The Unaccomplished Way Toward the European Unity

, by Lucio Levi

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The Unaccomplished Way Toward the European Unity

This year is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the European Community. This event represents an opportunity for reflection on the historical meaning of the European unification. At the beginning, the EC was a union of six countries. Now it stretches from Lapland to the Mediterranean and from Poland to the Canaries and includes 27 countries. It is a Community of 487 million inhabitants where 23 official languages are spoken, and includes approximately 100 ancient ethnic minorities. It has an executive commission, a parliament, an upper house, a court of justice, a central bank, a currency, a citizenship, a flag, an anthem, a passport. National borders have been abolished.

The unification process has developed with the ups and downs characteristic of a difficult undertaking such as the overcoming of the sovereignty of an increasing number of states which joined the original core of the founding states.

Milestones in the history of European unification

It is worth recollecting two dates which represent milestones in the history of European unification. The first is 10 June 1979, when the European Parliament was first elected by universal suffrage. This represented a qualitative leap in the construction of European unity with the European Parliament becoming the first supranational parliament in history. It is an innovation that could change the world history. Democracy, which usually stops at state borders, has become international. In future it could become global with the transformation of the UN General Assembly into a World Parliament.

The second date is the 1st of January 1999 when the European Central bank was established, thus opening the way to the circulation of the euro in 2002. It was a historic step on the road toward the construction of a European sovereignty. The euro has been a great success. The share of euros in the global official reserves amounts to 25%. Since December 2006, the quantity of euro notes in circulation in the world has overtaken the dollar. This is an extraordinary performance considering that it is only five years since the euro was launched. At the same time, the euro is the starting point of a transition toward a polycentric international monetary system and, as an integrated global market cannot work with many competing currencies, towards a world currency.

What is the historical significance of the grand design of European unification?

The most important achievement of the EU is undoubtedly peace. After centuries of warfare, Europe has never before lived so long in peace as it now has in the post-2nd world war period, which coincides with the beginning of the process of European unification. What is peace? It is not simply the absence of war. This is the negative notion of peace which Kant called “truce” and placed in the same category as war. Instead, positive peace, requires a political organization which prevents war through entrusting the power to settle conflicts among states to a federal authority acting on the basis of law. According to Kant’s philosophy, the foundation-stone of peace is law and - more precisely - the extension of law to the sphere of international relations. “War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention”, said Henry Maine. War has always been considered a normal event in political life, the vehicle for settling conflicts unsolvable through diplomacy.

The novelty of the EU lies in the fact that it represents the most successful attempt so far to build a new form of statehood at international level, even though its pace has been slow and hesitant.

The EU is the most intensively regulated region of the world. Its political institutions impose restraints on what sovereign states may do in their relations with each other, and in this it shows the way to what the UN could become in the future: namely, the guardian of international law and the framework of a process of constitutionalization of international relations. The European integration process weakens national governments and compels them to co-operate in order to solve together the problems they are unable to cope with separately. It creates a European civil society side by side with national civil societies, and establishes European institutions that represent a decision-making mechanism which progressively depletes national institutions. The process has advanced to such a stage that war among European Union member states has become inconceivable. The current political debate on the Constitution shows how far the process of unification in Europe has advanced. In other words, slowly and imperfectly something like a European Federation is taking shape.

...slowly and imperfectly something like a European Federation is taking shape.

It is wholly unrealistic to plan fusion among nation-states; that is, among forms of political organization based on power centralization and international antagonism. The EU represents a rejection of such nationalism which knows no other way to pursue unification but imperialism. The EU is not and will never be a state in the traditional meaning of the word. It will rather be a Federation of states. The nascent European Federation is facing the task of promoting mutual toleration and solidarity among nations. The vitality of the European unification experience springs from the attempt to reconcile unity on the one hand with the Old Continent’s diversity of peoples on the other. It relies on the principle that the result of any attempt to suppress differences will be worse than accepting them. The experience of the European Community brings ample evidence that the epoch of World Wars has passed. The enlarged EU, which now includes most Central and Eastern European Countries, represents the overcoming of the Cold War.

In spite of this success, the mood of the Europeans towards celebrating the birth of the European Community is one of indifference. As Pope Benedict XVI, drawing up a balance of 2006, has stated: “Europe seems to be tired, or rather seems to be inclined to take leave of history.” By blocking the European Constitution, the French and Dutch electorates have suddenly made the future uncertain.

Unaccomplished Unity

It is a fact that the European unification project is as yet unaccomplished. The EU still has only a limited capacity for action. The budget is only 1% of the European GDP. The proposed rapid reaction force agreed in 1999 has not yet been established. Moreover, widening the Union without first strengthening it threatens the cohesion of its political institutions and carries with it the hidden danger of the EU regressing to the status of a free trade area.

During the past half century the construction of the EU was based essentially on economic integration under the protection of the US. In future the EU will exist only if it is able to become a global actor. The growing role of the euro and the mission to Lebanon can be judged as positive steps in the right direction.

Another weakness of the EU lies in the right of veto, which continues to be the rule in such crucial areas as foreign, security and fiscal policies, and constitutional revision. It is a dream to imagine that the 27 member states can all proceed at the same speed. Unanimous ratification of the Constitution was an illusory expectation. True, 18 countries have now ratified the full document, but the rejection of the Constitution in France and the Netherlands has meant that - following the current rules which are at variance with the democratic principle - the will of a small minority can in the end prevail over that of the majority.

The only way out of this deadlock is to entrust EU citizens with the power to express their decision through a European constitutional referendum. This method will oblige governments to recognize the sovereignty of the European people and comply with the majority rule. An EU-wide referendum will mark the birth of the European people who will appear on the stage of political life as the holders of the constituent power.

In conclusion, it seems that Europe’s destiny can be to define global models. If the EU becomes able to speak with one voice, it will unify its representation in the IMF, the World Bank and the Security Council and will therefore become the vehicle for UN reform.


This article was originally published in the February 2007 edition of The Federalist Debate, Papers for Federalists in Europe and the World.


- Sign odf European Unity, source: Flickr


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