THE bitter wrangling over the question of who should succeed Jacques Delors as the president of the Commission of the European Union finally has come to an end. The Council of Ministers appointed the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, to the Euro-throne. The European Parliament has confirmed the choice.
Mr. Santer is confronted with a European ``union'' that has arrived at a historical juncture. The EU is plagued by institutional ruptures and the inability to define the real meaning of ``an ever-closer union.'' It is undergoing its worst economic crisis since its inception. The core question is whether Western Europe will become a heavily federalized United States of Europe, or remain an entity in which nation-states pool and relinquish sovereignty to enhance their own national interests.
For now, the European Union has been imposed only by the EU governments, against the will of the people, in a top-down approach. National opinion polls show that more than 60 percent of the EU electorate opposes the Maastricht Treaty and a European federal state; more than 65 percent is against a Euro-currency.
Although all EU members have benefited from economic integration, convergence of their economies remains a mirage. The economic performance levels of the EU states are increasingly diverging. The European Union's unemployment rate is 10.5 percent; almost 18 million out of its work force are on the dole. The Union's productivity rate is declining compared with that of its major competitors, Japan and the United States. None of the EU countries currently meets the Maastricht Treaty's criteria for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
A closer union also does not seem to be emerging in terms of its structures. The Eurocrats already have dropped their plans to introduce the Euro-wurst, the Euro-beer, the Euro-apple, the Euro-condom, and the Euro-plug/socket. Harmonization of norms and tastes has been replaced by mutual recognition. Moreover, under Maastricht, Britain has been exempted from the social chapter and EMU, and Denmark from participation in the final phase of EMU, the common defense, and legal policies, as well as European citizenship. As a result, Europe looks more like Swiss cheese than a cohesive French Camembert.
Three federalist fallacies
Given this disenchanting state of West European affairs, Santer must avoid succumbing to three federalist fallacies that threaten the accomplishments of the European Community if he wants to succeed in the construction of Europe:
* The first federalist fallacy lies in the attempt to marginalize the role of the nation-state. This is done by granting a few more rights to regions, maximizing those of the Eurocracy in Brussels, and pushing for the extension of majority voting from single-market affairs to EU matters in general. Mr. Delors once predicted that by the year 2000 more than 85 percent of national legislation would be Euro-legislation. The problem is that all these plans are not guided by the subsidiarity principle, which determines the lowest level where decisions can be made best, but rather by the Eurocrats' ambition to accrue more power. This implies overlooking the cultural cohesiveness and economic efficiency of the nation-states. Plans giving the European Parliament more rights and endowing the commission with quasi-executive government-like authority can hardly be couched in terms of subsidiarity.
Regarding majority voting, this also means ignoring differences among the EU states. British Prime Minister John Major's concern should be taken seriously that ``the influence of some Europeans would move us too fast toward common decision, and not by cooperation or by common consent. That is where I fear that Europe would lose the affection of its people.... the Community is a collection of nation states, the voices of all of which need to be taken seriously and considered.''
This all brings so clearly to light the two political contradictions of the federalist maxim: One is that the destruction of national power does not diffuse power, but rather creates new power - only on a higher level. The other is that the inequality among states cannot be erased by egalitarian measures redistributing wealth and voting rights. Which nation is willing to do less well simply to help others?
* The second federalist fallacy lies in the implementation of EMU regardless of circumstances, and the claim that a single market needs a single currency. Free-trade areas are obviously viable entities without a single currency. A single European currency is bound to have the same negative repercussions for the weaker EU members as German unification has had for former East Germany - with the distinct difference being that the EU would not have the money to bail out those countries suffering from exposure to the new and relentless waves of competition. The EU budget would need to be a hundred times bigger than it is now to provide a social cushion against these adverse effects. Thus, the European Union risks political upheaval because it cannot stomach those costs as Germany does - under tremendous strain.
* The third federalist fallacy is to pursue a political shortcut toward European integration. The federalists want to deepen the community without widening it, though the limits of integration have become obvious. For the sake of the egalitarian ideal of creating equality among states (and diffusing German power), all federalists are determined to ignore the economic and political differences among members. This was true for their threat to move ahead with the Maastricht Treaty even if Britain and Denmark refused to ratify it. They are also unified in their goal to hold the countries of Central and Eastern Europe at arm's length until the federalist utopia has been established. Now that Europe has the potential to unite again, the federalists are threatening to split it again.
The EU is still amorphous. It needs time for self-definition and to design appropriate responses to economic crises as well as determining levels of ``social distance.'' Witness the fact that a majority of people in the EU countries are opposed to immigrants from other EU member countries. The EU needs time to explore the extent to which Maastricht jeopardizes the old bargain, namely that all members benefited in one way or another from participating in the European Community.
Europe cannot be enforced by decree. If anything, people and economies need time to naturally evolve and mesh together. Neither an all-at-once Europe nor a dual-speed Europe is the solution. A multispeed Europe, in which different countries cooperate on issues of their choice in accordance with their interests, is the answer to the current European qualms.
Santer has the right qualities
The European Union needs at its helm a politician who is able to initiate an open debate between federalists and antifederalists - a debate that bore fruitful results for the US. The EU commission begs for someone in charge who not only appreciates the current level of integration, but who also recognizes its limits; someone who appreciates the role of the nation-state and is convinced that cooperation between European Union members can be more than simply managing free-trade relations, but who does not ignore the different weight and interests of the states involved in the EU bargain; someone who makes an honest attempt to find out at which level of government decisions are best made.
Luxembourg's prime minister has all the qualities to resist federalist temptations; moreover, he seems eager to initiate a debate about the future structure and direction of the EU. His view of a Europe founded on subsidiarity rather than centralism is most encouraging: ``For me, federalism is the opposite of centralism. To help along the process of European integration does not mean to usher in a Napoleonic Europe. ... The more Europe is decentralized, the stronger it is.'' This sounds revolutionary compared with the first choice for the position, Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene (whose appointment was fortunately blocked by a British veto) who declared that ``we need more, not less, Europe.'' Santer intends to transfer only as much sovereignty to Brussels as necessary.
The new head of the commission deserves credit for preserving intergovernmental decisionmaking procedures in two of the three pillars of the Maastricht Treaty (security, and foreign policy and home and justice affairs). During its presidency of the European Community in 1991, Luxembourg produced a draft that carefully balanced German, French, and British demands in a moderate fashion. Although Santer's past fascination with EMU should not be overlooked, he recently acknowledged that there may be alternatives to monetary union if none or only a few countries meet the criteria.
Attention to subtleties
Santer has sided with the nation-states in quite a number of cases where national interests collided with transfer of sovereignty to Brussels. As early as 1992, he emphasized that European integration could not go so far as to prevent the Central and Eastern European countries from joining the EU.
Only in the eyes of ardent Euro-federalists is Santer's appointment a ``weak'' choice. He might be the ``lowest common denominator'' but this is exactly what Europe needs. The prime minister's understanding of the subtleties and problems of Europe, his willingness to recognize the limits of integration, his tolerance for different perceptions, and his mastery at reaching compromises without sacrificing elementary principles, will slow the rush to an ill-conceived union. His comprehensive approach lays a firm foundation for the EU to consolidate the gains of European integration while affording Europe the breathing space it so desperately needs.
If Europe is indeed forced down the federalist path, no truly united Europe will emerge. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.