AFTER MAASTRICHT, ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE FINAL DECISIONS
by Francesco Rossolillo
The Federalist Debate VII N.2, 1994
Report of the UEF-President at the Federal Committee - Geneva April 30-May 1st, 1994
The European Union is faced with the problem of its enlargement. Before the Lisbon Summit it was taken for granted by a large majority of the governments of the Union that opening the doors to other states would involve a prior strengthening and democratization of Community institutions and a simplification of their decision-making procedures. The governments were perfectly aware that increasing the number of member states under the current rules would make decisions more difficult to attain. Ideas about which kinds of reforms should be carried out were not at all clear, and opinions differed on this point. Yet, it seemed clear that a new, more effective structure of the Union should be discussed and agreed on in the intergovernmental conference to be held in 1996, as laid down in the Maastricht Treaty, and that the process of enlargement would take place thereafter.
This approach was reversed in the Lisbon Summit. It was decided that negotiations for enlargement should begin at once, without any previous institutional change. The British government wanted to accelerate the process with the declared goal of watering down the Union, transforming it into a free trade area, and thus voiding it of any political content. In this intent it was supported by the German government, which, though being in favour of reinforcement and the democratization of the Union's institutions, desired to bring the first phase of the process as quickly as possible to a positive conclusion, since, in the context of an enlarged union, the applicant countries would be likely to side with the Germans in most economic and monetary decisions, their entrance would open the way for the admission of the Visegrad countries (which already have strong ties with Germany) and the enlargement could be presented to German public opinion, in this year of elections, as a government success.
Thus negotiations were concluded with impressive speed. The crisis that had arisen between the United Kingdom and Spain on the one side and the remaining Ten on the other over the blocking minority issue was overcome thanks to a compromise by which the decision-making mechanism of the Union has become still more cumbersome, though only slightly so. Thus the original intentions have been wholly forgotten. Instead of reinforcing and democratizing the Union before enlarging it, the Twelve have reached an informal agreement to weaken it a bit further. Under these circumstances, the prospects of the intergovernmental conference due to take place in 1996 seem gloomy.
However it was not necessary to wait for the Ioannina compromise to draw this conclusion. The time-honoured attitude of rejecting any form of political union, maintained by the governments of the U.K. and Denmark, plus that of the four candidate countries, should suffice to ensure beyond reasonable doubt that, barring a bold and innovative initiative, no consensus will be reached in 1996 on a plan to reinforce and democratize the Union's institutions.
The consequences of an enlargement without a previous deepening of the Union would be serious. It is useless to recall once again the distressing incapacity of the European Union, with its present decision-making mechanisms, to help effectively the people of ex-Yugoslavia to escape the tragic labyrinth of civil war; or to tackle the problem of unemployment with a real European economic policy based on the Delors plan. It is clear that what was difficult to decide among twelve, will become impossible to decide among sixteen, as long as the institutions of the Union remain unchanged.
Moreover, this occurs in a moment in which we are brutally faced with the reality that democracy in Western Europe, and with democracy the process of European unification in its entirety, is at risk. The recent Italian elections have brought about a majority comprising of the neo-fascist party, a "federalist" formation whose coarse language is clearly tainted by separatism and sometimes racism, and a business-like organisation, headed by an unprincipled media tycoon who was able to succeed, in the general political vacuum of Italy, by exploiting the party-weariness of Italians, and thanks to the control of three national television channels and a number of newspapers. Among these parties, the neo-fascists are avowedly anti-European, and have evoked in their electoral campaign the possibility of re-negotiating Maastricht and changing the frontiers with former Yugoslavia. The attitude of the other members towards Europe is highly ambiguous. For the first time since the end of the Second World War Italy will ha
ve a government based on parties who do not have their ideal roots in the struggle against fascism, nor acknowledge the Atlantic Alliance and the European unity as the two main priorities of Italian foreign policy.
Italy is often the Western European country which, due to its intrinsic weakness, exhibits prior to the others, and in a more manifest form, the symptoms of diseases which are not exclusively Italian. This is why there is ground for worry. Party-weariness is common to all the countries of the European Union, though with different intensity, and so is skepticism towards Europe. Corruption is not an Italian monopoly, even if it has been shown in Italy to be particularly widespread. Nationalism is raising its head everywhere.
This is not to say that the process of European unification is heading for failure. Forty-five years of integration have brought about a closely intertwined network of interests throughout the continent that cannot be easily undone and requires a government. It must be assumed that, if an ever increasing need for government is matched by an ever decreasing decision-making capacity, the problem of an institutional reform of the Union will be repeatedly posed by the force of circumstances.
A symptom of this is the reaction of a part of the European Parliament when asked by the Council to give its assent to the enlargement Treaties at the last minute, and without previous information. The Parliament (or, more precisely, some of its senior members) declared that it would not give these treaties its assent (without which they cannot come into force) before reform of the Union's institutions has started.
We must encourage the European Parliament in this struggle. A firm stand of the Euro-MPs on this matter would pose a very controversial problem in a delicate moment: that immediately preceding the beginning of the European electoral campaign.This would face political parties with the necessity of taking a position on the connected issues of enlargement and the reinforcement and democratization of the Union's institutions. The problem of institutional reform could become the focus of pre-election debate, and in this way the elections would gain in substance and motivate public opinion. It makes no sense trying to convince voters to go to the polls through generic propaganda, when no real choice concerning their future is at stake. The current European Parliament, by refusing to give its assent to the new Treaties, and to give a real political content to the vote, has an important opportunity thereby to avert the real danger of a high rate of abstention that would weaken the next European Parliament and the p
rospects of European unification in general.
Delaying assent until the election of the new Parliament, and thus contributing to relaunching of the institutional debate, lies within the powers of the current European Parliament. Yet this should not delude us into believing that the Assembly due to be elected in June, barring some radical change in its political status, will be able to carry on this struggle until the goal of reforming the Union's institutions is attained. The European Parliament, though symbolically important, remains excessively weak. Far from bravely competing to increase its powers, it has proven unwilling and incapable so far even to use those it already possesses, such as censuring the Commission, deciding on a uniform system for its own election to be proposed to the Council, or handling the legislative and budgetary weapons at its disposal, to improve its position. Impressive evidence of its submissive attitude was provided by the Assembly last February when it formally refused to adopt the Draft constitution drawn up by its inst
Yet it is also unfair to decry the timidity and lack of initiative of the Euro-MPs without searching for its causes. Euro-MPs are all but cut off from their national parties, which, in spite of the widespread party-weariness of the majority of citizens, continue to be the only channels through which political will is formed and political strategies are pursued. While it is true that as long as European institutions are powerless, political parties will concentrate their efforts exclusively in the national context, it is equally true that as long as political parties focus their efforts exclusively in the national context, European institutions will remain powerless.
For this reason we must not limit the scope of our action to pressurising the European Parliament to frame a European constitution. We must also act on the national political forces, knowing that the existing European institutions are far from being able to meet the needs of the European citizens, but also that national parties are far from being up to the level of the existing European institutions. This should be one of our main tasks with a view to the oncoming electoral campaign.
Clearly, even the most courageous and successful stand by of the European Parliament, though being highly important for dramatising the issue, cannot be decisive. The process of enlarging the European Union cannot and should not be halted. In as much as the Union is set to extend towards Eastern Europe, enlargement will be the natural complement of the events of 1989 and fulfil the expectations of the citizens of the Eastern Europe' weak democracies. The problem is not to prevent, or to slow down, enlargement, but to speed it up, while making sure that the new countries will not be invited to take part in a loose trading association, incapable of meeting the challenges of the post-cold war era, and doomed to dissolve when faced by its first difficulties. Instead, what is needed is a great political design, capable of creating a community of destiny among Europeans, promoting their security and welfare and advancing the cause of peace in the world.
To attain this goal, it is necessary to link the issue of enlargement with that of a federal transformation of the Union's institutions. But this linkage is only possibile on one condition: that we have the courage to aknowledge that the latter objective can only be attained, initially, in a number of countries that form a core which, far from comprising those still to be admitted, does not even comprise the current members of the Union. In fact, the degree of readiness of the governments and political classes and the degree of maturity of public opinion concerning the problem of democratic reform of European institutions is profoundly unequal in the different countries, whether members of the Union or candidates for admission. Hence it is simply unthinkable that the proposal to transform the Union into a federation can be unanimously accepted by the Twelve of today, or by a Sixteen of tomorrow. The problem is to initiate a process that is set to involve an increasing number of countries, starting from a sma
ll group ready to embark on such an endeavour.
This initiative must not be open to the charge that it is an attempt to disrupt the Union in its current form. Therefore it should consist of a draft constitution of the Union, to be worked out by the European Parliament in co-operation with the other institutions and the national Parliaments, but also contain supplementary provisions to ensure compatibility between the functioning of the federal core and that of the Union, of which the federal core should continue to be a part. This would give rise to a Europe made up of two (or more) concentric circles, where the countries comprising the outer circle (or circles) would retain all the advantages accruing to them from Union membership, and have the right to be admitted at any moment to the inner circle, provided they accept its constitution.
The project for a Europe of concentric circles will have to meet a number of technical difficulties. Solving them will be the job of experts. No great historical change has ever been halted by technical difficulties. The real problems will be political, because the project, if presented, will meet with staunch resistance from the governments of those countries which are most attached to their national sovereignty. But no great historical change has ever been effected painlessly and unconsciously. And creating a federation out of a number of national states that have a secular history behind them is a most important historical change. Yet, whatever the difficulties of this endeavour, one thing is clear: that in the Union in its current form and, a fortiori, in an enlarged one, the unanimous will of all the governments to unite in a federation will never come about. in the same way it is clear that some governments, like the British one, that have an unassailable position when blocking any federal evolution in
which they would be directly involved, will be in a predicament when confronted with the proposal of a reform that does not affect their rights and interests, but simply allows others to proceed. And it can be surmised that, should a number of governments show due determination, the United Kingdom would prefer joining the federal core to isolation.
We have now to answer the decisive question: are there any States in the Union that have the capacity and the determination to carry out a project of this kind without yielding, as usually happens, to the temptation of compromising on the essentials, even at the risk of a rupture if necessary? Or in other words: are there still in some European countries moral energies available to be mobilized for a great project that has as its objective the political union of Europe?
My answer is affirmative. The answer of all of us must be affirmative, if we want to continue making sense of our commitment. The resurgence of nationalism is also evidence that the European unification process cannot stand still. It must either advance or retreat. Following Maastricht, we are on the threshold of the final decisions, which imply a real transfer of sovereignty from the states to the Union. In this context it is possible that the relatively small impasse over the issue of the blocking minority is but the precursor of a conflictual phase within the Union, and that the Union's governments will face a number of increasingly serious institutional crises. In this situation the enemies of Europe, who have always existed, but were disguised, will be obliged to show themselves; but so must its friends, even if many of them now feel lost and are searching allies.
The federalists have an essential role to play in this confrontation. We can become the reference point for all those who are in favour of European unity and see the dangers of a resurgence of nationalism and fascism: provided we are aware that our vocation is to be ahead of events and not solely to follow governments' decisions, the European Parliament's prevailing mood or the results of public opinion polls.
But the federalists must above all be keenly aware that the amount of time the forces of union and democracy have available to defeat the forces of nationalism and disruption may be short. We cannot wait for the process of European unification to proceed under its internal momentum. Time favours for the enemy. Some important actor in the process must take the lead and reverse the trend without further delay. We can give a decisive contribution, and the coming electoral campaign presents us with an opportunity. Let us profit from this by calling on govenments, parties and individual candidates to fulfill their responsibilities, and by making public opinion aware of what is at stake.