I confess that I don’t really know why I’m writing to you in particular. As the elections approach, I was looking for someone who could incarnate the European Union, that famous ‘telephone number’ Henry Kissinger asked for, and an extremely simple idea: accountability, or democratic responsibility. Of course, I could have written to Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister. He’s the proper President of the European Union at the moment. But after six months work, he will leave without making much of an impression on Europe. Or, I could have written to Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who presided over a convention whose mission was to create a ‘Constitution for Europe’. But the former French President has also completed his mandate, without the Constitution being approved no less. So, I have chosen you, because you always tried to carve out a real role for yourself, the role of European President. I only hope that, despite your role as leader of the centre-left in Italy, you will find a few minutes to respond to this letter.
The paradox of a sickly Europe
Well, Mr President, Europe is struggling. Between June 10th and 13th, 350 million Europeans will be called to the ballot box for the biggest transnational election on the planet and participation is expected to barely scrape 50% thus confirming the trend of the last few years. How can this be explained?
Doesn’t it seem paradoxical to you that the more power the European Parliament accumulates, the more the abstention rate seems to rise? It should be the opposite: nation states are in crisis and Europe is acting increasingly decisively. Interest by the public should be rising. Instead it is falling. Tumbling even.
Doesn’t it seem paradoxical to you that the more challenges the EU faces, the more a feeling of of disaffection and apathy seems to spread? I don’t imagine you will contradict me: global warming, the economic crisis affecting the euro zone, the reform of the welfare state, problems in world trade, Turkish membership, an aging population, research crisis. These are all problems that must be resolved at a European level.
Doesn’t it seem paradoxical to you that, despite the creation of the single currency, the the biggest enlargement in the history of the EU, and the skeleton of a Constitutional Treaty, despite all these success stories, Europeans don’t really feel involved in European construction which began more than fifty years ago?
Majority and Opposition
You must take some of the responsibility for this situation, Mr President. And the entire ruling class in Europe which, for better or for worse, you represent. In essence, two things were needed:
1) To present an assessment of your Commission, which you have led during the five most intense years of European construction, to the public. Defending it and criticising it. It is an assessment you can be proud of but, apart from café babel and the Financial Times, few have discussed it.
2) To outline proper programmes of government for Europe for the next few years. Not 2,500 programmes for the hundreds of parties and mini-parties in the 25 European countries, but, in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition, feasible coalition programmes between men and women with different accents and backgrounds but one single aim: to deal with the future of the European system. The sad reality is instead empty and useless over-nationalised debates.
It should have been an open and multilingual debate. Beyond the national borders which still divide us. Just a dream? Perhaps, but our European leaders have done nothing to make this dream come true. But café babel, the European current affairs magazine, has tried with three special issues to open the debate on the European elections: ‘Who Will You Vote For?’, ‘Marks Out of Ten for Prodi’ and ‘Turkey: Back to Reality’.
But your Europe, Giscard d’Estaing’s Europe, Bertie Ahern’s Europe, Berlusconi’s Europe, Zapatero’s Europe and Kwasniewski’s Europe are too national, too narrow and too allergic to this difficult side of democracy. No, Mr President, I don’t know why I chose to write to you after all.