We are Europe
Welcome to the European Union.
I am a European, born in Torino. I've been teaching political science for many, many years. I've also taught courses on the European Union. I'm now professor of political science at the University of Bologna. I want to tell you that the European Union is not a dream. The European Union is a project. It's a political project, trying to put together many peoples who have shared years of war, of blood, and not many agreements, to put them together, to allow them to express their preferences, their opinions , their wishes, through a set of institutions, to shape and implement policies that will reflect those policies and those wishes.
It has been constructed through time. It has taken a long time for the European Union to become what we see today. There is an ensemble of three major institutions: the council, the commission and parliament. The European Union is often accused of not being democratic enough and of not having a “people”. Let me say that there is no “people” if you refer to a people in terms of national identities, in terms of languages, in terms of traditions, but there is a “European people”, because the Europeans share many values, and those values are embodied in some of the treaties that have been approved by the leaders as well as their respective parliaments. In some cases they have even been approved through referendums and they've obtained therefore the support of the people.
The European Union is indeed a democratic situation, because it works according to democratic principles, or at least, according to electoral principles, but above all the European Union protects and promotes the civil, political, and in some cases, social rights of the Europeans, of all those who live in Europe. The European Union is a magnificent space of freedom, freedom, and I would also say, of prosperity, in spite of the crisis that started in 2008/2009, and it was not an economic crisis produced by the European states, but it was imported, or if you wish, exported, by the United States. Yes, we may be dissatisfied with the speed in which the European leaders have responded to the crisis, but by now the crisis has been overcome.
The three major institutions are in fact democratic, as I said. The council is made of leaders, of heads of government, who have won their elections in their respective countries, and therefore with a majority behind them. Each of them has a majority behind him or her and will be replaced if he/she loses the majority. Therefore, the council is made of democratically elected European heads of government, who are willing to some extent to participate in this kind of enterprise. The only problem is, that in some cases, they are not willing to pay the European card in their respective territories, and this we can blame, but it is not undemocratic. It is something that is deplorable but understandable. So the problem is how to create a public opinion favorable to Europe in the various member states. The parliament is by excellance a democratically elected institution and is elected by the voters in each country. In fact the representatives ought to bring with them, to Brussels and Strasbourg, the preferences of their voters.
The problem here is, first of all, the turnout has been declining, but this is not the problem of the European Union. It is a problem of the parties in the respective member states, who are unable to mobilize the voters around European issues. Therefore, we have to blame the parties, and we also have to blame, to some extent, the voters, for not paying enough attention to what goes on at the European Union level, because their decisions are taken, or even not taken, that will influence their activities, their future, what they do, what they do not do, and what they would like to do.
Third, there is the commission. The commission is often accused of being a technocratic element, a technocratic institution. Technocracy, from my point of view, should not be criticized too much, because we need competent men and women to make decisions, to initiate the activities to be approved by the council and carried out by parliament. So we should never criticize the technocrats as such. We should criticize their competence, or their lack of such. We should criticize their activities, their decisions, but in fact the majority of the European commissioners are not just technocrats. They are all political figures. Most of them have had important positions in their respective countries. Several of them have been prime ministers, several of them have been ministers, and several of them have had a long political as well as governmental career. The European Commission can be criticized for what it does, but not because of its composition. Still, if there is someone who says the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit, we have to take this criticism seriously and we have to find ways to explain why this is not the case.
I think this is not the case from the point of view of the electoral legitimacy. It may be the case from two other points of view. It may be the case because the decisions taken at the European level are not transparent enough, so the problem is not democracy, it's transparency, and because the decisions taken at that level are too often influenced by bureaucrats, by the bureaucracy, by what we call “red tape”, and therefore we have to ask for more politics and less bureaucracy at the European level. I think that this can be done. It is being progressively done. The European Union is changing. It is becoming more democratic but also we know it suffers from a challenge coming from populist parties and populist governments. This is the task of Europeans to solve.
The European Union remains a political project. It will be influenced by the voters, by European citizens and it will change according to their preferences. The only thing we can do is not work just by producing new treaties, by electing people who believe in Europe, in a political Europe, who have projects and ideas, and who do, at the same time, represent the voters and trying to change their minds in a more European direction. We know that the challenge comes not just from the populists, but from the populists who hold themselves sovereignists. I have only one reproach, one overriding criticism on the sovereignists. If there are problems the European Union is unable to solve, putting together the resources, the energy, the knowledge of 27, or if you prefer, 28 states, how can we believe for a moment, that one state, in isolation, away from the European Union would be capable of solving those problems?
This is simply absurd. The solution to the problems of the European Union, and its member states, lies within the European Union. Therefore, the more we participate, the more we are active, the more attentive we are, the more the European Union will improve. I believe this is possible, and in any case, it is my wish.