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Insisting on Europe, in spite of everything. And on the Eurobonds for defence, environment, development

Spending the time between now and the beginning of June talking about Europe. And striving to understand what we will be voting for when we go to the polls, from the 6th to the 9th, in all 27 EU countries, to renew the European Parliament. What policies we would like, for development, security, the environment, to ensure a better future, for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. And which parties and which women and men we will delegate this responsibility to.

This is the duty we are facing now, in this age, so uncertain and restless, painful and yet decisive. This is the hope we are holding on to. ‘Now we need to talk about Europe’ was how Corriere della Sera headlined its background article by Goffredo Buccini (27 April). ‘Reverse the decline of Europe‘, prescribed Giorgio Barba Navaretti in la Repubblica (19 April). “How can we save Europe?”, wondered Sergio Fabbrini in Il Sole24Ore (21 April). And so on. One common motive figured in all the many authoritative opinions: we should go to the polls thinking about the elements that will mark the future of this part of the world that has such strong common cultural elements (“La Lettura” of the Corriere della Sera writes about this, talking about music, literature, theatre and figurative arts; 28 April) and that, above all, uniquely, has been able to hold together liberal democracy, market economy and the best welfare system. But that today is up against economic competition from giants such as the US, China and, before long, India too, that is put under pressure by autocracies and does not know how to cope with the overwhelming power of the Tech Giants, the technological multinationals that are disrupting our way of life, for better or worse.

In a nutshell, we should be going to the polls with our common values and interests in mind. And instead, up until now, the political debate, both in Italy and in other EU countries, has mainly focused on local interests, on national and regional power intrigues, on the stories of small and large corporations and clienteles. Meanwhile, there is a surge in the weight of sovereignist and nationalist thoughts which are explicitly calling for ‘less Europe’ and more room for national powers and choices, even from the leaderships of some European countries. And the threats that the weight of these ‘illiberal democracies’ will expand are growing.

Europe, in spite of everything“, was the hope expressed as early as 2019, in a book of straight-talking essays, published by ‘La nave di Teseo’ and written by Maurizio Ferrera, Piergaetano Marchetti, Alberto Martinelli, Antonio Padoa Schioppa and the editors of this blog, to draw up a critical balance of the EU’s successes and challenges, on the eve of the last European elections. Since then, many dramatic political, social and economic events have radically changed the geopolitical context and the underlying reasons for international competitiveness: the Covid 19 pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, escalating tensions between the US and China, and the breaking down and rebuilding of the traditional value and trade chains. But that hope retains an even more dramatic relevance today: ‘in spite of everything’, either Europe reinforces and relaunches the reasons for the Union and the common policies, starting with the issues of security and sustainable development, or its cracks will get bigger.

Our Europe today is mortal. It can die. And this depends solely on our choices,’ French President Emmanuel Macron said in a long and heartfelt speech at the Sorbonne on 25 April, proposing a profound political turnaround and finding favour with German Chancellor Scholz: ‘Good ideas to keep Europe strong’.

Europe is neither totem nor taboo, then. Neither legend nor giant. But rather the best destiny we can hope for. One that must be criticised. But not demolished, or pigeonholed into national egoisms, bureaucratic rigidities or vague declarations of good intentions. This wise saying from southern Italy comes to mind: ‘the Bank of Naples won’t pawn idle chatter and wooden snuffboxes’. The Europe we need, in a time of emergency, is anything but a club of idle talk and rabble-rousing.

A political challenge, then. A carefully planned one. As the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella well knows when (Corriere della Sera, 22 April) he calculated that 400 million Europeans will go to the urns next June, he hopes for ‘a great participation because this is how we become the protagonist of our own future’ and urges ‘the institutions’ that will be elected to ‘ensure that Europe becomes a protagonist and not just a spectator of this season’ with ‘courageous reforms’.

Over the past few days, the document presented by president of the Delors Foundation Enrico Letta, on the single market, and Mario Draghi’s anticipations on the study on competitiveness (both commissioned by President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen) have indicated the outlines of the choices to be made to hold together the ‘green transition’ with economic development in a perspective of sustainability and to be able to withstand, as the EU, the pressures coming from the US and China, on the major issues of security, energy and the digital economy, by insisting above all on AI (Artificial Intelligence).

A single market for capital, telecommunications, and defence, in short (‘What we need now is a European defence, between NATO and the EU’, explained Marta Dassù, la Repubblica, 27 April). And European investments, both by increasing the weight of the EU budget and by going to the financial markets, such as the EU, to find resources to invest. With the Eurobonds, which were already dear to Delors’ heart in the 1980s. And other common financial instruments.

The figures are impressive: more than 800 billion a year for at least the next ten years, both for the green deal (and for the welfare measures needed to cope with the social costs of the transition, starting with the consequences for jobs and business resilience) and for security.

There is, of course, some degree of resistance. Small countries fear for the loss of sovereignty (and privileges) in the event of a single capital market. The ‘Northerners’ are wary when it comes to investments and new debts shared with the countries in the South. Many, especially on the right, view a strengthening of the Union with suspicion. And many fear that an ‘ideological’ application of the green deal will put a large part of European industry out of the competitive game. Well-founded fears and good reasons are intertwined with nationalist defences and concerns about the end of an expansion of public spending used to ‘buy consensus’ (many look with suspicion at Italy, which is in serious difficulty with its accounts also due to the devastating effects of the building ‘superbonus’).

The June vote could bring clarity, with the election of a European Parliament and then an EU Commission capable of carrying out those ‘courageous reforms‘ that President Mattarella mentioned, and of making the essential political choices required to ensure that Europe is not ‘crushed’ by the economic and political strength of the US and China.

To get our bearings, also in view of the vote, some recent reflections may be useful. That of the Governor of the Bank of Italy Fabio Panetta (il Sole24Ore, 24 April). Or the proposals put forward by Marco Buti and Marcello Messori on the green and digital transition and the need for Europe to overcome its current ‘low productivity’ condition (Il Sole24Ore, 21 April). Or the call made by Emma Marcegaglia, president of the B7 (the group of companies from the G7 countries) for ‘a global agreement to accelerate the green transition’ (Il Sole24Ore, 28 April), also using the Eurobonds. Let’s take a closer look.

Panetta (‘A new star of anti-populism’, according to Il Foglio, 24 April) argues that, without giving in to protectionism, we must ‘strengthen the European economy along three main directions: rebalancing its development model; guaranteeing its strategic autonomy; adapting its capacity to provide for its external security and empowering its role in the international debate’. How? For Panetta too, the answer lies in leveraging the Eurobonds.

And the ECB? It will have to go beyond the boundaries of responsibility for currency and inflation and ‘be able to look to the future’. In other words, it is analogous, in difficult times, to that ‘whatever it takes’ strategy with which Mario Draghi, as ECB president, saved the euro and the European economy at the time of the post-Covid crisis.

Buti and Messori insist on the need to ‘differentiate the European strategy from China’s monopolistic choices and US protectionism’. And they propose the production and financing of ‘European public goods’ (EPGs) in both economic and geopolitical fields: for common industrial and social policies, for innovation and, of course, for security. A strategy. Which is articulated in projects. And finds financing on the market. Cue the Eurobonds again.

These are precisely the themes found in the Letta report and which we will hear again with the Draghi report. Which resonate in Panetta’s speech. And which are beginning to be reflected both in the stances of Macron’s France and of Germany, which is unfortunately still looking for a way to get its economy out of the current crisis.

These are issues in which Italy in particular can play a fundamental role. It is one of the great founding countries of Europe, but it cannot raise concerns about domination such as those raised by France and Germany. It has always shown an attitude of dialogue with the other European countries, but also with the nations outside the EU, starting with the Mediterranean area. And its strength lies in a system of flexible, open, competitive companies that are well integrated in several global value chains. It can do a lot, in short. With innovative ideas. And roles of responsibility. As long as we do not fall into sovereignist temptations and refusals to act due to propagandist reasons, irresponsible public spending and nationalist views. An Italy that is good at being Italy and that takes charge of Europe’s welfare and, therefore, of its own destiny.

(Photo Getty Images)

Spending the time between now and the beginning of June talking about Europe. And striving to understand what we will be voting for when we go to the polls, from the 6th to the 9th, in all 27 EU countries, to renew the European Parliament. What policies we would like, for development, security, the environment, to ensure a better future, for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. And which parties and which women and men we will delegate this responsibility to.

This is the duty we are facing now, in this age, so uncertain and restless, painful and yet decisive. This is the hope we are holding on to. ‘Now we need to talk about Europe’ was how Corriere della Sera headlined its background article by Goffredo Buccini (27 April). ‘Reverse the decline of Europe‘, prescribed Giorgio Barba Navaretti in la Repubblica (19 April). “How can we save Europe?”, wondered Sergio Fabbrini in Il Sole24Ore (21 April). And so on. One common motive figured in all the many authoritative opinions: we should go to the polls thinking about the elements that will mark the future of this part of the world that has such strong common cultural elements (“La Lettura” of the Corriere della Sera writes about this, talking about music, literature, theatre and figurative arts; 28 April) and that, above all, uniquely, has been able to hold together liberal democracy, market economy and the best welfare system. But that today is up against economic competition from giants such as the US, China and, before long, India too, that is put under pressure by autocracies and does not know how to cope with the overwhelming power of the Tech Giants, the technological multinationals that are disrupting our way of life, for better or worse.

In a nutshell, we should be going to the polls with our common values and interests in mind. And instead, up until now, the political debate, both in Italy and in other EU countries, has mainly focused on local interests, on national and regional power intrigues, on the stories of small and large corporations and clienteles. Meanwhile, there is a surge in the weight of sovereignist and nationalist thoughts which are explicitly calling for ‘less Europe’ and more room for national powers and choices, even from the leaderships of some European countries. And the threats that the weight of these ‘illiberal democracies’ will expand are growing.

Europe, in spite of everything“, was the hope expressed as early as 2019, in a book of straight-talking essays, published by ‘La nave di Teseo’ and written by Maurizio Ferrera, Piergaetano Marchetti, Alberto Martinelli, Antonio Padoa Schioppa and the editors of this blog, to draw up a critical balance of the EU’s successes and challenges, on the eve of the last European elections. Since then, many dramatic political, social and economic events have radically changed the geopolitical context and the underlying reasons for international competitiveness: the Covid 19 pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, escalating tensions between the US and China, and the breaking down and rebuilding of the traditional value and trade chains. But that hope retains an even more dramatic relevance today: ‘in spite of everything’, either Europe reinforces and relaunches the reasons for the Union and the common policies, starting with the issues of security and sustainable development, or its cracks will get bigger.

Our Europe today is mortal. It can die. And this depends solely on our choices,’ French President Emmanuel Macron said in a long and heartfelt speech at the Sorbonne on 25 April, proposing a profound political turnaround and finding favour with German Chancellor Scholz: ‘Good ideas to keep Europe strong’.

Europe is neither totem nor taboo, then. Neither legend nor giant. But rather the best destiny we can hope for. One that must be criticised. But not demolished, or pigeonholed into national egoisms, bureaucratic rigidities or vague declarations of good intentions. This wise saying from southern Italy comes to mind: ‘the Bank of Naples won’t pawn idle chatter and wooden snuffboxes’. The Europe we need, in a time of emergency, is anything but a club of idle talk and rabble-rousing.

A political challenge, then. A carefully planned one. As the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella well knows when (Corriere della Sera, 22 April) he calculated that 400 million Europeans will go to the urns next June, he hopes for ‘a great participation because this is how we become the protagonist of our own future’ and urges ‘the institutions’ that will be elected to ‘ensure that Europe becomes a protagonist and not just a spectator of this season’ with ‘courageous reforms’.

Over the past few days, the document presented by president of the Delors Foundation Enrico Letta, on the single market, and Mario Draghi’s anticipations on the study on competitiveness (both commissioned by President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen) have indicated the outlines of the choices to be made to hold together the ‘green transition’ with economic development in a perspective of sustainability and to be able to withstand, as the EU, the pressures coming from the US and China, on the major issues of security, energy and the digital economy, by insisting above all on AI (Artificial Intelligence).

A single market for capital, telecommunications, and defence, in short (‘What we need now is a European defence, between NATO and the EU’, explained Marta Dassù, la Repubblica, 27 April). And European investments, both by increasing the weight of the EU budget and by going to the financial markets, such as the EU, to find resources to invest. With the Eurobonds, which were already dear to Delors’ heart in the 1980s. And other common financial instruments.

The figures are impressive: more than 800 billion a year for at least the next ten years, both for the green deal (and for the welfare measures needed to cope with the social costs of the transition, starting with the consequences for jobs and business resilience) and for security.

There is, of course, some degree of resistance. Small countries fear for the loss of sovereignty (and privileges) in the event of a single capital market. The ‘Northerners’ are wary when it comes to investments and new debts shared with the countries in the South. Many, especially on the right, view a strengthening of the Union with suspicion. And many fear that an ‘ideological’ application of the green deal will put a large part of European industry out of the competitive game. Well-founded fears and good reasons are intertwined with nationalist defences and concerns about the end of an expansion of public spending used to ‘buy consensus’ (many look with suspicion at Italy, which is in serious difficulty with its accounts also due to the devastating effects of the building ‘superbonus’).

The June vote could bring clarity, with the election of a European Parliament and then an EU Commission capable of carrying out those ‘courageous reforms‘ that President Mattarella mentioned, and of making the essential political choices required to ensure that Europe is not ‘crushed’ by the economic and political strength of the US and China.

To get our bearings, also in view of the vote, some recent reflections may be useful. That of the Governor of the Bank of Italy Fabio Panetta (il Sole24Ore, 24 April). Or the proposals put forward by Marco Buti and Marcello Messori on the green and digital transition and the need for Europe to overcome its current ‘low productivity’ condition (Il Sole24Ore, 21 April). Or the call made by Emma Marcegaglia, president of the B7 (the group of companies from the G7 countries) for ‘a global agreement to accelerate the green transition’ (Il Sole24Ore, 28 April), also using the Eurobonds. Let’s take a closer look.

Panetta (‘A new star of anti-populism’, according to Il Foglio, 24 April) argues that, without giving in to protectionism, we must ‘strengthen the European economy along three main directions: rebalancing its development model; guaranteeing its strategic autonomy; adapting its capacity to provide for its external security and empowering its role in the international debate’. How? For Panetta too, the answer lies in leveraging the Eurobonds.

And the ECB? It will have to go beyond the boundaries of responsibility for currency and inflation and ‘be able to look to the future’. In other words, it is analogous, in difficult times, to that ‘whatever it takes’ strategy with which Mario Draghi, as ECB president, saved the euro and the European economy at the time of the post-Covid crisis.

Buti and Messori insist on the need to ‘differentiate the European strategy from China’s monopolistic choices and US protectionism’. And they propose the production and financing of ‘European public goods’ (EPGs) in both economic and geopolitical fields: for common industrial and social policies, for innovation and, of course, for security. A strategy. Which is articulated in projects. And finds financing on the market. Cue the Eurobonds again.

These are precisely the themes found in the Letta report and which we will hear again with the Draghi report. Which resonate in Panetta’s speech. And which are beginning to be reflected both in the stances of Macron’s France and of Germany, which is unfortunately still looking for a way to get its economy out of the current crisis.

These are issues in which Italy in particular can play a fundamental role. It is one of the great founding countries of Europe, but it cannot raise concerns about domination such as those raised by France and Germany. It has always shown an attitude of dialogue with the other European countries, but also with the nations outside the EU, starting with the Mediterranean area. And its strength lies in a system of flexible, open, competitive companies that are well integrated in several global value chains. It can do a lot, in short. With innovative ideas. And roles of responsibility. As long as we do not fall into sovereignist temptations and refusals to act due to propagandist reasons, irresponsible public spending and nationalist views. An Italy that is good at being Italy and that takes charge of Europe’s welfare and, therefore, of its own destiny.

(Photo Getty Images)