The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels struck at the very heart of Europe, as did the ones in Paris. This time, however, the perpetrators had the added objective of striking the city that is the symbolic capital of the European Union. But Europe, a community under attack precisely for the values it represents, is powerless, because it is incapable of responding as one to the threat it faces. And this is not because the Europeans have never considered the problem of creating a common security system, but because they have never really been committed to making this a reality.
This is an issue that has been discussed since as long ago as the Extraordinary European Council meeting held on 21 September 2001, in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers. “In this connection” that meeting concluded “improved cooperation and exchange of information between all intelligence services of the Union will be required. Joint investigation teams will be set up to that end. Member States will share with Europol, systematically and without delay, all useful data regarding terrorism”. In a recent interview, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, pointed out that in the 15 years that have elapsed since then, the Commission has continued to draw up reports and draft proposals that highlight the shortcomings of the security system in a Europe fragmented into 28 national systems, and indicate the measures needing to be taken. And yet nothing, not even the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and last year’s massacre at the Bataclan and other venues in the French capital, has been enough to spur the single countries into action, even though it is their responsibility and their duty — they are, after all, still the holders of sovereignty — to take steps to build an integrated system. As a result, the terrorist network has become increasingly deep rooted and strong, leaving us with the certainty that this is a threat that will loom for a long time to come, and one that is destined to become increasingly dramatic unless Europe’s politicians can finally shed the illusion that our internal and external security issues are the responsibility of the United States.
What is more, from the terrorists’ perspective, the recent attacks have been mounted in a period that could not be more conducive to their plans: the EU is already in chaos on account of its own structural weaknesses, which are reflected in its inability to manage the vast migratory flows, the possibility of Britain voting to leave the EU, and the signs of a new economic crisis that threatens to cripple, once again, the most fragile economies, despite all the efforts and sacrifices made in recent years. In this setting, the citizens, disoriented and misled by aggressive populism, are unable to work out what solutions are in their own best interests and deserve their support.
And yet everything that needs to be done, and urgently, both to tackle Europe’s security problem and resolve that of its economic governance, has already been tabled and is indeed discussed by the governments, in European settings, on an almost daily basis. In the first case, it is now acknowledged that the Schengen system needs to be strengthened through the introduction of joint control of external borders (which must include the establishment of a truly European coast and border guard), and that a single European immigration, asylum and integration support policy is needed; similarly, there is a clear need to develop an effective European intelligence force, transforming Europol into a proper federal police agency and strengthening the Schengen Information System (SIS). Obviously, at the same time, steps must be taken to set up a true European foreign and security policy able to foster, at last, a credible plan for promoting stability in and the peaceful development of areas such as the Middle East and North Africa. With regard to the second problem, the tools for strengthening the economic governance of the eurozone have already been identified and analysed in depth: Europe needs a Treasury minister democratically controlled by the European Parliament and the Council (the latter transformed into a Chamber of the States that decides by majority vote); it also needs a minister entrusted with political powers to pursue European economic policies and to intervene in national budgets in the event of serious violations of common European standards, and able to gain leverage from an ad hoc budget, obviously of a decent size, financed by own resources, both of a fiscal nature and derived from bond issues.
However, Europe seems to be incapable of putting these proposals into practice, and one reason for this is the climate of mutual distrust that the economic and financial crisis has fueled within the EU; mainly, though, it is because the process demands the creation of a true European federal government and thus requires the national governments to take the decisive step of transferring sovereignty to Europe. On the other hand, it has become clear that maintaining the institutional status quo will not solve anything. The current method of intergovernmental cooperation has proved to be, ultimately, unworkable, because the states, when it comes to the crunch, are not prepared to be deprived of their key sovereign rights, however hollow and illusory their sovereignty ultimately proves to be when put to the test. This problem was neatly summarised by Prof. Peter Neumann of Kings College London, an expert in security issues, in a recent interview on German television, “everyone wants to receive information from others, but no one wants to share their own; everyone wants coordination, but no one wants to be coordinated….”.
In short, it all comes down to the need for an institutional quality leap forwards, i.e. the creation of a political union, and for a manifestation of the political will to move in this direction, at least among some of Europe’s governments: the German and Italian ones to begin with (given that these are the countries that seem to support this objective more), and France, which Germany and Italy must prove able to draw into the project, despite France’s current resistance to the idea of a federal Europe. One aspect that works in favour of Europe, and against the wall of national resistance, is the fact that, in terms of offering prospects for progress, welfare and security, there is simply no credible alternative to European unification. Indeed, no national or nationalistic proposal can really be said to offer a workable solution for governance in Europe, except perhaps in the more peripheral countries and in those that have still not joined the single currency. In the main eurozone countries, on the other hand, the adoption of a nationalistic solution would result in the immediate disintegration of the single currency system and, as a chain reaction, the collapse of the euro area economies.
Paradoxically, the recognition that the monetary union will inevitably have to be completed with political union was precisely what prompted the UK to negotiate its special status within the EU in the first place. Britain, since the Maastricht Treaty, as well as securing the right to opt out of the euro, has also managed not to participate in all the various other dossiers, including those relating to security. For this reason, it makes little sense to criticise, as many are doing, the agreement recently reached between the UK and the EU — the latter is accused of accepting compromises on the fundamental principles, regarding “ever closer union” and the free movement of persons, on which the Treaties are based. In actual fact, this latest “compromise”, by formalising the special status that Britain has long enjoyed (since the creation of the single currency and the subsequent steps forward in the European integration process), represents a formal undertaking, by the UK, not to try and slow down or block the political deepening of the eurozone. In the past, Britain has always demanded — with considerable success — that the EU adapt to its pace and conform to its project for Europe, which is to develop the internal market and avoid political integration. Today, Cameron is not in fact asking for much in addition to the “privileges” that his country already enjoys (in this regard, see the analysis by Giulia Rossolillo Patti chiari, amicizia lunga: l’accordo sullo status del regno Unito nell’Unione europea, published on SIDIBlog on February 28 – www.sidiblog.org/2016/02/29/patti-chiari-amicizia-lunga-laccordo-sullo-status-del-regno-unito-nellunione-europea). Yet Britain’s move has certainly helped to clarify its position. The truth is that the British, through this latest agreement, have acknowledged a historic defeat, i.e. the fact that there is nothing they can do to stop the European political integration project; with this in mind, Britain is seeking to establish a new role for itself within the EU: its new stance is based on its acceptance that the political union project must be allowed to reach completion in continental Europe and that the UK, as a member of the single market, could be part of the integration circle lying immediately outside the political union. These developments mean that the Europeans are at last in a position to take real steps to build political unity and, as a result of the EU-UK agreement, the framework in which they can do so is one based, once again, on the concentric circles principle (the complete opposite of the Europe à la carte principle that underpinned the Lisbon Treaty,whose flexibility instruments serve no purpose in the new setting). Thus, thanks to the British initiative and the results achieved, all those whose support for this necessary transition was previously tempered by the fear that it would lead to a break with the UK and undermine the Community framework, can finally move beyond this psychological and mental barrier, and start to take action, tackling the issue of differentiated integration, initially within the eurozone.
As far as the federalist struggle is concerned, the agreement signed with the British government is an extremely positive development, because it eliminates a formidable barrier that was weakening the already fragmented front presented by the Europeanist forces.
Obviously, it is to be hoped that the UK, in part thanks to this compromise, will decide, in June, to accept its new status within the EU and not to abandon the Community framework. Indeed, the latter is a choice that would have very severe repercussions, certainly for London, which would find itself isolated and marginalised, and paying a very high price in economic and political terms, but also for the EU, which, already in a fragile state, would certainly be hit by a wave of doubt over its future survival, a circumstance that could provoke a dramatic drain of foreign capital from Europe.
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If the negotiations leading up to the agreement with the UK were guided primarily by recognition of the need to strengthen European political integration, the same might also be said of the recent deal with Turkey. Leaving aside the fact that the effectiveness of the agreement with Turkey will depend on the Europeans’ capacity to solve key problems (how to manage the flow of refugees arriving in Greece and how to split the burden of accommodating them between the different member states), it is important to try and establish whether the agreement was a case of the EU simply relaxing its traditional respect for human rights and international law in order to offload the problem, as many would argue, or whether, instead, it acted according to principles rooted in the political ethics of responsibility.
The fact is that the EU is under attack and driven into a corner by people traffickers and enemies who are trying to bring about its disintegration, subjecting it to tensions that have become unbearable. This dramatic situation, which threatens to escalate, is exacerbating the divisions between the European countries, and feeding populism and xenophobia. A federal Europe, equipped with a robust foreign policy and reinforced by strong stability and internal cohesion, would not find itself such conditions. But the reality is that Europe’s situation is one characterised by division and difficult attempts to achieve unification. In this setting, putting an end to the blackmail and responding appropriately (i.e., in ways that hit not asylum seekers, but rather the use of illegal means to reach European shores) is crucial in order to put an end to the chaos. It is now up to the Europeans, given that they have taken the first step to try and regain control of the situation, to succeed in creating, as the Commission has already proposed, the tools needed to intervene, effectively and with a real sense of responsibility and respect for human rights, in the management of those seeking asylum in Europe.
Furthermore, bearing in mind that Turkey, in the end, gave in over certain conditions on which it had initially been intransigent, seemingly using them to hold Europe to ransom, may also be seen as proof of the intrinsic political strength of the European project, which is starting to become organised on the basis of the concentric circles principle. Ankara’s renewed willingness to look to the EU and to pursue its idea of acting as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East (an idea that it had abandoned in recent years, bringing about a serious regression of its political system) is undoubtedly due, to a large extent, to the failure of its attempt to achieve a position of cultural and political hegemony in the Muslim world; but it is also a demonstration of the still powerful force of attraction that the European project exerts. This force of attraction, concretely represented by the possibility of Association Agreements and the openness of the European market to third countries, is gaining strength once again insofar as it promises, also thanks to the agreement with the British government, to restart the building of Europe on the basis of a system of concentric circles that defines and allows different degrees of integration and participation in the unification process, and that makes openness towards countries that certainly cannot participate in the original community project (based on political integration tout court) both possible and realistic.
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Having said all this, the fact remains that politics, if it is to play a positive role and reverse the growing mistrust in the unification project, has no option but to strive to speed up the creation of federal institutions, powers and resources in Europe. The time has come for the Europeans to understand that, in the current dramatic world situation, Europe faces problems and a level of brutality they had mistakenly believed to have disappeared definitively from the course of history, but that instead are manifesting themselves on a daily basis and making it necessary for Europe to rise to the challenge of creating a federal supranational power with the capacity to show the whole of mankind the path of progress and peace.
It is really up to all those who truly care about the future of their own country and of Europe to make sure that all this happens.