End the pessimism, time for a more prophetic vision
A new humanism is needed in order to still believe in Europe. The author of this reflection has for the past two years been working for the European Union institutions, from where he sends a forward-looking message.
It is the black and white TV-show Giochi senza frontiere (Jeux sans Frontières) and Eurovision that symbolically represent Europe in the childhood images of my generation. The international car number plates and foreign idioms quickly become familiar, blending together different features and a common passion.
At the time, the price of petrol and the lira-dollar exchange rate gave a measure of poverty, while the ‘Common Market’ and the “snake in the tunnel”[the name of the first attempt at monetary cooperation in Europe in the 1970s], made it possible to understand that in the bipolar world of that time, divided by the ‘Iron Curtain’, Italy was not alone. Instead, it shared the destination of a small club, together with the other five partners of the European Common Market. To go abroad with just an identity card instead of a passport became a symbolic achievement that defined the scope of the European Community. For the European elections I arrived for the first time at the ballot box together with a group of friends with whom, on Wednesday evenings, at the parish, we studied European integration and the people who made it possible. John Paul II was also feeding hope, speaking of a Europe that stretched from the Atlantic to the Urals, which was something that we saw embodied in the World Youth Days, like the one held in Santiago de Compostela. That is why, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the choice of the College of Europe in Bruges was the great opportunity for satisfying my intellectual curiosity about the cultural diversity and prospects for our countries in the succeeding years. As a result of the research we found out that to be the ‘perfect European’ does not imply the need to possess an alternative identity, but much more than that: a citizenship complementary to the national one. Europe evoked, at the time, also a model of development for our Italian experience: an organizational, political and economic culture for which to aim, so as to improve our moral and political situation. We were, however, on the crest of a wave of increasing prosperity that was, back then, considered irreversible.
The negative perception
After the failure of the European constitutional project and the eastern enlargement in 2004 that almost doubled the number of Member States, the financial crisis has, yet again, put the idea of irreversibility of the European Union and its institutions to a harsh trial. The widespread negative perception of the euro currently leads to searching for the roots of the crisis in the European institutions. Why did hope disappear and enthusiasm turn into scepticism? The alternative to the development towards the federal model seems to be the end of the entire construction, but to lose the memory or forgo the achievements obtained through the integration process after the war, would only lead to repeating the mistakes of the not-so-distant past marked by wars, revolutions, famines and diseases. Perhaps in light of that, the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the institutions of Brussels becomes evident, with one eye fixed on the past and one, more concerned, that indicates the path to the future.
Project and leadership
Today, various think-tanks relaunch the question of the future of Europe, advancing certain institutional reforms as solutions to the current ills. However, for at least three reasons these proposals are hardly exciting for peoples that are increasingly sceptical towards Brussels, perceived as being too distant from reality.
First, in the treaties, the citizen is defined in line with a description derived from market practices. Being by turns, a consumer, a producer or a seller is seen to be simplistic; European citizenship founded on a life project shared together with others, and on a set of rights and duties towards the political community as a whole, would be something else entirely.
Secondly, the democratic deficit is seen as one of the principal causes of disaffection of European citizens with their ‘common home’; and the proposed remedy is the direct election of some institutional figure or increased powers for the European Parliament. However, simple actions of institutional engineering are not, in themselves, sufficient to bridge the current gap, especially with regard to the young generation and even in the face of their increasing demand for participation on social networks. To be in a situation of crisis is, therefore, a “pact of trust” between citizens and those elected to office. For this reason, every reform of the European institutions has to favour a culture capable of prevailing over the single, egoistic interests with governmental action efficiently directed at authentic collective needs. In his memorable speech of 9 March 1950 Robert Schuman, one of the “founding fathers” of the European Community, invoked “concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”: a spirit to be actualized with the needs of today’s Europe.
Thirdly, a lack of a visionary European leadership is being felt. That is, the human factor capable of interpreting the current crisis in a positive manner. It ought to be done in keeping with the spirit of the founding fathers, but also personalities like Altiero Spinelli and Jacques Delors. This was a generation of men of synthesis, capable of looking beyond electoral events because they had the capacity for political thinking derived from a cultural underpinning forged in personal experiences.
In the era of Facebook…
Re-launching European integration seems possible, nowadays, only with two conditions, a negative and a positive one: first of all, the need to put aside a pessimistic outlook and then observe the events of human history from a prophetic perspective. It is important, therefore, to accept with serenity the limits, as well as successes, of the period experienced until now, with consciousness of the fact that that future times will entail new positive formulas and not only the necessity to avoid the mistakes of the past.
But on the basis of what unifying values will it be necessary to reconstruct after the crumbling of a civilization already condemned by its own choices? In spite of Facebook, Erasmus exchanges and low-cost flights, in today’s Europe the distances between people have not become any shorter than they were sixty years ago. Obstacles such as lack of trust and fear poison the relationships to the extent of paralyzing them completely. This is the paradox of globalization, in a world that has embraced individualism and its culture as the code of universal social relations.
Overcoming the shattering experience of fear and mistrust that followed the financial crisis is still possible thanks to a Europe where human virtues of friendship and reason are lived. It is about suggesting concrete realities, models for integral human development, capable of uniting rather than dividing, in which all people can be accepted and in turn accept, in a dialogue without prejudices conditioned by any sense of belonging.
If a tree is known by its fruit, good politics also springs from solid cultural foundations and never from an unrestrained exercise of self-serving power. It is up to each one of us to understand how by being “able to dare” the process can change, so as to build the dimension of proximity until it reaches the peripheries of all of Europe and its institutions.
Translated from the original text in Italian