Dear comrades, dear friends,
It is always a great pleasure for me to visit China and I am honoured to be here today. For this reason, please, let me first thank the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, which has invited me, giving me also the opportunity to share with you my thinking on the challenges that the Old Continent – shaken by the deepest crisis it ever went through since its establishment more than sixty years ago – is facing today, on the ones that it will be called to face tomorrow, and on the role that European Progressives are playing and will play in these difficult moments.
Before talking of the present, though, I would like to briefly recall what the European project was in the minds of the founding fathers of Europe in the aftermath of the tragedy of World War II. They were French, they were Germans, they were Italians, they were Belgians, they had fought more than a ferocious war on opposite fronts, and nevertheless they had a common great blueprint, a shared dream: leaving behind conflicts and hostilities by means of peaceful cooperation and solidarity. Post-war Europe grew as a response to the tragedies of the past and as an expression of the need to heal the wounds that had torn our continent apart. To this aim, Europeans decided to gradually cancel the internal borders that divided their countries from one another, creating a large area where people, goods and ideas could freely circulate.
After 1989, the European Union’s enlargement was the necessary response to the tragedy of the Cold War that had split the people of Europe for almost fifty years. And once again, to overcome past divisions, Europeans decided to make a leap forward, they increased the fields of cooperation, deepened integration and established a common currency, which despite the harsh financial crisis, remains one of the most important symbols of this successful cooperation among states, whose past relations were characterized by mutual distrust, when not by open enmity.
As it happened yesterday, the Europe of today and of tomorrow will be judged above all on its ability to respond to the major global challenges, and to emerge more cohesive from the crises that tried it sorely. This should, therefore, be the new blueprint for Europeans: the construction of an order based on peace, and the great challenge of fostering development while safeguarding the environment and the struggle against poverty. Challenges that demand a strong Europe: capable of overcoming the temptation to clam up in conservatism or to indulge in selfish nationalism.
To this aim, however, we must first leave behind the most severe political crisis the European project has ever experienced. Political, because the economic and financial crisis, that has devastated our continent’s economies in the last five years, has now expanded into the political, social and cultural spheres. And we are now facing a sharp decline of the pro-European feelings in the public opinions of the EU member states.
This is the result of two main flaws of the European construction: on the one hand, Europe does not seem able to ensure the economic recovery and the creation of jobs that we badly need, to provide answers to the widespread social unease that hit Europe and that, by contrast, requires urgent responses.
On the other hand, the European Union is increasingly perceived by the European citizens as a distant, bureaucratic, technocratic power, detached from the hard reality of the common people, who feel impotent and incapable of exerting their influence or control on the decision-making processes taking place in Brussels.
The main decisions on the economic policies are, in fact, made there, in Brussels, not in the European capitals, and they undergo a large series of treaties, rules, restrictions, obligations and sanctions. The consequence is that the European citizens have increasingly the perception that their capability to be involved in or supervise the decision-making mechanism, to affect choices and decisions involving their lives and future, is progressively dying away.
Hence, it is not surprising that the outcome of such developments is the spread, in many European countries, of anti-political feelings, which consider politics increasingly unable or even unwilling to deliver solutions, of an increasingly anti-European mood, and in particular of Eurosceptical populist forces.
It is a fact that the financial and economic crisis has hit the EU in a moment in which most European countries were led by conservative parties. In my view, two different kinds of Right-wing forces can be currently recognised in Europe: the neoliberal Right which has imposed on Europe the austerity policies that have made the economic crisis even worse than it was, and the nationalist and populist forces that have too often ridden European citizens’ fear and anti-EU feelings.
However, it is, so to say, now the turn of Progressives, it is now up to them to address the European crisis. The next European elections, which will be held next May, are, from this point of view, an unmissable opportunity for the European Socialists and Social Democrats. The opportunity to form a coordinated and consistent front of parties sharing a common aim: to change Europe, because the EU as it is today is no longer meeting people’s need, hopes and expectations. We want and we must fight for a different Europe: a more united and more democratic one.
This means, in particular, reinforcing the relationship between the citizens, the European Parliament and the Commission; relationship that is – or should be – the core of European democracy, but which has been largely neglected.
The transfer of power to the Council, which has occurred in the last few years, has meant de facto the transfer of power to the strongest EU member states and has been understood as the impoverishment of the European democracy. Decisions are the results of bargaining among governments, giving only the illusion of neutrality and of legitimacy, while they veil the fact that economically stronger countries play from a position of advantage over the weaker ones.
A Greek citizen, who is making every single day hard sacrifices to eke out a bare living, thinks that these sacrifices are being imposed upon his fellow citizens and upon himself by Germany. Not so much by the European Union, but rather by the government of another member state. Within such a framework, divisions and nationalistic resentments between strong and weak countries are intensifying.
Thus, there is a sort of paradoxical mismatch between a decision-making process which takes place in Brussels and the lack of a Europe-wide political debate, of a European political dimension and a common public sphere. A mismatch that needs to be corrected if we really want to recover from the crises. Both the economic and the political ones. The reduction of the intergovernmental aspects and the increase of Europe’s democratic strength and legitimacy, its capability to produce a truly political dimension are the essential preconditions to ensure Europe’s recovery.
It is not so much a question of introducing overnight radical and wide-ranging institutional reforms, or maybe directly electing the President of the Commission or of the EU. Although, let me tell you this incidentally, I believe that institutional reforms will have to be negotiated in the next future. But we must first of all unfold the full potential offered by the current institutional framework and, through a courageous political initiative, we must give larger democratic legitimacy to the European political parties and to the President of the Commission. This could be done by the largest political party families on the occasion of the next European Parliament election, if each party family presents during the electoral campaign a political programme shared by the national parties and a common candidate to the position of President of the Commission. This would surely help reduce the gap between citizens and European institutions. Moreover, for the first time we would have truly European elections, and no longer the mere sum of national elections.
We must overcome that separation between policies and politics which is producing devastating effects. Without politics – which means debate, confrontation between different options, exchange of opinions, compromise – policies become a technocratic fact. Without policies, politics at national level risk to be more and more reduced to simple narration, to propaganda. Therefore, away from people’s real life.
Reforming the EU to make it more democratic and closer to the people is one goal, while changing the content of the policies shall be the next one, aiming at growth and development and getting out of the oppressive austerity atmosphere that has characterized Europe in the last few years.
First of all, we shall introduce into the European Union framework a form of actual mutual solidarity. Deficiencies in the EU’s institutional make up have been so far a barrier to progress and solidarity. Treaties and pacts have excessively focused on the role of coordination and monetary criteria without any reference to solidarity rules and social standards. These should now become an important component of the Economic and Monetary Union institutional foundations, and, I daresay, of the EU as a whole. In particular, European Progressives should focus on the question of the sovereign debt crisis. A brilliant solution, in my opinion, would be the creation of a Debt Redemption Fund, as it has been suggested by the German Council of Economic Experts.
Secondly, I believe that the European Union should be provided with a greater budget, which should be consistent with wide-ranging investment plans, aimed at fostering employment and growth.
A third measure that I consider essential would be the introduction of a so-called “golden rule”, providing for the expenses for the above mentioned investments in employment and growth to be excluded in the calculation of the deficit-GDP ratio – as defined by the Stability Pact.
These instruments should be reinforced by the parallel implementation of other measures, such as the creation of a banking union, the harmonization of social policies, the coordination of national level fiscal policies, particularly as far as capital taxation is concerned. The overall aim should be encouraging a growth which should no longer be only export-oriented, but should rather focus on reinforcing the single market, increasing the domestic demand, by improving families’ purchase power. This also means acting on wage and labour policies and on workers’ rights, on the fight against poverty and on the welfare state.
Last but not least, European Progressives should work to establish a new set of rules aimed at regulating global economy and at fighting financial speculations and tax havens. We should try to negotiate a new “monetary pact” that, without firm exchange rates, should allow a certain degree of fluctuations, in order to avoid wild competitive devaluation.
In other words, in order to fully realise a true economic cooperation, we shall make any efforts to reinforce the role of politics, that of the international institutions and of the states.
Before concluding my speech, I would like to underline that we shall build a Europe which must be able to positively act on the global scene, ready to fight against poverty, against injustices and for a peaceful world, leaving behind the Europe we have seen so far, an “inward-oriented” Europe which risks to be the ball and chain of global economic recovery.
These are our goals. These are the goals of Progressive forces. These are the priorities on which we shall formulate the programme of the Party of European Socialists, an open party at the service of what we have called the Renaissance of Europe.
I believe this must be the goal of a new progressive European force capable of transcending the experience of national reformism that held sway in the 20th century, restoring to the peoples of Europe their pride in our heritage of civilization and the ability to look to the future with hope in their hearts.