N. 18 March 2001 | After the Nice Summit, time is working against Europe

Following the creation of the european currency, the creation of a federal Union is the ultimate step we must take. But the prospect of losing national sovereignty is leaving the government representatives minds in haze, and it's crippling their will. It would be dangerous to opt for an enlargment just to buy some time.

It was through the achievement of a series of partial results, like the ECSC, the common market, the direct election of the European Parliament, the single market and the single currency, that the process of European integration advanced as far as Maastricht. From one point of view, these partial results can, in relation to the final objective, that is the founding of a European federation, be seen as diversions. Indeed, their function has been to put off, further and further, the moment in which the central issue of sovereignty must be faced, though the question of Europe’s federal unification has been maturing since the time of the struggles to create the EDC (and the Political Community indissolubly connected with the EDC). But from another standpoint, they can be seen as intermediate objectives that have served to mobilise the energies of politicians, to keep alive the attention of the mass media, and to feed the hopes of the citizens. In this way, they have allowed the final goal – the federal unification of Europe – to remain visible, and have given Europeans the impression of advancing, however slowly, towards it. But, in fact, this approach towards the final objective ended with the creation of the European currency on January 1st, 1999. The only step forward now left to be taken is the definitive one of creating a federal union.

It is worth recalling in this regard that the so-called European security and defence identity does not constitute another intermediate objective in the wake of the earlier ones and, in the main, is not regarded as such. Defence is the prerogative of sovereignty. And sovereignty exists only where there is a state which has a monopoly on power. But the project on the agenda in Europe today is merely the creation of a sixty thousand-strong multinational Rapid Reaction Force, whose employment will be subject to the unanimous consensus of the governments of the Union as well as, implicitly (which is not to say in a less real sense), to that of the United States. It is thus destined to be nothing more than a weak instrument that will be used to serve a fragile and divided coalition. It is not by chance that Europe’s leaders, with the partial exception of the French, compete with one another in their attempts to play down its significance and to reiterate its complete subordination to NATO.

What must be realised today is that it is, paradoxically, precisely this removal of the last remaining screens, together with this inconceivableness of further intermediate steps, that seems to have obscured the vision and paralysed the will of those in power. But this can be explained by the fact that, until now, the advances of the process of European unification have served to prop up the sovereignty of the national states, which could not have survived and retained their democratic institutions in the absence of a European framework. Today, the whole problem has been turned on its head: it is no longer a question of propping up national sovereignty, but instead of renouncing it. And this renunciation is immeasurably more difficult than all the transfers of powers from the national governments and parliaments to the European institutions that proved possible in the course of the process which has now drawn to a close.

Added to all this, there is the fact that enlargement is now imminent. It is true that the European Union, following the creation of the single currency, found itself unable to travel any further along the roads followed in the past. But it was reasonable to hope that the prospect of the Union’s enlargement, and of the complete decision-making paralysis that this would provoke, might force some leaders to reflect upon the urgency of the need for a radical reform of the European institutions, and upon the problem of the framework in which this reform might be realised. And for some time it looked as though the ballon d’essai sent up by Joschka Fischer on May 12th last year in Berlin was destined to trigger a debate on the need to create a federal core in Europe that could halt the trend towards a disintegration of the Union and give momentum to unity. But Fischer’s message has, for the moment at least, been forgotten. The Nice summit gave enlargement the go ahead not only without improving, but actually having worsened, the decision-making capacity of the European institutions.

The process of European unification today finds itself without a design, and this is a vacuum that certainly cannot be filled by the mistaken idea that a project for federal unification will, with the passage of time, become realisable within the framework of the present, or even of an enlarged Union. The present stalemate cannot, in fact, last for very long. Time is working against Europe. As opinion polls show a worrying drop in consensus for the Union, people are becoming increasingly estranged from politics which, in the absence of a European perspective, no longer has objectives to pursue nor values by which to be inspired; indeed, increasingly sullied by scandal and corruption, politics is becoming more and more a fight for power and less and less a commitment to the common good. It is thus irresponsible to trust in the benefits of time and rely upon a continuation of the status quo. The European unification endeavour, which used to be seen by many as a sort of natural process that was destined to go on advancing indefinitely by its own momentum, is now running a very real risk of failure. Democracy and its institutions are in danger.

Some states are threatened by disintegrative tendencies, and others by a resurgence of nationalism. Everywhere, intolerance and xenophobia are on the increase. And yet the overwhelming majority of Europe’s political class appears to feel secure in the illusion that Europe’s problems will resolve themselves. There is thus a desperate need for someone to realise that salvation can stem only from the lucid acknowledgement of two clear facts: a) that starting to build a federal state is Europe’s only way out of its present stalemate situation and b) that at the present time this is something that can (even though it will subsequently lead to the federal union of the whole of Europe) only be done within a narrower framework than that of the Union, on the basis of a strong Franco-German agreement.

The problem is quite simple, but it is also one which it will take clear-sightedness and strength of character to tackle. It is not a question of devising ambiguous formulas whose function is to conceal the truth both from others and from oneself, and to reconcile the illusion of the coming about of something new with the preservation of the old. What is needed is for a few members of the governing class in the countries most deeply involved in the process of unification to have the courage to stake their political career on the difficult problem of the federal unification of Europe. And also, within the political class of these same countries, for a “party” of people prepared to fight for the creation of a federal core to begin to take shape.


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