Reinventing Europe: Marco De Andreis, ECFR Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow dell’Ufficio di Roma, risponde al paper di Mark Leonard, “Four scenarios for the reinvention of Europe”

Continua il dibattito in ECFR su come “reinventare l’Europa” con il contributo e primo blog  di Marco De Andreis, ECFR Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow,  1 marzo 2012

European political scientists, with few exceptions, tend to see the future of Europe through a dark cloud of pessimism: a mood that Mark Leonard’s paper has aptly caught in his explanation of what is at the root of Europe’s political crisis – “the necessity and impossibility of integration”.

As the saying goes, though, necessity is the mother of invention. What is necessary eventually forces its own realisation. Even more so since, at a close look, the main obstacle on the road to further integration is – what? – populism. This is the main thesis both of Leonard’s paper and, for example, of Ivan Krastev’s Europe’s Democracy Paradox if one allows for a measure of simplification on my part.

I believe populism is a paper tiger. Its greatest threat consists in the timidity that it induces in mainstream public figures unwisely trying to play on its turf. Integrationists should keep in mind FDR: the only thing we have to fear it’s fear itself. Because neither the True Finns, nor the Front National, nor the Lega Nord can, in my opinion, block anything truly perceived as “necessary” by the rest of Europe and, perhaps, the world.

The reason why they can’t is that those Europeans who want more integration must now make an open, clear-cut political case for it. They must fight for it, because thanks to the great contraction, to the German Constitutional Court and (yes) to populism, the days of doing Europe by stealth, by a progressive juxtaposition of (mainly legalistic-economic) competences are over.

If the cure to Europe’s malaise is integration tout court, i.e. political union, it requires a political quantum leap. It won’t be the technocrats (the sugar-price fixers or the abuse-of-dominant-position busters) vs the populists. It can only be politicians vs politicians – a level playing field as it happens – trying to convince the electorate that certain decisions are better transferred to Brussels or better kept home. And these will no longer be relatively minor, highly technical ones – such as the labeling of canned food or motor vehicle emissions – but pretty serious, time-honored, straightforward stuff, such as taxes, war and peace, foreign policy, immigration. Things that do concentrate minds.

Presently, we are still at a stage in which the case for Europe’s political union is slowly being built – alongside the more pressing need of stabilising banks and public finances, while at the same time fighting an incipient recession. But being built it is, and only the gloomiest inside observers – such as Carlos Gaspar in his post on this website where he writes that creating “a political union seems to be a thing from the past even for the most idealistic European federalists” – fail to see it.

The pattern I rather casually noticed and that I submit here without any attempt to systematise it or explain it is as follows. Outsiders, typically Americans, make a clearer case for Europe’s integration than insiders – go rapidly through the various comments to Leonard’s paper on this website and verify. Economists, particularly American economists, make an even stronger case – the list would be long, from Paul Krugman, to Barry Eichengreen, from Kenneth Rogoff to Fred Bergsten, whose writings can be find in The New York Times, Project Syndicate and Vox.

Then we have the economic operatives – from finance to industry – who are more and more coming forward as outspoken supporters of Europe’s political union. On both sides of the Atlantic  – George Soros was among the first. But increasingly on this side, such as very recently Norbert Walter, chief economist emeritus of Deutsche Bank, in this column and Medef, the French industry confederation, in a report that made the front page of the Financial Times.

Last come the politicians with their natural tendency to cautiousness. But even in those quarters how can one overlook the growing number of active and high profile European politicians who advocate Europe’s political union? A group that now includes Alain Juppé (mentioned also in Leonard’s paper), the French foreign minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, most recently in a speech at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Now advocated from many quarters, Europe’s political union still remains a mysterious object, though. Emma Bonino and I tried recently to figure out what the United States of Europe might look like in terms of budgetary resources and functions of government. It is perhaps also time to start pondering how one gets there, through what kind of constitutional process.

But the salient thing is that a critical mass has been already assembled to make of Europe’s integration a possibility rather than an impossibility. And to at least consider the United States of Europe a fifth scenario for the reinvention of Europe.

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