Originally released in Italian in Le Formiche on 4th May 2020

To have influence in Europe, there is no need to threaten to abandon it by exalting national sovereignty, there is no need to climb the Silk Road faster than others. We need vision, we need the ability to build new alliances, we need the will to transform.

What is sovereignty in the time of the coronavirus crisis? And how to get out of the crisis? Neo-nationalism and sovereignty are still fashionable in Italy. Even part of the government and the majority, starting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio and the 5 Star Movement, is very committed to building new strategic alliances, through unprecedented pro-Beijing and anti-EU propaganda. Besides, we are talking about the same Di Maio who wanted a referendum to get out of the EU to which he would have voted Yes.

All European governments had to focus on the emergency, from a mainly national or territorial point of view. The various leaders approached their citizens in very different ways when talking about Europe. In Italy, Giuseppe Conte has exasperated the tone with the Union especially to save himself. Mark Rutte simply ignored the Union probably for the same reason as Conte. Even Angela Merkel, at first, completely ignored the European dimension of the crisis, only to admit to the Bundestag that even Germany cannot do well if the rest of Europe does not do well.

The leader of one of the proudest European countries for its history and national identity, Emmanuel Macron and France, has instead opened a courageous political confrontation in Europe, rejecting the usual downward compromise proposed by Berlin, and has had the strength to relaunch his vision for a new European sovereignty at the very moment of his strongest call for national unity.

Responsibility and solidarity are the key values to tackle the crisis and prepare for recovery: they are the very essence of the idea of “community”. They apply between generations, between territories, compared to those who are at the forefront of the crisis. They are indispensable for the necessary national unity and social cohesion and were invoked several times by Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of the emergency. At the same time, recovery, post-crisis rebirth require even more vision and leadership. Above all, they require the regaining of control by politics: regaining control, a key issue for all governments today, a central issue for true sovereignty.

That is why at the very moment when he called for the highest national “brotherhood”, Emmanuel Macron added that this brotherhood and national unity must serve, hic et nunc, to achieve more European unity and solidarity. He did not threaten to “do it alone” or to leave the Union: he pushed for everyone to show the boldness and determination indispensable for re-founding Europe.

He called for French agricultural, health, industrial and technological independence in a framework of greater “strategic autonomy” for Europe, thus linking the theme of national independence to a new capacity for strategic control to be recovered together and more united as Europeans. It has pushed the Union to global solidarity, looking first of all to Africa and proposing to massively cancel the debt of African countries. A new global solidarity that led Macron to promote with other governments and to sponsor the international donor conference for vaccine research organised in Brussels. Because the exit from the crisis passes through the construction of European sovereignty in strategic sectors and new global alliances and multilateral initiatives. In the perspective of a new agenda for human security rightly indicated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.

National unity and independence require a sovereign Europe and new global cooperation. What is at stake is Europe’s economic and social rebirth, the democratic resilience of the continent, and the challenge with other players trying to take advantage of the crisis to strengthen their hegemonic and authoritarian strategies, starting with Beijing; or to limit democratic spaces even more: Budapest and Warsaw are the most striking examples, but the focus on respect for fundamental freedoms must be kept high everywhere, including Italy.

Macron’s speeches and action, in short, are not a return to an old concept of national sovereignty, a nostalgic reminder of the world that no longer exists. Without doubt, they are rooted in the best of French pro-Europeanism, including that Declaration by Robert Schuman whose 70th anniversary we celebrate on 9 May. Even today, during this crisis, “new concrete achievements are needed that first and foremost create de facto solidarity”, as Schuman pointed out.

This is the importance of the political confrontation with Germany and the Netherlands opened by Macron with the support of Italy, Spain but also of countries such as Ireland, Belgium or Luxembourg, on the European recovery plan, on the Recovery Bonds we proposed to the European Parliament, based on the idea of a new “common European debt” (and not on the mutualisation of existing national debts). Because they represent those first “achievements” on which to base the construction of a new European sovereignty through a political reform of the Union that passes through the recovery of mutual trust between States and peoples and the collective commitment to a new common European strategy, in the conviction that we have a common destiny, today even more so than yesterday.

But the achievements must be “concrete”: that is why, in Paris, the reaction to the agreement in principle of the last European Summit on the Recovery Fund – proposed by France itself – was much more sober than in Rome. For those who love football, I would say that listening to Giuseppe Conte, it seemed he had won the Champions League; listening to Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, it sounded the talk of a victory on the first round of the championship. The first is the attempt of personal salvation, and you can see it, even too well; the second is European leadership.

To have influence in Europe you do not need the threat to abandon it by exalting national sovereignty, you do not need to climb the Silk Road faster than others. You need vision, you need the ability to build new alliances, you need the will to transform. In short, post-crisis recovery requires politics and leadership: it is up to European leaders to show that they have them.