President of the European Federalist Party, former member of Gioventù federalista europea (JEF Italy), holds a PhD in international studies from the University of Cambridge and currently works for the European Commission in Brussels.
Twitter : @PietroDeMatteis
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 is crumbling. 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.
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 for 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 around 50% in Greece and Spain. If youth is the basis of our future, a hopeless youth translates into a hopeless future. This is something that we cannot accept.
The way the crisis has been managed - and the related social and economic costs - justify the questioning of some of the policies that have (or have not) been implemented and it has become clear to most Europeans that we need to change course. The question is which path to take. On the one hand, 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 today’s and tomorrow’s generations of young Europeans wait. On the other hand, you have nationalists and Eurosceptics who have noticed some of the problems affecting today’s Europe, but are giving the wrong answers. Leaving the EU, re-establishing internal frontiers and leaving the Euro is like pressing the accelerator of Europe’s decline.
Luckily, there is a third way now. In stark contrast with a dangerous “business-as-usual” scenario proposed by mainstream parties, 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. This new vision can only be built together with Europeans from across the continent sharing their concerns and proposing common solutions. It is increasingly clear that our countries individually are not anymore able to guarantee growth and jobs as they did in the past. At the same time, today’s Europe does not have yet the democratic mandate or the budget to take the lead. This is creating an enormous capability-expectation gap in people’s minds that is either alienating them from politics or pushing the electorate towards extremes. To address this gap, we need to move towards a “new European social contract” that takes into account the European dimension and not only national situations.
If we take this approach, we will see that what Europeans are ultimately asking for is not to block mobility within the EU - as Cameron and UKIP suggested -, but a more “social Europe” protecting mobile workers/students and job-seekers while reducing social dumping or “welfare tourism”. Europeans want an EU where SMEs can better benefit from the single market and become strong enough to compete globally while being attentive to youth employment and key sectors such as energy, transport and research. A Union where there is no tax competition or tax havens such as those exposed by the #LuxLeaks scandal. A Europe that is an effective foreign policy actor and that is closer to the people. Steps are being taken in the right direction, and at the last elections Europeans indirectly elected the first President of the European Commission among the spitzenkandidaten. The Juncker Commission has also added among its 10 priorities the intention to strengthen the EU democracy dimension. All this is necessary, but not yet sufficient.
To fill this gap between what our citizens want and what the EU is providing today, we need to bring them to the heart of the policy-making process “as Europeans” and not just as German, French, Italian, Polish, etc. nationals. The European Federalist Party (EFP) was established in order to allow our citizens to think about politics “as Europeans” and in order to push other political parties to be more ambitious in their vision for Europe at the time of the elections. We believe that this is crucial to develop a truly pan-European political public space. Another small step in that direction was made at the last European elections when the EFP was able to federate the federalists in Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal and present Europe’s first transnational list composed of candidates defending the same pan-European political programme.
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 an ambitious vision for Europe as their “number 1” political priority, like the Young European Federalists. Only a truly democratic and federal Europe can liberate that energy that is latent in European society and trigger a new European Renaissance. The time is now 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 we say to our grandchildren, if we did not even try to change things?