The Union, the Euro and the Single Market are the only possible answer to globalization
This week, Stand Up for Europe has the honor to interview Roberto Sommella, distinguished business journalist and columnist for the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera, Messaggero, MF – Milano Finanza and Unita.tv. Expert in public finance and European policies, he led the battle for the reduction of the Italian budget deficit and covered all the events of the financial crisis as co-editor of MF – Milano Finanza. He is currently working as Director for External and Institutional Relations of the Italian Antitrust Authority.
He also founded the nonprofit organization “La Nuova Europa” (The New Europe), dedicated to spreading the values of solidarity of the European Union and wrote several books, including “L’Euro è di tutti”, (the Euro belongs to everyone), “Sboom. Sappiamo ancora sostenere il cambiamento?” (Boom. Are we still able to sustain change?), and “Euxit, uscita di sicurezza per l’Europa” (Euxit, emergency exit for Europe). Therefore, he is the most prepared and best suited person for some tough questions about Europe.
Interview by Francesco Paolo Sgarlata
Dr. Sommella, until a few years ago most people were pro-Europeans, whereas today there is a general feeling of disaffection towards the Union. In your opinion, what is the cause of this?
“When things were going better, the economy was stronger, the crisis had not yet hit and the number of unemployed was not 26 million, it was easy to be pro-Europeans. The externalities of Europe and ceding sovereignty appeared positive. Now, everything has changed, and the lack of a unanimous cure for economic depression leads to blaming Europe. It is logical that pro-Europeans have disappeared. ”
Do you think the EU enlargement in Eastern Europe was the right choice or it would have been better to wait for further integration between the then Member States first?
“In hindsight, it was wrong; especially, letting in countries that would have not been asked to undergo the austerity demanded to the Eurozone. That was the real two-speed Europe: countries in the East growing thanks to the European funds and countries in the South and West sinking because of the Maastricht constraints. Now it is time to react and say: the Union is for those who respect economic, social and solidarity rules.”
Is Brexit a problem or an opportunity?
“Brexit hasn’t happened yet. It is going to be a problem if we give the British our house keys and say “you can leave whenever you want to”; it is going to be an opportunity if global finance moves to the continent because the Single Market proved it could make it.”
What about Trump?
“It’s democracy baby, deal with it! The European leaders should start working on a good trade deal with the US before Great Britain does. Trump doesn’t care much about Europe, he is interested in unraveling Germany’s role of political mediator with Russia. But if Europe manages to prove its existence, Trump will have to deal with us as well.”
Europe is often pictured as a mere inspector – and sometimes punisher- of member states’ public accounts: a very obnoxious figure, indeed. But the European Union is or should be much more. Is it the fault of the governments and politicians of the single countries?
“Europe should look after people rather than public accounts, after unemployed rather than banks, after families rather than regulations. Otherwise, it will be submerged by general insatisfaction. That being said, in the Italian case, with a 2.200 billion budget deficit, some fiscal discipline can only be helpful and push to cut bad spending.”
The European Union seems like a bridge that is still to be finished, cracking under strokes of waves such as the economic crisis, terrorism and immigration. Should it be re-built or should its construction be completed?
“It should be completed. Rebuilding it means being overwhelmed by a flooding river of populism.”
It seems that the development of Eastern markets – especially the Chinese one – has caused the closure of many European companies and the impoverishment of wide sections of the population. Should the European Union implement more protectionist policies?
“No. To whom could we sell our manufactured, high-precision products, our technology? Duties are the modern way to make war and I don’t want war.”
We often have the impression that many European leaders and politicians are playing it by ear, without long-term and wide-ranging strategies, and without giving in parts of their own power for Europe’s sake. Is the age of men like Adenauer, Spinelli, Churchill, De Gasperi and Schmidt over?
“Yes, but we have to look for new leaders who dare to say that globalization must be dealt with through the Union, the Euro and the Single Market – not through duties, borders and national currencies. We Europeans are strong. Here is where everything was born, here is where history can be rewritten. But only together, because divided we lose.”
Immigration is one of the big problems of our time: the European Union seems to struggle to find a common and efficient response, and in doing so it encourages nationalistic movements. In your book, you wrote that we are not facing an invasion. However, many people think so, and Europe risks breaking up.
“In Euxit, I prove, quoting UN sources, that migratory flows would be totally bearable, if only the relocation and resettlement procedures of migrants were well applied by every country. Starting with the eastern countries and the Visegrad group. Of course, if everyone stopped in Italy, it would look like an invasion here. Especially if Italians were to be convinced of it.”
What do you think about the so called two-speed Europe which has been discussed during the Summit in Malta?
“That’s the beginning of the end. “All hope abandon, ye who very indebted enter the two-speed Europe”. Reference to Italy is not coincidental.”
2017 – with all the expected elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and maybe Italy – will be a crucial year for the future of Europe. How do you think it will go?
“If Le Pen wins, it will go bad for us pro-Europeans; otherwise, it will still be hard but we can manage to hold up everything with the ineludible needed reforms: single treasury, Eurobonds, direct election of the President of the European Commission.”
Last question, perhaps the most dramatic: in your opinion, could it be possible a situation where everyone goes back to national currencies and old national divisions?
“Yes. But only one thing is dramatic: war.”