it. This becomes even more significant if we take into account that, rather than a potential for hegemony, Europe has a potential for internal and external unification sufficient to direct the world towards international democracy and away from hegemonies and traditional relations based on force.

2. To tackle the problem of what to do one cannot merely consider whether or not any small progress will be achieved in this or that field. So far, European construction has been sheltered by the Atlantic Alliance and the bipolar world, and this made possible and positive even a slow growth in unification. Now, instead the Community can progress only if it becomes one of the main factors in the development of the new world system. To give itself an order, it must contribute towards giving an order to Eastern European countries and to the ex-Soviet Union; and on this basis re-establish its relations with the USA and Japan on a new footing. If it is unable to do so, we will see not only the failure of a policy, but also of the very attempt at unification. Both the failure of the Community and its success, moreover, already have a precise form: either the dilution of the Community into a large free trade area unable to maintain political stability in a world that is disintegrating; or a European democracy without further delay.

This is the fundamental issue. Some governments seem to think it might be possible to achieve real progress in unification through the creation of a European currency after 1997, with the pledge to develop a small European intervention force, cautiously extending the European Parliament’s powers of co-decision, or with other measures of this kind, which are inspired by the policy of small steps. But it is well know that a great policy can be achieved only when in possession of the specific consensus of a popular majority. And now it must be admitted, as many Heads of state and Delors himself never stop saying, without ever taking the necessary measures, that either the Community implements a great policy or it will disappear. While maintaining the single market, the European currency, the commitment in the field of security and an adequate widening of legislative co-decision, the following must be added: a) the appointment of the European Commission and its government programme must undergo the European Parliament’s vote of confidence; b) it is necessary to make the principle of majority decisions within the European Council and the Council of Ministers general practice; c) the constitutional intervention of the European Parliament is indispensable.

A generic consensus like the one actually existing in Europe is no longer sufficient. Even dictatorships can sometimes enjoy the approval of public opinion. Instead what Europe needs is a resolute consensus for a resolute policy in an open debate. No other means can unite Europe and wholly express all its potential. Any progress in the defence and security sector, that is not accompanied by the creation of a democratic government, would not make Europe more secure. On the contrary, it would make it less secure than a Europe that still lacks specific defensive competences but is already governed democratically. It remains a fact that the construction of Europe must still go on after the deadline of the intergovernmental Conferences. However, what must be understood is that this progress, which by now involves making strategic choices on the world scene, can only be based on a Europe which already has democratic institutions.

3. The alternative stated in the Ventotene Manifesto has now become an immediate deadline: either progress with European democracy; or decline if peoples and parties remain prisoners of national sovereignties. In actual fact, the turning point the Community is facing is, simultaneously, the turning point democracy has to face, too. The superiority of democracy has been confirmed in a historically grand way with the overthrow of the tyrannical regimes of Eastern Europe and with the attempt at democratization of the Soviet Union itself. But it should not be forgotten that democracy is on the defensive in those countries where it asserted itself long ago, that it is in difficulty in those same Eastern European countries and that along many fronts it is being weakened, humiliated or trampled on by the revival of nationalism. To prosper, democracy must prove that it is able to advance, and the road along which, in the present, it can really advance is only that of gradually spreading to international relations. The problem of European unity is one of the big world problems precisely because in Europe the first attempt at international democracy and its first experiment can be carried out. What the world is really facing is the prospect of integration or disintegration. What it still has to learn is that this is the alternative between federalism and nationalism. Humanity is facing terrible problems and democracy still has to prove that it is able to achieve a reasonable degree of liberty and equality not only between individuals but also between peoples; and it must also prove itself able to guarantee permanent peace. Only along this road will it be possible to reconcile the citizens with politics, and to trust political thought again and its ability to construct the future.

4. Each of the twelve governments of the Community can, hypothetically, accept – as many statesmen do – that what the federalists say is true, but that unfortunately important European decisions do not depend on individual governments, taken singly, but on the expression of the same will, at the same time, on the part of all governments; in other words on a difficult and fortuitous circumstance. This is partly true, and it is for this reason that the European battle is difficult. But only in part, because Europe, in spite of this, has advanced. For there really to be a struggle for Europe, what matters is that a government – or a group of governments – is able to propose European objectives whose reasonableness and necessity impose themselves as evident. In this case even those governments that are badly disposed are obliged, under the pressure of public opinion and the force of interests and ideals, to proceed. This is how the Community was born, and how it overcame the great turning points in its construction. This is what the MFE, as the Italian section of the UEF, asks of Italy; and what, together with the UEF, it asks of other governments. Italy has a double task: on the one hand it has to contribute to the formation of European democracy because it can remain within Europe only if Europe exists; on the other hand, it has to tidy up its internal situation. This kind of task cannot be realized by one party alone but by the whole nation, whether expressed through a common government of all the parties, or through a government and an opposition that are in agreement as far as the essential issue, Europe, is concerned.

Italy has already in the past, thanks to De Gasperi and Spinelli, managed to impose on the countries that were establishing with her the European vanguard also the attempt at establishing simultaneously a political Community of a constituent nature (ad hoc Assembly). Today the situation is immensely more favourable and it is certain, also taking into account the stance of Germany, Belgium, Holland and, albeit with greater difficulty, France itself, that Italy can win the battle for European democracy immediately, at Maastricht, or shortly afterwards.

But not only governments must commit themselves, but the parties, which at present are still idle, must do so too, as well as the media and all men of good will. Europe is within reach and we will achieve it only if we have the will to.

Mario Albertini


[*] Document drawn up by the President of the Movimento Federalista Europeo, Mario Albertini, within the ambit of the “Campaign for a democratic Europe capable of acting” and approved by the Central Committee of the MFE on October 26th 1991, published on The Federalist, 33 n. 3 (1991), p. 248.

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