Opinions EU

Progressives Need to Strive for a Political Union

But they must overcome many obstacles – An op-ed by Ettore Rosato

"Ettore Rosato a Bologna" (CC-BY) by Francesco Pierantoni - Progressive Europe
"Ettore Rosato a Bologna" (CC-BY) by Francesco Pierantoni

Nationalism and a technocratic understanding of integration have been hindering the European integration. Even though the way towards a better Europe today might be harder than ever, progressives need to continue striving for the political union. The President of the Partito Democratico group in the Italian Parliament, Ettore Rosato, explains, why active listening and humility will be key to win public support for the progressive agenda.

I am convinced that a common future of sharing and development can be imagined only by building strong relationships of trust and friendship between European progressive ruling classes and decision-makers.

The year that has just ended, 2016, represented a turning point for our continent, but also for world politics. The Brexit referendum in June and the Presidential election in the United States last November must be understood without alarm, but with extreme coldness and seriousness. These are warning bells highlighting the need for a change of gear, challenging and engaging us to strive for greater accountability for those who, like us, pursue ideals of equality and freedom and work in the wake of the founding fathers of the European Europe.

We tend to label all these phenomena as populism, a derogatory term that may cause us to perceive reality with a distorted vision. But this is not the time for snobbish or contemptuous attitudes. On the contrary, this is the time to be humble and capable of “listening”. What we call “populism” is the expression of anger of the middle classes who now experience a sense of distress because in recent years they have lost their affluence and quality of life, and, most of all, they see no prospect of improvement in the years to come.

Human beings feel bewildered, isolated and unable to cope with flows that they see as irreversible and ungoverned. I refer to capital and migration flows. Their reaction to these phenomena is not the construction of an “open society” but the defence of the identity and security they consider at stake. What we call populism is actually nationalism. And we know what dark atmospheres this concept evokes in our continent.

What we call populism is actually nationalism.

Our fathers nurtured us with the myth of Europe, a political and cultural myth, which has increasingly turned into a set of rules and procedures that are incomprehensible to many European citizens. With the weakening of the European myth, too much compromised by liberalism and globalisation, the myth of the nation seem to have come back in fashion – and with it “national sovereignty” as its legal, political expression.

Populism, nationalism, sovereignty are all concepts that describe the same phenomenon and represent a wrong and anti-historical answer to a nevertheless real issue: the need for community.

That is our task ahead. We democrats and socialists must be those who will rebuild the reality of the European Community, meaning the European Union as a community with a common destiny. We must speak the truth. Until now, our parties, our foundations, our ruling classes have failed to give European citizens the prospect of a united and common destiny.

Rules are a means to an end and not an end in themselves – and should not be the reason for us being together.

This is demonstrated by what is undoubtedly the most important achievement of our common journey, the single currency, the Euro, which is now increasingly and widely perceived as a tool to freeze or widen inequalities and not as an instrument to make our continent more homogeneous and cohesive.

In this regard, as democrats and socialists, it is important to support the concept that rules are necessary. However, we do not live for rules. Rules are a means to an end and not an end in themselves – and should not be the reason for us being together. The European Union exists because a political will to unity was expressed. Now we need to stress this political will. I think that the historic task of European democrats and socialists is to reaffirm and reiterate this will.

As Italian Democrats and Socialists, we feel the responsibility of our Europeanism, but also the limits and the dangers of a technocratic Europe, distant from the people and the feeling of belonging together.

There is no social Europe without a political Europe.

This March, Rome will host the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. It will be a very important opportunity to highlight the progress made, as well as to deliberate about potential changes of policy. To achieve this, we have to recover the humility of our founding fathers, their listening ability and willingness to reduce the gaps.

We do not want to give up the achievements of the past sixty years, the freedom of movement of the Europeans, the welfare state; but we must be aware that history is demanding us to adapt these achievements to today’s reality. There is no social Europe without a political Europe; this is true today and will be the more so in the future.

This year Italy chairs the Berlin Process, namely the Contact Group of Countries that shall accompany the accession of the Western Balkans to the European Union. We know how strategic that frontier is, from the point of view of migration and terrorism, and also because history has taught us that if the Balkans are balanced Europe remains stable.

We, as Italians, are ready and determined to do our part. We are aware that the current threats  – and, above all, the threat of populism – grow where politics is ailing; populism has so far found its power in political weakness.
A progressive Europe is an increasingly political Europe, with structured, strong and representative institutions. This is the Europe we shall build, our twenty-first century Europe.