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Sassoli: Europe’s building site must be completed. A social pillar for the “European common home”

The Vice-President of the European Parliament provided an overview of the activities completed in the legislative term that is about to end, with a reflection on the future of the EU in view of the upcoming elections of May 23-26. “The core of the matter today is to ensure that Community policies respond to citizens’ expectations." But national governments have stalled integration. Politics must be at the service of disadvantaged population brackets: “as Pope Francis says, the poor cannot wait”

The EU “can be compared to an insurance policy for citizens and for European States. This is true especially today, in our globalized world faced with compelling challenges that no Country can address on its own.” David-Maria Sassoli, journalist, renowned Italian anchorman, has been the Director of TG1 (Italian state-owned TV channel Rai 1’s news programmes). In 2009, ten years ago, he was elected MEP with the Democratic Party. He currently serves as Vice-President of the European Parliament, with a privileged observatory on international politics. A staunch Europeanist, Sassoli analyzed for SIR the present scenario leading up to the elections of May 26.

Impending Brexit, strong nationalistic winds, elections ahead… What is the state of European integration? Do we still need the “common home” that many are opposing?
The common European home is necessary. However, it might need to be restructured, along with the completion of its building-site. This political process is yet incomplete. In the EU, national governments have greater weight compared to its citizens and to Parliament, which represents them. On top of this, a number of governments are reining back the Union. The core of the matter today is to change Community policies to ensure that they respond to citizens’ expectations.

Which policies should be changed?
Fiscal policy for example. There is need for convergence in this sector in order to complete the single market, avoid dumping, support businesses and employment. Then we have to close ranks, on a European scale, to eradicate unemployment, which worries families and poses a threat to a peaceful future for the young. In this respect it is of the essence to create an EU fund for companies challenged by globalization. We must focus on industrial policies enhancing European know-how, research and innovation, creating development and growth. These actions are interrelated, including a new common policy in the energy sector. But citizens also demand security, and this is the time to establish common defence. A prime theme of European politics is the creation of a solid “social pillar” to strengthen and extend citizens’ rights and thus improve the quality of life. In the meantime we are exposed to the danger of a rising tide of nationalisms. How can this phenomenon be countered?
As you rightly say, nationalisms are a danger. They are bearers of partisan interests, and of extra-EU interests as well. We must be wary of whoever intends to move backwards by rising barriers and walls. This will only weaken the member States and break up the Europe erected after the Second World War that brought wellbeing and peace. Next May’s elections are extremely important also for this reason: to provide a new vision of Europe. We are facing global dynamics that enter our homes every day. Europe must rediscover its vocation and its commitment to “humanize” globalization on the grounds of shared values: justice, solidarity, human dignity. That’s why I believe that the EU can act as a sort of life insurance for its citizens and for Member Countries while remaining an influential global player. It corresponds to the profile of the European Union depicted by Pope Francis on several occasions.

Yet European citizenry perceive a “distance” from the EU. There is a poor perception of European citizenship. A “new narrative” is being called for . How can this Europe be narrated?
Speaking about the European Union is not an easy task. The context is not favourable and among other things it is a complex construction that is perceived as “distant.” On top of this we take for granted its existence, as if it were a goal achieved once and for all. But this attitude – however understandable – does not favour the inception of a feeling of belonging. Nothing is forever: just like any political experience, the EU must be understood and renewed. It must be relaunched against the backdrop of new problems and new times. For example, we take for granted rights and freedoms that we have benefited until now. But many people in Eastern Europe have a strong memory of undemocratic regimes. It behoves us to defend the fundamental principles that constitute the grounds on which the Community was erected, and to develop effective policies on these grounds for the common good. Is there a demos, a specifically European people? Something that unites us all ahead of and beyond the political institutions?
There is. It’s the very idea and value of the human person. In each EU Country every person is granted equal dignity, equal rights, fundamental freedoms. No discrimination based on gender, religion, political opinion is allowed for. I don’t want to play at demagogy, but these are fundamental milestones that make the European Union a unique space in the world. These achievements are a result of our history, our traditions and cultures, which, despite their diversity, share incontrovertible common grounds.

As many as 370 million citizens are called to vote in the next elections for the renewal of the European Parliament, including 23 million youths voting for the first time. What is your message to them?
In our globalized world life in Europe is safer, citizens are more protected and they enjoy high living-standards compared to other world regions. Of course there is room for improvement inside the EU, to provide new opportunities to citizens, and improve social justice. At external level there is an urgent need to promote development and peace in Africa, whose destiny is closed connected with that of Europe, as can be seen with migration flows.

So in three months we will cast our votes. Could you remind us of three or four goals achieved in the past five-year term?
I would like to mention the strengthening of instruments to respond to financial crises; legislative work on new economies (i.e. circular economy); the improvement of agricultural policy standards, the railway sector reform, the import of the trade agreement with Canada …Without overlooking the revision of the Dublin Treaty: in this respect Parliament has done its share to establish that migrants arriving into Italy are in fact arriving into Europe and thus migratory flows ought to be coordinated at European level. But in this case the EU Council – that is, national Governments – is obstructing the reform. As a result, migration policies are decided at national level and we are lacking a common migration policy. It should also be said that measures in support of the most disadvantaged brackets have been implemented over the past few years. A Europe of unity and peace is a necessary precondition for solidarity with the poor, with those in need. As Pope Francis says, the poor cannot wait.


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