Today we Europeans can look back on what we have accomplished in the last seventy years with great pride. This great history of freedom has brought unimaginable benefits in the aftermath of World War II. Lasting peace, democracy rooted in the Rule of Law and in freedom of expression, the fall of walls, open borders and the free movement of people, goods and capital.
We experienced the most extraordinary renaissance in the history of Europe.
European talent, commitment, entrepreneurship and creativity gave rise to an era of widespread wellbeing and growth, against the backdrop of solidarity. We managed to create the largest world market, while promoting cohesion policies so that nobody would be left behind. A social market economy, where the market is the instrument to create jobs and opportunities for all. We owe these successes to the courage and vision of men who survived a hellish war. Men who lived through the devastating consequences of nationalism, for whom the European project was the only way leading to our continent’s rebirth. They knew it was necessary to understand the others’ perspective; that solidarity should not only be demanded but also offered. Leaders like De Gasperi, Schuman, Adenaur, Spaak, Monnet, Kohl, Mitterand or Gonzales, were able to build on mutual confidence and friendship. It is also thanks to them that in the period 1957-2007 the proportion of poor people in Europe dropped from 41% to 14%; that household wealth increased fourfold, with a reduction in inequalities unprecedented in the history of humanity.
Unfortunately, the last 10 years of economic and financial crisis have slowed down this virtuous process and weakened that same pro-European impetus.
The spirit of solidarity between countries – the real driver of the integration process – tailed away. The new ruling classes did not always rise to the challenges, often prioritizing electoral interests over an overarching European vision. […] The recent recovery is undoubtedly good news, but the gap separating the rich and the poor, separating backward and developed regions, is growing wider: 80% of new wealth goes to the richest 15%. This asymmetric growth fails to create sufficient job opportunities, especially for young people. The middle class is increasingly afraid of sliding back into poverty. For the first time in decades, the young generations have worse prospects than their parents.
Uncontrolled migratory flows and low-cost labour penalize the most vulnerable; the same people live in suburban areas in close contact with new immigrants, who find it hard to integrate. Socially degraded places where the feelings of frustration and exclusion of European citizens and those of the newcomers are juxtaposed and mutually fuelled. Feelings of insecurity, resentment, coupled by concerns for the future and that of the young generation, are mounting. Fear leads people to shut themselves off and reject the open-society model advocated by the Union. A model perceived as elitist and distant, that benefits only a privileged few. Walls, borders and nationalisms are growing rapidly, presented as the antidotes to a globalisation that citizens perceive to be beyond their control.
Trump, Brexit, the emergence of authoritarian sovereignism, growing populism, are clear symptoms of this malaise.
Distracted political action, unable to respond to these anxieties, bureaucratic and self-referential institutions, fuel anger and delusional thinking. The only way to counter these siren voices is to enact policies that listen to the people and provide truly effective answers. We need to realize that globalization has deeply transformed the very concept of sovereignty. The answers to problems such as the management of migratory flows, unemployment, fair taxation, terrorism or conflicts can be found only at supranational level. Likewise, Europe must adopt shared tools to protect commercial interests, innovation and creativity, to guarantee energy and security and to protect the planet. No European State can compete with giants such as the US, China, Russia or India. If Italy were in China it would be the eighth province in terms of population. Only by exercising a part of national sovereignty together, at EU level, can we protect citizens in the increasingly complex reality of the global world. There is no need for a Super-European State. There is no need to cope with everything in all its details. In fact, the EU is stronger when it focuses on the challenges which it can truly serve as an added value. Whoever upholds a retreat to national borders is misrepresenting the truth. Whoever blames European integration for our problems is aiming at the wrong target. In fact, the EU is part of the solution.
With the same honesty, we must give credit to those who say that this Union is far from being effective. Only a different, more political, more democratic, more solidarity-based Europe can bring citizens closer to their institutions. A Europe that extends its gaze to the future needs a clear vision, which entails securing the appropriate means to act. The first change – which does not require changing the Treaties – is the creation of a political budget, with sufficient resources to meet citizens’ priorities. […] To bring citizens closer together, an adequate budget and a fairer market and currency are not enough. We must strengthen the role of the European Parliament and participatory democracy. Strengthening the democratic process entails rekindling citizens’ involvement in decisions that regard their own future. This represents the final target along the path of a more political and democratic Europe, from which there is no going back. Today the European Union stands at a crossroads. We can either listen to the siren voices urging us to seek shelter behind our own borders; deluding ourselves into believing that it will shield us from the ills of the world, or we can choose to continue our journey. European leaders have the duty to look beyond the backyard of their electoral interests. They need to prove that they have an overarching vision extended to the future. It’s the only way to give citizens the answers they are expecting from us.
(*) President of the European Parliament