Year LX, 2018, Single Issue
The Run-up to the 2019 European Elections:
a Battle Over
the Future of the European Union
The forthcoming European Parliamentary elections are increasingly assuming the character of a clash over the future of Europe. The deepening political divisions between the member states (and the impasse this is creating in numerous crucial areas), not to mention the breadth and depth of the challenges now threatening the security and the political and social stability of our continent, are exposing the full precariousness of the current European system.
Nationalist forces across the continent, in particular, are adopting stances designed to win them as much ground as possible in the electoral battle over the future of Europe. Having set aside — also in view of the chaos into which the UK has plunged in its attempt to “deliver” Brexit — the idea of pressing for their own countries’ exit from the European framework, the aim of these factions is now to secure, within the next parliament, the numbers and a level of consensus that will allow them to hold sway within the Community institutions. The key aims of their project are to further strengthen the centrality and power of the member states, nullify and dismantle the Community mechanism, and set an authoritarian and anti-democratic agenda, supported by a coalition of illiberal regimes and forces, in opposition to the liberal democracy and social market economy model currently embodied by the EU.
It is certainly useful and important that the forces and citizens who believe in the values of European civilisation and the European model, and understand the need for Europeans to remain united if they aspire to a future of progress, continue to defend the merits of all that has been achieved through the integration process to date; but this, alone, is not enough. It is not even enough to highlight the inconsistency of the stances adopted by the nationalist governments, which leads them to clash with and damage each other over specific issues. The mortal danger inherent in their plan to join forces in order to empty the EU of substance is very real. For this reason, it is crucial that all genuine democrats oppose the nationalist project through concrete proposals designed to strengthen Europe and carry through to completion the original European vision of political unity on a federal basis.
The time has come to focus political attention on the issue of creating the power that is needed in order to guarantee action at European level, and on the consequent institutional leap that will have to be made in order to overcome the weaknesses of the current European framework. This is something that applies to the issue of security, but also to a series of other areas: sustainable development, the scientific and technological revolution, the labour market and youth unemployment; moreover, it acquires particular relevance when considering the shameful response of the states of intergovernmental Europe to the suffering of those seeking refuge in Europe.
The absence of a European federal government and the impotence of the European states, which claim still to be the “lords of the Treaties” and the masters of politics in Europe, are casting our society adrift and allowing tragedies of immense proportions to unfold on our borders.
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All in all, this situation is not a fitting way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the single currency. The euro is a great success, of which Europeans may rightly feel proud. First and foremost, it represents a political project that succeeded in shoring up and securing the European edifice at a time when the disappearance of the bipolar world order was weakening all the pillars on which the European Community was founded: the deep sharing of interests between Europe and the United States, their common ideological bond, created by the Cold War, the stability and absolute clarity of the geopolitical picture, and finally Germany’s diminished sovereignty and the political supremacy of France — both key factors in the relationship between these two countries, which, together, were the original driving force of the process of European integration. Once deprived of these foundations, the European edifice would have struggled to survive in the new global world had it also lacked, from the late 1980s, the objective of the single currency to work towards, and from the late 1990s, the stability offered by the euro itself.
The “founding fathers” of EMU, from Kohl to Delors, were the first to recognise that it was an incomplete construction that needed to be strengthened and completed without delay, through the creation of a budgetary union and an economic and social union, as well as, in Kohl’s opinion, a political union. Yet, despite remaining incomplete, the euro has, in recent years, kept many of its promises: in addition to becoming the world’s second currency, allowing the development of the world’s largest single market, it has eliminated the problem of inflation in Europe and fostered a new code of conduct among governments that previously tended to exploit the weakness of their own national currency in order to gain unfair advantages (even though it has not been enough to induce them to address the competitiveness issue). All this has hugely strengthened the interdependence of the European nations as well as the resilience of the European Union itself and the bond between its members.
Today, however, almost a decade since the explosion of the economic and financial crisis that forced Europe to confront the limits of the monetary union created in Maastricht, in this setting too it has become urgent for Europeans to take stock of the situation, and prepare to rise to the new challenges they face. Although the crisis has certainly shown the single currency to be stronger and more resilient than its critics anticipated, it has undoubtedly also shown it to be less effective than it was meant to be as a means of promoting the convergence and competitiveness of its members. As a result, Europeans today are more politically divided and therefore, from this perspective, weaker than they were at the time the single currency was created; and they need to understand why this has happened, and how to rectify it.
The problem is entirely political, and it lies in the fact that the monetary union is essentially a defective system. Had the single currency been supported by the creation of a federal political union (which everyone recognised as necessary when it was first launched), the European institutions would now wield limited but real competences and powers, and the citizens would feel a real connection with them, in the sense of being directly affected by their decisions and able to control them through the ballot box and the full parliamentary machinery; moreover, their actions would be fully coordinated with those of the lower levels of government, which in turn would continue to fulfil their role towards their own citizens. In this way, democracy and effective government would be guaranteed. In the present European system, on the other hand, the fact that the states share monetary but not economic and political sovereignty causes a series of short circuits that are feeding the emergence and spread of populist and nationalist sentiments and forces: i) the supranational level of governance remains ineffective and conditioned, politically, by the will of the national governments, which often have divergent interests and therefore undermine the action of the Community institutions; ii) the national governments are forced to act within a very binding, rules-based framework, which is indispensable for the functioning of the European system as it is currently conceived, but often forces the national governments to make political choices that are unpopular in the short term; iii) the citizens can clearly see that there are two levels of government (the national one and the intergovernmental European one) that are weakening each other rather than generating synergy, with both therefore tending to pursue weak and inadequate policies; iv) finally, democracy is fully exercised only at national level, yet it is largely emptied of significance by the dynamics just described.
In turn, then, the solution to the problem can only be political; even more so because, in the face of Europe’s weakness, both the old and the new powers are increasingly hankering after their share of our continent’s wealth. Today, our social market economy model, based on liberal democracy, and the values (including freedom) that are central to our civilisation are under threat.
With regard to the monetary union, the Europeans can no longer afford to postpone the completion of the structure whose foundations were first laid 20 years ago: with some member states open to the idea of building a European political union, the time has come to create, around the euro, the foundations for a global economic and political power that can become a tangible model of unity, peace, freedom and solidarity, able to defend the universal values of our civilisation.
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Over the past year and a half, France, under Macron, has advanced proposals for relaunching the EU that hinge on the idea of making the eurozone a more closely united and integrated unit at the heart of the EU, and taking its development as a global economic power as the starting point for the building of a new European sovereignty. However, the negotiations undertaken in order to arrive at a common position with Germany have so far resulted only in a compromise proposal that is still highly contradictory and inadequate. There is indeed still some considerable distance between the two countries’ positions on the future of the European Union: France envisages Europe becoming a political power by equipping itself with the democratic powers and dynamics of a federal state community; Germany, on the other hand, is reluctant to abandon the current hybrid structure, in which politics and power remain in the hands of the member states and integration continues to be decided between the national governments, keeping the effective role of the Commission to the bare minimum.
The so-called Aachen Treaty, signed on 22 January 2019 by the French and German governments (which in some ways recalls their signing of the 1963 Élysée Treaty), is also part of these endeavours; it is a gesture that is intended to be part of a process that aims, among other things, to bridge the gap and strengthen the mutual trust between these two countries in the wake of difficult years of profound transformation, also in the balance of power between them.
However, the Aachen Treaty is more than this. It also embodies the will of France and Germany, in today’s Europe gripped by growing nationalist delusions, to stand as a bulwark protecting the European project of unity and solidarity between peoples, citizens and generations; a project of peace, freedom and democracy. Even though they are weakened and find themselves attacked (both from within and, even more so, from the outside) by hostile powers seeking to destroy them in order to destroy Europe, the governments of these two countries are well aware that they are the point of reference for all those who are firm in their intention to resist these attempts and instead relaunch the European project; they have indeed stated, in strong terms, their determination not to surrender and their commitment to building a stronger Europe.
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This, then, brings us back to the new phase we are entering as the European political elections approach — a phase that all pro-European forces must address with the courage and vision necessary to rise to the challenge it represents. Precisely because Europe has no allies, and can only rely on itself to grow stronger, any attempt to reverse the current drift must necessarily focus on the fight to build a federal political union. Europe’s rebirth can only come about if it gives itself a new structure, gets the citizens involved and proves courageous enough to open up a new road, thanks to the efforts of a vanguard of political and social forces and countries determined to press ahead. It is crucial that the key battle fought during the next European legislature should be the one to unite these forces in a single front linked to the pro-European section of society and allied with national governments that believe in unity — a front that can press to renegotiate the Treaties and create, with the involvement of the countries that are ready for this step, a European federal constitution, i.e. a core group of states within a broader European Union that will, instead, accommodate those states that do not want political unity, only the single market. As Italians, we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by the fact that, under the present government, our country will oppose such a project. On the contrary, we must appeal to the others to go forward also on our behalf, and in the name of all citizens who believe in Europe and want to live in Europe. Our view, and there can be no shifting us from our position, is that today Italy, to have a future, needs the European federation more than ever before.