Betting together on Europe's common destiny pays off
Sandro Gozi, MEP, President of the Union of European Federalists (UEF)
The 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration falls at a particularly difficult time for Europe. What is the state of health of the Union?
The European Union has made great strides. In 70 years we have done things that were unimaginable, if we think that Declaration was made five years after the end of the Second World War. The world today is moving much faster and therefore it is a European Union that still has a great deal to change in order to keep its promise and to respond to Schuman's ambitions.
The feeling is that the Community institutions are as alive and essential as ever. What is lacking is solidarity between nations. That is why I believe that the concrete and important responses that Europe is giving, has given and will give to the coronavirus crisis will be a major problem for the neo-nationalist forces. The Europe that exists is the supranational Europe, which decides by a majority when Parliament and the Council meet, which respects the autonomy of supranational institutions such as the Commission and the European Central Bank. I refer to the suspension of the Stability and Growth Pact, flexibility on state aid, the European integration fund, the European Stability Mechanism for Healthcare, the European Investment Bank.
What about the one that is not there?
The Europe that disappoints and is worrying today is the Europe that the nationalists would like, the Europe of national vetoes, which decides unanimously, it is the Europe of meetings between governments that escape democratic control. Let us think only of the meetings of the Eurogroup, a body that must be overcome and rethought because it does not exist except as a protocol annexed to the Treaties. In the new Europe, the Eurogroup must be incorporated into the Treaties, work and decide by majority vote, in a transparent manner, with more democratic control. Today, the Europe that is worrying is the Europe that puts borders between countries, the Europe that is preventing the free movement of people because of the crisis, the Europe that is struggling to put financial solidarity on the table immediately because the German or Dutch taxpayer is afraid to pay the Italian or French debt, something that nobody is asking him to do. This blocked Europe, which always takes too long to decide, is the "Europe of nations" that nationalists would like: a Europe without Schengen, with national borders, where everyone has the power of veto: the Italians first, the French first, the Dutch first. And so we all lose... Today the citizens are disappointed in Europe. We must explain to them that they are disappointed by the Europe that does not exist.
President Prodi invites us to move away from the logic of the treaties and transform our Europe into a federal and supranational democracy. How can we achieve this?
I think that never before has European federalism become as topical as it is today. It must be, however, with solutions and a new approach. We must show that a federal Europe is the most effective at resolving major transnational issues that are beyond the control of national politics. We see this with the coronavirus, which is a transnational health catastrophe, but even more so in the fight against climate change, in the need to govern digital, in the ability to put technology and artificial intelligence at the service of collective well-being, in the urgency of having more integrated action as Europe to guarantee security and stability in geopolitical areas that are vital to us. This Europe, sovereign and democratic, can help to improve the world, can help to assert our values and interests on the world stage, which would otherwise remain a duopoly between China and the United States.
Do we need transnational parties in a federal Europe?
Prodi speaks of supranational democracy around the European Parliament. This objective can be achieved if politics also moves away from strictly national logics. Even today, many pro-Europeans, even in our country, still miss the transnational dimension of politics. We can only have a European federal democracy accomplished when we have a truly European dimension of parties and politics, with real transnational political movements. Otherwise, there will never be a democratic political space in which citizens will feel that they can count for something in their relationship with politics. That is why I have chosen to be elected with Macron to the Renaissance lists and to be part of Renew Europe.
The impression is that Macron has lost its vigour since his debut.
I see two problems for Macron three years after his election on 7 May 2017. The first is the lack of European vision of Angela Merkel and Germany. In 2017 Macron gave a very visionary speech at the Sorbonne to which Angela Merkel responded a year late and in a very lukewarm and very cautious manner. This was a historical mistake by Angela Merkel and CDU, her party. The other aspect is Macron's impatience. He would like to see things change much more quickly in Europe. He would have already wanted to start the Conference for the reform of the Treaties; he would have already wanted to have a Eurozone budget; he would have already wanted to have transnational lists in 2019 to elect half of the MEPs. This impatience of his often makes him go a long way without bringing enough allies with him. I still prefer Emmanuel Macron's impatience, sometimes irritating at times, to Angela Merkel's always exhausting, exasperating prudence.
How many leaders do you see in Europe right now?
My impression is that the only real leader in Europe at the moment is Emmanuel Macron. All the others are too little European or too weak. He is the only one who continues to point to Europe as the great project of his political action. He is the only one who even during the crisis has not questioned membership of the European Union. In Italy, Counte himself has threatened that Italy would go its own way alone. Macron is the only one coherently committed to a deep European reform.
But can Europe do without the axis between Paris and Berlin?
This crisis has determined a very important political turning point: for the first time France has not stopped, Macron has not killed the European political debate by accepting the downward political solution on the coronavirus proposed by Berlin in order to maintain a privileged relationship with Germany. He asked to continue the political confrontation, he wanted to bring together a group of countries without limiting himself to putting together the southern front - Italy, France and Spain - but he involved Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg. He wanted to indicate that he did not accept a minimalist, equilibrist, status quo solution, which is the one proposed by Angela Merkel, the great lady of the status quo, of unanimism, of the equilibriums of 27 to change the minimum possible and do the maximum possible for the interests of Germany in the short term.
What is Macron's objective instead?
Macron will continue to build new alliances, based on projects, on sharing political battles, going beyond the traditional Paris-Berlin axis which is now just rhetoric. Macron, if he wants to win in Europe, must continue this work of building new alliances, dialoguing with Germany but in an open political confrontation and without accepting minimalist solutions. I do not see any other leader with this political strength and intellectual capacity. The coronavirus crisis, together with the resistance to change in France, have complicated his political action, but I believe that his fundamental approach will enable him to undertake a major reform of the Union.
Can the Recovery Fund be the basis from which to build a new Europe?
I think so. That is why I was very insistent from the outset that this name be adopted. It was not for nothing. It has proved to be the instrument for finding a political compromise. By continuing to talk about Eurobonds, one was left prisoner of a debate linked to yesterday's world, to the financial crisis of 2010. Eurobonds, for the Dutch and Germans, meant mutualising an existing debt. That is why we proposed to work on new instruments. The Recovery Funds can certainly outline the beginning of a new political phase because they represent a commitment to a massive European recovery plan, so new and promising that we are ready to issue a common debt. By indebting ourselves together, we return to trust each other. The lack of mutual trust between the peoples and states of Europe has in fact been the great weakness of these years.
Sharing the debt as proof of trust?
If the issue of a common European debt enables us to emerge earlier and better from the crisis, this idea becomes the basis for a new European political integration. It means recovering that mutual trust, that solidarity which, remembering Schuman, lies at the origin of the European project. These are essential elements for a profound reform of the European project, which must arrive in this parliamentary term, and for which we must launch the Conference on the future of the Union as early as September. All this will be possible if we succeed in meeting the challenge of the Recovery Fund and the Recovery Bond, showing that betting on our common destiny together is worthwhile. This is the political dimension of the current debate, which Macron has fully grasped.
Let us make an appeal to the younger generation on the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration.
Young people want a real fight against climate change, they want fewer inequalities, they are digital natives. In order to give these answers, it is necessary today to resume at European level that capacity to solve the problems that national policy has now lost. It will be particularly difficult in Italy, a country that is currently at the forefront of the battle between neo-nationalism, sovereignty and Europeanism. However, in my opinion, this is the best way to make young people understand that Europe is their best ally, it is their future, it is at their side. Using Schuman's approach and showing why we need more Europe, a new Europe, to solve concrete problems. I am convinced that we will win the challenge. It is time to show determination and courage. It is time to think the unthinkable.
Seventy years of Union: the federation was the goal from the beginning
Domènec Ruiz Deveza, MEP, Member of the Union of European Federalists
Seventy years ago today, on 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman read a Declaration that would make history, when he proposed the European Coal and Steel Community as the "first stage of a European Federation", after reminding that “if Europe would not be built, there would war". It is worth reminding the Eurosceptics and the Eurocínics, but also the political representatives of the Nordic countries, including those of a progressive nature, who often get hives when they hear either the federal adjective applied to European construction or its canonical formulation in the Treaties as an "ever-closer union".
In any case, in these seven decades Europe has experienced the longest period of peace and prosperity in its history, providing itself with the largest and most integrated internal market in the world, with a single currency, and with a series of collective spending and investment policies in fields such as agriculture, innovation, or education (Erasmus programme). Our continent is undoubtedly the part of the world where political freedom, economic progress and social welfare are best combined.
Beyond the fact that, in a way, the federation is a political objective included in the seminal text that gave rise to the current European Union, the truth is that completing the political union is today an imperative. Our ambition, as in that distant post-war spring, must be equal to the internal and external challenges that we face as Europeans, including, but not only, the most recent of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the whole, almost twenty years have passed since the start of the last reform process of the Union, with the launch at the Nice Summit (December 2000) of the Debate on the Future of Europe, which was to take shape in the Laeken Declaration of 2011, promoted by the then Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, and above all in the European Convention (which began in 2002).
This exercise, in which MEPs, national MPs and government representatives took part, resulted in the draft European Constitution adopted in 2004, the main innovations of which were subsequently included in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, signed by chance the same year as the start of the subprime crisis in the United States, which would lead to a global financial and economic collapse from 2008, and the euro crisis that began just ten years ago, in May 2010. This Treaty would enter into force on 1 December 2009.
The progress made by the Lisbon Treaty cannot be underestimated, as it increases the powers of the Union, strengthens the powers of the European Parliament, generalises qualified majority voting in the Council (where the governments sit), and establishes the figure of the High Representative for Foreign Policy, at the head of a real diplomatic service of his own. A Social Protocol was missing from the outset, even after the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty was lost in France.
That being said, the world has changed radically since 2010, not to mention since 2000. The crisis of the euro itself has highlighted the shortcomings of the Treaty, in particular the absence of a fiscal pillar for the euro, and the deflationary bias of the Stability and Growth Pact's provisions, in terms of limits on public deficit and debt. These shortcomings were partially offset by the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, and the (incomplete) draft of the Banking Union. But Europe still does not have a real counter-cyclical fiscal instrument, while the European Central Bank has to operate within the limits of its mandate, which prohibits it from directly financing the expenditures of governments or of the Union itself, even in extraordinary circumstances such as the present ones (which is not the case of its peers in the United States or the United Kingdom), and while it is frequently harassed by the German Constitutional Court (its disrespectful ruling with the primacy of European law, of 5 May 2020, being the most recent case).
To this half-built monetary union must be added the acceleration of the climate crisis and digitalization, which are barely mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty, the difficult management of refugee flows, the Brexit, and changing geopolitics, with the tensions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the imperialist tendencies of Russia and China, and the relative rupture of the transatlantic axis, and which can hardly be managed from a European Union that subjects its foreign policy to the strictest of unanimities. From a democratic point of view, it should also be noted that the European Parliament does not have decision-making power in the setting of the Union's revenue or tax harmonisation.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted other weaknesses in the current Treaties, such as the lack of competences in the field of public health and emergency management, and others already known, such as the slowness of decision-making in the Council and the difficulty of mobilising quickly and in sufficient quantities financial resources to deal with exogenous and symmetrical economic shocks. This is why the European Recovery Plan has not yet been agreed (the Commission has postponed sine die the public presentation of its proposal).
It is true that much can be done with political will, even within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon, and that the real problem is that the fundamental differences between the so-called creditor and debtor countries persist to some extent in the coronavirus crisis, in a kind of sequel to the debates at the time of the euro crisis, which ultimately have to do with the amount of solidarity in the form of transfers that the richer Member States are prepared to assume.
At the same time, however, we must open up the debate on revising the monetarist and outdated Maastricht paradigm, and undertake to update our constitutional framework, which must contain new policies and be decidedly federal, so that when there is no unanimous agreement, even on such fundamental matters as taxes or the budget, a decision can be taken on the basis of large majorities. The journey that began on 9 May seventy years ago is therefore not over. Now is the time, two decades after Nice and Laeken, to take the next step in the political construction of Europe.
70 years later, let's read Schuman again and get out of the crisis together
Ophelie Omnes, President of the Union of European Federalists - France
This 9th of May marks the 70th anniversary of Robert Schuman's founding declaration of European integration. .
On 9 May 1950, in the aftermath of the deadliest war in history, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, caused a political thunderbolt: Europe must be built by pooling the coal and steel production of yesterday's enemies, France and Germany. For Schuman, inspired by Jean Monnet, this "community" should be the "first step towards a European federation".
The federal leap is not an ideological choice
Seventy years later, in the grip of a pandemic that is shaking its structure and questioning its fundamentals, the EU and its national leaders are unable to implement the profound institutional reforms that are needed. The federal leap is not an ideological choice, it is the only pragmatic solution that will make it possible to reform a Union that is currently at an impasse, risking otherwise being sacrificed on the altar of national egoism and disintegration. In a 21st century marked by the predominance of the Chinese, Russian and American giants, the EU has no choice but to be strong, at the risk of its Member States becoming dwarfs on the international stage. Rather than begging the 27 for the right to exist and to express itself, it must have genuine political, economic, industrial, diplomatic and military autonomy. It is not a question of creating a super-state centralised in Brussels, but of allowing those states that wish to do so to set up a federal European system, the only model that allows democratic decision-making to take place as close as possible to the most relevant level: local, regional, national, European or even global.
Assuming the federal nature of European construction
The health crisis shows us that a Europe without competence in the field of health and safety proves powerless at a time when a virus strikes all States, regardless of nationality or borders. This crisis also reminds us how the ridiculous budget that the Member States are giving the EU is not up to the expectations of the citizens and how urgently it urgently needs own resources to effectively finance common goods such as hospitals, research, education, defence or ecological transition. In these difficult times, we cannot make the simplistic choice of nationalistic withdrawal, which is ineffective in protecting us. We have to follow through on the only desirable choice for the good governance of our continent, by finally assuming the federal nature of European construction.
A Europe capable of protecting its citizens
Despite the crisis, the Conference on the Future of Europe is still on the table. Let us rise to the occasion and allow it to be a moment of debate between the citizens and their representatives, where no issue will be excluded, even if this means changing the Treaty and creating a Constitution. The time has come to give substance to the de facto solidarity and concrete achievements desired by Robert Schuman 70 years ago. Completing European integration, which he had envisaged in a visionary manner, will enable the citizens to regain control in this world shaken by crises and new geopolitical balances. A federal Europe is a Europe capable of protecting its citizens.