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A Federation Could Strengthen Europe’s Magnetism

In this column, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Emma Bonino writes that a federal solution is Europe’s only hope of enabling 500 million people - belonging to different nations, cultures, religions and speaking a multitude of languages - to live together in freedom and diversity in the 21st century.

ROME, May 14 2013 (IPS) - The recent agreement for the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo has confirmed that the European Union (EU) is still acting as a “magnet”, attracting its external neighbours and transforming and integrating them. Thanks to its prospects for EU membership, the whole Balkan area has become more stable and secure. Unfortunately, this virtuous magnetism no longer exerts the same force of attraction on our own citizens.

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Emma Bonino. Credit: Victor Sokolowicz/IPS

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Emma Bonino. Credit: Victor Sokolowicz/IPS

With every passing day, the founding fathers’ dream of peace and freedom seems to be turning into a nightmare for many.

The EU is increasingly being associated with austerity policies that lead to recession, unemployment and social despair. More worryingly, there are signs that the current crisis is not limited to the EU’s economic sphere but also impacts its most fundamental values.

Everywhere in Europe we see rising intolerance; growing support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination and a weakening of the rule of law; and entire populations of undocumented migrants, virtually without rights, punished for their status rather than their individual behaviour.

Our inclusive and open community is threatened by destructive actions pursued by nationalistic and demagogic groups. But they are not the only ones inflicting damage on the Union.

In some countries, including Italy, we see too many violations of the rule of law and of international and European treaties, an unreliable justice system, inhumane and degrading conditions in prisons, serious infringements of human rights and grave cases of lack of accountability. How can we preach respect for universal values abroad if we are among the countries most condemned by the European Court of human rights?

It is in our vital interest to react to all these alarming trends.

To defend the European construction, we need to rediscover its mission. Its founding fathers had to discard a whole world of prejudice and fear. They knew from their tragic experience that building fortresses and walls under the guise of ensuring peace and security was an illusion.

They chose integration, and rejected barriers. And they understood that all freedoms are closely linked: one cannot want free trade yet hinder the free movement of people.

Nationalist and demagogic groups are spreading fear and prejudice across Europe by exploiting the current malaise and social despair of all those without a job, and without faith in their future. As European Central Bank President Mario Draghi stressed: “It is of particular importance at this juncture to address the current high long-term and youth unemployment.” This is a fundamental mission of the new Italian government. The data flow is still depressing, urging us to adopt new measures in coordination with our partners and in full respect of our fiscal commitments.

However, I believe that the choice is not simply between fiscal tightening and reckless spending, nor can fear of and disaffection with Europe be tackled with economic measures or financial engineering alone. No solution is credible without a political dimension and without encompassing the whole European architecture.

We need a new score: a federal solution.

I have spent a lot of time, passion and energy supporting the creation of a federal Europe; not for ideological reasons but simply because I do not know any other system capable of allowing 500 million people – belonging to different nations, cultures, religions and speaking a multitude of languages – to live together in freedom and diversity in the 21st century.

Federalism does not mean that the central European government should become a Leviathan, as described by the frightening words of the Europhobes.

A couple of years ago, I proposed a “light federation”, an institutional model that would absorb no more than five percent of European gross domestic product (GDP) in order to finance specific government functions such as foreign and security policy, scientific research, trans-European networks and safety of commercial transactions, among others.

For instance, how can European governments provide adequate security, with fewer financial resources? Only a shared European defence system, with common, integrated armed forces, would enable us to get out of the corner into which tight budgetary constraints are confining us. European governments are reluctant to take decisive steps towards this goal. The consequences of that reluctance are fragmented initiatives, wasted resources and a growing irrelevance of European influence on the world stage.

The same applies to scientific research, a field where national programmes are often too small to be productive and compete successfully with the huge projects of the other global powers.

The 2014 European parliamentary elections will be a significant test. If we want to prevent the risk of an over-representation of populist parties, we need to put federal Europe at the centre stage of the electoral campaign. The pro-Europe political families should present their own candidate for the presidency of the European Commission and submit political agendas for the future of the EU, stressing that a federal solution would save significant financial resources. So, the federalist perspective could assume concrete meaning for all citizens, avoiding the risk of being perceived as an abstract juridical matter.

In 2014, exactly a century after the murder of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that led to the destruction of Europe, we will have another opportunity to give a new impetus to the federal project, under the Italian presidency of the EU. And after 2014, a review of the treaties could give European citizens a stronger sense of ownership of our common institutions and ensure an easier coexistence between countries in the eurozone and the other member states.

If Europe does not solve its problems of recession and populism, we could lose all that we have achieved since the 1950s, with no estimate of how long it will take to regain the same level of democracy, prosperity and stability as before. But if we adopt a new vision, engage our citizens and unite our governments, we could start a new phase of boosting growth and fostering democratic legitimacy and global influence.


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