Better late than never: at last, even the German Government seems to show the sense of urgency and foresight that was seriously lacking in the financial and migration crisis, according to Alcide De Gasperi.
Europe is here, and is demonstrating this with completely unprecedented policy responses to counter the health crisis and support the European recovery. And if the EU responded, it is mainly thanks to the impetus of the European Parliament, Emmanuel Macron and, indeed, Angela Merkel.
After preaching and practicing the ‘status quo policy’ and small steps for over a decade, Angela Merkel used strong words and made important commitments.
The aim of the German Presidency is now ‘Making Europe strong again’ and Berlin even wants to strengthen ‘European sovereignty’.
From President Macron’s perspective, we would have liked Angela Merkel to make these commitments on 27 September 2017: the day after the French President’s speech at the Sorbonne. It is a pity that we had to wait three years. But it is not too late. We can and must take another step towards a federal Europe in the coming months.
We will instead remember another date: 18th May 2020. Berlin is finally moving!
Merkel accepted Macron’s proposal, which is also strongly supported by the European Parliament, of a European recovery plan of EUR 500 billion. For Macron this is a clear victory, and a tribute to his leadership and ability to unite a group of countries with the same political will, starting with Italy and Spain. But Merkel has the merit of having made an important turning point, which we hope will be decisive, in Germany’s European policy. She has said yes to unprecedented national and European investment, thus turning the page of Wolfgang Schauble’s orthodoxy. After having been a minister for a decade, Schauble was one of the biggest political problems for the Union. Today he supports this turning point as President of the Bundestag, but for different reasons: economic necessity, the response to the German Constitutional Court, the geopolitical context and others. A series of circumstances that contribute to the fall down of another Berlin Wall. Yes, because today we find ourselves in a political situation that Europe has not experienced since 1989: we are facing a historic opportunity which Angela Merkel wants to seize.
First of all, Schauble used new words: “Germany will only thrive if Europe also thrives… Europe is not Europe if everyone is not on each other’s side in times of emergency for which no one is to blame…”, and then he opened up, albeit very cautiously, to the possibility of revising the EU Treaties. Above all, he understood one thing, which is the real turning point: the real German strength is measured by the will to show solidarity rather than by the rejection of solidarity, as happened during the financial crisis.
We have not heard any talk of such a ‘European’ Germany since the Kohl years.
The right words must now be followed by deeds.
The time is right: we can take further steps towards a ‘sovereign and democratic power’ Europe.
For the legitimacy of the European project, the European recovery and transformation plan, the so-called “Next Generation EU”, will be decisive, because it will provide concrete answers to families, businesses, and the regions most affected by the crisis.
Moreover, President Ursula Von der Leyen, who until then had not shone through either tenacity or recklessness, has found the necessary courage because she benefits from a convergence between Paris and Berlin that we had not seen since Jacques Delors. She must continue!
The Recovery Plan represents a new European policy of reconstruction and revitalisation. As such, it must be based on subsidies and designed to achieve common objectives. That is why Italy, which will be by far the main beneficiary, must present a convincing national reform plan ASAP. The time for responsibility has now come to Rome. And because of this European context, Italy too must change try to influence the terms of the European debate. Until now, German and Italian public opinion has been at odds with each other: the Germans have been convinced that Germany has always done everything (too much…) for everyone in Europe, while the Italians are convinced that the Germans have always done everything (and only) for them.
The German rotating presidency must also serve this purpose of overcoming debates that are now old and disconnected from today’s European reality. In other words, we must do what we have already done with the idea of “recovery bonds”. In Rome last February, articles were wasted on Eurobonds and the mutualisation of debt, with great Italian pro-European personalities re-proposing debates from yesterday’s world. In Berlin at the same time, equally disconnected ministers were parroting the old Berlin mantra that Eurobonds were off the table. So that they would agree to our “recovery bonds”, we had to repeat the term “recovery” like parrots. Why? Because they didn’t want to put national debts together, because we didn’t want to ask Dutch taxpayers to pay Italian debt, but also because we couldn’t allow the single market to sink under the blows of the crisis. That is why we proposed new common investments financed with additional resources through the creation of a new common European debt instrument. This will achieve a two-fold result: finding the necessary resources and taking another step towards the European federation.
The task of the German Presidency will be to continue the work of rebuilding mutual trust between Europe’s states and peoples. This is a fundamental condition to building the fiscal capacity of the Union that is possible today thanks to common European debt. The issue of resources directly allocated to the Union becomes fundamental: who must pay for European recovery and transformation? The digital giants, who have seen their business volume increase by more than 40% during the crisis; the large multinationals and big finance, which have benefited enormously from the internal market; and polluters in China, India and other parts of the world who want to export their products to Europe. In this way, the new resources also become instruments at the service of new European public goods, and, most importantly, of great European objectives of our future. In fact, I am convinced that the ecological transition and digital transformation are the “coal and steel” of the 21st century and that 70 years after the Treaty of Paris we must reinvent our Union around these objectives that speak to the new generations.
All this has to be solved now and be at the heart of the German Presidency.
But we federalists are well aware that nothing is possible without women – we have three at the Presidency in Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt – and men, but nothing lasts without institutions.
That is why the German Presidency must also initiate a major process of European reform, starting with the convening of the Conference on the Future of Europe and let the institutions exercise their responsibilities. There is no doubt that among these responsibilities is reforming the Treaties, coupled with reforming EU policies. It is only through a reform of the Treaties that we will put European renewal and transformation within a lasting political framework, which will also enable Europe to increase its influence on the world stage.
In the new world disorder, we must be aware that the choice of building a European military power will involve a frank dialogue with our historic allies, like the United States, to whom we must show more seriousness and more consistency as we increase our joint efforts on military spending. No military autonomy is possible otherwise. We must play a new geopolitical role, through a new relationship with Russia: whether we like it or not, it is a superpower on our doorstep and will remain so in the future even without Putin.
We must also be less naive with China: Beijing is a systemic rival and is trying to destabilise the West. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will also be more effective in persuading the Chinese to change course.
Yes, the time has definitely come for “Making Europe strong”.