Interview published in Huffington Post Italia on 28/05/2020

By Angela Mauro

“The European Parliament will not approve a plan without ‘own resources’. A message to sovereignists: Europe is here!”.

The €730 billion recovery fund should be found by taxing “the giants of the web, global finance and polluters”. Sandro Gozi, MEP of Renew Europe, followed from Paris and Brussels the negotiations carried out personally by Emmanuel Macron with Angela Merkel on the plan presented yesterday by Ursula von der Leyen to tackle the economic crisis by Covid-19. “The European Parliament will not approve a proposal without ‘own resources'”, Gozi points out, indicating what will be the main point of the “hard” negotiations between Member States on the European Commission’s proposal. But, he adds, “when one makes federal proposals like this, Europe dismantles sovereignist propaganda: it makes me smile that even Meloni recognises that the fund is going in the right direction.

The ‘recovery fund’ linked to a new European budget promises a world of novelty, so rich that one gets lost. What, in your opinion, is the fundamental political fact of the Commission’s proposal?

Von der Leyen has proposed a step towards a federal union. With no less than 750 billion euros in resources, we are helping those who are most in difficulty to prevent their problems from becoming everyone’s problems in the future. This is the fundamental political fact. That is why Germany took action: Merkel realized that it is in her country’s interest to prevent France, Italy and Spain from getting into great difficulty. It is a turning point compared to the previous crisis because it is proposed that the states return to trust each other. A reconstruction and recovery plan is being launched based on common European debt: this means that we believe that the economic and social profits we will make from the success of that plan will be so high that we decide to go into debt together for the success of that plan.

However, the Commission proposal does not provide for mutualisation of debt.

The plan is not financed by pooling existing national debts. Nobody is asking the Dutch or Austrian taxpayer to pay part of the Italian or Spanish debt. However, we decide to use the European budget, by increasing the share of own resources, as a guarantee to go to the markets, issue recovery bonds and find the necessary liquidity to finance the plan. This is the difference between debt mutualisation and common European debt, managed by the European Commission, which issues recovery bonds. And Italy is the biggest beneficiary of all this, after Italy is also the main beneficiary of the ECB interventions, which has already bought 25 billion of Italian public debt securities.

 

Can you foresee the attitude that the four ‘frugal’ countries will have in the negotiations? Although dissatisfied with the Commission proposal, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden did not attack yesterday.

Yesterday it was difficult for them to attack the Commission head-on, given that even sovereignists like Giorgia Meloni say that the plan is heading in the right direction: when Europe gives federal responses, it also puts sovereignist propaganda into crisis. Goodbye to our sovereignists. However, I expect a very difficult negotiation. Because the cornerstone of this plan is new resources for the European Union, what we call ‘own resources’. What are they? Making the giants of the web, finance and polluters pay. Nobody is asking states or taxpayers to pay more, but we are asking those who have benefited enormously from the single market, the Covid-19 crisis and those who are behaving contrary to the common interest in the environment and sustainability. Unless everyone agrees on own resources, a fundamental part of the plan would be lost. It has to be considered that the four ‘frugal’ have exposed themselves but behind them various governments may express their same concerns. But there is a chance to win them over.

What is it?

Austria, Holland, Denmark and Sweden are beneficiaries of the so-called ‘British rebates’, granted to Great Britain by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and left for the net contributor countries that give much more money to Europe than they receive. Our aim is to eliminate it. But this could be an element of negotiation to reach a compromise: not to eliminate it completely in exchange for an agreement on own resources. Of course the European Parliament cannot approve a plan that has no new ‘own resources’ for Europe, let the nation states know. Otherwise I do not see how we can reach 750 billion.

But the matter is very complicated. Introducing the digital tax, for example, puts us on a collision course with Trump, who has already threatened sanctions on the European car industry. He has done so with France, for example, and Macron had to give up…

A mediation was found to seek an international agreement in the OECD, but this dates back to pre-Covid times. Now we have to find new resources and we cannot wait for long OECD negotiations, we have to go ahead as Europe for a new European industrial sovereignty.

The Commission’s plan seems to be a real refounding act of the EU, for better or for worse: the stakes are high, but so are the risks of failure.

The recovery plan bets on the Green Plan and the Digital Pact: I am convinced that climate and digital can be the driving force of the new Union in the 21st century, as coal and steel were after the Second World War. Seventy years after the Schuman Declaration, it is the best way to remember it. In his speech at the Sorbonne in 2017, Macron touched upon all the issues contained in the recovery plan. If Merkel had said then the things she is saying now, we would not have lost these three years. Instead, Merkel has remained guardian of the status quo for the last ten years. But now she has realised that this is not possible any more. And now it is not too late: now or never. Under the German Presidency, the Conference on the future of Europe must be launched to reform EU policies and treaties. I stress that von der Leyen is in a situation that no President of the European Commission has experienced since Jacques Delors. That is: a shared strategic thinking between France and Germany, supported by Italy, Spain and other countries, on political, social and financial issues.