The fundamental theses I would like to present are the following.
A) The European Union [NOTE 1] and its democracy are in crisis. The crisis is caused by several factors: first, the internal contradictions of the economic form of the European Union (ordoliberalism) and of the structure of the international economy (neoliberalism) [NOTE 2]. The second factor of crisis is that Europe is not a coherent political space, and does not have a common strategy to face the challenges that arise outside and inside his boundaries [NOTE 3]. The third factor of crisis is Europe’s lack of capacity to govern peoples’ migrations from Asia and from Africa. Deep social inequalities, political divisions among the European States, alarm and fear among the weakest strata of society due to what is conceived of an invasion of unassimilable aliens, the threats of terrorism: all of these elements undermine the political loyalty of citizens towards the European projects, the democratic institutions of each State, the contemporary forms of politics; furthermore, they open the door to populist, xenophobic, nationalist and anti-democratic political proposals [NOTE 4]. Fear divides society, since the cleavage between citizens and migrants is deepened by the one between those who are integrated and those who are marginal, but it also divides the States, because each of them formulates its own strategy for facing these challenges.
To recall what Frans Timmermans, the vice president of the EU, said on September 2 during the forum Ambrosetti in Cernobbio: «until we find an answer to the legitimate fears of our citizens, there will be space for the politics of paranoia, intolerance, xenophobia, nationalism, and exclusion as a false solution. We can neither give up, nor underestimate the risk of this challenge».
B) The objective, obviously, is turning Europe into the space of democracy, where civil and social rights exist together. From being one of the problems, the European Union must become the solution.
To this end we require a political energy that can not be immediately found in the cultural traditions of European history. As a matter of fact, these traditions have legitimized everything and its opposite: humanism, the most typical european tradition, lead to the triumph of technique; modern liberalism turned into the subject’s enslavement to the market; socialism and nationalism produced totalitarianism, and the same Christian tradition generated also civil wars of religion.
On my opinion, the political energy of Europe lies in democratic States and in the farsightedness of their élites. By farsightedness I mean the national élites’ awareness that steps forward the political and legal integration of Europe are needed, that they need to assess the economic and social causes of the current crisis, and that the direction of the policies enacted so far should be reversed; that the objective to be pursued is not only the growth of GDP, but rather full employment; that internal demand rather than exports should be fostered; that the legal and economic reassessment of labour should be supported, whereas the social and political centrality of the market should be undercut; that social justice must be chased.
The main instrument of this political and economical revolution is the State. In fact, only States legitimized by their citizens’ loyalty are capable of engaging in a real european cooperation. States which are weak, in crisis, shaken by fear and by populism, will never find a way out to their own selfishness and will always be exposed to the power of transnational corporations, to populist blackmail, and to the critics of anti-european politicians.
The State is not intrinsically nationalist. In our days it is the burden of a coercive economic structure (whose goal is growth without justice, wealth for few and subordination for the majority) leads the States towards short-sighted and opportunist behavior and societies towards rebellion. On the contrary the State has the potential of being internally democratized through a new civism, if the political forces are able to oppose in a plausible way ‒ with radical analysis and proposals ‒ the populist protests. Obviously, claim for personal and collective responsibility, together with civic participation at the level of cities, are needed; but without the power of the State, and without the existence of farsighted élites, civism has not the strength to win the challenges the democracy is facing now.
In reality, the historical and political “nature” of Europe lays in the pluralism of its States, and in the dynamism that those entails, in terms of imagining alternative futures. Now that the «frames» of the two victorious superpowers that shaped two Europes have been dismantled, we should think the new Europe freed from the iron cage of a unquestioned economic model and from xenophobic closing of some of his components.
In short, my main point is that democracy in Europe can be strengthen by increasing the democratic character of the communitarian institutions – insofar as it is possible ‒, but that it is first of all necessary to increase the democratic character of the member States, by enacting economic and social reforms that could make them less selfish and more cooperative.
C) This means that politics is not the simple management of existing relations of power, but rather the thrust (organized by the State) towards individual and collective emancipation (that is, democracy), which in turn is the condition for transforming the jungle of powers into the progressive order of the free city of Man, where his rights and capacity can flourish.
In other words, it is necessary to reassert the primacy of politics in its most significant space: the democratic State. Only through the culture of democratic politics – rather than of technocracy and hyper-capitalism – can more extensive forms of european cooperation be thought of.
[NOTE 1]. Europe as a real or alleged unitary construction has a hybrid and fluctuating nature. It arose in the moment when Europe’s weakness was at its peak, as it was defeated and divided. It was born as strongly political, since Spinelli’s federalism envisaged a neutral European super-power between the US and the USSR; afterwards, in 1951 it became economical with the European Coal and Steel Community, and then presented itself again as political with the attempt of the European Defence Community, aborted in 1954. The reaction to this failure ‒ that is the European Single Market established in 1957 ‒ was once more economical and functionalist, while the further development has been again political, economic and technocratic, from the Europe of Maastricht in 1992 ‒ governed by the Commission and the Council of the heads of State or government, with an intergovernmental method ‒ up to the Fiscal Compact in 2012.
[NOTE 2]. The crisis of the European Union in its current configuration ‒ which was made visible by Brexit, but also by the ongoing configuration of a “two speed” Europe ‒ goes hand in hand with other crisis. First, the crisis of globalization, which has been established by the same Anglo-Saxon right-wingers who are now trying to end it, and which is exemplified in Trump’s war against those who have gained too much from globalization, that is China and Germany. Second, the economic crisis that began in 2008 and that in ten years left the society weakened and characterized by deep economic and social inequalities. Third, prospectively, the possible end of the European Union implies the very end of postwar Western democracy.
But the common currency itself has structural problems. Euro is a deflating device which forces the States to switch from the competitive devaluation of national currencies to the economic and legal devaluation of labour, and to competition on exports, in an unending neo-mercantilist drifting. Molded on French hypothesis, culminating in the Delors memorandum, the Euro has come to overlap with the Deutsche Mark and with its underlying ordoliberal conception. In fact, the «highly competitive social market economy» mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty is nothing but Ordoliberalism, with its theory according to which market and society overlap, and the State – that is, in the European model, communitarian institutions – is the guarantor of the market.
The double heart of Europe – that is, on the one hand, the political guide of France, and, on the other hand, the economical pull of Germany – here reveals its ambiguities: France holds but an illusory primacy, and Germany pulls above all its own economy, its own exports, and the national economical system of those States that are incorporated in a subaltern way in its own economic space. Yet, between 2003 and 2005, Germany itself had to orient Ordoliberalism towards Neoliberalism, with the Schröder-Hartz reforms. In any case, since the postwar period, Ordoliberalism has stabilized Germany, whereas today it potentially destabilizes European societies.
[NOTE 3]. Political spaces in Europe are multiple and interlaced. There are the spaces of States, designated by physical and legal walls; there is the NATO space, which identifies a heated Eastern frontier, and which is in turn crisscrossed by tensions among the former USSR satellite States, the countries more shaken by anti-Russian sentiment; there are those States with an old and moderate Atlantic loyalty, among them Germany; there is the frontier between the Eurozone and the areas with national currencies; and, above all, there are cleavages within the Eurozone, namely the spreads and the crucial differentiation between debtor and creditor States. Furthermore, there is a German economic space, the heart of the Eurozone, that entails a large-scale division of industrial labor and includes different economies in a hierarchical way. But the German economic space and the German political space do not overlap: many countries factually subsumed in the German economy have a foreign policy removed from the German one, rather oriented towards the USA than towards Europe. Generally speaking, the status quo is favorable to Germany. However, it presents also some drawbacks, like the political controversy with the weak links of the chain of the European currency, the southern States.
[NOTE 4]. Those phenomena defined as “populism” are in fact the protests of a society that has been impoverished and deprived of its certainties. These protests are addressed against the limitless demand for profit within the economic system, and against a political system that supports that demand rather than balancing it. The opposition between «us» and «them» is the political translation ‒ which seems anti-political only at a first glance ‒ of the abyssal difference established in Western societies between few wealthy and many poor or impoverished people, especially coming from the middle classes. Economic problems such as that of the Euro – which is crucial, but cannot be easily solved ‒ come up beside those deriving from uncontrolled migration, which the European Union does not face but rather leaves to the management of individual States.
Keynote Speech at the «International Congress for Democracy and Freedom»; Berlin, September 9th , 2017 (organised by «Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin», September 6th -16th, 2017).