N. 54 September 2010 | Overcoming the financial crisis requires going beyond the Community method

At a global level markets saw Europe as the weakest player, hence the one on the losing side. The real challenge for europeans is to relaunch the project of a european federation, in order to overcome the EU way according to which matters that are crucial to citizens are still in the hands of Member States. To overcome the german fears concerning the financial costs of this operation, we need France to open up to sharing soverignty on security and foreign policy.

The financial crisis that has rocked the euro is a structural crisis rooted in the political division of Europe. As the Western world, currently in a phase of weakness and decline, struggles in the face of the rise of the new global powers, markets, analysts and observers have all identified the European Community as, without doubt, the most fragile, and thus penalised, player within the new balances that are now emerging. The reasons for this fragility lie precisely in the fact that the Europeans lack political unity, having managed to create a single currency but failed to build a single state and thus to equip themselves with the instruments necessary to react to the crisis and profoundly restructure the continent’s economy, so that it may continue to be competitive in the new global framework. Unable to discern any political will, on the part of the EU member states, to take the necessary steps towards true unity, markets and observers now believe that Europe’s monetary union is destined to crumble, possibly to be followed by the creation, around Germany, of a new monetary area, more homogenous than the current eurozone. It goes without saying that such a turn of events would, in reality, signal the end of the European Union and the start of a new historical phase for our continent – one whose evolution and repercussions would inevitably be dramatic. This is, in fact, the reason why the United States is keeping a concerned and watchful eye on the moves of the European states.

Whereas these facts are plain to see for anyone watching these developments from the outside, within Europe itself, the ongoing debate and, above all, the attitudes of the states themselves continue to be characterised by the attempt to deny them on a political level. But by failing to acknowledge the facts, the European governments are condemning themselves to remain captive to ever-new emergencies and contradictions to which no answers can be sought in national and nationalist solutions, given that the level of reciprocal economic interdependence that has been created in the eurozone would in any case drag them all into the abyss together. It is thus becoming essential to look beyond the different countries’ attempts to play for time by pursuing measures intended to strengthen their reciprocal ties, and instead to seek to understand exactly why the transfer of sovereignty from the states to Europe is now the crucial step that must be taken in order to safeguard our continent’s future.

The European Union, founded on the ‘Community method’, is characterised by the fact of having transferred many important competences to European level, while allowing the states to retain their sovereignty and thus their political power and capacity. In this framework, by definition, the areas vital to the national interest and those directly linked to the formation of political consensus remain in the hands of the member states (this applies to both fiscal and foreign policy, and it is the reason why the birth of the monetary union was not accompanied by the creation of a European economic union, even though provision had been made for this). This framework has thus allowed a series of advances: the dismantling of customs and trade barriers, the creation of a single market (albeit as yet incomplete), and the creation of a single currency that has bound the Europeans closer together; but what, at the same time, it has failed to allow is the implementation of a European growth and development plan, as the fate of the various attempts made to date, from the Delors Plan to the Lisbon Strategy, clearly shows. The reason for this failure is that the states are reluctant to invest their own resources in programmes whose positive effects would strengthen, economically, commercially and industrially, their European partners. It is no coincidence that in strategic sectors (e.g. that of research and innovation, the leading branches of industry and those linked to vital national interests, like the energy and military sectors) the single countries constantly strive to defend their own competitiveness at the cost of that of the other EU member states, even when they should really be collaborating on common projects. It is this maintenance of the national framework as a point of political reference that is obstructing Europe’s growth and rendering vain all attempts, intergovernmental or Community, to govern the European economy. Division is always the factor that, in times of crisis – and crises are inevitably felt to differing degrees in different countries – makes the richer states perceive the need to act in support of the weakest members as an almost unbearable burden, to the point that the markets begin to take it for granted that the countries most at risk are destined to default or be expelled from the eurozone. In short, as long as sovereignty remains at national level, the development of a shared understanding of the need to build a single community of destiny will remain impossible, as will a strengthening of the foundations of reciprocal solidarity.

The real challenge for the Europeans is thus to advance beyond the Community method. Following the change in the world order brought about by the collapse of bipolarism (and as a result of the changes taking place within the Community, from German reunification to the birth of the euro and European enlargement), there was a phase during which the Community system was conceptualised and proposed as a sort of model of post-state democracy, in this way forgetting what it really is and how it was originally envisaged by Europe’s founding fathers once it proved impossible to create, immediately, a European federal state, i.e. as an instrument of transition towards a European federation. The current crisis has brought this problem back to the fore, for the very fact that the market’s blackmail is borne of the precariousness of the balance within the Community. For this reason, the answer is not to look towards assigning greater competences or powers of control, inevitably contradictory, to the Commission or to the European Parliament, but rather to understand whether and how the will to achieve political union can be evoked, at least in a group of states, in particular those members of the eurozone with the most keenly developed European consciousness (France and Germany first of all). Also, the question of the need for a European government of the economy, repeatedly raised in recent months, and the proposals advanced in this regard (e.g. European control over the states’ budget policies, increasing the EU budget, the emission of Union bonds to fund policies to boost the economy at European level, the assigning, to Europe, powers of taxation and the power to harmonise the member states’ tax systems) need to be framed to this end. Indeed, as long as the issue of national sovereignty remains untouched, all these measures, which require capacity to act at European level and thus imply the conferring, by the national governments, of the relative mandates on the European institutions, will continue to be simply unrealistic and untenable. They are unrealistic and untenable, first of all, because of the lack of democratic legitimisation of the European institutions which, although not answerable to the citizens, would be given, by the states, the power to decide policies capable of profoundly affecting society, leaving the national governments with the task of applying them and of gathering the necessary political consensus; second, because these provisions would suppose a level of solidarity between the European states that public opinion in the different countries, remaining nationally oriented, would not be ready to accept; and finally because the retention of the national interests perspective – any endeavours undertaken would be limited to the difficult task of working out a compromise between the various national interests at European level – would make it impossible to eliminate structural competition between sovereign states and to attain the European dimension on which the relaunch of the entire continent depends. Therefore, whenever the European governments, put under pressure by the markets and by the social and political difficulties that lie ahead, find themselves trying to implement some of these measures, they will each time end up having to face up to their own inadequacy and then failure, at least until such time as it becomes obvious that there exist no alternatives to pooling their sovereignty at European level.

The unavoidable issue on the agenda of European political struggle is thus, once more, that of relaunching the project of the European federation, and this cannot be done in the absence of a Franco-German initiative in this direction. The problem is that in today’s politically divided European Union, the growth of reciprocal mistrust, particularly on Germany’s part, is unavoidable; indeed, Germany, as long as the issues continue to revolve around the economic sector, fears being called upon to pay too high a price for the collective whole. It thus falls to France to break this vicious cycle and take the initiative, offering Germany, through a new Schuman Declaration, the possibility of the two countries pooling their sovereignty in the field of foreign and security policy. Only in this way can the process of European unification once more be steered in the direction of the objective of creating a European federation and the Europeans given back the prospect of a progressive future.


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