Two roads towards a European federation

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If José Manuel Barroso's ideas for institutional reforms are established, the political consolidation cannot but stabilise the economy and the financial market. The implementation of fiscal union and of democratic union are not conflicting goals, argue Guido Montani and Antonio Padoa-Shioppa.

Guido Montani is vice president of the Union of European Federalists, and Antonio Padoa-Schioppa is a professor of European Legal History at the University of Milan.

"Mrs Merkel has repeatedly pointed out that a new cycle of institutional reforms is necessry for the future of the EU. The President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, has specified that the goal is a Federation of nation states. But there are numerous hurdles in the way of this goal.

Many opinion leaders preach prudence and patience: institutional reforms are not the most urgent problem. This hesitation is groundless.

After the Fiscal Compact and the ESM, if the planned banking union is approved by the end of this year, as is likely, all the main elements of fiscal union are already on the table; what is really new is the hot political question of federal union, an unavoidable step when fiscal power is at stake.

If a precise road map for institutional reforms is established, the perspective of the political consolidation of the Union cannot but stabilise the economy and the financial market. The implementation of fiscal union and of democratic union are not conflicting goals.

Nevertheless, the fear of opinion leaders is justified if governments propose using the ineffective intergovernmental method once more: writing a new treaty behind closed doors, without the participation of European citizens and then asking national voters to ratify it. A new road map is needed.

Mr Guido Westerwelle, the German Foreign Minister, is right: there must be a European referendum on the European Constitution.

Any political union must be democratic, and a democratic union has to be based on democratic methods. The error of 2005, when the Constitution project of the Convention (59 articles) was transformed by the national governments into a bewildering Treaty (448 articles), must be avoided.

The fundamental Charter of the Union should be short and clear. The real issues at stake are:

a) establishing an effective European Government based on the Commission and chaired by a president, elected by the European Parliament and by the Council, who could chair both the Commission and the European Council.

b) the democratic accountability of such a Government, accountable to a bicameral Parliament, a Chamber of the people and a Chamber of the States.

c) the extension of the co-decision procedure (essential for the democratic accountability of European laws and rulings) to every competence of the European Union; d) creating a set of rules for applying these principles inside the Union, within EU institutions, for a group of States including those of the Eurozone and others wishing to join them.

A new Convention (art. 48 of the LT) can therefore be established in spring 2013, including representatives of the European Parliament, national Parliaments, national Governments and the Commission.

The European Parliament should prepare a draft of the text that the new Convention should discuss and vote before the European elections of 2014.

If a Convention is not deemed suitable, some form of Constituent Assembly should be convened among the representatives of the member states willing to go ahead.

If the new Constitution focuses only on the rules regulating the main institutions of the Union, one year should be enough to complete the work.

In June 2014, on occasion of the election of the European Parliament, citizens could receive two ballot papers, one for voting for their candidate(s) and one for approving or rejecting the European Constitution.

It is difficult to overestimate the political significance of this event. Since the start of the Greek crisis, in 2010, the future of the Euro and the EU has been at risk. The recession has hit many countries, and anti-European parties are exploiting rising unemployment and social discontent to lay the blame on EU ineptitude and call for a return to national currencies.

In 2014, thanks to the European Constitution, the European election will force European leaders to explain what kind of Europe is at stake, and the future prospects of European nations. A European referendum could represent a tool for rebuilding the European Union with the consent of European citizens.

The European Constitution would enter into force if approved by a double majority, i.e. a double majority of citizens and states. This procedure is not just a formal tribute to democracy, but a crucial step towards political union.

If, as in the past, a European Treaty is approved or rejected by separate national decisions, there is no real European consensus. On the contrary, if a majority of European voters decides the future of the European Union, citizens will be fully aware they belong to a new political community, a supranational Union.

The European identity must extend beyond a flag, passport or currency. Democratic union is much more: it is a community of fate.

If, for reasons hard to understand today, this route is abandoned, there is a possible back road. President Barroso has said that the Commission "will present explicit proposals for the necessary Treaty changes ahead of the next European Parliamentary election in 2014, including elements for reinforced democracy and accountability."

It should be added that the Commission’s project should clearly state that the final goal is a Federation of nation states, ratified by a majority of citizens and states. Moreover, the European Parliament should be fully involved in this project before – and not after – the European election.

The direct involvement of the European Parliament and European citizens in the constituent process is crucial. The future federal union will only be legitimate if it is based on the consent of the people.

The European parties, in the current European parliament, should immediately start working towards the 2014 elections. The next election could represent a real turning point if political parties realise that they have to talk to the people; the parties must understand people’s real needs and aspirations. Only the people can decide the future of the Union."