The Future of Europe
During the referendum campaign, those of us on the left who wanted to remain, argued that the EU was far from being perfect and needed reform to make it better. This case was argued by, amongst others, Jeremy Corbyn, and it was frequently pointed out that we were not alone in this belief – that there were similarly minded parties and left-wing politicians throughout Europe who felt the same way, and with whom we could work together. One of these is Nicola Zingaretti who, since 2013 has been President of the Lazio Region in Italy (Centred on Rome and between Northern Ireland and Wales in size). Italian Regions are far more important politically than English regions and control many services and aspects of the regional economy. Since taking the region off the right-wing, Zingaretti has transformed its fortunes by introducing socialist policies, particularly in the area of Health. He has improved the lives of his people while, at the same time, helping and supporting refugees.
Two days ago, I came across an article written by Zingaretti in the aftermath of our referendum. Although he was writing for an Italian audience, I thought it was worth translating and sharing, to show fellow members what is possible, and what the EU may look like when we rejoin it in the future.
Now for a United States of Europe
By Nicola Zingaretti, President of the Lazio Region (Translated by Phil Whitney)
The choice of a majority of the citizens of the United Kingdom to abandon the European Union represents a dramatic blow to the model of democracy developed after the Second World War.
The reasons for this choice, when one looks beyond the dynamics of internal British politics, can be found, above all, in the dissatisfaction of of millions of people with the conditions in which they live, withe feeling that they are trapped and with the search for a scapegoat for which, this time, Europe has been chosen.
With its timidity, its fragility and, often, its inability to respond, the EU has buried its head in the sand.
It is paradoxical to note how, in the last twenty years, it has been above all the British leaders who, with their fears, have always impeded progressive moves towards the construction of a more united Europe capable of giving strong leadership on the world stage. It is the British who have always demanded and fought for a ‘minimum necessary Europe’ rather than a ‘maximum possible Europe’, betraying the ideals of the founding fathers of Europe.
The effect of the British decision will be to strengthen the position of populists, right-wingers and nationalists throughout Europe and possibly the world, who in irresponsible and illusory ways will try to exploit the problems and suggest that the process of union is the problem rather than a possible solution. They will provoke a large, populist movement that will feed off widespread social problems linked to economic weakness and disorientating social changes that have their initial impact on the more vulnerable parts of a frightened population who are the victims of globalisation and, in the absence of hope, full of anger. In the last few years, these populations have regularly been told that Europe is the problem, usually in an attempt to mask with hypocrisy the limitations of inadequate national politicians. Inadequate to a large degree because they have blinkered national viewpoints.
It’s easy to say, ‘we’re constructing a political Europe’. But the political aspects of the EU are fragile because the decision making mechanisms of the EU are democratically fragile. Why should citizens be prepared to delegate sovereignty to a decision making mechanism of which they know little? In the age of the internet, of speed and of the desire to participate but not to listen, the decision making mechanisms of the EU often seem distant and incomprensible. They are tollerated when they are seen as useful, but more often derided for their distant idealism or, alternatively for their eccessive bureauocracy and fastidiousness.
We need to provide a new stimulus to get the European project underway again – a relaunch based on a concept of sustainable development, with, above all, investment in public works to provide better sevices in critical areas such as , Health, Education and Transport. These should be key areas for any government and Italy is doing well to focuss on them.
But this is not only a task for governments. Alongside governments, citizens need to accept a new challenge based on an innovative vision of democratic mechanisms: not a defence of what we have now; not just a change of policies; we need to promote a complete change of direction, a new political landscape.
Faced by a dissatisfaction that becomes increasingly corrosive, we need to propose a project that can change and rebuild society. If we cannot do this, the destruction of the values we have fought for is certain.
The lack of clarity and sense of distance that many perceive today in the EU must change: who is taking what decision must be made clear to everyone. The faces that represent Europe cannot only be those of the Central Bankers, the leaders of the strongest countries and the Commissioners appointed by individual governments.
At this critical point in the history of the EU, European citizens must be made to feel that they belong, and they must be given the power to make choices.
As has been frequently mentioned recently, the priority of the founding fathers of Europe was not the banks, but peace and a gradual social and political integration.
We need, therefore, to show courage and, once again, for the democratic left, thsi courage must be rooted in the broadening of democratic participation and social inclusion. To dothis we need to build a great movement of the people in favour of the direct election of a President of a United States of Europe.
I want a movement called “Cambiamo” (“Let’s change’) formed of citizens defending their futures and their rights; I want to see elected representatives and civic leaders taking better care of their communities; I want to see businesses that thrive and that benefit their workers; I want to see strong Trade Unions promoting the development of each individual through their work; and I want to see effective non-governmental organisations all contributing to a European drive towards broader and stronger social rights.
We need to put aside fear and false nostalgia for the past and replace them with hope for the future based on positive changes.
This is the vision that we need to adopt to go forwards. Everyone of us who believes in it, must use their own position in society, whatever that may be, in whatever daily role they have, to share the message that the European dimension is the only credible one that allows us to, not only face up to global competition, but also to win the struggle against the inequality that is at the root of all the problems we now face.
Only a pluralist, democratic Europe based on rights and wide participation has a future. We need this belief to be shared by the people who will benefit from it, if it is to come true, and all of us on the left must make every effort to instil belief in them.