Brexit is officially underway. This month, the British ambassador to Brussels gave Donald Tusk, Chairman of the European Council, the letter signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May that formally gives notice the UK will withdraw from the European Union. Nine months after the referendum, this was the first act of procedure to trigger Brexit. While some had hoped for second thoughts, as the British Prime Minister said, “We do not go back.”
A few days after the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the European Treaties, Dr. Mennillo was interviewed about the future of a united Europe. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
1. Dr. Mennillo, when we last spoke about Europe, the results of the British referendum has just been announced. Today, Brexit is becoming reality. It seems that, for some years, European integration has stirred passions more than it has warmed hearts. How do you see Europe’s ideals today? Are they still realistic?
Europe has certainly become a hot topic. Much has been said, and we will continue to say much more. Before discussing why I believe the European ideal is still realistic, I would like to reflect on the original meaning of the EU. At the end of the last world conflict, it was clear to European countries that they could only achieve peace and prosperity in the long run if they stayed together. This conviction led them to sign the Treaty of Rome, concretely unifying the concept of common values and cultures born in the previous century, with the belief that they can combine independence, peace and freedom. Since then, Europe has had numerous achievements, from free circulation to the introduction of a common currency. The founding ideals, which have given us seventy years of peace, stability and welfare — the longest in our history — do not deserve to be set aside. On the contrary, now it is time to re-launch these principles and move towards greater cohesion between countries, because we are at a very delicate historical phase, which is also characterized by the continuing terrorist threats.
2. Why do you think it is necessary to complete the integration process? And what will be the right balance for you?
In the geopolitical context, I do not see many alternatives to a united and integrated Europe. Economic equilibriums are already changing to our disadvantage, and the gaps are likely to widen. The colossuses, China and India, will be increasingly “heavy” at the economic and demographic levels. I would be surprised if, in 30 years, Europe’s total GDP weighs more than 10 percent of global GDP.
Let’s also think in terms of demographic dynamics: In 2050, in a world of 9 billion people, all the European nations together will not reach 10 percent of the global population, compared with 20 percent in 1950. And by then, no nation in Europe will alone count for more than 1 percent of the world population. This is data we always must keep in mind.
3. Since the Brexit vote, the Dutch avoided the danger of electing an anti-EU party and in France, Macron was elected over Le Pen. Despite these electoral defeats, nationalist anti-European sentiment seems far from weak. How, in your opinion, does the EU provoke such hostility?
Establishing the euro does not mean you have defined Europe. This was easy to see from the beginning, but a single currency is not enough to stimulate a sense of the European people. Collective identity is what is missing today in this Europe – to build it, we need a political and cultural project that citizens can identify with. I think this topic of identity has now become a priority. The EU is saddled with strong controversies, which in many cases are likely to turn into real fractures. Economic differences and the fears they create make dialogue difficult – they undermine relations among states. Northern countries refuse integration and solidarity policies, while protests against austerity policies are growing in the southern countries, where more solidarity is desired. In this context, European institutions remain distant from the places where citizens face difficulties in their everyday life, while the political system is judged incapable of diagnosing problems and doing what they have promised. There is therefore an urgent need for reconciliation between the EU and its citizens, since achieving consensus is indispensable for a sound democratic future.
4. We have talked about problems so far. What are, in your view, the strengths that provide Europe leverage?
A true “union of forces” would be a great multiplier of effectiveness, transforming the Europe’s specific skills and know-how into real competitive advantages. Europe has always distinguished itself for the quality of its intellectual capital. Just think that in 2003, 22 percent of patents worldwide came from European countries. Today, this percentage has decreased as other countries have developed, demonstrating how the global scenario is rapidly changing and requires constant effort to stay in position. I think that if all European Member States pooled their superior advantages in each sector, Europe would not be afraid of confronting anyone. It is about discovering and enhancing the richness embedded in the diversity of each country in the Old Continent.
5. What about the future? Do you believe in the United States of Europe?
The future will depend on how well European institutions can meet the needs of the citizens, and how much individual Member States will set aside their own interests for the interests of the community. However, I do not think it will be easy, because Europe’s history is very different from America’s. From this side of the ocean, we have at least 2,000 years of divisions among people and cultures that are profoundly different each other. Beyond the Atlantic, the glue was created 500 years ago and it is still strong. Back then, it was about building a nation on a new territory, and today it is about making that nation increasingly secure and durable.