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January 2015

 

 

 

 

Europe at a crossroads

The recent dramatic events in Paris have provided the European governments with a brutal reminder that they find themselves at a crossroads, and this time it is a fact that no one can afford to ignore. Democratic civilisation is Europe’s model and heritage and there is now a very clear and shared sense that the values on which it is based are under threat. If, rather than transforming this sense of shared danger into a political response worthy of the challenge, the Europeans instead prefer to resort to the old national solutions, then they will have decreed the end of these values and of this civilisation; and if they do this, it will be clear that the passionate praise of Europe’s ideals and achievements, voiced during the massive joint demonstrations of January 10 that were mounted in support of the democratic model, was nothing more than rhetoric.

Throughout the world, democracy and the values of political and civil freedom are under harsh attack. Autocratic and authoritarian regimes are increasingly becoming the reference models of government, as opposed to the model of the Western liberal democracies, which are seen as incapable of selecting their political class, of laying down long-term plans, of making decisions in a straightforward way and within clear time frames, and of encouraging meritocracy. International unrest is exploited to feed ideologies that turn the battle for control of strategic areas into religious wars, rooted in the civil and social backwardness of vast areas of the planet. What lies at stake is the model of civil and social coexistence within states and between peoples. The fact is that the values of European civilisation can still take root and spread, and thus stem the current tide of obscanturism, but only if they are underpinned and backed by strong political governance capable of affirming and combining freedom and equality, social justice and progress, and solidarity and integration; if this fails to emerge, then they are doomed.

How can the Europeans hope to win this battle using the ineffectual instruments of the nation-state model – a model that, through two world wars and the phenomena of fascism and Nazism, has already shown that it is capable of bringing Europe to its knees? How can anyone imagine that it will be enough merely to make some adjustments to the institutions of the EU – increasing a little the level of cooperation and coordination between the member states, or even returning certain competences or powers of control to national level? Surely Europe’s economic failures, its toothlessness in the foreign policy sphere, its inadequacies in the research field, its citizens’ loss of faith in politics, and their mistrust of the institutions should be enough to make our politicians see that the problem that really needs to be addressed is that of finally establishing the United States of Europe.

* * *

So, what is to be done? We have seen that the need to create a common foreign and security policy is urgent, as indeed is the need for a true European government of the economy, but where do we begin?

A clear indication in this regard can be found in the words of the President of the ECB Mario Draghi, who recently affirmed that the success of monetary union “depends on the acknowledgment that sharing a single currency is political union, and following through with the consequences” (Stability and Prosperity in Monetary Union, University of Helsinki, 27 November, 2014). In signing the MaastrichtTreaty, the European states made the decision to share monetary sovereignty. It was a clear choice and it is telling that the most eurosceptic countries rejected it. Now, however, the states that adopted the euro cannot ignore the consequences of that choice.

But there is more to it than this. Indeed, as is universally recognised and underlined by economists, political experts and analysts, as well as by politicians from outside Europe, the eurozone, because of its inadequate governance, has become incapable of acting – “If Europe were a single country with a single, credible government, the answer (to the crisis) would be simple.” (Reforms, Investment and Growth: An Agenda for France, Germany and Europe, Report to SigmarGabriel and Emmanuel Macron by Henrik Enderlein and Jean Pisani-Ferry). In a similar vein, Draghi recently remarked: “In the euro area, economic policy choices are so interdependent that, ultimately, sovereignty over economic policy-making should be exercised jointly. Therefore, we need, in my view, to further share sovereignty in this realm. This could translate into a leap forward from common rules to common institutions.” (Introductory remarks at the Finnish parliament, Helsinki, 27 November, 2014). The point is that, now, the urgent need for political union affects all the sectors that the national framework is no longer able to manage.

The Europeans are paying a terribly high price for the states’ refusal to create a European government equipped with real powers, and for their insistence on retaining their political sovereignty, continuing to attempt to manage the monetary union through the coordination of national interests and the reaching of compromises – approaches incompatible with the pursuit of the common good. Europe’s failure to reach the solution can therefore be put down to a lack of the necessary political will and to the importance that continues to be attached to national power.

Meanwhile, time is working against unity. The economic crisis is undermining the support enjoyed by Europe, and ushering in dramatic alternatives; at the same time, the world as a whole is starting to be an increasingly threatening place, as shown by the recent bloody attacks on our cities. The trap of stagnation and the problem of security are actually two sides of the same coin, since both are a result of the evolution of the global framework. Furthermore, in addition to the instability of the regions that surround Europe and are burdening us with problems and emergencies that, if we are divided, will surely overwhelm us, we are seeing a progressive regionalisation of world trade, a phenomenon closely linked to the increasingly divergent geopolitical interests of the giants of world politics. Without political union, Europe will find it impossible to address any of the problems it currently faces, internal or external, i.e. the social and economic ones or the ones presented by a world in turmoil, devoid of leadership, which, what is more, has entered the second digital revolution and faces the disruptive effects that this will bring.

As European federalists, we can only go on trying to give voice to the glaring truth that is Europe’s urgent need, no longer deferrable, to make the political leap forward, and trying, for the reasons outlined, to mobilise support for this project; there is already widespread consensus in this this regard, even though it is increasingly frustrated by the inertia of those in power in the face of the need to make the transition. As mentioned, our views are echoed by economists and representatives of the European institutions, and even by members of national governments: a few weeks ago, the German minister Schaeuble, during the Frankfurt European Banking Conference, declared publicly that Europe must “urgently change the Treaties”, at least for the eurozone, because there needs to be a strengthening of economic governance.

But words and broad consensus are not enough if they do not serve to create the institutions capable enabling the Europeans to live in permanent solidarity. Action is needed, and there is no time to lose. The legal instruments that could be used for the institutional completion of the monetary union within the EU have already been analysed and explained in dozens of studies. The possible opportunities to start building the fiscal, economic and also the political union are numerous. Many of the proposals already on the table underline the need to equip the eurozone with its own funds (to be used to create social welfare instruments for example), which would be subject to democratic control by the European Parliament together with the national parliaments. All that is needed is the will to implement these choices. This is why all the forces that believe in the idea of a European federal union must now succeed in channelling all their efforts in this direction. It is a mistake to go on allowing energies to be dispersed between weak alternatives, rather than bringing them to bear together on the decisive ground, and in so doing to go on allowing the Europeans to run the risk of being definitively swallowed up as a result of their own impotence.

Publius

 

 


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