If federalism dies, Europe dies with it

Article published on Nov. 8, 2004
community published
Article published on Nov. 8, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The Constitution is not enough. The European Union is in need of some serious federalist energy to see it through the future challenges

With the signing of the Constitutional Treaty in Rome on October 29th, Europe is once again getting tongues wagging. Critics of the new Treaty are cropping up to the left and right, fuelling a debate that until now has been stifled by the restrictions and formality of the Convention and its proponents.

The Constitution causes outcry...

In France, an exponent of the most liberal wing of French socialism, Laurent Fabius, has caused a split within his own party by opposing a Europe that does not set out rules for social rights and by adding his own “no to the Constitution” to the “no” already expected from Chevenement’s republicans and the extremists. In Spain, top-level supporters of the Popular Party have openly declared their opposition to a Europe that does not list Christian values as being part of the fabric of its foundations. In Italy, Fausto Bertinotti – whose party is a member of the European United Left – has stated in no uncertain terms that Giscard’s Europe is not a Europe “of peace and the people, democratic and reliable, of universal citizenship, of social rights and equality”. Debate has also been sparked by the opinions of Daniele Capezzone, leader of the radicals, who considers the Constitution to be not just off the mark but in clear opposition to “the vision and hopes” of those, like Altiero Spinelli, who inspired the federalist movement with his Ventotene Manifesto and the like.

On the other side of the barricade are the wishy-washy long-serving defenders of Europe. At times their cry has rhetorical undertones. The French Socialist Bernard Kouchner, for instance, has simply reiterated his support for Europe and for the Constitution signed in Rome. Giuliano Amato, even less ebullient, continues to consider the Treaty a “step forward”. Tony Blair, whilst not considering Europe a priority, has proclaimed his belief in the importance for the Union to endow itself with a Constitution. But there are even those who would be ready to punish any member states who democratically decide to disagree: Mario Monti, ex-European Commissioner for Competition, has stooped so far as to suggest expulsion from the Union for those countries that – even through referenda – do not ratify the new Treaty.

…but why now and not before?

The most striking point however is the obvious time lapse between the institutional debate on the future of Europe that took place during the Convention, and the tardy positioning demonstrated by key political players. It begs the question why so many issues are only being voiced now that all is done and dusted. One might lay the blame for this lack of synchrony at the door of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and his mismanagement of the Convention, or the latter’s non-representative and undemocratic nature, as well as blaming it on the short-sightedness of the national political classes. But none of these elements can clip the wings of a debate that is at last rich in contrast and the potential for real political innovation.

Whether over the issue of the next war or environmental crisis, potential terrorist attacks, the latest taxes to be paid or even the question of immigration, the Europe of the new Treaty will be no different from before: it will still be incapable of making the wrong decisions – quite simply because it will be incapable of making any decisions at all. Just like the old Treaties, the supposed replacement will be just as inept at solving the EU’s main problem, which is after all the problem of every political system, that of achieving efficiency in the decision-making process.

Fatal disharmony

In order to tackle the greatest challenges facing the EU, Europeans need more than the Constitution. They need to surmount institutional stagnation and the disharmony shown by political leaders. Europeans – and not just Europe – need a system in which it is possible to confront each other and make decisions. A system in which a parliament with real decision-making powers, directly elected by citizens, acts as a counterbalance to a council representing member states. Instead of the current Commission, they need a genuine European government armed with real powers of political leadership, whose president is made in some way accountable to its citizens. They need transnational parties that prevent institutional disharmony and synchronise public debate across the whole continent.

This kind of Europe is not provided for in any of the articles of the new Treaty, and would simply be impossible under the current status quo. What is required is a federal Europe, as dreamed of by some of those who are against the Constitution, and towards which many European officials claim to be warming. It is the only type of Europe that can get them to agree with each other. And in order to get them to agree with each other, we are imploring them to get talking, to recuperate lost time and to bridge the gap that could end up being fatal. Because if federalism dies, Europe dies with it.