Europe needs a new Europeanism

After seventy years from the Treaty of Rome, European project is still based on its original cornerstones: peace, security, prosperity and identity.

Unfortunately, the current European situation, worsened by its crisis (economical, humanitarian, social, ideological), seems to jeopardize the Europeanism concept, and consequently the achievement of the EU’s objectives.

To return on the straight and narrow, it is necessary to foster a new idea of Europeanism, focused on compelling issues, such as stronger integration in defence, foreign policy and border control, rather than putting greater emphasis on decentralisation, national autonomy, economic reforms and cultural traditions. Therefore, the aimed integration and unity are not achievable within a framework of cooperation among sovereign countries, but it would be better to create a supranational form of integration as the Europe’s founding fathers have been trying to promote.

In fact, they all had a “federalist outlook”, which implied a federation of states with supranational institutions at the centre of it, and not a simple cooperation between states. Nevertheless, their visions about it differed from the political and intellectual point of view. The three main ideas can be summarized as follows:

  • The Christian Democratic one. Proposed by Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schuman, this vision appreciated the identity and traditions of Europe’s nations and regions, with references to Christian values. In opposition to a technocratic approach, they imagined a minimalist federation, which respects national and regional autonomy, centralizes a few strategic decisions and ensures peace;
  • The Technocratic one, supported by Jean Monnet and his followers inside the EU institutions. They rejected the political process and aimed to transfer powers to esteemed technocrats, whose role was to “depoliticise” them, justifying every advancement of European integration as a technocratic necessity and not as a political choice.
  • The Progressive one, whose advocates were Altiero Spinelli and his followers in socialist and liberal circles. They intended to create a Centralized European State and a European Democratic Nation, with emphasis on social equality and economic intervention. On the contrary, they did not rely on Christian values or national traditions and cultures.

In 1970s, the differences between these three doctrines became less highlighted and what emerged was the “mainstream Europeanism”. It is also a consequence of the failure of the European Defence Community (1954). After this, they tried to build a federal Europe, but it revealed itself impossible; so, they worked the problem out sharing the sovereignty within common European institutions in  more and more sectors. The priority was to create a unique European market.

However, this idea was not perfect, and in the following years its limits emerged and resulted incapable to lead to the implementation of the European project. Its limits were:

  • It remained ambiguous in its final powers and constitutional structure that EU should have. It was always used to transfer more competences at the European Level, without a precise plan, just because this meant “more Europe”, even if it was in contrast with the traditional federalism;
  • It did not mark a difference between the left and right political parties, but between the supporters of European mainstream and the anti-European parties; this fact played in favour of the populists;
  • It had a preference for centralisation, harmonisation and regulation, which went beyond the idea of federalism. In fact, mainstream Europeanism stated the centralization of more and more policy fields and not only a few of them;
  • It was seen increasingly technocratic, and at times even as inimical to national democracy. In addition, no emphasis was put on the cultural and traditional foundations of European unity.

So, what can it be done to drive Europeanism towards a political project that goes beyond the cooperation between sovereign states and can face the current European challenges? Here, we have six proposals:

  • European integration (and EU budget) should be readdressed to traditional federal issues, such as: defence, foreign policy and border control, instead of agricultural subsidies and cohesion funds;
  • Europe should foster integration only in strategic areas, and at the same time, encourage decentralisation and competition, because the idea of Federalism has gone astray, centralizing even when it was not necessary;
  • In this period characterized by crisis, especially financial crisis, they are needed reforms, in particular in the monetary field. To achieve a more sustainable Union, we should reduce the public debt and adopt market-oriented paradigms, in those countries that use the unique currency;
  • We should reject the coordination and centralization of budgetary, because it means a strong bureaucratic control over national economic policies, while the member states should maintain their autonomy in this area;
  • We should encourage limited forms of differentiated integration, which are necessary to find a common point of view, to preserve the integrity of the single market;
  • It is important to keep the Europe’s identity debate alive, remembering that common institutions do not have to create an artificial identity, but should eliminate what creates frictions and conflicts.

European unity is too important for us to watch it while it is disappearing without do nothing. The old-fashioned Europeanism must be updated to continue on the path towards the achievement of the European project. The Commission’s White Paper on the future of Europe is the first important step in this direction, but the goal is still far away.