After all, dear President, you were elected to transform Europe. If you do that, you will always have all our support to do what the Union was born to do: not to unite states, but to unite peoples.

Published on May 15, 2020 in Il Riformista.

Sandro Gozi

There are many challenges that the President must finally face: from flight refunds to Chinese influence, from Orban’s authoritarian drift to the disconcerting intrusion by the German Constitutional Court. The EU must be transformed.

What Europe do we want to ensure recovery and transformation after Covid 19? And what do we ask from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen?

At the beginning of her term of office, the President proposed a “geopolitical” Commission. Well, the first ground for politics is the European Union itself. And already today there are many decisions on the Commissioners’ table from which to judge their courage and ability. Yes, because Ursula von der Leyen makes politically correct, sometimes courageous speeches (she even invoked Altiero Spinelli) and a few gaffes too many. But we are not interested in her quotes or her gaffes. We are interested in understanding the extent to which she wants to commit herself to transforming Europe.

How to begin? By exercising her powers for example: the choices are almost endless, there are many themes to start with.

If she wants to be on the side of consumers (i.e. citizens), the Commission should immediately initiate infringement proceedings against all countries that allow airlines to violate the right that we all have to be reimbursed for cancellations. In fact, it is not clear why we should pay twice: the first time as taxpayers, for the public aids allowed (and rightly so) by the Commission itself in favour of the airlines because of the Covid 19 crisis; and the second time as consumers, by being denied the reimbursement we are entitled to thanks to the EU.

If she wants to be on the side of the rule of law (i.e. still the citizens), she doesn’t have to wait for more abuses of power to be committed by Viktor Orban: Salvini&Meloni’s favourite EPP leader has already gone a long way in exploiting the state of health emergency to further squeeze the rule of law. And while we are at it, let’s introduce a rule in the new budget whereby funds are frozen for governments that violate the rule of law and fundamental principles, starting with the obligation of solidarity.

If she is seeking for an “easy win”, by recalling that all states (not just citizens) are equal before European law, she should take action against Germany to punish the unacceptable act of arrogance of the German Constitutional Court, which would like to teach law to the European Court, dictate monetary policy to the ECB and destroy the foundation on which the whole EU stands: the primacy of EU law over national law. A deadly attack that could have “devastating consequences for the very survival of the Union,” say many in Germany as well. Perhaps it would also help Angela Merkel to show whether she is truly convinced of the need to strengthen European democracy and reform the treaties, abandoning her exasperating tactic of postponement and the status quo: which is the other answer to give to the German Court.

All new and good reasons to launch the Conference on the future of Europe: which was one of the conditions for electing Ursula von der Leyen and on which we are waiting for very clear words from the President.

After the crisis, the theme of sovereign Europe, continental strategic autonomy and transnational politics will become even more important. Through a reform of the treaties, of course.

Looking beyond the continent, a very clear reaction is urgently needed, first of all with regard to China, which “wants to destabilize the West”. These are not our words, they were used by the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, whom Ursula von der Leyen knows well, as a former Minister of Defense. His office is always in Brussels, a few kilometers from the Berlaymont, where the President (literally) lives. Chinese propaganda in Europe has reached unacceptable levels, in Italy even with the help of a few yellow vests in government, like Luigi di Maio.

Last but foremost, the European Economic Plan financed by Recovery Bonds, on which Parliament is today sending another very, very explicit message to the Commission: few accounting games “à la Juncker”, a lot of real money, fresh money, to reach 2000 billion euros of new resources at the service of European industrial, ecological and digital transformation. By asking the States for more money? Not at all: by making the digital and financial giants pay taxes like all citizens, and by imposing a levy on products from non-European countries that violate the Paris Agreements on climate change, for example.

Much of this depends on the Council, that is, the governments. We know that. And at 27 it is increasingly difficult to achieve unanimity. We also know this and that is why we want to eliminate all national vetoes by reforming the EU. But we expect a strong role from the Commission: to transform Europe, it must take risks and open up political confrontations, instead of sticking to the lowest common denominator.

After all, dear President, that’s why you were elected. If you do that, you will still have all our support to do what the Union was born to do: not to unite states, but to unite peoples.