THE TRANSITION TO THE WORLD FEDERATION AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL GRADUALISM
by Lucio Levi
The Federalist Debate VII N.2, 1994
Georges Bernard's letter about setting up a commmittee to study the World Federal Government (WFG) is an excellent contribution towards defining the institutional objectives of the world federalists and a clear illustration of the institutional limits of the UN. My intervention concerns 1) some specifications as to the relationship between functionalism and constitutionalism and 2) some reflections on the strategy for action to achieve WFG.
As I see it, the current difficulties of world federalism, to use the distinction drawn by Georges Bernard, do not concern the "why" so much as the "how". Thus it is above all on the "how" that we must develop our thinking and concentrate our discussion.
1. The difference between functionalism and constitutionalism concerns not the ends but the means. In fact, the objective is the same: federation. Need we remind ourselves that the functionalists pursue the goal of federation? In Schuman's declaration, Jean Monnet called the ECSC "the first seat of a European Federation". Yet while the functionalists place federation at the conclusion of a gradual process of integration, the constitutionalists place it at the beginning and see it as the result of a qualitative leap which consists of transferring sovereignty from the states to the federation. Experience of European unification has shown that functionalism has proved a good method for starting European unification, and therefore a good means for coming closer to the European Federation. But its limit lies in the fact that it is not capable of bringing the process of unification to term.
The functionalist method doubtless corresponds to the interests of governments, which need to face up to a growing number of international problems, but without questioning national sovereignty. They see creating a supranational government in terms of the process of integration gradual evolution of along the line of least resistance, but avoiding the question of the transfer of sovereignty. The federalists must not tire of denouncing to public opinion the limits of the functionalist method and its illusion that it is possible to subject international relations to the rule of law, to create new forms of political organisation and to transfer important powers from the states to a supranational government in an almost clandestine way, without mobilising the constituent power of the people. On the other hand, the federalists must be able to exploit the contradictions of functionalist integration, which highlight how intergovernmental cooperation in the context of specialised administrative bodies is inadequate t
o resolve the problem of unification between states, which in the final analysis is a constitutional problem.
2. The model which inspires the partisans of the constitutional position in the World Federalist Movement (WFM) is the precedent of Philadelphia. But it must be pointed out that between American federalism and world federalism there is a profound difference, which lies in the degree of difficulty in the struggle to overcome state sovereignty.
While the thirteen states of North America were small states which had just acquired their independence and had trifling power in world politics, world unification is a process of overcoming the division between nations, some of which have been established by centuries of rivalries and wars. This observation is sufficient to conclude that the precedent of the Convention of Philadelphia, which in four months resolved the problem of drawing up a federal constitution and the creation of a new state, is not valid for world unification. The long process of European unification, which is far from being concluded, shows that the overcoming of nations consolidated by centuries of independent state life cannot be produced by a qualitiative leap, but requires a gradual institutional evolution. Moreover, the process of unification, and hence of the pacification of all mankind, cannot adopt the short-cut of violence (as happened in the past, when war was the normal vehicle of unification of states), but is obliged to ad
vance on the basis of agreements between states. The task which the federalists must fulfil is to denounce the limits of these agreements, exploiting the contradictions of intergovernmental cooperation. That brings us to reconsider the relationship between functionalism and constitutionalism. Here it should be recognised that Jean Monnet was right when, speaking through the mouth of Robert Schuman in the famous declaration of 9th May 1950, he declared that "Europe will not be made in a single stroke, nor in a single general construction". And this reflection is even more strongly valid for the world.
3. It is now time to recall that there is a third position between functionalism and constitutionalism according to the Philadelphia model: constitutional gradualism.
The transition to the World Federation is a long-term process, comparable to the formation of the modern state. It is a task so complex that it cannot be achieved through the activity of a constituent assembly. Unlike constituent assemblies of the past, which have fulfilled the task of giving a new constitutional framework to a state already in existence, the world federative process must build a new power. Consequently, the progress of the world unification process cannot (as the unification of Europe has already shown) be other than the result of a series of constitutional acts which mark the stages of the strengthening and democratisation of the UN.
4. Before drawing the practical consequences of the choice of constitutional gradualism, we must recall one of the fundamental postulates of the federalist strategy, which Spinelli had expressed as follows: national governments are at the same time the obstacle and the vehicle of the unification process.
The obstacle, because governments never spontaneously surrender their sovereignty; the vehicle, because only governments have the power to transfer sovereignty to the United Nations. This allows us to respond to the question of the role of the WFM in the process of world unification. It is a role of initiative, while the execution of the project far exceeds the resources of the federalists. It is a task whose accomplishment demands a powerful coalition of forces and thus the consent of governments, of large majorities in the parliaments, of most political parties and of non-governmental organisations. The task of federalists is to group together all those who are favourably disposed towards world unification and to use this force to exploit the contradictions of functionalist integration and overcome its limits, in other words to tackle the question of the institutional reform of the UN.
5. We can now appreciate the advantages of constitutional gradualism. In fact, a strategy which bid directly to create WFG and to transfer powers immediately from the states to the UN could not expect any result, for it is not in a position to find a willing ear among the established powers.
Experience shows that, if we confine ourselves to addressing those who occupy national power with the proposition of WFG, no-one will listen to us. The consequence of this attitude is frustration and ineffectiveness. Political action does not simply consist of setting out goals, but also of identifying the contradictions which undermine the stability of the established powers, to exploit them in seeking dialogue and allies and to spark off a political struggle aiming to draw a dividing line between those who are for and those who are against a certain project. What was impossible during the Cold War is beginning to become possible today, now that the influence of the UN is expanding: to have politicians listen to us when we declare the need for the democratisation of the UN, which represents a step on the way to creating WFG. In other terms, the maturation of the political situation following the end of the Cold War allows us to conceive a strategy of transition, which does not limit itself to simply demandi
ng World Federation, but is able at the same time to identify intermediary objectives. If we must resign ourselves to pursuing the objective of World Federation gradually, we must aim for a gradual process of institutional reform, which allows us to identify priorities. More precisely, we must identify a point on which to concentrate our efforts, depending on how the world political situation evolves. In my opinion, this point is the contradiction between the tendency to strengthen the UN and the lack of democratic control. More generally, it can be said that the greatest contradiction of our age lies in the international dimension of the major problems on which the destiny of peoples depends, and the national dimension of democracy. Let us consider more closely the effects of the end of the Cold War. The UN has acquired a growing role in maintaining international order. Moreover, there are projects which propose to increase its capacity for military intervention (Boutros Ghali's Agenda for Peace and Brian U
rquhart's proposal to put a volunteer corps at the UN's disposal). At the same time mention should be made of the need to provide the United Nations with its own resources, to give it a capacity for political initiative independent of the states. Moreover, in the areas of environmental protection, development, human rights etc, there is a tendency to reinforce the powers of the UN. It is the governments which manifest an evident inclination to reinforce the UN, impelled by the need to resolve together problems which have acquired a global dimension. But at the same time they tend to deny the means which would allow a real strengthening of the UN and oppose the founding of institutions on solid democratic consent, which is the primordial condition for endowing the UN with effective power. The democratisation of the UN seems to me therefore the objective which requires the prioritary commitment of world federalists.
6. The structure of the UN departs considerably from democratic principles. In fact, the General Assembly is based on the principle "one state, one vote" (which leads to the absurd consequence of considering Monaco and China as equals), while on the Security Council the five major powers which won the Second World War occupy a permanent seat and enjoy the right of veto. On the one hand therefore, a number of states representing less than 10% of the world population is in a position to form a majority in the General Assembly. On the other, the substance of decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of only five states (the permanent members of the Security Council) out of 184. The long-term objective of the project of the democratic reform of the UN is to create a bicameral world parliamentary system (formed by a Chamber of the Peoples and a Chamber of States) and a Government responsible to this Parliament.
The most serious difficulty involved in the democratic transformation of the UN is that of identifying, in the logic of its institutions as they stand today, the mechanism for transition towards the final objective. The easiest route identified to create an embryo World Parliament is that suggested by article 22 of the UN Charter, which allows the creation of "a subsidiary body" of the General Assembly which is "considered necessary for the accomplishment of its functions", without adopting the amendment procedure, which requires the unanimity of permanent members of the Security Council and a two-thirds majority of member-states. One can foresee a development of this Assembly in three stages according to the example of the European Parliament. First, it will be composed of members of national parliaments and will only have consultative powers, but successively it should be elected by universal suffrage, which will allow it to fight for constituent and legislative powers. The crowning of this process, which
marks the stages of the democratic transformation of the UN, lies therefore in the recognition of the constituent power of the World Parliament. Having rejected the watchword of the world constituent assembly, without determination, we can now recognise in the World Parliament the body destined to exercise a constituent role. A second chapter in the democratic transformation of the UN concerns the process of regionalising the representation of peoples in the UN (beginning with the European Union, where the process is more advanced), with the following consequences:
1) When the process has been achieved, the Security Council will fulfil the function of Senate, which will represent the continents, alongside the World Parliament, which will express the political orientations of the world federal people.
2) Consequently, all the peoples (and not only the strongest, as now happens in the Security Council) will be represented at world level by their regional groupings, in accordance with the democratic principle. In fact, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, the nations must be represented at continental level and the continents at world level. But if only the regions are represented at world level, there will no longer be any difference between the Security Council and the General Assembly. One could formulate the hypothesis that the General Assembly could maintain its raison d'etre as the Chamber of Nations, which will express cultural, economic and geographic diversities at world level, but will have a purely consultative function, alongside the World Parliament and the Security Council, which will have deliberative powers.
3) Finally, the majority vote in the Security Council will overcome the unjust discrimination between permanent and non-permanent members and the right of veto, while the majority vote in the World Parliament will overcome one of the most serious distorsions of the present system in the General Assembly: the false equality between large and small states.
4. There are already encouraging signs confirming the theory that there are people willing to discuss the project of democratising the UN among the established powers. The first came from the Canadian Parliament, which recommended the convocation of a world conference in Ottawa in 1995 (the 50th anniversary of the creation of the UN), with the task of finalising the project of a Parliamentary Assembly of the UN. The second came from the European Parliament, which approved a resolution calling for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and asking for the European Union to be assigned to represent the Twelve on the Security Council.
All this shows that there are circles in the ruling class which are sensitive to the demand for international democracy. We have thus accomplished one step towards the politicisation of commitment for World Federation. We must march along this route in organising a permanent campaign for the democratisation of the UN. This campaign will have to progressively increase the weight of what the federalists demand, 1) in creating a unity of action between the different federalist organisations, 2) in constituting a coalition of forces (non-governmental organisations, parties etc.) which share our objectives, 3) in exercising an influence on world public opinion. I have described elsewhere ("Reflections on World Federalists Strategy", The Federalist Debate, n.2, 1993) how this campaign should be organised. But it is a problem which should be tackled when there is sufficient agreement among us as to the principles of the strategy.