The prospect of the creation of a single European currency has led to a gradual, and until recent years quite unthinkable, convergence of the budgetary policies of EU member states (including those which, initially at least, will not be entering the single currency). Even those governments which, in the general opinion, were condemned by their weakness to rely on deficit spending (and previously on inflation) in order to stay in power have, stimulated by the prospect of a single currency, managed to gather the strength and the consensus needed to impose a strict budgetary policy on their countries – and their citizens, demonstrating a sense of responsibility, have been prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
However, despite being an extremely important step forward, this state of affairs is by no means irreversible. Should the feeling develop that the single European currency may be an impossible objective, or once launched, should it prove fragile, or unable to trigger the economic recovery and growth in employment which are the focus of the expectations of many European citizens, the results achieved would once again be jeopardised. And this is precisely what will happen if the creation of the single currency is not followed quickly by the creation of a European government able to provide the political conditions necessary for a strong revival in investments.
It is now, as a matter of great urgency, that we should be asking ourselves what is going to happen “post Euro”; now that we should be preparing to deal with the fragility of the situation that will emerge following the introduction of monetary union. Until now, the single currency objective has, for the more responsible section of Europe’s political class, been enough to support their positions and to keep the process moving in the right direction. However, once monetary union becomes a reality, and once it is realised that it will not, in the short term, change to an appreciable degree the daily lives of the citizens of Europe, the time will have come to open a new front of political debate, and to set sights on a more advanced objective.
In the process of European unification, especially in its current phase, there is no room for resting on the laurels of past achievements. European unification is an area in which it is imperative to keep moving forwards, in order to avoid slipping back. Once the objective of monetary union has been achieved, there will no longer be a credible intermediate objective in the pursuit of which the interests, opinions and will of those in favour of Europe may unite against the offensives launched by political sectors opposed to Europe, and by the economic sectors which support them.
The moment has come for the pro-European political forces to define clearly their ultimate objective and strategy, and to display, as they work out their positions, the clarity which has for a considerable time been shown by the anti-European faction. This ultimate objective can only be European federation, and the strategy none other than involvement of the citizens in the great project of its creation.
The political forces of Europe are being asked by federalists to shoulder their responsibilities openly. European policy, be it on the coordination of fiscal systems, on the problem of immigration, on agriculture or on any other issue, almost always fails to embrace the idea of the common European good, with European institutions usually seen, and presented, as a framework within which it is the legitimate task of every government to maximise, even at the expense of others, the immediate benefits to its own country. And this is happening in a context in which there no longer exist true national interests that are not associated with the common European good, itself seriously jeopardised by the unyielding defence of sectoral interests which depend on the maintenance of the sovereignty of the national state and which are in no way connected with the real interests of the people.
All this means that the time has come to open an explicit debate on the intergovernmental method so far adopted to advance the process of unification. What is more, some in the European parliament and the national parliaments are experiencing a sense of apprehension which reflects an initial awareness of the need, in the short term, to create in Europe a new political community governed by a power that is the expression of the democratic consensus of the people. It now needs, with a view to the 1999 European elections, those who share this awareness to join forces and take the initiative of putting before European public opinion a project for founding a European federation, and for involving the people in the framing of its constitution.
The introduction of the single European currency will in fact represent a major political transformation. And, as such, it cannot be cemented and rendered irreversible unless it is accompanied by a radical transformation of the way in which consensus in Europe is formed and expressed. It is, in turn, unthinkable that such a transformation should come about without the participation, through the exercising of their constituent power, of the citizens of Europe. It is now up to the more enlightened section of Europe’s political class to lead from the front, and draw attention to a need which is very real and which can no longer remain shrouded in silence.