’If the leaders have the courage, they will find people supporting them!’

, by Michael Vogtmann

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

'If the leaders have the courage, they will find people supporting them!'
Roberto Castaldi at the EuroPCom 2016 © Comité des Régions / Committee of the Regions / Flickr (Link)

Professor Roberto Castaldi is a political scientist and committed European Federalist. Treffpunkteuropa met him to talk with him about his unique projects to promote Europe emotionally and to ask for his opinion on issues regarding Italian and European politics.

The New Federalist: Hello Mr. Castaldi. You are a Professor of political philosophy and have been involved with the Federalist Movement since you were 15 years old. Is that correct?

Roberto Castaldi: Hello and yes. I am professor at the eCampus university, President of the Tuscany region section of the Union of European Federalists and director at the Center for European and Global Governance.

In short this Center is called CesUE, ’Centro studi, documentazione e formazione sull’Unione Europea’. What is this actually?

It is a spin-off company of the Sant’Anna School for Advanced Studies in Pisa. Basically it is an instrument to realize projects, that we believe are useful for Europe and that carry significant political impact, but are not suitable for universities or the framework of the Federalist Movement, for a number of administrative and political reasons. We, the founders of CesUE are three academics and federalists, who exploit our competences for Europe. For example, we have been national experts for a pilot project to introduce the European Union in the curriculum of the Italian educational system. We have prepared material to train 230.000 teachers.

So basically you are teaching teachers to teach Europe?

Currently in Italy there is not any specific teaching on Europe, but there is a teaching about “constitution and citizenship”. So the project aims to create a training course, targeting all the teachers that are supposed to teach “constitution and citizenship”, so they can introduce the European Union in their teaching. This was done with a small group of teachers selected by the ministry of Education. In the pilot project we were only working with 70 teachers, first just testing and validating the training program we prepared.

Another project of yours is the European Awareness Day. What is it?

The European Awareness Day is a new format to communicate Europe, trying to involve people emotionally and not just rationally. It includes a recital musical called ’Europe: What a Passion! The musical tale of a stormy love-affair’ which tells the history of European integration from the Second World War to the current crisis in 12 steps. It lasts about an hour and 20 minutes and is followed by a round table or conference and debate with the audience. We often get a lively debate. For instance in Milan we had 1400 students from high school participating. Last year we had 1600 students in Florence and it was recorded and braodcasted by Rai, the national public station. So it is a good instrument to reach out to the general public with a federalist message. The format is very effective, tested with amazing success in Italy but also in Poland and Portugal. We are staging other in Madrid, Paris and Edinburgh next year.

Are there any events like this planned in Germany?

Not yet. We are trying to find partners in Germany. One problem of the format is that it is very expensive, because we need a theater. While usually the conference is held by federalist professors so it’s for free, but we have to pay the artists and technicians, required to stage such a musical. The European Awareness Day is also part of a new European Awareness Project. In this framework we are also creating specific on-line free courses for teachers, students, journalists and for the general public in Italian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Not in German because we didn’t have a German partner. We also want to target countries with growing euroscepticism, like Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary and are looking for partners there.

It sounds like a very interesting project and hopefully this interview will help you to find new partners. Let’s talk about Italy. Could you tell me something about the mood and general opinion among Italian citizens towards the European Union and Europe?

There was a report recently, about the approval of the European Union among citizens in the big countries and in Italy it was the lowest. This is probably due to the fact that Italy is coping worse with the 2008 crisis and still has a very high level of unemployment especially among young people. There is certainly a link between the economic situation and the feelings towards Europe. The crisis has increased the level of debate about Europe in the media. There is a wide consensus in Italy, not just in Italy almost everywhere but in Germany, that the austerity policy taken by the EU was the wrong one, looking at the crisis we were facing. And this has produced a backlash in the consensus on Europe and also to a certain amount of distrust towards Germany. At the same time the debate shows there is also growing awareness that a different EU is the only chance we have. There is this strange situation. Some surveys suggest the level of trust towards the EU is higher than the level of trust towards the national or the regional governments. So we are seeing there is a decreased trust in politics in general.

Could you tell me something about the current situation regarding political parties in Italy especially the ’Movimento-5-Stelle’? And what is going on with the quite fractured center-right? What parties are there? What is their position on Europe?

All parties except for the parties in government are taking strongly anti-European positions. The 5-Star-Movement, the Northern League, Fratelli d’Italia and also parts of Forza Italia are taking eurosceptic positions. Some are suggesting that Italy should leave the European Monetary Union. The government coalition consists of the center-left Partito Democratico and the center-right Area Popolare, a breakaway faction of Forza Italia. Both are still in favor of integration, despite PM Renzi’s public polemics and fights with Jean-Claude Juncker. I think Renzi wants to show his home crowd that he works hard to get Italy’s voice heard in Europe, to shift European policies to a more growth oriented approach. But if you look at the main dossiers, the Italian government and the European Commission will have very much the same positions. If Europe doesn’t manage to deliver, it is mainly because of the other member states and not because of the European Commission.

Do you think the small center-right party in the government will stay in the Parliament, if there is a new election? Or will they drop out?

Area Popolare will probably manage to pass the threshold. The problem is that not only the center-right is fractured, but that Forza Italia itself is very fractured. You have some people who would like to follow Salvini and the anti-European Lega Nord. And others who want to stick to the European Peoples Party affiliation. It is clear that Antonio Tajani who worked for the European Commission and is Vice President of the European Parliament is not going to take an anti-European stand. So there is some debate going on within Forza Italia itself. They tend to take an anti-European stand, because they think it would benefit them in elections and they want to get votes from Lega Nord voters.

I’ve heard that Tajani actually has ambitions to become the next President of the European Parliament now since Martin Schulz has resigned. Some people think Schulz could be a good candidate for German Chancellor.

Well that is up to the SPD. I think it would be good for Europe, if the former President of the European Parliament applied for candidacy as German Chancellor. It would show that you can have a high political status also coming from European politics not only from national politics. Even if he loses, just the fact that he acceded would be very useful for Europe.

The PD of Matteo Renzi belongs to the political family of the SPD. What do you think of Matteo Renzi’s European policies?

When Renzi started as Prime Minister it was really not clear what his policy towards Europe will be. But with time Italy under Renzi has manifested as one of the countries that push for more European integration. Just look at Italy’s position on the 5-President-Report (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5240_en.htm). Italy and Spain made advanced suggestions, considering the fiscal union, a European asylum policy, the creation of a border coast guard, common foreign policy, at the same time also defending the role of the European institutions. The very fact that before the last European Council, the PM went to the Italian Parliament and praised the European Parliament for its work, was a very important statement. I don’t think there are many PM’s in Europe praising the European Parliament in an official speech. The problem was that Renzi was confronted with Hollande and Merkel. The meeting in Ventotene was clearly an Italian attempt to force them to push integration forward before Bratislava. It is really hard to think of a more symbolic place for such an attempt.

Hollande and Renzi were both center-left or social democrat politicians. Why haven’t we witnessed an Italian French coalition on a European level?

To have a coalition you have to find an agreement on a proposal for something. And Hollande was not willing to do anything. I think Hollande has been the weakest president ever, in the fifth Republic! Six months after his elections he was plagued by his own personal scandal. And ever since, he was not able to take a major European initiative. Hollande was a brake for Europe. He was preventing Europe to go forward. It is true that the next French president may even be worse, trying to reverse integration altogether. At least in Germany the two main parties both have a European attitude, even if so far, this has not translated into a political initiative to push Europe forward.

Well, but isn’t this kind of the problem, that politicians of the biggest and most powerful member state, when it comes to acting, actually show a conservative approach on Europe instead of a progressive one? In my opinion Angela Merkel for instance often presents herself to the public as very pro-European, but when she has chances to actually act, it often proves to just be a lot of hollow talk.

In my view, the problem with Merkel is that she always stands for “Wait and see”. She is trying to gain time, rather than confronting problems head on. And the crisis the European Union is now facing, requires much more initiative. The issue of the Economic and Monetary Union is crucial. We are still suffering from a crisis that started in the U.S. but had the worst effects on Europe. And the reason for this is the fact that we are in a strange asymmetry, with a single market, a single currency but without a common European economic and fiscal policy.

Next year is the 60s anniversary of the treaty of Rome. Wouldn’t that be a good occasion to breathe fresh new air into European integration?

We are in an interesting situation, we have a window of opportunity and an actual time table to push for integration. The European Parliament is working on three reports on reforming the institutional set-up of the European Union. I think it is very important that it approves them soon, pushing the debate forward and taking the initiative for the 60 anniversary. The Parliament should use this occasion to launch a European public consultation and dialogue with citizens. At the same time in the conclusions of the Bratislava Council meeting, a special summit in Rome was announced, putting out a road map to relaunch European integration. Then there has been a working group by the six founding members of the European Community pushing for more integration. I think it is important that federalists support all these initiatives. We are going to have a European rally in Rome for the 25th of March. It is crucial to show that among European citizens there still is the awareness that Europe is not the problem but the solution. If the leaders have the political courage, they will find people supporting them and they will win consensus by going forward!

Questions were asked by Michael Vogtmann.

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