political revue


Year LXI, 2019, Single Issue, Page 109




(Rome, 23-24 November, 2019)



Sometimes the course of our lives depends on what we do or don’t do in a few seconds, a heartbeat, when we either seize the opportunity or just miss it. Miss the moment and you never get a chance again.

(Aidan Chambers, Dying to know you)



In European discourse, we often talk of turning points. However, important as it is to talk about these, the fact is we are actually only able to identify them as such once they have gone. This explains why, in Europe, we have so often found ourselves talking about crucial and valuable opportunities that have been wasted: the European Defence Community, Spinelli’s “United States of Europe” project, and the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, to name just a few. There have indeed been many occasions when we have realised “that was a lost opportunity”, or “we missed that boat...”!

Of course, we can’t rewrite history, and less still, in my view, totally change Europe’s reality today; but I think it is crucial to make sure we don’t miss the next boat, or opportunity. To use a sailing analogy, “we can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can control the sails in order to make sure we reach our destination”.

It is therefore important that we recognise the next opportunities before us, namely, the new political cycle now getting under way and the European Conference on the future of Europe.

As regards the new political cycle, the early signs, in July, were good: Ursula Von der Leyen’s speech ahead of her appointment was, and remains, a good manifesto. But the next developments were less impressive, with strong institutional tensions already developing in the immediate wake of the European elections. Now, after this rather disappointing start, we must roll our sleeves up and start again, showing that we have the necessary strength and determination.

It seems to me that the priority areas are both clear and generally shared. A few of these are:

– Europe as a green power;
– euro area governance and a new round of investments;
– security and defence;
– the development of a European social union;
– new migration and asylum policies;
– the rule of law and equal opportunities;
– innovation and youth policies.

For the moment, though, this is still a rather hollow and meaningless list. To change this, we need to understand when to act, how much, and with what aspiration: all these are still open questions.

From our point of view, I am convinced that federalism has never been a more crucial or more adequate solution than it is today. It really is the answer to the problems of our times, because our times demand a sovereign, powerful and democratic Europe, which means:

– sovereign in order to be effective in tackling the crisis of national politics;
– powerful against unilateralism;
– democratic, so as to defeat neo-nationalisms.

  1. Sovereignty is all about taking back control of our destiny. It lies at the heart of the commitment made, in words at least, by Ursula Von der Leyen in her speech. But the time has now come to turn words into deeds.
  2. A powerful Europe is a Europe equipped with the instruments to oppose unilateralism and guarantee our security. But security also depends on a number of conditions.
    1. First of all, integration: we need to develop a global approach and learn to use, in a coordinated manner, all the political tools we have at our disposal. This means: foreign trade, development cooperation, humanitarian aid, international environmental policy, international policing, justice and intelligence cooperation, immigration, foreign policy and the promotion of EU values.
    2. Security must also be based on prevention. Prevention means having the tools necessary to deal with problems as soon as they arise and it demands consistent, long-term commitment and strategy. It means ensuring that commercial exchanges can be developed worldwide within a shared system, regulated by the same globally valid rules; and it also means creating the conditions for widespread stability and well-being.
    3. Moreover, the issue of security needs to be addressed globally. We Europeans have a duty to shoulder our share of responsibility for global security.
    4. Finally, security must be built on a new multilateralism based on dialogue and negotiating cooperation, but also taking into account the logic of power. Because there is no point being naïve: we know we have to act in the real world, where we encounter states and societies very far removed from the so-called postmodern approach.
    5. And so to the last, and perhaps most important, problem for Europe today and for the Europe of 2030: the new definition of power.

The EU was conceived as an antidote to the power politics that characterised the nation-states and imperial systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But today’s EU must face up to the need to develop a new model of political power.

In 1958, a young journalist asked the British prime minister what was the most difficult problem he had faced during his first year in Downing Street. Harold Macmillan replied: “Events, dear boy, events!”. Since 1989, and in particular since 2001, events have far exceeded the ability of even the best statesmen and politicians to determine their course. And this has been particularly true within the European Union.

I was in Berlin a few days after the fall of the Wall in November 1989. So much has already been written about this; I still find it impossible to find the right words to describe the euphoria, hope, and momentum that this event aroused among the young generation of Europeans to which I belonged. We were breathing history and experiencing an epochal change. And what a change it was! Ours was the first generation able to really call ourselves European and to actually live, and thus truly grasp, the meaning of European unification. But, sadly, not everything went as we expected.

For this reason, I feel that the most useful thing we can do today is focus on the things that failed to materialise and the decisions that were not taken, and ask ourselves some difficult but necessary questions. We have now been talking about Europe for over 65 years, and we are all aware of the cost of the historical error made by the French Gaullists and Communists when they opposed the European Defence Community in 1954. Progress since then has been very slow, even though the past five years have brought some significant advances: joint defence projects, initiatives by groups of countries, and even the establishment of a European Defence Fund. All welcome, of course, in the current setting, but that is the real problem: the setting is the thing we need to rethink and change.

I accept that the words used by Emmanuel Macron when he spoke of the “brain death of NATO” were extremely blunt and not appreciated by some. But the reality is that any proposal for true reform of the EU currently meets with, to put it mildly, a grudging response. In the meantime, our so-called ally, Trump, has left us Europeans’ to conduct, alone, the work of identifying a new form of multilateralism and developing a new form of organised world society.

And so now, to mark a historic event as momentous as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it is crucial that we strive to make sense of history. And what history is telling us is that, in today’s global world, we Europeans are at risk of extinction. We can put our heads in the sand and pretend this isn’t true. We can attempt to reassure ourselves with meaningless talk of national sovereignty. But the fact is that European civilisation is at risk of extinction in a world that is tending to reshape itself around Washington and Beijing; in this new world, only the creation of a European power will allow us to survive and lead. Let us be clear on one thing: this is not because the alliance with the USA is no longer the right course of action, but because this alliance is no longer enough.

This is why we must build a new European security architecture, capable of responding to Russian revisionism, Turkish neo-nationalism, and the challenges in Africa and the Middle East. Turkey, whether viewed from the NATO or the EU standpoint, is currently one of Europe’s biggest headaches, despite the fact that it is a NATO country (formally at least) and still a candidate to join the EU (even though no one now really believes this can happen).

So, let us abandon the false security of the status quo, and start debating and deciding how we need to change in order to enjoy true security and wield true influence in the coming 30 years.

  1. To build a democratic Europe capable of opposing neo-nationalism, we must give the European Parliament greater powers; we must show our faith in transnational politics by introducing true transnational lists; and we must make the European Commission smaller, more efficient and more effective. At the next Conference on the Future of Europe, we must work to ensure that the European Parliament is given greater — and true — centrality, to encourage and increase the citizens’ direct participation in European decision-making processes, and to mobilise civil society in such a way that it exerts even greater pressure on MEPs. And we, of the Union of European Federalists, must show that we are both credible and determined.

Last year, in Vienna, I received my mandate from you. Over the past 12 months, I have visited many EU member states, made our voice heard in the media, and opened new national sections in Greece, North Macedonia and Malta. As an organisation, we campaigned actively during the run-up to the European elections, using the slogan “I Choose Europe”. The UEF has also participated in various EU tenders and programmes. At the start of my tenure, our organisation was in considerable financial difficulty; I wish to leave appraisal of its current situation to you.

What I do have to say for my part is that I would like to see certain national sections playing a more active role, and others developing a greater sense of belonging. Above all, I would welcome your opinions on what the UEF should be; I would like to know what you think has worked and what has not. And why.

I wish to close in what is perhaps a rather unusual way. Although ending with a quotation is nothing out of the ordinary, for a federalist to choose a quote of Margaret Thatcher certainly is! I admit this may seem strange, but I wish to reassure you that this “precedent” certainly does not mean I will be turning to Boris Johnson for inspiration next year!

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”, Thatcher once said.

And so, friends, let us take up, once again, the battle for a federal Europe!

* President of the Union of European Federalists (UEF).




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