The European Union is going through a crisis whose gravity must not be underestimated. This crisis derives from the very nature of the Union which, in its present form, corresponds to the design of some member states, which is to water down the European Community into a less and less integrated area. This design, irreconcilable with efforts to strengthen the political cohesion of the member states, is paralysing Europe. Today’s enlarged Union cannot guarantee stability and gradual integration over a continental area, because it is, internally, profoundly heterogeneous and lacks the instruments to bridge the gap between the member states and to create the conditions in which there can develop real convergence of interests. Neither, furthermore, is it equipped to cope with the challenges of political and economic government to which (having been attributed with competences whose efficient implementation would, in truth, demand a strong unity of intent) it is frequently expected to rise. As a result of all this, the crisis of the European Union will become irreversible, unless a framework within which it is still possible to pursue European political unity can quickly be identified and distinguished from that of the enlarged European Union, in which pursuit of this design is no longer possible.
From this perspective, the role of France and Germany is decisive. The politicians and the governments of both these countries must soon make a clear choice, with regard to the method and timescale of European integration, between a policy of sterile continuity and one of courageous discontinuity. They are called upon to do this in a difficult climate of popular disenchantment with the European Union, and, unless they prove able to abandon the European rhetoric that the citizens are clearly no longer prepared to tolerate, they will find themselves unable to prevent this disenchantment from turning rapidly into overt opposition to the idea of European unity full stop, and leading to a rebirth of nationalism. By European rhetoric, we mean the periodic, ritual unveiling of new European policies in this field or the other, policies that never get further than the planning stage because the Union does not have the instruments to apply them; we also mean the rhetoric that would have one believe that the Union can be reformed indefinitely and that it can, through the introduction of minor institutional devices, still evolve towards ever-closer forms of unity. This rhetoric explains the indefinite postponement of the transfer of national sovereignty to European level in the key sectors of foreign and security policy and taxation, and also why the British prime minister, Tony Blair, can set himself up as a champion of the new European model while at the same time pursuing a policy that keeps continental Europe powerless and divided.
The new German government bears a particularly heavy burden of responsibility. Germany, for better or for worse, has always influenced the evolution of relations of force between the states in Europe. After the end of the Second World War, to mark the start of a new phase in relations between Germany and the rest of Europe, the goal of building a peaceful Europe was explicitly written into the Grundgesetz. In the wake of Germany’s reunification, this principle was reiterated and clarified: today, of the six founders of the first Communities, Germany is the only country that, according to the terms of its Constitution, is required to promote “a development of the European Union faithful to federal principles.” However, given the change in the world scenario following the end of the bipolar order, and the clear difficulties in the path of federal reformation of the Union, Germany’s national and European interests have begun to diverge. This is shown by this country’s contradictory management of various situations: the Balkan conflicts, relations with central and eastern Europe, and even the fight against terrorism. Were a national approach to foreign policy – seemingly innocuous and compatible with the defence of European interests, but in actual fact, and in the long term, destructive – to become the norm in a key country like Germany, then it would be very difficult to stop it from taking root in the other countries, too. Were this to happen, it would be impossible to halt Europe’s decline into disintegration.
For the second time in the past fifteen years, the future of Germany is intertwined with the future of Europe. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the decision to create a single currency and to enlarge Europe eastwards constituted an attempt to build banks that the French and German leaders vainly imagined would be sufficient to contain the resurgent power of Germany. The crisis engulfing Europe today is the result of this strategy, which claimed that it was possible to create a currency tied to no effective European economic and fiscal policy, and that European integration could retain a homogenous framework of development despite embracing a growing number of countries. The outcome of the French referendum on the constitutional treaty and the debate on European issues during the electoral campaign in Germany both highlight the need to build more solid and lasting banks, in other words, to create a European state.
It will take an act of discontinuity vis-à-vis the recent past in order to embark on this journey. And it falls to France and Germany, primarily, to take and to propose this step, in the full awareness that it is not a question of acting to divide Europe irrevocably, but rather of acting to lay the foundations for its rebirth, drawing in all the countries that will want to be part of this historic endeavour. In short, to avoid Europe’s ruin, Germany and France must urgently launch an initiative among the six founder member states that will involve: 1) the restarting, outside the ambit of the existing Treaties, of the process of building Europe; 2) the establishing of a non negotiable federal pact, through which those states willing to do so will irrevocably relinquish their sovereignty in the fields of defence and of foreign policy; 3) the convening of a constituent assembly, elected within the ambit of those countries that have entered into the pact, which will receive a mandate to draw up the constitution of the European federal state.
This federal core, which will remain open to any European member state subsequently wishing to join it, will have to work out, with the European institutions, the basis on which relations between them must operate and be regulated, and it may indeed become the Union’s salvation. Distinguishing between the destiny and role of the European political project and the destiny and role of the vaster European Union will create not only the conditions for the historical affirmation of the former, but also those for the successful and enduring pursuit of the political and economic stability on a continental scale, that the current fragility of the Union precludes. The future of our continent depends on the birth, in the near future, of this federal core.