From what spring the impulses that persuade states to unite to solve their problems together? Is it perhaps the economy that is occupying ever more space in the name of profit and growth and, in doing so, necessarily transcends traditional frontiers? Or is it ideas that, in the light of a manifest historical and cultural transformation, conceive of a new world, better adapted to tackle the changed circumstances? Or is it the rapid development of technology in the communications and transport sectors that reduces the spatial dimension and deprives of meaning the traditional territorial frontiers of historically developed communities? All these impulses, and many more, are impelling European countries, which have now become too small, to seek together for a new unity, with the aim of ensuring, also in future, that their citizens enjoy legal protection, security, freedom and all the other blessings of the community, granted them in the past by nation states. The organization and formulation of this new unity is the responsibility of politics. And with politics, ideas also come into play, including the ideologies and interests of the parties involved.
What structure should be chosen for the common home? What architectural framework is suitable for it, what mainstays does it need, and how are its foundations to be built? According to what principles and rules should the common home be managed? On the basis of what priorities should its construction be taken forward? On the basis of what values ought its inhabitants to act? Federal or multilateral structures, international organization or transnational ramification, coalition of nation states or federal state? These are the questions that Europeans have been debating ever since the start of the unification process and the results of this debate are reflected in the Treaties that have succeeded each other over time.
These discussions are re-ignited whenever crises have had to be tackled by the European Union during the sixty years of its history. For the possible solutions to overcome a crisis are indissolubly linked to the idea of how best to organise the Union and what its future should be. Crisis management also involves the search for a new consensus, which may permit the crisis to be overcome by making an adjustment to or a renewal of the EU’s model of integration and its structures.
All the European Treaties, beginning with the Treaties of Paris (1952) and Rome (1958), down to the Treaties of Maastricht (1992) and Lisbon (2007) – just to cite the most important -, were not equal to the task of managing the situation, since the ideas of the governments that drafted them were too different to be reunited in coherent and sustainable solutions, commensurate with the signs of the time. Irrespective of the plans that they represent in view of the development of the European Union, governments have therefore been forced, at cyclical intervals, to accept rules and solutions that, until a few years previously, they had firmly rejected.
The same holds good today: just four years after it came into force, it is clear that the Lisbon Treaty, which had aroused high hopes due to the innovations contained in it, was insufficient to tackle in a rapid and effective manner the financial, banking and global economic crisis (since 2008) and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis of European states. Perhaps the rules were not strict enough to ensure their respect, or perhaps the instruments to overcome the crisis were inadequate. The pragmatic efforts to circumscribe the direct consequences of this continuing crisis have led to a series of agreements and measures, including the fiscal pact signed at the beginning of March, with which 25 of the 27 member states committed themselves to sound budgetary management and the reduction of their own debts. In this way important premises were created for a rational economic government, organized according to federal points of view, a hitherto unprecedented fact in the history of the European Union and in particular of the Eurozone. But these improvements to the system of governance were agreed outside the framework of EU law. To confer consistency and efficacy on them in the long term, it is essential, as a matter of urgency, that the Lisbon Treaty be adjusted: these new elements need to be added to it, now that there exists a well-founded hope that the acute phase of the crisis is progressively being overcome.
The opportunity to make this necessary adjustment must be exploited to introduce a global reform of the Treaty: this is not a useless provision. But the appeal to develop the current system of government towards a strong, democratically legitimate and federally structured political Union is becoming ever stronger. On the occasion of an informal meeting in Copenhagen, held last weekend, EU foreign ministers, for the first time in ages, spoke of an initiative in favour of a new debate on the Constitution. It’s a good sign.