Firstly, I would like to thank you all very much for inviting me to this key political event. Three days ago you have put your past behind yourselves and have moved forward, choosing your new leader. And today I am very glad to have the opportunity to use this very stage to congratulate and wish him the greatest success. His job will not be easy: he will have to face crucial challenges and meet great expectations, he will have to look ahead, and have the courage to lead you in renewal of the party. And I am sure that he will be able to reverse the negative trend that in the past few years has characterized Labour, as well as the whole European Left.
Renewal is also one of the main mandates of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, that I have the honour to chair since last June. Renewal of Social Democracy and renewal of the European political thinking are the main features of its mission. Think tanks such as FEPS work on a different level and with different priorities compared to political parties. But the intellectual engagement and the theoretical support that they can offer to parties are essential, particularly in a moment when the political future of the Left in the European Union appears quite problematic and enhancing the goals of Social Democracy and Progressives is imperative.
Let me get now to the central issue I was called to address here. When I was first invited to this conference in my new position of President of FEPS, I was told that the theme of my speech was going to be Europe. My first reaction was one of surprise, because I am deeply aware that speaking about this topic in front of a British audience is not a simple task. I remember that when I was Prime Minister, I was once received by Tony Blair in Downing Street. At the end of our meeting, while I was heading towards the front door to talk to the press, he stopped and gave me one piece of advice. “Please – he said – when you talk with the journalists, do not mention the question of fiscal harmonization within the European Union. One can easily say this kind of things in Italy, but while British public can listen to almost any revolutionary proposals, they would not tolerate this”. A long time has passed since then and now I hope that you will be indulgent with me, because I am going to tell you, and repeat it over and over, that we need Europe. Today more than ever, we strongly need a more integrated Europe, more solid European institutions, a more convincing and effective coordination of economic policies, we need to be acting more credibly on the global scene. Having said that, I would like to add that these are goals for Progressives to pursue. And they cannot be achieved without you, without the British contribution. We need you, and let me tell you that you need Europe too.
The crisis that we have experienced and whose economic and social effects are far from being over – we can still clearly perceive them – this crisis draws us to the above conclusion. The great transformations that the world is going through draw us to this conclusion. The world today is a far more Asiatic and far less European place than it used to be twenty years ago. It is more global and less and less European. Its centre of gravity is shifting toward Asia. China, first and foremost, and then India. Not to speak about the growing role played by countries such as Brazil or South Africa. And what is Europe doing? Europe is struggling with its almost flat growth rate. Only a few years ago Europe seemed to be a rising power, euro had just been introduced, and the EU was becoming the world’s most integrated market. What was missing was the reform and reinforcement of its institutions, which would make of the EU one of the vital pillars of the international system. The Lisbon Treaty – which should have delivered those results – has entered into force less than a year ago, and pessimism is now the prevailing feeling. Indeed, the great opportunity that the Treaty offered has not been fully grasped yet.
The crucial problem lie within Europe itself. The temptation to resort to the renationalization of policies is sneaking around the continent. Exactly when the EU comes under pressure from global challenges in a highly competitive international system, the European governments’ instinct is to return to national decision-making. Here we have a clear paradox. At the very moment when the European Union’s unique structure and capabilities appear to be more essential than ever on a global level, Europe yearns its nation-state past. The example of the reaction to the speculative crisis in Greece is indicative, the governments’ hesitant attitude seemed to warn us that our solidarity reserves are close to be over. The final decision made to rescue Greece and support the highest indebted countries is extremely important, but only to the extent they will not be mere emergency measures, but will represent the beginning of the new course of financial and economic policies which the EU strongly needs. So far, conservative governments throughout Europe, instead of launching development and investment programmes to face the crisis, have brought “an age of austerity”, leaving European citizens to suffer the pain of unemployment and other social setbacks. Indeed, Europe’s problems lie not so much in the debt, but in the lack of growth. What we need is a new kind of growth. But where are new programmes of investment in innovation, green technologies, scientific research and education? This is the new frontier and we can make it only if we stick together, pursuing our common goals without leaving any state behind.
I would like to make clear that I am far from being a pessimist. Quite the opposite. I think, for example, that the euro area will not break up. Even if tensions are always possible, benefits are large, not only for the weakest but also for the more stable members. In fact, I believe that eventually Europe will end up, as it has so often done in the past, drawing on a crisis like this to stimulate more effective management of its Economic and Monetary Union. Indeed, I think that this is the moment to exploit Europe’s potentials to foster growth. But if we do not seize this chance, the EU’s clout in the international arena is going to get weaker and weaker.
When the European integration progress began almost sixty years ago, the main goals were to heal Europe’s internal wounds, retrieve its significantly damaged economic and political systems, and guarantee what the Old continent had never known before: a long lasting peace. By contrast, the challenges that the EU is called to face today are external and cannot be faced by single countries. Climate change, terrorism, economic growth, poverty and redistribution of wealth, are arduous tasks for isolated governments in an increasingly globalized world. They can be effectively confronted only at a supranational level and Europeans have the most advanced democratic form for the governance of globalization.
As for Europe’s role on the international stage, in spite of the fact that the Lisbon Treaty introduced new pivotal institutions: that is the permanent President of the European Council, the new double hatted High Representative, who also is Vice President of the Commission, and the European External Action Service and despite Lady Ashton’s valuable commitment, much still need to be done. The EU’s external diplomatic service, which we expect to be ready by the beginning of December, will strengthen the coherence between the different dimensions and instruments of the EU external action, forging a true EU diplomatic corp. [On this Catherine Ashton is working in the right direction and the Madrid agreement with the European Parliament represents a positive step forward.] But the mere existence of this institution does not guarantee an improved capability for acting on the international scene, unless there will be strong policies behind it. My contention is that the Union needs first and foremost to improve its performances in the surrounding regions, from the Balkans to the Mediterranean. Also, to enhance European security we must have two more priorities: relations with Russia and Turkey. Unfortunately, we do not share a common approach towards them yet. But these are the preconditions to build a sufficient credibility to act on a global level. These are the premises for sharing responsibilities with the United States.
Indeed, so far the European efforts have been insufficient to encourage and sustain, for example, President Obama’s actions in the Middle East. In these very days we run the risk that the resumption of Israeli settlements, after the ten month freeze, will jeopardize the ongoing negotiations. For this reason we strongly need a resolute European initiative. But, at the very moment when the US administration has brought a new multi-lateral approach to international relations, something long waited in Europe, and has resolved that the Israeli-Palestinian clash is one of its national security priorities, the EU is experiencing a kind of eclipse in that area.
The question of our commitments in the international arena drives me to another issue that I consider of crucial importance. In light of the current challenges to our security, the development of European defence – that is our shared ability to deploy forces beyond the EU borders – is the precondition for being able of sharing our international responsibilities. Moreover, it will represent a symbol of the shifting from a regional Europe to the global Europe we need today.
Europe, therefore, has not yet lost the match. It has, as I tried to underline earlier, some important cards to play. But the key condition is to realize that unity for our continent is not so much a choice as a necessity. The world of the G8 is over. The nationalistic pride of the old European powers reflects nostalgia for a world that no longer exists. We need to move forward making full use of the new opportunities that are offered by the Treaty of Lisbon and promoting more inclusive forms of global governance in which to achieve our common ambitions. We should adopt a single voice in every international forum, particularly in the international financial institutions, because a united representation would give the EU the genuine bargaining power that it does not have today. We must also be aware that, whether we like the idea or not, Europe will eventually achieve a single representation.
In this challenging scenario, as Progressives we should push to get more done. We should leave behind the timid and low profile approaches of recent years, we should take more risks and catch the wind of international change. In fact, it would be in the best interest, primarily of socialists and progressives, to give value and strength to European tools and mechanisms. This because the Right forces that govern most of Europe – often populist and nationalist, sometimes openly reactionary and racist – have an instrumental and reductive vision of the EU institutions, which are considered as nothing more than an arena for compromise among governments. Conservatives across Europe have been able to provide only regressive solutions to the most urgent problems and their policies do not appear capable of opening up new perspectives. It is therefore up to us to be ambitious and visionary, to act with courage and solidarity, to go beyond the experience of Twentieth century socialism, in order to place the European political project at the heart of our platform. We want a stronger European Union not only for the future of our children, but because this is the precondition to make the European values to count more in the world. Democracy, defence of human rights, social justice were born in our continent and it is up to us to preserve and sustain these principles in order to build a human and just globalization.