“EU, no going back”

A Federalist scholar underlines limits and strengths of European integration

“Going back? We can’t afford it.” Fernando Adolfo Iglesias, University professor, journalist, politician (he served as MP in Argentina), is a passionate supporter of European integration. From a Spanish background, he lives in Buenos Aires, where he chairs the only existing “Spinelli Professorship”: a university course for the study of Federalism, to which Italian born Altiero Spinelli (1907-1986, founder of the Federalist Movement, member of the Brussels’ Commission and later of the European Parliament) devoted his political battles on the horizon of United Europe. Iglesias argues that the Old Continent can’t reverse its decision: “The EU has many limits, but without it we would risk sinking back into armed conflicts and poverty.” Professor, let’s start with the “flaws” of this European Union. Also because elections for the European Parliament are due to take place in less than three months amidst foreseen abstention rates and strong, favourable results to the Eurosceptic parties … “The European Community, now the EU, was built after World War II on three principles that today no longer stand the challenges of the time. First of all, we proceeded turning the back to citizens, a comprehensible strategy after two wars but whose risks Spinelli immediately denounced. Worse still, today we are paying the consequences of not having changed course in time, with European citizens who feel distant from common institutions. Second, Europe was built starting with economic institutions and not with the political ones: it is a problem that the euro has inherited, being a currency lacking the backing of shared economic governance. In the third place, that accomplishment was ‘distant’ from the rest of the world. Put simply, it lacked a veritable foreign policy. That’s why if those limits were acknowledged Europe would have to follow a different course, siding with citizens, making steps in the direction of Federalism, and assuming a key role – as a civil power – on the global scenario.” Does this mean that you’re in favour of strengthening economic integration of EU 28?  “Exactly. Let’s face it: no European country alone can sustain competitiveness in global markets. That’s why nation-states and EU institutions should seek, as soon as possible, enhanced forms of integration that revolve around the axis of the single currency. It is precisely the plan launched – despite countless difficulties – with the outbreak of the crisis that, not surprisingly, originated in the United States but whose heaviest repercussions were felt in Europe, with fragmented markets and the dollar as the only global reference currency, which has given the U.S. a set of advantages that the EU does not enjoy. We should work to create a currency for international exchanges made up of all the major world currencies, including the dollar, the euro, the yen and the Chinese Reminbi.”In addition to the currency and the economy, aren’t also great ideals, large-scale projects needed to jump-start EU integration?”I firmly believe it. Excessive realism, lack of ambition are some of the elements that have caused Europe’s slowdown, and which could bring about its very destruction for a simple reason: if values and ambitious plans are lacking, local and national egoisms prevail, as is occurring now, ahead of the European elections. From this perspective, a high understanding of politics is needed along with strong supranational democratic institutions. If not, global economy risks being left without a political counterpart founded on the rules of democracy and consensus in the pursuance of the common good, and not only on particular interests or the interests of the most powerful.” It is widely believed that Populist and anti-European parties – present across the EU – are likely to make major gains in the May elections. What do you think about it?  “There is a great danger that it may happen. And may it be said by a person who comes from Argentina: we’re experts in populism! The real problem is that populists speak a lot of hot air of the population, they claim to speak in the name of the people. But the truth is that they’re not defending the people, nor the man on the street, the family, workers. All they care about is their own interests. Moreover, populists are also nationalists. They put individuals and peoples against one another. It’s a situation that in the past escalated into abuse, wars and the Holocaust… which Europe has sadly experienced.” Those who are against Europe often base their claims on the grounds of “values” and identity issues. Globalization and Europe are viewed as a threat. What’s your opinion to this regard? “I see no contradiction between local identity and global horizons. Identity must be cultivated. It’s a part of us. It’s passed down by history, culture. But today we’re being asked to put this profile into play in a different way. The present times demand strong roots and equally courageous openness.”Thus we should not refer to the past?  “We should to learn from history. The first steps of European integration date back to 1950, exactly in the middle of the 20th century. I would like to ask those who don’t believe in this European Union: would you prefer to live in the first decades of the past century, with two world wars and much more modest level of development, or in the second half of the same century? If a serious reflection was made to this regard, many of our doubts would find an answer.” You live in Argentina, the land of Pope Francis. We can’t refrain to ask you to comment on this…  “The Pope has been addressing a set of key issues of our times, with great rigour and modernity. I greatly appreciate his reference to equality, his care of the poor. He well expresses Catholic universalism. After all, European integration and the EU’s openness to the rest of the world follow the same direction.”

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