IL CRISTALLO 25 agosto 2020 - light edition

  torna al sommario                                                                             pubblicazione seguente        pubblicazione precedente
  Mario Telò     THE REVANCHE OF EUROPA     

1. European Council July 21st: an hitorical step forwards towards European integration

The European Union’s proposed recovery plan (“Next generation EU”), to help repair the consequences of the worst economic crisis since 1929, should have been total around €1.5 trillion according to the positive conclusion of the European council of July 22nd an unprecedented size. Furthermore, unusually, the plan has been placed within the multi-year 2021-2027 EU budget to be negotiated by MS during the Summer 2020. According to the Von der Leyen plan (27.5.2020), approved by the European council, 390 Billion subsidies, on the line of the previous Merkel/Macron 19th May joint declaration, should be completed by 360 Billion conditional loans at very low rate, as a European common debt funded on the global market.

After 3 months of almost secret bargaining, five more days of negotiation at European Council meetings have been needed to reach the required unanimity: however, this major decision would bring an historical step forwards in European integration, whereas the debate about the EU budget before the COVID crisis was between the ones stopping at 1% of the GDP and the most pro-European countries asking for a 1.20% of the GDP. this political decision is contrasting with the multiple crises (economic, social and migration) between 2010 and 2016, which did bring disintegration and an aggressive extremist populist wave.

Furthermore, while the new Commission Plan will not work before 2021, the complex poker of Recovery strategy tools is much larger and already started in 2020 by other tools: the EMS provisions for expenses related to health policy (230 B without any conditionality), the SURE program for employment insurance (200 B), the EIB funding for small and middle enterprises (250 B) and, last but not least, the new ECB Quantitative easing policy (between 750 and 1000 B). It looks as a revanche of the Jacques Delors unachieved grand design (1984-95) of a “European Keynesianism”. Will the great step forwards towards a more united Europe, become eventually a realistic perspective?

How did it become possible? The sad story of Brexit was an essential background because with the UK this would have been impossible. Secondly, the failure of the February E Council was paradoxically a precondition: it was followed by a very large successful mobilization of experts, intellectual and civil society, led by reliable personalities, first of all J. Habermas, fostering a true turning point. What is impressive is that the new EU plan, contrary to the Junker Commission prudence, is not contingent and fragmented, as a Christmas tree: it may strengthen the structural and basic pillars of the Union for next generations, notably the stabilizing role of the EU budgetary policy 2021-2027, the greening fiscal policy, the Parliamentary control. The April 13th European council opened the way to the historical step forwards.


2. Hard domestic resistances and obstacles

The strength of the new European discourse against national short term visions, the revived Franco-German leadership and the commitment of the EU institutions. Not only Von der Leyen, but Lagarde at ECB, Sassoli at EP, Michel at E.Council were and convergent enough to bring the European momentum until to a final success

Resistances and obstacles were and still are various and hard: in spite of the consensual decision of the European Council , the many euro skeptical opponents immediately started to work against it.

a)The worst danger are right wing nationalism and populism but the good news is that we now know how to weaken it. The extreme right parties, discredited by openly opposed nationalist rhetoric in North and South Europe (Salvini against the Dutch people: and Wilders in Holland “ against any cent to Italy”), look as traumatized and confused, incapable of coping with the EU innovative decision for a greener, social and solidaristic Europe. Hungary and Poland are on the defensive looking for instrumental convergence and money as usually: but their weight is limited because they don’t belong to the Eurozone. They were helped by making softer in the final council conclusion the early hard linkage of the EU-aid with respect of rule of law, by the Nordic governments focusing on their short term national interest : an excellent outcome for the liberal Rutte.

However, the effects of the long lasting downgrading of the EU and Germany images to the eyes of many national public opinions, including the Italian “5 Stars” ( because of the apparent isolation during the migration crisis), whatever result of manipulation or of true suffering, may still matter as the Eurobarometer show that in Italy China and USA were still perceived in April as aid- provider fro Italy more than Europe! To fight the consequently popular radical rejection of any EU’s conditionality would be needed a radical courage of the Italian progressive government to take stock of this unprecedented critical juncture and unprecedented EU aid to address old Italian administrative, bureaucratic, not only Southern deficits, in exchange of the EU decision of finally containing the vicious temptations to fiscal business friendly policies in other Netherlands and Ireland. And why should not, for example, Italy (and other countries) charge independent personalities (in Italy: Draghi, Cottarelli. Visco, Monti?), to play as central supervisor for the correct and efficient use of European subsidies and loans?

b) The public debate is showing sharp differences between Northern EU member states and their Southern partners over how the rescue package should be paid for. Over simplifying this cleavage as a division between net-payers and receivers would be wrong since Italy is a net contributor since the Eastern enlargement (2004). Also picturing the Nordic as miserly is unfair towards countries who are defenders of freedom, transparency, social Welfare generous cooperation with Africa and peace. However, contrary to the a-symmetrical financial crisis of 2010-16, no national responsibility can be identified in the context of a symmetrical crisis provoked by a virus coming from China. Yes, the consequences are asymmetrical and the argument that the Fund subsidies will have to be focused on the hardest-hit areas and sectors and loans should have long maturities so as not to burden already debt-laden Southern states, is far from popular in Sweden, Denmark, Austria and notably in the Netherlands. We pay the price of a standard image of Italy by million of northern European ordinary citizens, affected by the TV series most exported in northern Europe always focusing on mafia, corruption and criminality.

These small but relevant Nordic member states are facing a difficult dilemma: either they support the idea of a European Union getting stronger, by recovering out as a whole of this unprecedented challenge, as the unique possible political answer to a dangerous global competition dominated by USA and China, or they concede to domestic populist nationalism. This reject of the previously accepted commitments is maybe expected by the right wing Dutch liberal premier Rutte, who, combines, by looking at the 2021 national elections, the attraction for neighboring UK, with a domestic agenda shaped, since a decade, by national-populism, fear of the other (with the exception of D66); and also from the ÖVP conservative Austrian leader, Sebastian Kurz, in spite of the green allies. By contrary it is very astonishing, to this extent, when it comes to two social-democratic premiers: Kjell Stefan Löfven, Sweden, and his Finance minister Anderson; as well as by Mette Frederiksen, premier of Denmark. Their apparent parochialism ignores that the Commission plan of May 27th and the project proposed to the European council of July 17th-21st was not just about generosity but about their own national interests for preventing the single market collapse. Even if they largely benefit of it, they forget that the attractiveness of the EU market is due to the 450 Million consumers, and the political will of international autonomy (where it is emerging).

This nationalist temptation of some relevant social-democracies in times of crisis is very troubling. If it prevails, it could be seen as the saddest news for Willy Brandt, Jacques Delors and the many Scandinavian and Europeans citizens who worked for decades not only to conciliate social-democracy and European Union, but to make of the famous ‘Scandinavian model’, a strong leverage for a social, solidaristic, and a more internationally independent EU. Weak and exhausted leaderships, inward-looking parties, fragile coalitions, growing populist threat are making difficult for these “leaders” overcoming the temptation of “Wohlstand-Egoismus”, a defensive ,pre-political and short term policy orientation, which is by contrary much better managed in other countries, including Germany

If not yet a revival of the Fichte democratic nationalism or of Lassalle social nationalism, in Scandinavian sauce, it looks as the illusionary coming back of the pre-Bad-Godesberg kind of “national ways. If the PES is more than an empty shell where parties disagree about the fundamentals, it should take the courage of an open internal debate and foster substantial convergence abot a main essential question: what does socialdemocracy want for Europe’s future?.

The confrontation between social leaders as Sanchez and Costa on the one hand and the inward looking Scandinavian socialdemocrats on the other, may mean a profound crisis is a sign of lacking ambition of cultural hegemony . If confirmed, what would be worrying is that, this trend could underpin a profound downgrading form of social-democratic de-politicization, neglecting the main stakes of the current hard times for the post CIVID 19 world: to cope not only with a conflictual globalization, demanding European unity to economically survive, but also with but an increasingly dangerous world which logically cannot be faced by the old instrument of the nation state, not even the strongest one, let’s guess the Nordic dwarfs . They may remember some socialist leaders during the interwar period, only focusing on national recovery while ignoring the coming tragic world’s disaster; if they don’t converge with the German brilliant CDU-SPD coalition leadership, they myopia would bring these countries thousand miles far from any political consciousness regarding Europe and the world: the definition of social-democratic “de-politicization” (indifference to the main global political stakes and self limitation to a lobby defending corporate interests ) looks as the fittest one to define what risks happening in Northern Europe. Our enormous debt to Scandinavian socialdemocracy makes however our hopes of the emergence of new political leaders, at the level of Olof Palme, Carlson or Anna Lind , still alive .

c) Even if the historical turning point was possible thanks to the key role of the German coalition government and notably the pressure by SPD, the third opposition is coming from within the complexity of the German democracy. To a large extent the beginning of the German EU’s rotating presidency 2020 looks able to cope with the challenge of coping with it, by a consensual approval of the Von Leyen ‘unprecedented' stimulus’ and by successful pressures on many EU member states.

The coalition is however not only facing the increasing opposition coming from far right, as well as from within CSU and FDP.

Much to the surprise of many who know Andreas Voßkuhle, his last decision as German Constitutional Court President, the May 5th “Urteil”, very clearly aims at setting the limits of the European construction. It was like a terrible choc for many pro-EU élites and ordinary European people, in all the European countries (including Germany as we see from the press reports), with the single exception of the Hungarian and Polish leaderships, as well as of the extreme right nationalist parties in every country, which enthusiastically welcomed it.

Comparative research on regional cooperation/integration, in the world does not see it should as a surprise but for an opportunity of clarification about the EU institutional evolution. For the Karlsruhe Court, the EU is and must remain a confederation of sovereign states, which means that “disproportioned” ECB solidarity with other European nations is against the German Constitution. The President Christine Lagarde defense of the ECB independency - a provision paradoxically requested by Germany in the context of EMU and Maastricht treaty negotiations (1988-91) and the Von der Leyen Commission formal recall of the primacy of the European Court of Justice, don’t matter very much for the “Urteil” authors. This Urteil loks as a warning against the Lagarde , Von der Leyen and Merkel decisions which are going far beyond even the Draghi controversial leadership.

It is true that the EU is not a federal state in the making: it is a regional association of neighboring states, with some federal and constitutional features entangled with intergovernmental bodies and procedures. However, this “Urteil” will still matter, as a Damocles sword, for the entire EU recovery action of next months and can only be addressed by clear political will.

The numerous and qualified German and European reactions to Karlsruhe underline the evident contradiction of the “Urteil” with the German de facto leadership of the EU Council and Commission, leading the innovative recovery policies by a more “federal” budget. The open dilemma is: what kind of confederal/federal regional organization will the EU become? Strengthening some of the achieved federal features, like the common budget, or gradually dismantling them, towards a softer kind of regional entity like MERCOSUR, ASEAN or like a revived EFTA? [1].


3. The German EU’s presidency 2020 as an excellent opportunity

The German presidency of the EU during the 2020 second semester starts by excellent success ( the EU Council decision of July 21st) : it has the historical opportunity to clarify not only the European recovery policy scope and size, by compromising on the wise balance between loans and subsidies, between risk sharing and risk limiting, but to shape the EU future. This is logically expected to be parallel to strategic orientation and political decisions regarding the EU place and role within an unpredictable and rapidly changing global system: the EU’s relations with China (Leipzig summit of next December), revival of the EU-India dialog in security issues, arrangement with post-Brexit UK, Africa, and the post-elections USA, UN relaunch in occasion of the 75th anniversary, in a world profoundly shacked by the pandemic consequences.

There is an evident linkage between the internal Eurozone consolidation (as a precondition) and the international strategic autonomy.

The context still is favorable for a progress in the European construction, based on solid convergent interests but this steps ahead absolutely need a new mobilizing narrative to be shared by the largest number of member states: Europe as both a shield protecting our common interests and a driver of our values and standards worldwide, by framing global governance, within an unpredictable global disorder.

Only in case the recovery plan , is implemented by the member states, including Italy and Spain, in an efficient way (transparency, fight against corruption, administrative rationalization, European coordination) and is profoundly linked to the “Green deal” and digital economy, will Europe be strong enough to both recover and re-balance in favor of multilateralism (UN, WTO, WHO) the current deficit of global governance, against pandemic diseases, financial instability, climate change and other transnational challenges.

In case the historical decision of the European Council is not consistently and efficiently implemented, or is dismantled and downgraded, the inevitable consequence will be a gradual shifting towards a serious Eurozone crisis already in 2020, the possible exit of Italy and Spain in 2021, the foreseeable EMU collapse in 2022, inevitably followed by the single market crisis and shift towards something like a traditional free trade area.

Why must the EU narrative be radically renewed? Because only emphasizing the political relevance of both the internal market and the Euro, within the current dangerous global context, will stop the disintegrating trends towards a kind of revival of the failed EFTA of the ‘60s possible. It is crucial to have both the Southern and the Nordic on board. A Eurozone collapse would mean something worse than ever: all of Europeans risk becoming the marginal victims of a global confrontation between USA and China/Russia. No European country has a future without strong Eurozone and the single market. And in the 75th anniversary of the end of the WW2 and the UN Foundation, this is the very condition to further explore how the Habermas idea of the European social and democratic model is able to foster a fairer and more peaceful global governance. The German Presidency is expected to bring evidence that national interests in the 21st century can only be defended jointly with European interests, by more cooperation, by underlining the European conditions of the national economic success and the universal implications of the European unity.



[1]  MERCOSUR is the Mercado del sur, regional association funded in 1991 between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay; ASEAN is a regional Association of south East Asian Nations (ten members), EFTA: is the association funded by UK in 1960 as alternative to the European community.

  torna al sommario                                                                             pubblicazione seguente        pubblicazione precedente