By Richard Laming
Based on a speech, given at the Ventotene seminar, 7 September 2006
It is of course a pleasure to come to Ventotene to speak about the strategy and actions of the federalist movement. In many ways, this session is the most important one in the whole seminar. So far during the week, the seminar has discussed various aspects of federalist theory and the state of European integration, but today we move on to the real business of what we are going to do about it. The federalist movement is not a discussion club but a political organisation, which aims to examine the current state of Europe, yes, but it does so in order to change it.
In this talk, I am going to explain the strategy of the UEF in the wake of the failed referendums in France and the Netherlands on the constitutional treaty, but first I want to say a little about why we should have a strategy at all.
Why have a strategy?
There is a view that we don’t need a strategy, that we should simply do what seems right at the time because it will all work out in the end. It is summarised by this statement:
“International representative government should, and will, succeed, by the sheer justice of the method and cause, it is formed to promote.” (from “The federation of man”, H J Paintin (Paintin & Simpson, 1926))
I don’t agree with this view. I think we need to be organised and to plan our work.
Note the date of that statement: 1926. Federalism was known and discussed as a political idea, but there was no organised federalist movement to advocate it and there were as a result no concrete moves towards it.
What is a strategy?
Just to be clear, let us use this definition of strategy (from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language):
“The science and art of using all the forces of a nation to execute approved plans as effectively as possible during peace or war.”
Note that it is both a science and an art, which is another way of saying that there are no definitive answers that will last for all time but that nevertheless at any one moment, there are some ideas that are more useful than others.
When drawing up a political strategy, there are various factors that should be taken into consideration. These include:
– Political facts on the ground: institutions, politics, public opinion
– Resources: members, sections, money
– Allies: politics, other pro-European organisations
– Relationships: media, civil society
We need to find ways of using these to help us put our case.
The next consideration is what we are trying to achieve. The strategy must offer a means of achieving our political goals, or at least a step towards them. The UEF was founded in the 1940s and, while we have not achieved our goal yet, it is clear that Europe is considerably closer to it now than it was at the beginning. If the idea of a European federation has come closer by stages over the past 60 years, I think we can accept that the next developments might also come in stages. Perhaps that is not our preference, but we should be ready for it.
We also need to think about the impact of our strategy on the strength of our organisation. Remember the quote from the 1920s: we need not only the political ideas but also a movement to advocate them. Building up our campaigning capacity is an important objective in its own right.
Assess the risks
Not only do we need to think about what happens if things go according to plan, we also need to consider the consequences of failure.
This means that we need to be careful about making promises, threats or warnings. What happens if these do not actually take place? How many times have you heard dire predictions from environmental groups that have not been borne out in practice: what do you think that does for the future credibility of those groups? We must not make the same mistake.
It may be that the partial fulfilment of our strategy nevertheless takes us closer to our objectives. In many ways, that is what has happened over the past 60 years. A strategy that makes sense even when incomplete has additional value.
What is the UEF strategy?
So, if those are some considerations in the background of the decision about any political strategy, we can now move on to the strategy of the UEF itself. The key decisions on this strategy were taken at the UEF congress in Vienna earlier this year – you can find the relevant resolutions on the UEF website.
The aim, in one sentence, is to have a constitution, based on the constitutional treaty, adopted by a Europe-wide referendum in 2009 and coming into force in those countries that vote Yes.
Start from the constitutional treaty
The starting point for the UEF is the constitutional treaty itself, rejected in two referendums in France and Netherlands in the spring of 2005. It will be pointed out that this is not the perfect text, but nevertheless it does represent some improvements on the current treaties. Also, it is the nearest thing to a consensus position on the future of Europe. It was supported by all 25 member state governments and the European Parliament and, let it not be forgotten, it has been ratified in 15 member states, including two by referendum.
The alternative proposition that was canvassed was to scrap the whole text and start again from scratch. But remember that the current text did not spring from nowhere: it was the product of a discussion among exactly the same people who would be needed in order to draft a new one. The result would not be so very different, and the notion that we are working from the consensus position would be lost.
Recruit support in the European Parliament and among civil society
If we have confidence that we are starting from the consensus position, we can readily suppose that there are lots of political forces in Europe whose goals cannot be achieved without a constitution.
This might include environmental groups, for example. Neither individual member states nor the EU of the Nice treaty can act effectively to cut pollution: only a European federation can do this. Similarly, those people who want to see security for the Israelis and justice for the Palestinians will not get what they want neither from individual European countries nor from the present EU. They need the kind of foreign policy and voice in the world that can only come from a European federation.
We should also enlist the European Parliament, as the directly-elected representative of the European citizens, in our demands for a European constitution. In particular, the European Parliament should play a major role in improving the former constitutional treaty.
A new Convention to consider amendments
If the French and the Dutch have voted No in two referendums on the constitutional treaty, it is necessary for supporters of the European constitution to listen to them. It would be neither credible nor effective simply to declare that we were right and they were wrong. Some changes to the text will be needed.
A new Convention should be established, including representatives of member states governments and the European Parliament. If citizens have doubts about some aspects of the text, who better to make the amendments than the directly-elected representatives of those citizens?
In terms of amendments to the text, various suggestions have been made as to how this might be done. For example, a new protocol on social Europe might help, or perhaps the removal of parts 3 and 4 from the text (they are not really constitutional in standing) so that only parts 1 and 2 are subject to ratification. My own preference is for a smaller, more precise text (there is more detail on this in the Federal Union three-point plan).
Referendum in 2009
Whatever amendments the Convention makes to the text of the constitutional treaty, its final proposal should be ratified by means of a referendum to be held on the same day throughout the EU. This means first that the member state governments should not have the opportunity to make further amendments to the text in an IGC after the Convention has concluded its work (the shadow of the subsequent IGC hung over the previous Convention for many of its deliberations).
The simultaneous referendum also means that there will be a European debate about the European constitution rather than a series of national debates. During previous rounds of referendums – for the Scandinavian and Austrian accession in 1994, or the enlargement to central and eastern Europe in 2003 – national referendums were scheduled in order of difficulty, with the easiest first. This created a sense of momentum, which was helpful, but at the price of fuelling national debates rather than a European debate. The ratification process for the constitutional treaty lacked even this level of coordination; the national debates remained but without the sense of momentum.
While national debates might be tolerable when it comes to accession – the Norwegian No vote in 1994 kept Norway out of the EU but did not otherwise obstruct European developments – they are completely out of place when discussing the future of Europe as a whole.
Entry into force in those countries that vote Yes
Even though the referendum will be held in each member state on the same day, we should remember we are creating a federation and not a unitary state: a federation is in its own right a union of states and citizens. We therefore require a double majority of both member states and citizens in order to ratify the constitution, and it will only come into force in those member states where a majority of citizens vote Yes.
Those member states that vote No will stand aside from the European constitution. They cannot be forced to accept it – we reject the tyranny of the majority – but equally they cannot prevent the others from adopting it if they wish – we also reject the tyranny of the minority.
The European federation will establish a privileged relationship with those EU member states that choose not to accept the constitution, and it will remain open to their accession at a later stage. The aim of European federalism is after all to unite Europe and not to divide it,
The lesson of the last 60 years is that unification will come by stages. This is true of the powers of the European institutions and their direct democratic connection with the citizens, and it is also true of the number of member states that take part. However ambitious our goals might be, they are also rooted in a realistic understanding of Europe as it is today.
This article was contributed by Richard Laming, a member of the Executive Committee of Federal Union. He may be contacted at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.
View the Powerpoint presentation at 060830ventotenespeech2006