Only United States of Europe can let Europe be better
There is no standing still. We must go forward. Only a United States of Europe can allow the EU to continue with the project that has already accounted for decades of peace and prosperity.
Franco Frattini for Longitude
President of SIOI and Former Vice-President of the European Commission
The fall of the Berlin Wall turned out to be the biggest challenge to Europe. Across the world that fall has become, in fact, as strong a symbol as can be found for democracy and the voice of the people. We should never forget that two decades after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Europe and the world have gained enormously from democratic and economic integration. And the integration of countries under democracy, from 2004 onwards, has proved it.
It has been the only possible and morally right answer to overcome the division originating in the Cold War. The only answer to let Europe to be reunified.
I feel so lucky to work for Europe at these exciting times: both during my commitments as Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-2004, 2008-2011); and Vice-President and Commissioner in Brussels (2004-2008).
Let’s think to some solid achievements originated by the EU integration: the NATO; the strategy on the European perspective for Western Balkans launched on 2003; Rome Constitutional Treaty, signed in 2004 (although not entered into force); the big reunification of 2004; Balkans EU Strategy implementation (visa free regime, new memberships of Romania and Bulgaria); the Schengen Space’s enlargement in 2007; the launch of the EU Migration Policy with the establishment of EU Agency for external borders (FRONTEX).
These are commitments that European governments achieved because of courage, resolution and, above all, because it was in the mood of Brussels to tackle the real problems and, as a consequence, to give a hope and a better life to “old and new” citizens.
Then the economic crisis erupted and expanded, undermining the political system and giving rise to popular euroscepticism. The forces of integration and disintegration, of European solidarity and national egoism, the centripetal and the centrifugal, opened a tough finely confrontation.
Will we succeed in having a better Europe? I’m confident about it. Indeed, we should take a good look at ourselves before we point a finger at others.
During the last European elections campaign, despite some signs of economic EU recovery, people talked more than ever about EU, but to stress that Europe is part of the problem, not the solution. As a consequence stunning victories in European Parliament elections by nationalist, Euroskeptic parties from France and Britain left the European Union licking its wounds and facing a giant policy dilemma.
Across the continent, anti-establishment parties of the far right and hard left more than doubled their representation, harnessing a mood of anger with Brussels over austerity and mass unemployment. The lack of effective leaderships is why Europe has not performed well and populist movements gained influence and power.
Does it mean surrender? Or does it mean a new fight not to let destroyers to win? What I believe is that we cannot stay where we are. If we don't go forwards we will go backwards.
The answer to strengthen our European community is in two simple projects: first of all to go on with the reunification, because in this globalized world we cannot think to be stronger if acting alone. More, all member states joining Europe are not “aliens”, but they really belong to the story, culture and values of Europe.
Secondly, we cannot have Europe of the people without relaunching political integration, so the United States of Europe. Europe must not turn into a cage of duties, rules and procedures which often end up restraining everyone’s actions. There is general agreement today that the euro, when it was created, had a serious birth defect: Europe’s political leaders created a currency union without a political union. The hope was, of course, that over the years the countries sharing the same currency would have to harmonize their fiscal, economic and social policies. But this did not happen.
Monetary union is not enough. Not anymore. Because without political integration and leadership, the future of European peoples remains a chimera. Europe’s challenge today is to overcome this birth defect by building and establishing institutions and mechanisms essential for forming a political union. We will not build the United States of Europe anytime soon, but we will have to transfer political sovereignty from the national to the European level, and this is going to need to happen sooner rather than later.
What do United States of Europe really mean? Let’s be pragmatic and ask ourselves what we can really do to limit the damage caused by who only wants to destroy instead of build. Let’s list how Brussels could stop being a elite and start working on issues concerning people and common policies first. The main goal must be to enable Europe to speak with a single voice at least.
Let’s think to the Balkans: they should be still a EU concrete priority, as it in the official wording. In practice, some EU member states are even talking on reviewing the existing visa free regime, the most powerful and tangible magnet to overcome in the Region the nationalists and isolation feelings!
Let’s think to the Ukraine crisis: EU was divided and shy from the very beginning of the crisis. Some made the very serious mistake to present the EU–Ukraine association agreement as an instrument to counter Russia’s aspiration or to promote a new “containment policy.” In the meantime, EU’s offer of financial support to Ukraine was totally insufficient: US and EU together, could not even cover the Ukrainian debt toward Russia on gas supply. Sincerely, EU left in US hands the initiatives, including the proposal and decision on sanctions, and even the deployment of US troops on Baltics and polish territory.
Let’s seriously talk about the EU energy security strategy. We still don’t have a common policy n this important issue.
More, let’s talk about our defence and security strategy. The last strategic document dates December 2003. Eleven years later, in a completely changed world, where is our new policy on EU common defence, on national and international security?
Let’s talk about foreign policy: where was EU in the last year and where is now concerning the catastrophic situation in Syria or Libya? What does Brussels think and do for fighting and blocking the arc of terror from the Horn of Africa to Sahel?
Where’s the EU policy on immigration? Southern shores of the Mediterranean every day watch hundred of thousands of children, men and women falling in the hands of criminals trafficking in human beings. This is not a slavery movie: this is really happening in Europe, in the XXI century. Do you know that when Italy established the mission “Mare Nostrum” (30.000 human lives have been saved from January) EU Institutions replied only with bureaucratic exercise? During my term as EU Vice-President Frontex has been able in those years to bring together 11 Countries to help Spain from the 2005-2006 migratory crisis from Senegal and Guinea to Canary Islands. After almost 10 years Frontex funds are less than what Italy spends in six months for the mission “Mare Nostrum”. That is incredible!
How can you explain to a Sicilian fisherman that Brussels dictates strict rules on fishing tuna, while turning it’s back when thousands of “desperates” land to Lampedusa?
Last, let’s take a decision on Syria and Egypt. Let’s talk again about Libya. The main objective of foreign policy is to use diplomacy - or talking, meeting, and making common agreements - to solve common problems and not national interests.
I can completely agree that everything is being stress-tested in the economic crisis. Europe above all. But crisis are composed of two characters: one represents danger and the other represents opportunity. Ideas and proposals - even if and when they are strong and well grounded - need to be transformed into concrete opportunities.
This is a lesson for Europe and its leaders. Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results. Leaders, as Alcide De Gasperi used to say, are people who think to next generation instead of next elections. People still believe in Europe, but they trust politicians and institutions much less. The new Parliament and the new President of the European Commission will be able to reverse this scepticism, only if concrete issues close to the hearts of ordinary people will become the EU’s core business, while cutting the predominant influence of burocracy and technocrats.