- The EU's disastrous status quo, Barbara Spinelli (openDemocracy)
In this article Barbara Spinelli raises crucial issues which we, as European federalists, cannot in any way afford to evade. To be sure, the inherently dubious democratic legitimacy of present-day EU (and Eurozone) governance has always been denounced by federalists, who have laid the blame squarely on the still intergovernmental character of the EU.
Intergovernmentalism places legitimacy on the play of separate national wills, thus giving disproportionate weight to the leaders of bigger and more powerful states (who have not been elected by anybody else) and engendering injustices and imbalances in times of crisis (as is patently the case now). Curiously enough, when intergovernmentalists maintain that a democratic Europe is ruled by the representatives of democratically-elected governments, they seem to believe that conflicts and differences between states would be resolved as if by magic (not to mention unreconstructed nationalists who apparently enjoy old-time free-for-alls).
On the other hand, federalists have always aimed to get a European government which is the expression of the European people as a whole. Regrettably, over the last few decades intergovernmental approaches have been gaining ground in European governance, as is generally acknowledged. However, things have come to a head with the recent events in Greece, especially as regards the relations between the then Greek government and the other European leaders and institutions. All of us – including federalists – are now called on to ask ourselves questions about why we have come to such a pretty pass, where we are going, what kind of Europe we want to build up, and if a European federation is still a desirable goal, how to get there. And Spinelli provides us with food for thought in her article.
Is «submission» – as was demanded from the Greek government and people – the «future»? Is an «overtly Darwinist Europe» the future? Spinelli mentions the «dominance of markets over politics» which implies a «depoliticization of world-economy» and therefore the “belief” that only one solution to problems is admissible. If we contrast that not only with the intensely political character of the Ventotene Manifesto and of the other early European federalist writings, but also with a (till not long ago) highly-valued characteristic of European practice, the search for mediation and accommodation, we can see the long way we have gone – and not because of European integration as such. According to Barbara Spinelli, European élites as well as some national leaders like Wolfgang Schäuble are seeking – even by way of EU reform – to perpetuate this state of affairs, in which alternatives to present economic policies are dismissed out of hand and the expression of popular will is in fact pre-empted.
For this reason it is not enough to demand “more Europe”. Indeed, «if we keep insisting that the eurozone’s financial rules are sacrosanct and that no expression of popular sovereignty and no constitutional article can call them into question, stronger or new European institutions won’t help us free the Union from the [Darwinist] state of nature […] but will strengthen the very ruling elites that brought us to this pass». The crucial issue is popular sovereignty, i.e., «who has the right to decide on right and wrong, war and peace. And we are not talking about the sovereignty of nation-states, which has long lost its absoluteness, but of the sovereignty of the peoples, of their Parliaments and Constitutions, which have survived the decline of the old sovereign states. To reduce the latter, in the absence of a supranational sovereignty, amounts to linking the destiny of nation-states indelibly to the destiny of democracies, damning both and depriving democracy of any cosmopolitan aspiration» (my emphasis).
I have quoted at length because the issue of popular sovereignty has never been paramount in the European integration process over the years. Opponents of the latter have simplistically equated popular sovereignty with national governments, thus denying the possibility of representation of other “constituencies”, while at the same time misrepresenting European federalism as “undemocratic”– whereas in fact federalism is all about the dispersal and the multiplication of powers, as Spinelli reminds us in her article. In any case, forever shelving the question of democracy and popular sovereignty at European level will inevitably lead, in the present context, to the construction of a «deconstitutionalized and deparlamentarized Europe», and, ultimately, to death of the European federalist project. For this reason Spinelli takes an apparently radical stance, as she states that «under these circumstances, better nor delegate further sovereignties blindly, without carefully planning what is to be done in the Eurozone, without re-establishing the absolute primacy of law and rights enshrined in the various national Constitutions and in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights».
Indeed, what may appear “radical” to European federalists is not so much Spinelli’s opinion of the sorry state of democracy in present EU, as her appeal to stop believing that the answer simply lies in “more EU”. She urges us to give up that kind of «providential» view of history according to which a European federation is the inevitable outcome of any effort in the name of “Europe” (or “more ‘Europe’”). It is also in this sense that European federalism now stands “at a crossroads”.
Keywords: Barbara Spinelli, European federalism, democracy, intergovernmentalism.