Thank you very much for being here today at this third edition of FEPS international conference Call to Europe. An appointment that, I daresay, is becoming increasingly important for the progressive community and our partners across Europe. This year we decided to focus our discussion on the need and the ways to build a truly European solidarity.
The moment is crucial. We are on the eve of the European elections. Soon after next Sunday federal elections in Germany, the European campaign will start.
I believe that the 2014 European elections will be of the utmost importance for our future, for Europe’s future. And this for several reasons. The EU will face them while some of its member states are still in the midst of the most dramatic economic crisis and the European project is troubled by a deep wave of doubts, resentments, mutual mistrust and mutual blaming.
These elections will be the first occasion for European voters to express their opinion on the direction that the EU has taken since the outbreak of the crisis. An opinion that has become much more informed than it used to be only a few years ago.
However, the risk is clear. Mainly because of the crisis itself, European issues have now entered the national political debates. However, today the danger is that the next European campaign will contribute to “nationalize” the European debate, rather than the other way around, that is, “Europeanize” the national debates.
Even worse than that, the risk we run is that this European vote will be marked by a profound criticism, if not a full rejection, of Europe by its own citizens.
I think that, if we want to avoid a vote that might correspond to a crisis of the European project, the only feasible way is to present European voters with a real alternative, with a common platform that must be courageously innovative. Our aim must be to go to the polls in order to change the current direction of European policies.
Today, the questions that people across our continent are asking concern the very existence of the European integration project. They are asking whether we do need this Europe. They are wondering what is the sense of Europe today.
There is no point, therefore, in showing empty, affected and ineffectual pro-European feelings. Let’s face the truth: Europe’s is becoming ever more unpopular, even in countries, such as Italy, which used to have a tradition of strong enthusiasm for European integration.
As I have underlined on several occasions, this unpopularity is due to two main reasons. First of all, the EU has shown so far its incapability to meet the needs and expectations of its citizens. Secondly, Brussels institutions appear increasingly detached from the daily life of European people, who feel they cannot exert any real control on decisions made by remote European bureaucrats within opaque policy-making processes. Basically, this is what has been defined the EU democratic deficit.
Our goal, FEPS’ goal, is to offer answers and solutions to these questions. And the first answer is straight and simple: yes, we do need Europe. Yet, this response by itself is not enough. Nor is enough the answer: we need more Europe. Because the Europe we want, the Europe we dream of, the Europe that Europe’s founding fathers dreamt of, is not the one that is in front of us today. So it is our duty, as progressives, to conceive an alternative vision and to offer it to European voters.
In these last few years, we have done a hard work at FEPS in this direction – a work of which we are very proud – to contribute to the formulation of a common progressive platform for the European Left.
Let me just remember the remarkable events that took place in Paris in March 2012, before the French presidential elections, and then in Turin last February and in Leipzig last May within the framework of a project that we significantly named Renaissance for Europe. A project whose aim was to bring together committed European politicians, academics and experts for a common effort and with a common goal: going beyond the usual technical debates and the mere analysis of the crisis, in order to promote and support the formation of a common progressive vision for Europe, which must be much more than the sheer lowest common denominator among different views and interests and must be based on a sense of solidarity.
We all agreed that the Lisbon Treaty is far from perfect, but it was the best compromise we could achieve and it must now be used to its full potential; that European democracy must be enhanced and European citizenship must acquire a new and real meaning.
We also agreed on the fact that the crisis is European and, therefore, the solution must be, and can only be, a European one. We agreed, and this is also the central issue of our discussion today, that it is necessary to free Europe from the austerity cage in which it has been confined in the last years and guide it towards the adoption of a new development strategy. These, I think, are the essential steps for a new successful European season.
We shall acknowledge that breakthroughs in this sense have recently been made, particularly thanks to the French government that, after last year’s Socialist electoral victory, has begun to play a new positive role in Europe. Yet, these changes are not enough.
For this reason, there are a few fundamental issues that I consider critical and I hope will be analysed more in depth during our debate today.
First, the need to introduce a solidarity policy in Europe to solve the problem of sovereign debts.
Second, a wider and more flexible interpretation of the Stability Pact, which should not prevent national investments.
Third, a European investment strategy and a new wider Union budgetary framework, which should reflect and serve the UE objectives in the Twenty-first century and envisage higher resources for employment and growth, research and education, innovation and infrastructure.
Fourth, the establishment of the European banking union in order to fight financial speculation and ease the access to credit for companies, with the aim of encouraging investments in the real economy and a robust recovery from the economic crisis.
Last but not least, in order to boost the first, albeit modest, signs of recovery, we must complete the Single Market and promote internal consumption. And to this, we must advocate wealth redistribution, salary increases and, consequently, a wage-led growth.
The next European elections will constitute a crucial step and a great opportunity in the process of building this new different, more democratic Europe we imagine. Whatever their outcome, they will represent by themselves an historic change. Progressive parties will run with a single candidate for the post of President of the Commission. And some national governments – including Italy – have committed themselves to take into due account European voters’ willingness in the choice of the next President of the Commission and will propose to the rest of the European Council to do as much. This will be a remarkable – and democratic – change of the usual procedure without even the need to approve a reform of the Treaties, which the EU would be unable to achieve right now.
But to produce a real change, to fulfil the promise of a new Europe, there is much more to be done. At FEPS we will continue our efforts and contribute to the change with our ideas, proposals, imagination.
Today’s discussion, we hope, will be another step towards change.