The Spinelli phenomenon

Altiero Spinelli was the heavyweight of the European federalist movement, first as activist, then as a very hardworking MEP. What does classic federalism want? In a nutshell it’s autonomy of the member states, under a common judicial and legislational authority, and the citizens’ democratic rights are provided by the Union. As decades went by federalism has changed. From the 80’s on the ideology has turned from the hierarchy of institutions to the cooperation of supranational level and member states.

There are many federalist ideas that should be thought over, such as voting for European parties, direct elections of the main European office holders (like the president of the Commission), but two things will still be missing to be able to build a federal Europe. First is legitimacy, second is the absence of member states.

Now there are some topicalities too.

“Prominent MEPs launched on 15 September 2010 the Spinelli Group, a network aimed at overcoming nationalism and promoting federalism across Europe”- says informing us of the newest action of the (neo)federalist group of intellectuals.

Economic union

“I am still optimistic however, that the crisis will lead Europe to establish an economic union. I see no alternative” – said Joschka Fischer, member of the Spinelli Group.

The idea of the economic union is based on the Treaty of Maastricht (without a concrete deadline), but there’s a problem with some of its aspects. There are voices in the European press and political sphere that the Union is off the right track with the economic governance (which has become the backbone of the economic union). The budgetary restrictions layed down in the Stability and Growth Pact slow down the economic growth in the member states, which makes the countries even more difficult to carry out the exit strategy and makes citizens even harder to make ends meet. It’s not the way to gain legitimacy for the EU.

On the other hand, the institutions of economic surveillance are based in the center of international financial life (Frankfurt, London, Paris). According to many, independence is doubtful there (my opinion is that it would be doubtful anywhere), so who guarantees that these offices will supervise the world and not the other way round, making the whole surveillance useless?

This union is an advantage, but the construction is what matters. Right now we can feel a need for a cooperation, even for a deep cooperation, but it’s not like, say, the willing of taking financial care of the problematic members of the economic union. Mr Spinelli would possibly be proud of the achievements of the past, because these more or less meet the claim of federalism, but it’s doubtfully operating. Let me refer to the Slovakian PM, Iveta Radicova’s latest thoughts on the euro.


The economic union raises questions of economic sovereignty too.

“Every day we are losing part of our sovereignty to the emerging powers. Yet we still wonder if we should abandon our sovereignty (in favour of the EU) or not. We are losing that sovereignty anyway! It’s just that it is going to non-European powers in the East (like China)” – Mr Fischer added.

China doesn’t grow at the expense of the Union. It only spreads its sphere of economic interest, where Europe wants to be, but the state of our financial system doesn’t allow us to carry out an economic expansion. The Chinese foreign-currency reserves are estimated the highest on Earth, what’s more, banks are Chinese (article is in Hungarian). The vein of the European banking system is constructed in a different way, with much less regulation. This question leads us to an other, very sensitiv issue: the European economic governance is useless if Europe is not able to supersede the economic pattern, which collapsed in 2008-2009.

A federal mind would likely say that member states can be blamed for not being ready to handle the crisis. But no-one guarantees that a federal Union could better foresee a coming strike. (Both the USA and Germany are federal states, still, both of them were hit to the ground.)

Crisis management doesn’t depend on federalism, but on good solutions.

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  1. Dear David,
    I attended this discussion, but I was a bit disappointed that the speakers almost omitted to mention the transnational lists – perhaps the most inspiring idea the federalists have had so far.
    Do you have any idea why?

  2. Dear Georgi,

    I think it’s up to political reasons. Now the media is full of economic issues, due to the problems of the PIGS countries, and also to the European semester. And let’s not forget that the question of taking common financial responsibility (i.e. the federalist idea of the economic union) have been on since Greece got in trouble.

    So, with an economic approach it’s somewhat easier to get on the agenda.

    I expressed my thoughts about transnational lists here, you may check it out.

  3. I found the debate rather disappointing. Joschka Fischer’s argument about why Europe needs to unite faced with China, Russia and USA none of whom could speak for Europeans was exactly what Schuman told the UN General Assembly in 1948. ‘Now, however, our times are those of large economic units and great political alliances. Europe must unite to survive.’ That’s Schuman not Fischer. He did something about it democratically but at this meeting the ideas of politicians and philosophers were vague and contradictory. For example Ferry spoke of a ‘supranational State’ which is a contradiction in terms. Supranational democracy was initiated to avoid the creation of a European SuperState. No one defined supranational, democracy, federalism or even transnational management. Bizarrely Ferry thought the job of European unity was over after the fall of the Berlin wall. Tell that to the euro crisis committees and bankers.
    Daniel Cohn-Bendit asked how do you create European democracy but no one answered the question satisfactorily. Electoral voting to the EP is declining drastically and the EP has never got round to fulfill its Treaty obligations to have a single Statute for elections, not 27 separate ones that favour the government parties. Nor did they mention elections for civil society associations that were written into the original treaties. Without democracy, Europe will lack legitimacy and we will see further crises such as euro problems. David

  4. @David

    I think the real problem is that federalists couldn’t find a convincing way of proving that their ideas could (have) save(d) the Union from the different types of problems. If they did, that would mean that they are a step ahead of everybody.


    It’s an exciting idea, but the realisation seems to be a bit confused. I think that the direct election of the president of the Commission is more possible than that of the EP.

  5. A fiscal union could be both good or bad. currently the EU uses dual measures to not only toward it’s states but even toward it’s citizens. An Irish citizen could kill people in Hungry and get away with it, while a Roma citizen can be deported or placed into camps in Italy and France. EU also constantly overlooks or deny the obvious cultural differences under the banner of Common European Values. These practices applied to economy could lead to a far bigger catastrophe than this one.

  6. @euphobia,

    The EU doesn’t deny the cultural divergences, but rather ignores it, but however, you’re right, it’s wrong.

    Yes, the economic union can be both useful and of no use too. Whan I’m saying is that the decision-makers have to rethink this idea of the union. I can’t see this necessary revision, I can only see the obligation of an even stronger execution of what collapsed in the past 2-3 years.

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