I wished to be the one to deliver the opening speech of this meeting of the FEPS Scientific Council, because I think it is time to take stock of our work and of the prospects we will have to face from today to the next European elections, which represent the most important and demanding appointment for the PES and the S&D Group in the next future. Please, feel free to consider my observations and suggestions. Bruno, whose contribution we are very glad of, will draw the conclusion of our discussion and will explain our research focus for the coming months.
Our Foundation has, so far, dealt with many issues, it has published several books, magazines and researches; it has been engaged in many cultural events, both at European and international level. Nevertheless, the pivotal question, around which our analysis and our search for new proposals have been developed, is the Europe’s crisis and the instruments and strategies to bring about the “renaissance” of the European project.
The main aspects of the European crisis are the economic and social ones. The European Union is currently the region of the world with the lowest growth rate; it is characterized by a marked increase of unemployment, a serious problem of ageing population, a trend towards the deterioration of the standards of living and the increase of social inequalities, which are beginning to threat social cohesion and even the stability of democratic systems.
For this reason, I think that we should focus in particular on the question of inequalities: inequalities within our societies and inequalities between different regions and different European countries. Inequalities bring into question the European social model. Within the EU member states, inequalities are undermining the principle of social inclusion and that of sustainability, which characterized our societies and were guaranteed by the welfare state and the so-called “social democratic compromise”. While inequalities between member states, between countries that have benefitted from the common currency, on the one side, and indebted countries, struggling countries, on the other side, call into question the cohesion between the EU member states and increase the clashes between opposing interests. They encourage centrifugal tendencies which risk leading to a gradual paralysis of the European institutions, or even to a sort of “crumbling crisis”. A dramatic crisis, whose historical meaning we shall not underestimate.
There is no doubt that the European neoliberalist and monetarist Right is to be held accountable for the crisis. But we must also acknowledge that our responses have been weak so far. I will get back to this point later on.
This serious social question is combined with what we can define as an out-and-out crisis of European democracy. This phenomenon is unfolding in two complementary ways. In Brussels, after the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, and after the compromise on the Lisbon Treaty, an intergovernmental method is prevailing. A method, mainly based on the relations among the strongest countries, which results particularly intolerable for all the other countries that are not capable of producing adequate responses in the face of such challenges and problems.
Let’s just consider that what can be perhaps regarded as the most important decision made in the last months was made by the European Central Bank, when it decided to take action against speculations in order to contain spreads. This can give us a sense of the European institutions’ weakness and of the extent of people’s perception that the EU is dominated by the strength of technocracy and bureaucracy.
And this, in spite of the remarkable efforts of the European Parliament, which has been an important point of reference for democratic initiatives. Nevertheless, the slowness of decisions and the substantial veto power of the national governments – and in particular of the stronger member states – make the European decision-making process especially muddled and ineffective.
Let’s just think of the FTT, which should be considered a success for the progressive forces: it has been approved by the Parliament, it has been adopted by the Commission: where is it now? When will it be introduced? Maybe soon. But how much time has already gone by? The crisis is fast, while the European decision-making process is terribly slow.
This opacity, this ineffectiveness, this technocratic distortion of European power favour the rise of populist and anti-European phenomena. Historically, populism represents the revolt of the demos against the elites; and – in its nationalistic and local versions – the revolt of the etnos against foreign interference, sovranational power and globalization. And this is exactly the form that populist movements are currently taking on in Europe; they are concentrated mainly in the right section of the political spectrum, but can be found also on the left – as it is happening in Greece – a space that belongs to the pro-European progressive parties. PASOK’s support collapsed from 44% to 13% and Syriza has become the new Greek left. A Euro-sceptic and populist left.
In Italy, the case of the 5 Star Movement is peculiar, because Beppe Grillo’s movement cannot be inserted in any clear and distinct ideological classification and is strongly characterized by a feeling of dislike and refusal towards politics and political parties. One may think that this is the consequence – and it certainly is, at least to some extent – of the particular condition of impotence of Italian politics and of the widespread phenomena of corruption which have marked Italy’s political life, also in recent times. Grillo is the poisoned fruit of the Berlusconi era. However, we cannot undervalue the risk that political systems and political parties are increasingly perceived as expensive superstructures, incapable of making useful decisions for people’s lives, and that anti-political feelings might sweep through other European countries.
The European crisis manifests itself also as a “blurring” of Europe’s role and commitment on the world scene. President Obama’s attempt to re-direct his predecessor’s power politics to a multilateral approach has been weakened by Europe’s diminished presence. I dare say that we are going back to a situation in which it is single states or small groups of states that take the initiative, as it occurred in Libya or Mali, when France was in the lead in pushing for intervention, or as it is currently happening with the Anglo-French action aimed at re-launching the peace process in the Middle East.
Beyond any consideration of the old glory of these countries that were powers in past centuries, these initiatives cannot replace the substantial lack of action of the European Union. Let’s just think of the deep changes taking place in the Arab world, of the democratic potentials of this great revolution, of the risk that Islamist and anti-western positions may eventually prevail. No real attempt has been made to develop that new and consistent European strategy towards the Mediterranean which is highly necessary.
So far, we must acknowledge the considerable passivity that characterizes the EU’s attitude towards the choices of the Israeli nationalist and religious Right. Choices that are blocking any prospect for peace in the Middle East. Moreover, we must acknowledge the lack of any impulse and strength in our policies towards Africa, where China’s economic and political presence is increasing and might in the future prevail. Finally, Europe lacks a common strategy towards the Eastern powers, Russia and China.
In other words, the hopes aroused by the establishment of the External Action Service and by the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission have, thus far, produced only modest results. This is not so much a responsibility to be placed on Lady Ashton. Rather it is the result of a lack of a shared willingness by the EU member states, especially the main ones. And without such willingness it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to develop a truly European common foreign policy.
I do not think that the scenario that I have presented is pessimistic. This is, unfortunately, the mere reality, of which we can – at least among ourselves – speak truthfully. We have often discussed this crisis, during our initiatives, in our researches, in our publications, and we have outlined “a possible European renaissance”. Now, I would like, albeit briefly, to focus on a few aspects of the different proposals, in order to see what points, according to me, should be further developed to formulate new and original progressive responses.
In the last two years we have focused mostly on economic questions. We have done it in particular through an extremely interesting dialogue with US interlocutors, first of all, with the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. We have asked ourselves how we can go beyond austerity. In the Manifesto of Paris we have pointed out to the necessity of relying on a strong European solidarity in order to face the sovereign debts of the most exposed countries, with the aim of reducing the spread and the financial speculations. We have discussed the project bond proposal and a programme of national and European investments, which could be implemented thanks to a more flexible interpretation of the constraints provided for by the Fiscal Compact and the Maastricht Treaty.
However, there are many aspects that deserve deeper analyses in order to find ways to reconcile the inevitable need for financial rigour with development policies. That is, how it is possible to implement investment measures when we can count only on very limited public resources. There is no room here for old strategies. In short, for us the question that cannot be avoided is how to increase our economies’ competitiveness and our capacity to attract investments, it being understood that we will not be able to recover from the crisis of wild neoliberal globalization by resorting to last century’s strategies.
We must find a new synthesis between public action (at all levels: European, national and local), global regulation of markets, and private initiatives by entrepreneurship and people, single or in association.
To do this, it will also be necessary to bring into question some of the dogmas that have characterized European policies in the last few years. For example, the absolute priority given to the fight against inflation, which has thus far inspired the European Central Bank’s and the national central banks’ choices. Is this truly our priority? In Japan, the conservative government seems to be counting on inflation as an instrument to encourage growth, and even the Federal Reserve seems to be going in the same direction.
Isn’t it the moment to start considering it in Europe as well? I am fully aware that such a debate might arouse negative reactions in Germany’s public opinion. Yet, how long will the German driving force go on, if the European crisis gets worse, negatively affecting the Single Market?
I would like FEPS to start a serious debate on these questions and find brave and original solutions and proposals that go beyond the experiences acquired until now. Certainly, at political level it will be necessary to find shared solutions, but here the discussion can be more open-minded, more innovative, unprejudiced.
As far as the question of democracy is concerned, we have taken significant step forwards in Turin and in the preparatory meetings and seminars. We are all convinced that European institutions need to be reinforced and that the balance between the “democracy of the EU” and the role of national governments shall be restored. From this point of view, we consider extremely important the proposal that European political parties nominate candidates to the Presidency of the European Commission, binding the European Council’s choice to the popular vote and encouraging the birth of a kind of European parliamentary government, sustained by a stronger democratic legitimacy, which might be able to direct the national demands towards a common vision.
In this field, however, there are many questions that need further analysis. In particular the delicate relationship between EU institutions and the governance of the Euro zone, and on the whole between common institutions and member states involved in enhanced cooperation.
Furthermore, I believe that Progressives should launch a wide and courageous debate on the prospects for a true federal Europe. I understand that to do this it will be necessary to overcome deep-rooted believes. But it is not possible to recover from a profound crisis without bravery, showing the capability of designing a bold vision of the future and introducing radical innovations.
It is now clear that achievements such as the Single Market and the common currency risk to be called into question, if we do not take a leap forward in the quality of our political union. In a world which is increasingly characterized by the role of new emerging actors, Europe risks to be marginalized, if we do not push for the creation of a new European power. Progressives should be the champions of these ideas.
Much needs to be analysed as far as European federalism is concerned: the institutional structure, the distribution of powers, the constitutional principles. In a political framework such a debate would be highly unrealistic. But we are in a political foundation. And I think we should invite constitutional lawyers and jurists from different countries and with different backgrounds and leanings, with the aim of discussing together this proposition without any diplomatic constraint and offering ideas for the future to a new generation of European citizens.
Last but not least, I would like to suggest a working agenda on European foreign affairs. Last June we have organized a very interesting edition of our “Call to Europe” conference focusing on these topics. I think that, on the basis of the debate held on that occasion and on the very constructive dialogue established with Arab progressives during last January conference in Cairo, we could try to centre our attention on some main issues of the EU’s foreign policy, perhaps in cooperation with some of the national foundations.
We could focus on some priority questions, such as the relations with Turkey and the enlargement of the European Union; the relations with China and Russia, and more in general the problem of the relationship between human rights, European values and foreign policy; the question of European defence as test-bench for further political integration and, in particular, for enhanced cooperation among the main EU member states, that is, mainly France and the UK.
As far as the Mediterranean and the relations with the Arab world are concerned, I think we should carry on with the work that we have already started in Cairo.
As you can see it is a very wide programme of research and initiatives. It will be the task of the Scientific Council and of its president to better identify and define our priorities, or propose new ideas and fields of research.
We want the Scientific Council to play a stronger role than in the past in the life of our Foundation. I would also like the Council to be more involved in our publishing activity. The Council should meet more often. From time to time it could also be opened to other interlocutors, with the aim of encouraging a lively debate. It is now up to you, and in particular to the president, whose commitment we really count on.