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Prodi: Europe must change. “Two-speeds” to relaunch the EU, for no Country can do without it

Community integration has ushered in a “new season of growth, progress and peace”, the Professor said. But this EU, necessary more than ever, is facing a decisive crossroad, coping with the threat of nationalisms, grappling with unemployment, migrations, terrorism. Prodi said: “To dismantle Europe and replace it with what? It should be clear that no nation can manage on its own.” The analysis addresses the root causes of the fear that pervades public opinions, generating closures and sentiments of anti-Europeanism. “Brexit is the result of Europe’s distance from citizens.” There is need for a “new politics” for the “common home” of the future

Romano Prodi

The European Union has recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding Treaties. The “Rome Declaration”, signed by European leaders on the occasion of celebrations of past March 25th – emphasizes (and rightly so,) the achievements resulting from the integration process and highlights Europe’s founding principle of solidarity, an “outdated” term in political discourse. Is it still the time of solidarity between the peoples and States of the Old Continent? How can this inspiring value acquire renewed topical bearing? “Of course it is still the time of solidarity”, said Romano Prodi, economist, minister, twice Premier, President of the EU Commission that gave concrete implementation to the single currency and to the EU’s enlargement towards the east. “The fathers of Europe, starting with Robert Schuman, established solidarity as the cornerstone of the Union. They were motivated by the recollections of a devastating war and by their determination to prevent that what had happened with the Second World War could happen again.”

From history to current events. What’s the situation today? Today we take peace for granted inside our borders, despite the fact that the world around us is facing a “piecemeal third world war”, as was aptly defined by Pope Francis. It’s a mistake that is frequently made by the younger generation, born a long time after the end of the world wars. In fact, they appear not to relate to the role played by a united Europe for the establishment of peace that has lasted more than sixty years. The spirit of the founding fathers, committed to overcoming all difficulties until the signing of the Treaties of Rome that ushered in a new era of growth, progress and peace across European countries, seems to have been lost. The most important achievements that spelled out the history of the Union are the result of this awareness and of a great sense of responsibility towards the generations to come. Suffice it to mention the passage to the single currency. The choice of Helmut Johl, who so tenaciously wanted the Euro currency, was not an easy choice: it forced him to confront the strong opposition of Germany’s public opinion. When I asked him why he wanted to expose himself to such a high political risk for the Euro currency, he replied: “because my brother died on the battlefield.” He didn’t speak about banks and bankers! He wanted to consolidate and move the Union process forward. Solidarity and unity, these are our values.

Should they be recognized and promoted also today by the political leaders of the Member Countries? 
Today’s ruling class appears to be interested only in immediate advantages. I am aware that certain political choices may be unpopular and hard to make understood within national borders, but those in places of responsibility at Europe’s leadership should take all their travelling companions into account. Germany today is at Europe’s helm. It’s a strong nation, considering its strong capabilities, this is out of the question. But it cannot lead the EU by respecting only the austerity rule. Take the case of Greece, and notwithstanding the fact that Greece and Germany are hard to compare, it should be remembered that in 1953 the decision to cut Germany’s debt, which it could never have repaid, was the result of an act of solidarity and collective wisdom. By granting the debt relief we enabled the Country to recover up to the high level it eventually attained. The spirit of solidarity of the time was the great absentee in the negotiations with Greece that will never be capable of facing the totality of its debt. But if Europe forgets its fundamental principles and cuts its roots it can only but become increasingly fragile, and it will no longer be strong.

It is often said that one of the great “troubles” of the European Union resides in resurging nationalisms. Where do nationalist drives originate from? How can we convince the public opinion to believe in Europe? 
We are facing a growing and dangerous anti-European and anti-establishment phenomenon that seeks to leverage the natural feeling of belonging to one’s Country, shared by all peoples: a just and genuine feeing per se. The purpose is to undermine all that has been developed with patience and political foresight over the past seventy years. But there’s a problem. Dismantling Europe and replace it with what? It should be clear that no Nation, not even the strong Germany or France, nor Spain and Italy, could manage on their own vis a vis the great world powers like China and the United States. As I have said on several occasions, this Europe is a half-baked loaf of bread. It’s a Europe that doesn’t convince and doesn’t solve, that doesn’t offer political solutions to our ongoing problems: unemployment, economic decline of the middle class, migration. But our problems won’t be solved by demolishing them. If that were the case, it would be an utter disaster. The proposal of a two-speed Europe that I had advanced a long time ago, remains the only feasible answer given the absence of shared European politics. It’s not the Europe I had dreamt of, but it can help us ride out the storm, provided that we keep the door open to those Countries who wish – even at a later stage – to join the limited number of Countries who will be the first to adopt political projects for greater European integration, in full compliance with common regulations and goals. It is necessary to act quickly if we intend to solve our problems. The only way to counteract nationalism is through answers and decisions. We need new politics for a new, more united – hence stronger – Europe.

Brexit is a wound inflicted on Community Europe, but could it also be an occasion to undertake a thorough examination of conscience, aimed at giving renewed impetus to the EU? Brexit is unquestionably the most blatant symptom of the crisis. It’s the result of exhaustion, of Europe’s distance from citizenry, of a Europe that no longer counts or decides. This Europe is divided by interests which seem not to coincide, thereby giving rise to an overall fragmentation split into multifarious nationalisms. Before surging poverty and unemployment, mass migrations and integration problems, the weakest brackets of British suburbs have opted for the Brexit. It was a severe defeat which I had hoped could act as a wake-up call to Europe, but I was disappointed by its slow-moving reaction. Once again, the interests of the few seem to prevail over the interests of the many. I still cherish the hope that Macron, the winning protagonist after an openly pro-European election campaign, will reinstate France’s European political leadership, as it would restore a certain balance in Europe, thereby resizing Germany’s role. However, fulfilling this goal requires Italy’s support, while in this respect the first steps of the French President-elect have been rather discouraging. Let us hope it will be better in the future.

Migration issue: Italy – along with Greece – has the greatest migratory pressure and appeals to European countries for help: could this appeal turn into veritable support? If not, what is the best mode of action towards those Countries that close their doors to people fleeing hunger and wars? 
First of all it should be said that people fleeing from wars, from the threat of terrorism, from hunger or diseases, will not renounce the possibility of seeking better living conditions elsewhere. Compared to situations of extreme poverty and fragility, everything – including the most heavy risks – appear feasible options. At the same time, Europe’s politics are affected by mass migration. In fact, migratory inflows trigger the greatest fears, and the latter, exploited for electoral interests, fuel egoism and irrationality. It appears that when faced with fear the political realm abdicates its role to the benefit of populist and maximalist shortcuts. Fear is also the cause of a condition – in most cases of a psychological nature – that is totally detached from reality, whipped up by escalating media campaigns marked by exasperating tones. While the problem of migration cannot be addressed unless we realise that we are facing a veritable humanitarian emergency, it is also true that migration cannot be conceived without regulating inflows that cannot be absorbed by Italy and Greece alone. Also in this case we are confronted with the absence of European politics that take into account the interests of the European Union as a whole.

What then…?
In Brussels they turn a deaf ear when we say that Italy’s borders are the borders of the EU and that we are the ones who are facing the problem. The only viable option is a veritable policy for the Mediterranean, which has been missing until now. It should be understood that leaving Africa to its own destiny is not convenient for Europe, in no respect. It is necessary to continue the open dialogue with Libya to ensure that it controls its borders, and that such control is exerted with full respect of human rights. We can’t simply wash our hands of it. Our role should be one of constant control and dialogue, not only with the Libyan government but also with all the tribal leaders and local power centres which the fragmented Country is divided into. In order to do so Libya must recover its stability, and this will never be possible without the involvement of all the interested parties. It is of strategic importance for Europe and especially for Italy.

 

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