The European elections on May 25 will be crucial.
At stake is not only the new make-up of the next European Parliament, an institution which, in the last years, has taken on new and more important powers.
The future of Europe is up for grabs.
It will be necessary to decide whether we leave Europe and drift away or, instead, find the strength to re-start the European project.
Many things within the European Union don’t work, and are going to be changed. The economic policy is suffocated by austerity which drives down consumption and destroys jobs. The undue shyness of national governments, all too often reluctant to accept transferring sovereignty, which is, in fact, necessary. The weight of a European bureaucracy, which at times appears designed to discourage creativity in business and amongst the citizens.
Despite these weaknesses, the European Union remains the future of our continent.
It is our future to create ideals because the European unity is the largest project of reconciliation between nations which modern-day history could never have dreamt of.
It is in our common interest to facilitate living together, because without European unity the ‘old Europe’, with its nation States will be made irrelevant and pushed to the margins faced with global change which are, in turn, changing our society.
The response to the European Union crises should not therefore be “less Europe”, but “more Europe”.
And if it is true that some things do not work in Europe, it is just as true that many of those things can be held as European achievements: Erasmus has changed the lives of many young people; the Common Agricultural Policy which protects us from an influx of foreign goods, the banking union which safeguarded European savers’ deposits, as well as many other examples.
But in order to re-start Europe, it’s not enough to simply hark back to the good which has already been done. Courage and hope is needed.
We need a new European offensive, displaying ambition and strength, carrying forward the new European project. Nowadays, the biggest enemies of Europe aren’t the populists, but the tendency to water-down compromises, the lack of action and lack of boldness.
With the elections on May 25, the Democratic Party, lead by Matteo Renzi, stands as a candidate for becoming the main force of change in Europe and I have accepted with enthusiasm to offer my party, my country and my experience and passion for Europe. For me, Europe is a life choice and I write this without rhetoric, because I have always been faithful to this choice, with actions and not solely words, for example, never leaving Brussels to complete my electoral duties. Having had first-hand experience of Europe, I have changed and modified the way in which I view and live politics.
When faced with current problems, it is essential that every one of us is committed, without rhetoric, to acting concretely on the offensive for a united Europe.
1. DEFEATING THE EUROPEAN TRAGEDY: THE LACK OF WORK
The main tragedy in Europe is unemployment. Work is not only a source of livelihood, but it’s the key to obtaining freedom, autonomy and independence -rights which everyone should have in life. In the next legislature, all efforts must be concentrated in creating and defending jobs. In order to do this, it is necessary to overcome the suicidal approach, pursued at a European level over the past years. The death, the implementation that is of economic policies which have reduced, indiscriminately, public spending and investments, is the main cause of the current stagnation in Europe.
2. CHANGING THE STABILITY PACT
In order to kick start growth and create real jobs, it is essential that we file away the previous disasterous economic policies. We need to reinstate the Stability Pact and growth flexibility will improve, becoming less dogmatic. The limit of 3% will be interpreted intelligently and shouldn’t be viewed as an end in itself.
In the medium term, the Stability Pact must be neutralised. And this can be done within the framework of the European Union laws: the pact itself provides some member states, in the case of “unforeseen unfavourable economic events”, the opportunity to submit a derogation request. The current risks of deflation in some countries could, according to me, create an unfavourable economic situation, which must lead to neutralising the pact for the member States in question.
In the long run, the foundations must be laid in order to change the Treaties and overcome the Stability Pact.
Overcoming austerity policies also means cancelling the Troika composed of the International Monetary Fund, The European Central Bank and the European Commission, which has caused countries in need of financial aid more harm than good, as all Greek citizens and families well know.
La Troika should be substituted by a new structure based on European Union legislation, responsable for its own actions when faced with the European Parliament.
The neutralisation of the Stability Pact, in the short term and its riform, in the long term, will finally make it possible to expand budgetary policies, in order to support demand.
3. GOVERNING THE FINANCES
The last twenty years have been characterised in Europe by a shift in power between the financial sphere and the political dimensions. The financialisation of the economy has reduced the free choice of policies. The dominance of finance over politics reared its ugly head during the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone.
Bogged down in the stagnant economy, worn out by unemployment, the European economies now find themselves forced to adopt harsh austerity plans, which run the risk of reducing economic growth and increasing unemployment, thereby undermining the wealth and social cohesion in our society. The truth must be spoken, as far as this topic is concerned: the decision to promote austerity plans is, above all, the result of pressure from financial markets and in as far as guidlines go, they have been removed from the political debate.
Governing the finances and limiting the dominant power, are thereby always greater democratic imperatives rather than economic ones. In order to contrast the risk of subordination of financial criteria and to replace financial trends within a democratic sovereignty space, all the while considering how to regulate the international flow of capital, thereby reducing the volatillity. In this sense, a European Tobin tax will be introduced, a financial transaction tax, the revenue from which should generate its own resources for the EU budget.
Secondly, the introduction of Eurobonds will be supported, debt securities issued by the European Union and objectives to support the financial needs of the member States, as well as an extensive support plan for the growth of Europe. The introduction of the Eurobonds represents, in particular, the first step towards the restoration of the sovereignty of the European democratic institutions.
It will be fundamental to continue along the path of reforming the banking system. Banks, where the risk of their financial assets are too hard to measure, have become hedge funds, without regard for the interests of families and businesses, and they once again threaten the financial stability of Europe. In the next parlimentary term, priority will be given to the improvement of the Commission’s reform of the banking structure proposal. This reform leaves much space for the national authorities and does not address the central problems of the banking system: the excess opacity and the tendency to take excessive risks. In order to make the banking structure less opaque and to avoid it from turning into a merely speculative structure: it is essential to carry forward with plans to separate investment banks and deposit banks, because of what was done by the Obama administration in the USA.
4. A CENTRAL BANK TO SERVE WORK AND GROWTH NEEDS
There can never be an authentic European offensive in favour of work and growth, if the role of the ECB is not revised.
In the last parlimentary term, as far as the socialists in the dossier on the first pillar of the banking Union and the speaker of the 2012 annual European Central Bank report were concerned, I have always fought, because the ECB is becoming a normal central bank, lender of last resort, capable of directly financing States and businesses.
In this case, a new version of the ECB will be supported on the stock markets in order to carry out what is technically known as quantative easing. The Central Bank should provide liquidity direct to the markets through purchasing titles. Greater activism of the ECB, as far as providing liquidity is concerned, could moreover save the Euro from excessively declining on the exchange markets, thereby weakening the competitiveness of our manufacturing companies.
In the long term, it is essential to continue with an overhaul of the state of the ECB, because the goal is not just to maintain price stability, but also to encourage growth and job opportunities.
Furthermore, more needs to be done to increase the transparancy of the ECB, for example, making the minutes of the most important meetings public.
5. THE EURO. TO BE INVESTED, NOT DESTROYED.
The single European currency constitutes a major challenge for our country, which must be defended and safeguarded. The sorcerers’ apprentices, who feared Italy’s exit from the Euro, are the responsible ones. Going back to the Lira could cause not only the Italian State to default, but also many families and businesses.
The new Lira, which would replace the Euro, would in fact have a much lower value than that of the current Euro, in technical terms, it would be devalued. This means that the necessary conversion into Lira of the huge amount of public debt, invested in Euros, would lead to a dramatic rise in its value: Italy would find itself burdened by new public debt, difficult to sustain.
The same goes for the families. Loans and debts previously contracted in Euros, converting them then to the new Lira would increase the value, as well as the interest rates affecting them. This means reducing many families and businesses to poverty, who would be unable to repay the contractual debt.
Living costs would also rocket up. Take, for example, energy bills. Italy’s electricity consumption relies on more than 80% from foreign imports. With a new, weaker Lira, the cost of energy would rocket, causing detrimental effects for Italian production costs. Then think about the cost of household bills for families, without even mentioning petrol costs.
It therefore appears obvious to me that the Euro is an important factor in defending our economy. In short, the Euro isn’t the problem, the way many euro-phobics make it out to be. It’s no coincidence that no europhobe has ever come up with realistic, feasible proposals for a way to come out of the Euro unscathed. Nobody has ever suggested it because Italy leaving the Euro couldn’t be anything other than devastating. Instead of concentrating on non-existent plan Bs, we should be striving to invest the Euro and overcome the weaknesses.
The first weakness is linked to the European Central Bank, whose role, as shown above, must change.
But the Euro’s biggest handicap is politcal. Throughout history, never has it occurred that a single currency was not legislatively supported by common political institutions. The problem with the Euro is therefore not its existence, but instead the fact that it’s not complete, given that it’s not supported and managed by a European Union economic government.
The birth of the Euro, therefore makes the creation of a United States of Europe something inevitable, not to be further delayed.
6. THE FIGHT FOR A UNITED STATES OF EUROPE
This must be included in the next European Parlimentary legislature. The Lisbon Treaty believes that the European Parliament could become the initiators of the process of revising the Treaties.
The new institutional architecture of the European Union, which arrises from the constituent process, should envisage the transformation of the European Commission into an authentic European Union government. The European Parliament should become the Lower Chamber of the Union, where full initiative legislative power is attributed. The European Council will, instead, become the Upper Chamber of the Union. The ordinary legislative procedure (co-legislative), which plays a central role in the legislative process in Parliament, as well as in the Council, needs to be generalised.
A genuine European treasury needs to be created, which can replenish itself with its own resources.
7. A COURAGEOUS FOREIGN POLICY, DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS
The High Representative of Foreign Policy and Security Policy ought to become a real European Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Ukraine mobilasation, as well as the many pro-European forces from the Turkish society, prove that Europe still stands for democracy and the protection of human rights in the world.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, a new impetus is needed. The hesitancy on the EU’s part to support the pro-democratic movements, clearly show that Europe must do more as far as respecting human rights is concerned.
Pending a common foreign policy, I hope that a new direction in trade policy measures comes about in the EU. It is essential to introduce a gradual system of ambitious democratics. The Troika of the budgetary policy must be replaced by a new democratic troika of common commerical policy (Eu Parliament + DG TRADE + special EU human rights representatives). Every kind of financial assistance and EU trade agreement must be subject to constant checks to ensure it complies with human rights laws, as defined by the national authorities.
In the last 10 years, the European Union has also persued the path of expanding Eastwards. And it is important that, in the next few years, this geo-political attention is kept under control, continuing, for example, to uphold the Eastern Partnership, which should be geared towards stabilising and helping many former Eastern Bloc countries to prosper.
The push towards the East shouldn’t make us question the importance of the Mediterranean. The central axis of EU foreign policy should be in the south and, for this reason, we need to rethink the Euro-Mediterranean Policy. Whether it’s the Barcelona process, started in 1995, or that of the Union for the Mediterranean promoted in 2007, there have been less than positive impacts. One of the main things wrong with these projects, was that they were too general, in their inability to identify a key topic which could have really helped in creating a sense of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. I maintain that in the future, such cooperation must be built around a concrete project: the support for human capital in the Mediterranean. In order for this to happen, I believe that the European Parliament, in the next mandate, needs to launch the MARE project (Mediterranean Area for Research and Education), namely a plan to support mobility and cooperation at a University level in the Medeterranean.
8. THE SOUTH AT THE HEART OF THE EUROPEAN OFFENSIVE
The European offensive must begin in the south of Europe, which has long suffered the consequences of the mistakes made over the last few years.
Without Europe, our south runs the risk of becoming isolated and marginalised, because the EU’s response to the south’s fragility, goes through Brussels. But, in order to change the south of Europe, the south of Italy must also change. It needs to take on new responsabilities, the ruling classes, but also the entire southern society. The new cycle of cohesion policy 2014-20 will be the proof in determining change in the south. We need to overcome favouritism approaches and piecemeal interventions and concentrate the programme’s resources for huge future expenses: the development and formation of capital and the construction of physical and intangible infrastructures, which will allow the southern society to reclaim its central position in Europe.