Describing it as “almost an avalanche”, Ferdinando Riccardi, leader writer for Agence Europe and a close observer of everything that happens in the European Union, recently drew attention to the growing number of stances on Europe’s future now being adopted by prominent political figures – a number “far greater than anyone might have predicted”. He was referring, in particular, to the increasingly frequent interventions in support of profound reform of the EU on the part of political leaders (German mainly, but also Italian and French), many of whom occupy high-profile institutional positions. One need only think of German Chancellor Merkel’s recent and repeated stressing of the need to arrive at European political unity in order to complete, properly, the monetary union project and create an effective and democratic European government; or of the Berlin seminar of 20th March, 2012, organised by German foreign minister Westerwelle as an opportunity, given the inadequacy of the EU’s present institutional mechanisms, to reflect upon and revive the European constitutional question. This seminar ended with the scheduling of further meetings for the drawing up of a document of proposals. March 10 saw the publication, simultaneously in Corriere della Sera and Die Welt, of a joint Italian-German appeal signed by illustrious figures from the political and cultural spheres in both these countries (these included Italians Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Guido Rossi, Franco Frattini, and Emma Bonino, and Germans Hans-Gert Poettering, Ulrich Beck, Karl Lamers, and Elmar Brok); this appeal called upon the respective national parliaments to issue, around the time of the ratification of the new fiscal compact Treaty (due to be completed by the end of June), a joint political declaration on the need to bring about, in a time frame and manner to be specified, a strong political union in which provision is made for a federal government. The appeal also requests that, at the next European Council meeting, a vanguard of EU national governments submit a formal statement to start a debate on the future of Europe with a view to reforming the Lisbon Treaty, which remains clearly inadequate in the face of the now imperative need to give Europe the capacity to act in key areas, namely the economy (sustainable development, energy policy, social issues, industrial policy), immigration, foreign policy and security; this debate must also cover other issues: the need to increase the European budget to reflect these new powers, and the constitutional choices that will be necessary to guarantee an institutional system that is both democratic and effective. Finally, the heads of state and of government are asked, as early as next Autumn, to urge the European Parliament to develop, on this basis, a draft constitution paving the way for a constitutional process and containing a clause on differentiated integration to ensure that the more recalcitrant countries cannot block the path of those that want to advance more quickly towards political union.
These examples show how the debate is moving to a new level and starting to focus on the details of the method and agenda for political reform, thereby giving an important sign of the change of mindset that is now emerging among Europe’s most responsible politicians. Indeed, recent easing of the tension on the financial markets must not be allowed to distract us from the risks that we continue to run given that our economies, which cannot grow for structural reasons, can be relaunched only within a true European political and economic union. In short, those spearheading efforts to save the euro and deal with the crisis are becoming aware of the essentially political nature of the difficulties that Europe must face, and of the fact that the recent months of fierce speculative attacks on the euro can be attributed primarily to the fragility of a monetary union that, lacking effective instruments of government, prevents the area it represents from fulfilling its potential, and risks allowing itself to be dragged into the abyss by the most vulnerable situations.
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The eurozone governments, albeit with difficulty, are finally attempting to tackle the crucial issues. In particular, they have shown (leaving aside the enormous limitations of the new fiscal compact and European Stability Mechanism Treaties) that they now understand the need to strengthen the government of the euro through the creation, alongside monetary union, of a fiscal and budgetary union, and through the creation of more structured instruments for guaranteeing solidarity and mutual support.
This new mindset is what led to the rupture with Great Britain, an event that has introduced a crucial element of clarity into the process. The British government continues to want Europe to remain nothing more than a single market and refuses to consider transfers of sovereignty, even though the facts clearly show that a merely free-market Europe is destined to be overwhelmed by the crisis. On the other hand, the advances contained in the two new Treaties also highlight problems linked to the fact that Europe has neither an autonomous budget (large enough to finance investment projects) nor a true economic union (because while the member states must succeed in getting their finances back on track, this must, crucially, be accompanied by the introduction of a European economic policy for growth, development and employment); and, above all, they raise the question of the need to bridge the huge democratic deficit that is created, in a confederal context – and Europe today is essentially a confederation –, by continuous transfers of competences.
Thus, the political battle to create true European sovereignty is still entirely open; and an essential element determining its outcome will be the role played (or not played) by the political forces in terms of providing practical and solid support for the creation of a European democratic power. No great peaceful revolution, like turning Europe into a federation (which, moving the concept of democracy away from the idea of nation, represents a radical innovation and evolution of this concept), can be accomplished without a profound debate capable of influencing political culture and mobilising public opinion. To criticise the governments’ use of the intergovernmental method without managing to propose, as a concrete alternative, the reforms needed to start the creation of a federal system serves only to increase the current sense of bewilderment and malaise.
Unfortunately, however, a great deal of ambiguity and confusion still surrounds the prospects for Europe on an institutional level. All too often the struggle for European democracy is mistaken for an attempt to strengthen the Community method and system, even though this method and this system are actually founded on the maintenance of national sovereignty. Ultimately, this is the cause of the impasse in which we now find ourselves plunged. Clearly, it is necessary to think of overcoming the present Treaties, but it is also necessary to think in strictly constituent terms. It is now up to the MEPs from the eurozone countries, particularly the most pro-European in their ranks, to find the courage to start fighting, immediately, within the European Parliament, for the development of a political proposal able to answer the questions that the governments of these same countries, meeting in Berlin, identified: how can the Europeans be given a single voice with which to speak in the world? How might the quality of the integration process be stepped up? How might possible different levels of integration in the EU be coherently managed?
It is crucial to start, without delay, a debate on the new institutional architecture needed by Europe – a debate that will address the crucial issues involved: the need for a strengthening, within the EU, of political unity among the eurozone countries, to ensure democratic and effective decisions on the political, economic and fiscal levels; the inclusion, in the new Treaty/Constitution, of a clause on differentiated integration that gives recalcitrant countries sufficient time to opt either to join the countries determined to press ahead, or instead to find other formulas for co-existing with these countries, within the EU; the convening of a constituent assembly/convention composed of national and European representatives elected by the citizens of those countries wanting to advance towards political unity, and of representatives of the respective governments and of the European Commission, which, overcoming national vetoes will have a mandate to develop a federal constitution, based on the draft produced by the European Parliament.
Between now and the 2014 European elections, it falls to the European Parliament and political forces to show whether or not they are up to their responsibilities, because it is on this that the future of European society depends. This is the test on which they must be judged.