The Struggle for Political Union: The European Community, Conflicting Concepts, and Views of the Public

By Feld, Werner J. | National Forum, Spring 1992 | Go to article overview

The Struggle for Political Union: The European Community, Conflicting Concepts, and Views of the Public


Feld, Werner J., National Forum


The preamble to the 1958 treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), frequently referred to as the Common Market, states that the signatories are "determined to lay the foundation of an ever closer union among the people of Europe." The Community has grown from six member states in 1958 to twelve in 1986, but little progress was made toward the lofty goal of an "ever closer union" until the second half of the 1980s.

In 1984 the European Parliament, which had been elected directly by the people in the member states for the first time in 1979, adopted a draft treaty on European Union. But the draft was rejected by a majority of the member states of the European Community (EC) and consequently did not lead to closer union. The Single European Act (SEA) in 1987 did represent a small step toward this objective by strengthening, at least to a minor extent, the powers of the European Parliament. Up to then it had very little influence on the decision-making process of the EC and was seen by the EC populations primarily as a useless debating society enjoying its monthly sessions in Strasbourg, France.

The European Council meeting in Dublin in April 1990 showed progress toward a closer union. The Council, which generally convenes twice a year, is composed of the heads of state and chiefs of government of the EC member states but is not part of the institutional framework of the Community. At the April 1990 meeting, the future dynamic development of the Community was an imperative not only because it corresponded to the direct interests of the twelve member states but also because it had become a crucial element in establishing a reliable framework for peace and security in Europe. This may require "the transformation of the Community from an entity mainly based on economic integration and political cooperation into a union of a political nature, including a common foreign and security policy."

On 15 December 1990, two intergovernmental conferences (IGCs) were initiated in Rome, one dealing with the establishment of a political union (PU) and the other with the creation of an economic and monetary union (EMU). Our interest lies in the first IGC, which was an effort by the twelve EC member states to establish a higher profile on the international scene. This would enable the Community to give collective responses to specific demands made on Europe, work together to defend its common interests, and contribute to the creation of a fairer, more efficient world order that respects the values shared by the member states, in particular as they regard human rights.

This article will seek to analyze the concept of political union, the struggle over how to achieve it, the attitudes of the European Parliament, the Commission (the EC executive organ), and the various member governments, as well as the views of the public. It will also seek to assess the PU issue in terms of the "1992 program" and of meeting the challenge of democratic legitimacy.

The Concept of Political Union. Moving toward political union requires the amendment of the current constituent treaties of the EEC and its sister organizations, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). ECSC became operational in 1953 and both the EEC and Euratom in 1958. Some minor amendments to these treaties were made by the SEA in 1987, but the amendments contemplated by the IGC on political union are expected to be much more far-reaching. As yet there is no definite conceptualization of the meaning of such a union. Three paths toward such a union can be visualized. One is the creation of a federal system, which was reflected in the draft treaty for European union adopted by the European Parliament in the early 1980s but rejected by the majority of EC member states. It would have strengthened the political power of the EP and reduced the so-called "democratic deficit" that characterizes the current decision-making procedures of the current EC treaties. …

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