Even before Fischer, Jacques Delors, in relaunching his proposal to make Europe a "Federation of nation States" led by a vanguard grouped around the six founding Community countries - and then Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt with their idea of setting the integration process going again, starting with the "Euro-Europeans" - had attempted to open the debate on "Quo vadis, Europa?" This is the point Fischer too starts from, with a speech seen in several quarters as a relaunch in grand style of the guiding principles of the federalist tradition: a noble tradition which in Germany - as in Italy - has become solidly and lastingly rooted in public elites and among the citizens, quite apart from their various political preferences and party affiliations. In fact, over and above the words used, the proposals Fischer set forth (if only on a personal basis) are aimed at updating the old life-giving ideas of European federalism in the light of the changes that have come at the end of the twentieth century, and especially of the prospect of enlargement. I should like to recall in this connection what Altiero Spinelli himself, one of the founding fathers and key figures of that tradition, said towards the end of his own prestigious career: "The European architecture we set up," he said on the eve of the Single Act, "was the product of the tension between the radical vision of the federalists and the pragmatic approach of the statesmen. Without that tension nothing would have been attained: the federalists' vision would have remained a utopia, and the essentially conservative pragmatism of the statesmen would have led nowhere".
In short, it is in this mix between ideal positions and their implementation through compatible decisions and functional institutions that the true "engine" of the integration process lies - a process which, like Freudian analysis, is probably endless. There is no pre-established, shared access point; it does not proceed linearly; it is not self-referential, but interacts with the internal and external environment for compromises, feedback and new inputs.
This is, I believe, the reason why the real problem is not to accelerate in the direction of some more-or-less preset "federal" objective, desired by some but feared by others, which would at bottom consist in transferring to European level - European Union level - some powers and attributes of the nation States. On the contrary, and paradoxically, the years when the Community most grew and developed were the very ones when the nation States were strongest, thanks to expansion of the public sector and creation of the Welfare State. Today by contrast the nation States are tending more to withdraw from the economy and from society itself, to play a regulatory rather than interventionist role: it is consequently hard to conceive of regaining at supranational level this now lost power of "command", when today markets no longer coincide with States, and world-wide "networks" are determining not just the new economy but the entire spectrum of our public and personal relations.
In any case, even Fischer does not set himself this objective. It is true that he tends somewhat to see the future Europe as a Bundesrepublik writ large, with the same levels of governance and "division of sovereignty" as the German system; but he does not overlook the fact that the civic traditions even of the fifteen current members are too different from each other to be brought under a single model, one size fits all.
The Union remains at bottom a bold joint venture among partners: it proceeds by successive advances and adjustments, combining integration and cooperation, joint structures and classic intergovernmental compromises, standards to be reached and mutual control actions. Decisions are increasingly "brussellized", but public opinion is still essentially national, while some of the themes that mobilize it (human rights, for instance) are not specifically European, but rather universal. In short, more than by "division of sovereignty" the Union proceeds by "shared sovereignties": where the "sovereignty" is not a fixed, indivisible quantity, but a function of a complex, changing process where integration and cooperation are not anodyne games among States and institutions, but shift the locus, and especially change the nature, of government. What all this means is that the areas of political legitimacy, cultural identity and economic integration are inevitably manifold even within each Member State: competences and powers will be distributed and in part dispersed to various levels - upwards and downwards - with solutions that differ case by case.
It is in this context of the construction of a multi-level system of government (as the technical jargon goes) that we absolutely have to safeguard the central, original concern of federalism, namely to indicate to the continent's citizens and elites what Jacques Delors, the most creative interpreter of this tradition, liked to call the "costs of non-Europe": the potentially destructive consequences of a defensive reflex and a conservative fall-back, in the face of the challenges of the age. In this sense, the reminders from Delors himself, Giscard and Schmidt - all elder Statesmen whose competence and European convictions are beyond doubt - are aimed at projecting today's negotiations onto a less contingent and conditioned vision of the choices to be made. And the appeals from Fischer, himself one of the "Statesmen" in active service, are indubitably useful in the search for a balance between strategic visions and possible solutions: in the light of a Europe that will essentially need a central core in order not to stumble blindly in face of an enlargement that might otherwise reduce it to a mere economic area.