Time for a leap for the European Union

Time for a leap for the European Union

The European Union cannot be reduced to an economic and monetary union.

Three different models for regional unification have been proposed by the movement for European integration since its inception. One vision is a league of states that preserve national sovereignty while committing themselves to follow specific policies agreed by consensus.

Then there is the functionalist model, where national states delegate common administration of their shared interests to a supranational authority.

Thirdly, the federalist model proposes conserving and respecting the sovereignty of national states for questions of national scope and character, while transferring to a European government sovereignty over matters of Europe-wide scope and character.

Federalist Altiero Spinelli defined European government as having limited but real powers, democratically controlled by a European parliament and operating in conformity with European laws.

In terms of political relations between communities of men and women there is only one possible reply to the question: "How should shared problems, which require shared, complex and permanent solutions, be faced?" The answer is simple: entrust the function of addressing shared problems to a shared power.

That power might originate from the imposition of the strongest over the rest. This is the imperial, or hegemonic, response. Between 1945 and 1989, Europe lived in a geopolitical context characterised by the U.S. hegemony and Soviet imperialism.

Specific procedures

But it can also arise from free consensus among partner countries and citizens for the creation of a shared power, parallel to their own powers, provided with specific procedures for reaching consensus and for the approval of federal policies, and to which limited competencies are transferred. That is what federalists propose.

Another option would be the recognition of the existence of common problems which, however, would be identified each time the members decide by consensus that they should be addressed with a common response. In this variant, no transfer of power is required.

But when the achievement of a goal demands complex preparation, consensus-building and execution procedures, or when the goal is long-term and demands long-lasting shared action, this option is not rational and the outcome will almost certainly be unsuccessful.

The experience of the financial crisis that has buffeted Europe in the past few years confirms the irrationality of such a response.

The time has come for a comprehensive project that defines the degree of interdependence among the European Union, its citizens and member states (the creation of the United States of Europe) - a political method to create the necessary consensus (a democratic constituent assembly), and a timetable for the plan to take place within a politically feasible timespan.

Carrying out this project would require not only full enforcement of the Treaty of Lisbon, approved by the bloc in 2007, but also updating it with an agenda that extends beyond the May 2014 European elections. This will be a unique opportunity to resume the path toward a European constitution on a federalist basis.

Obviously, it is not enough for a federal organisation to have intrinsic merits. Building it demands permanent support from tremendous vital forces that feel the need for such an organisation and are prepared to act in order to sustain it. It would be a waste of time to build an edifice at a time when circumstances favour its building, if ultimately it cannot be maintained.

The European Union cannot be reduced to an economic and monetary union; it must also include the dimension of citizenship and human rights, social policies, domestic freedom and security, justice and foreign policy including defence.

The constitutional order must include budgetary issues (which items are the responsibility of national states and which of the European Union?), with a radically innovative focus on the concepts of federal budget costs and revenues. Debate should also be raised about the EU's borders.

A political and legal solution should also be found for the problem of differentiated union or integration that allows states and citizens who want to advance faster than others to do so.

The initiative should come from the European Parliament and involve national legislatures in an inter-parliamentary conference, as proposed by then French president François Mitterrand (1981-1995) just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The natural goal of the conference is to attribute to the European Parliament the function of a constituent convention, as proposed by Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and recommended in a March 2012 manifesto of the European Movement.

It will be the role of political parties and coalitions and civil society organisations to give next year’s election campaign a Europeanist focus.