European Movement Italy – Giorgio Napolitano and European parliamentary democracy

07 March 2024 | Members' Corner

by Pier Virgilio Dastoli, Eruopean Movement Italy

Giorgio Napolitano was a Member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1992, i.e. during the years that were characterised by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty, or rather the treaties, since that negotiation concerned the transition from the Communities to the Union, the definition of the intergovernmental pillars on the area of freedom, security and justice and on foreign policy as well as the realisation of economic and monetary union.

Exercising, as allowed by the treaties the dual national and European mandate, Giorgio Napolitano was an important bridge between the Italian parliamentary dimension and the Community dimension both in the debates in the Chamber of Deputies on European issues and in the work of his Group in the European Parliament as the formal accession of Italian Communists to the family of European socialism was being prepared.

As an Italian member of Parliament, he participated in the interparliamentary assises in Rome in November 1990 that contributed to the start of the intergovernmental conferences in view of the Maastricht Treaty by supporting the requirement – contested by the French delegation led by Laurent Fabius – that the members of the assises should talk to each other as members of European political families and not as national delegations and vote on the final declaration according to personal decision and not in the name of an abstract national interest.

This choice of method – political and not technical – made it possible to reach a broad consensus on a text that we would dare to call federalist-inspired.

Elected to the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies in one of the most turbulent phases of Italian political life, he left the European Parliament without forgetting his European commitment both in international political relations, when he took office as Minister of the Interior and when he was elected President of the European Movement in Italy in 1995 to remain there until he entered the Quirinal Palace in 2006 and to return as honorary president in 2015.

In 1999, he only chose the path of the European Parliament, although he could keep the double mandate until 2002 and, having presided over the first session of the Assembly in July 1999 his first decision was to run for the chairmanship of the Institutional Affairs Committee (created on Altiero Spinelli’s proposal in January 1982 with the sole mandate of writing a new treaty) asking to call it the ‘Constitutional Affairs Committee’.

The fifth parliamentary term 1999-2004 was characterised firstly by the drafting of the Charter of Fundamemtal Rights on the initiative first of the Permanent Forum of Civil Society – as a network of non-governmental organisations promoted in 1995 by the International European Movement with the decisive support of Giorgio Napolitano as president of the European Movement in Italy and Rita Suessmuth president of the Bundestag but as president of the German European Movement – and then by the German government which proposed in December 1999 to the fifteen European governments and to the European Parliament to create an ad hoc institution which the Council would have liked to call in English Body and in French Enceinte, which independently decided to call itself Convention.

As we know, the Convention – whose members were European and national parliamentarians, government representatives and the Commission in a constant dialogue with non-governmental organisations and trade unions meeting in a ‘contact group’ – drew up a draft, submitted it to the ‘contact group’ for judgment and adopted a final text in Biarritz under the French presidency that took account of the ‘contact group’s critical remarks with a view to its solemn proclamation tel quel in Nice in December 2000.

The only obstacle put in the way by governments, or at least a majority of governments including Tony Blair’s British one, was the claim that the Charter was not legally binding and so it was until the Lisbon Treaty with the opting out granted to the British, Poles and Czechs.

After the Charter there was the Convention on the Future of Europe conceived by the Laeken Declaration in December 2001 that was supposed to be chaired by Jacques Delors to whom Jacques Chirac preferred Valery Giscard d’Estaing to avoid having him as a competitor in the French presidential elections.

For incomprehensible internal manoeuvres within the Socialist Group, Giorgio Napolitano was not chosen as a member of the Convention but followed its work as an attentive ‘observer’, as chairman and rapporteur of the Constitutional Affairs Commission and as a speaker in numerous speeches in the Chamber during the Convention’s work and then when the governments, betraying their commitment to the text signed according to the principle of consensus in June 2003, decided to strip it down, eliminating the already limited steps forward they had agreed to in the Convention to turn it into what Giuliano Amato called a hermaphrodite.

In his speeches in the Chamber, Giorgio Napolitano gradually criticised the downward compromises in the Convention and then relentlessly lashed out at the governments’ reductive path up to the demolitions permitted by the Italian Council presidency, pointing out the substantial differences between the method of the Charter Convention and that of the Treaty-Constitutional Convention in which the governments used a power of interdiction within the Convention by defending the principle of consensus and then exercising exclusive power of decision in the Intergovernmental Conference.

With the same punctiliousness and with the same lashing determination, Giorgio Napolitano returned to Strasbourg as President of the Republic to emphatically underline the innovative value of the role exercised by the European Parliament in the elaboration and approval of the ‘Spinelli Project’ and the act of contempt for parliamentary and popular democracy when the governments decided to abandon the albeit modest constitutional treaty ratified by seventeen parliaments and accepted in two referendums (Spain and Luxembourg) to choose the pactual path of an intergovernmental treaty.

All those in favour of the Convention method in view of the revision of the treaties should carefully read Giorgio Napolitano’s parliamentary speeches in the fifth European legislature and then those in Strasbourg as President of the Republic, reflecting on the risks of repeating the experience between 2002 with the start of the work of the Convention and 2009 with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty after the two Irish referendums, and avoiding supporting the thesis that there is no future for (federal) Europe if a Convention to revise the treaties is not convened.

The necessity of subjecting the Lisbon Treaty to a reconditioning one hundred and ninety-four months after its signature that definitively buried the constitutional treaty and replaced it with a confused and contradictory text is obvious even to the most recalcitrant governments.

There are three authorised garage where the cut is made.

There is the intergovernmental garage where the mechanics only deal with one part of the system, namely the third part of the second part of the Lisbon Treaty. This is no small thing because it comprises one hundred and seventy articles, including the entire area of freedom, security and justice, the eurozone, all the Union’s internal policies and actions (the internal market, agriculture, transport, competition and taxation, economic and monetary policy, including Article 122 used as the legal basis of the NGEU, the social dimension, education, culture, health, consumers, trans-European networks, industry, regional policy, research, the environment, energy, tourism).

If the revision of the Lisbon Treaty were to take place exclusively in the intergovernmental forum, it would be possible to introduce majority voting where the power of veto still exists, but it would not be possible to change the hermaphroditic nature of the Treaty and transfer competences from the member States to the Union, intervene in external actions, change the rules on the budget and the functioning of the institutions. Moreover, it would only be possible if all 27 mechanics were in agreement.

There is the garage of the Convention to which a narrow majority of the European Parliament would like to turn. This garage can only be accessed if the majority of the mechanics in the intergovernmental garage are in agreement, in which case it will be possible to tackle the entire treaty and not just the third part of its second part.

The limited majority of the European Parliament that would like to turn to the convention garage has, however, accepted the hermaphroditic nature of the entire treaty, the power of veto in budgetary matters and the power of States to take competences away from the Union and take them back. What is more important and more serious is that the European Parliament accepts the principle that the governments are the owners of the treaties and that therefore the revision of the Convention garage is provisional and that the system is put into the hands of the mechanics of the intergovernmental garage who will unanimously carry out the final overhaul.

Finally, there is the constituent garage where there are no limits to the coupon, where the mechanics decide by majority vote, where the transition to the intergovernmental garage is ruled out, where the owners are the users, who will be given the system after the coupon to find out their degree of satisfaction through a referendum.

Which garage do you prefer?