The problems our countries have to solve are not the same as in 1950. But the method remains the same: a transfer of sovereignty to common institutions, majority rule and a common approach to finding a solution to problems is the only answer in our current state of crisis”.
Many would see this quote as perfectly applicable to the current situation, when no country can realistically hope to meet the challenges facing our governments alone. These words, however, were spoken by Jean Monnet in 1974. Jean Monnet marked his time by his extraordinary accomplishments, of course, but also because he developed a method of government whose effectiveness extends beyond the particular circumstances in which he lived. His method was applicable to the circumstances of 1950, as it was to the problems of 1974 and still is today.
Certain aspects of this method remain eminently relevant and can still guide our action in Europe today to progress on the road to successful integration: its emphasis on efficiency and on subsidiarity, its sense of orientation and finally its concern for democratic support.
Monnet’s fundamental objective was to restore governments to the capacity to carry out their basic mission – to provide security, freedom and to create the conditions for prosperity for their peoples – even when they faced challenges which exceeded their own capacity for action.
Monnet’s concern for efficiency naturally distanced him from the intergovernmental solutions which had hitherto dominated international relations and which had failed spectacularly before his eyes between the two wars. He proposed, for the first time, a supranational model seeking the common interest. As he wrote, “Cooperation among nations, however important, solves nothing. What must be sought is a fusion of the interests of European citizens, and not just the preservation of a balance between these interests”.
This is how Jean Monnet promoted a new method of decision-making based on common institutions and making decisions according to majority rule. The reasons for this were simple: institutions operating in this way could not only execute and decide in the common interest, but also produce economies of scale through the pooling of resources, thus increasing the efficiency of policy-making. .
Thus, Jean Monnet approached the question of sovereignty in an essentially positive way, that is to say not in terms of normative rights but in terms of power and efficiency. If the pooling by States of part of their sovereignty within a supranational body was the best means of ensuring the peace, wealth and security of peoples, then this pooling was not a matter of a loss of sovereignty but on the contrary an extension of sovereignty allowing it to be exercised effectively in common.
However, Monnet wanted these transfers of sovereignty in specific areas to be perceived as legitimate by the people. To do so, they should be seen as effective, carried out under democratic control, and focus on areas where the need is immediate and where they can reinforce existing governmental or intergovernmental policies. Jean Monnet therefore deliberately opted for a progressive approach based on the principle of subsidiarity – what he called “initiatives in a limited but decisive area”.
This pragmatism of Jean Monnet does not amount to a haphazard approach to European integration. He instead argued that it was essential for Europe to have a clear sense of its direction, of its overall trajectory, insisting that “the road we take is less important than the direction in which we are moving “. The fact that the union began in the limited area of economic cooperation – coal and steel – does not mean that it was not intended to be a political union. For Monnet, economic integration has always been a foundation of political union, with the single market leading to monetary union and finally to political union.
Thus, Jean Monnet affirmed from the start the political nature of the European project and, consequently, the importance of the democratic basis of its institutions – by insisting that the new pan-European executive be subject to the double control of a parliamentary assembly and a fully-fledged court of justice. He even advocated that new institutions have the “transparency of a glass house”.
Since then, the Monnet method of common decision-making within common institutions has spread to several areas in Europe. A growing number of countries have pooled their sovereignty in a wide range of areas. Democratic controls have been strengthened at the same time, in particular thanks to the role of the European Parliament.
But what about the relevance of the Monnet method today? If war in Europe is now unthinkable, is collaboration within common institutions still the best approach given the nature of the challenges we face today?
It is clear that Monnet’s logic in favor of joint action – to make States more efficient in the execution of their tasks – is more necessary and more relevant than it was in Monnet’s time, for three main reasons:
The relative decline in the weight of European countries in world affairs justifies joint action. If in 1954, Monnet wrote that “our countries have become too small for today’s world, faced with America and Russia today and China and India tomorrow”, this observation remains a fortiori true today when the weight of Europe in the world has continued to decline. It has therefore become even more important that European countries are able to pool resources and exploit economies of scale.
The changing structure of international relations related to technology and the environment has eroded the relevance of physical boundaries. The fallout from climate change, the impact on governments of increasingly mobile capital, terrorist threats that transcend physical and virtual borders, are all areas where governments can only act effectively by acting together. .
Finally, Europe is eminently dependent on world trade, two thirds of EU imports being made up of raw materials, intermediate goods and components necessary for business production processes. Here again, we are stronger and more effective together: at European level, because we can generate more wealth through a deep and integrated market, while putting in place arrangements to contain undesirable spillovers and temper some of the redistributive consequences of transparency; and globally, because our large single market gives us greater influence in setting global rules. The fact is that the EU has – through the Commission in Brussels – a big influence on global rules in a whole range of areas, such as food, chemicals and privacy, and thus exports her values.
The case is clear: in a world where the relative size of Europe is shrinking and where technology, the environment and the market permeate national borders, the case for joint action to regain sovereignty is stronger. than ever. If European action has developed so much since the time of Monnet, it is precisely because it corresponded to a necessity. And in light of the new challenges we face, acting together as a union remains essential to serve the true interests of citizens.
Today we face challenges that can only be met by countries in Europe acting together. There is no doubt that in specific areas the Monnet method has enabled European governments to take control of events and exercise effective sovereignty, and that the number of areas requiring such an approach will only increase in the future. .