In the aftermath of the elections, Pietro De Matteis, co-president of the European Federalist Party, lays out a federalist vision for Europe.
It took the worst crisis since the 1930s, five long years of austerity and constant EU-bashing by our national politicians to hide the failures of their own policies, but finally it happened: the citizens’ trust in the European project crumbled. As if that was not enough, by opposing any significant reform towards a more democratic union, our politicians paved the way to the rebirth of nationalist movements across the continent. Bravo.
Like an old house hit by a severe storm – call it crisis if you wish – Europe urgently needs a thorough renovation to remain habitable for future generations. At a time when nationalists and Eurosceptics are riding the fears and the dissatisfaction resulted from the crisis, it has become crucial for each one of us to come out and take the responsibility of ensuring that future generations of Europeans will be able to benefit – as we did – from high quality of life, mobility, peace and, more importantly, hope. Hope in a better future. Hope has become a very scarce resource in today’s Europe, where youth unemployment has reached about 25% in the EU and 55%-50% in Greece and Spain. If youth is the basis of our future, a hopeless youth translates in a hopeless future. This is something that we cannot accept.
Clearly the way the crisis has been managed and the related social and economic costs justify the questioning of the policies that have been implemented and the method of implementation. In other words, it has become clear to all Europeans that we need to change course. The question is which path to take. Do Europeans want austerity policies or growth? Do they want a mere internal market or a Europe that protects the citizens and their welfare? Do Europeans want to wait another 30-40 years to see any significant improvement take place, or are they ready to change Europe as of now?
In some ways, today’s Europe looks much like a car who is running straight against a thick wall. A wall made of Europe’s decreasing of competitiveness, of its structural and institutional inefficiencies, of the rise of new powers and of new global challenges. The problem is that the politicians currently in power are behaving as they always did. Even the cleverest ones argue that significant changes are not possible now, and we will have to wait another 20-30 years. But the world will not wait for Europe to fix its own problems. Nor can wait today’s and tomorrow’s generations of young Europeans.
On the other hand, you have nationalists, who indeed have noticed some of the problems affecting today’s Europe and feel the need to act. However, what they are doing is giving the wrong answers to the good questions asked by the people. Leaving the EU, re-establishing internal frontiers, leaving the Euro is like pressing the accelerator of Europe’s decline.
Luckily now there is a third way. In stark contrast with a dangerous “business-as-usual” scenario proposed by mainstream parties, or with the “suicidal” instinct animating nationalists and Eurosceptics, Europe can count on pragmatic dreamers who believe that the only way to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges is by building a better Europe. It is naïve to think that we can tackle 21st century challenges with 19th century tools. We need a new level above national levels. We need Europe, but it must more democratic. We want a Europe that is closer to the people and their expectations. A Europe with a positive vision for the future and in which Europeans could recognise themselves. We need the United States of Europe.
This new vision can only be built together with Europeans from across the continent sharing their concerns and proposing common solutions. We need a new Europe-wide “Social Contract” as it is now clear that our countries are not any-more able to guarantee growth and jobs as they did in the past. At the same time Europe has not yet the democratic mandate nor the tools to take the lead. This is creating an enormous capability-expectation gap in peoples mind that is either alienating them from politics, as proved by the high abstention rate even at local elections (38% in France), or is pushing the electorate towards the extremes.
What Europeans are asking for us is a more “social Europe” protecting mobile workers/students and job-seekers and reducing social dumping. A Europe that they feel they can shape, hence more democratic thanks to an elected president and a bicameral parliament. A Europe that is able to facilitate the life of SMEs and where our industry can compete in the global market. A Europe that is attentive to youth employment and key sectors such as energy, transport and research. A Europe that is an effective foreign policy actor thanks to a truly European diplomacy and army.
Carrying out these reforms does not only make sense from a political point of view, but also from an economic point of view. In fact, according to a recent study published by the European Parliament Research Centre we could save at least €800 billion/year if we were to mutualise some of the policies outlined above. This means that we could distribute €200/month (or €2,400/year) to each European voter or, as we propose, put in place some ambitious policies boosting economic growth, research, social justice and youth employment. Unfortunately, what we are getting as citizens is still quite far from the above, and with the crisis Europe has been increasingly associated with the implementation of austerity policies.
To fill this gap between what Europeans want and what the EU is providing today, the European Federalist Party (EFP) pushing other political parties to engage in a debate on Europe, hence developing a pan-European political public space. By federating the federalists in Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal, the EFP launched in Brussels on May 5th Europe’s first transnational list for the European Elections. As an Italian living in Brussels, I stood second on the Belgian list “Stand Up for the United States of Europe”, a list composed exclusively by young people under 36 years old.
We believe that changing Europe is not just wishful thinking. It is now possible, necessary and urgent. If we want to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges we have to think European, and we need to support those political movements that put Europe as their “number 1” political priority and which support an ambitious vision for Europe. Only a truly democratic and federal Europe can liberate that energy that is latent in European society and trigger a new European Renaissance. If Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of today’s Europe, were with us today, he would tell us that we took enough “small steps”. It is now time to run if we do not want to miss our meeting with history. Current and future generations of Europeans will not excuse our inaction and will hold us accountable. What will you say to your grandchildren if you did not even try to change things?
Pietro De Matteis is the co-president of the European Federalist Party. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Project for Democratic Union or any of its associates.