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from issue no. 02 - 2007

ANNIVERSARIES. The Fiftieth Birthday of The Treaty of Rome

An active patience

An interview with the Minister of Economy and Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa: a road map for the European Union can only be drawn if it is clear where we want to reach. We are at one of those moments in our history in which the climate favors a new impetus

Interview with Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa by Roberto Rotondo

The signing of The Treaty of Rome in the Hall of the Orazi e Curiazi on the Capitoline, Rome, 25 March 1957

The signing of The Treaty of Rome in the Hall of the Orazi e Curiazi on the Capitoline, Rome, 25 March 1957

The Europe of the Twenty-seven starts again from Berlin. The Heads of State and of Government of the member countries of the EU have signed a solemn Declaration, that should relaunch the process of political and institutional union that ground to a halt in 2005 after the French and Dutch electorates said “no” to the ratification of the European Constitution. Next stage, a Constitution before the elections of 2009. But the solemn Declaration signed at the celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of The Treaty of Rome, the birth certificate of the European Community and of Euratom, is also an occasion for reflecting on progress so far, but above all on where to go now. On the role, on the prospects and on the problems of a European Union that has gone from the six founder countries of 1957, to the current twenty-seven.
The Minister of Economy and Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, a convinced European, was a member of the executive committee of the central European Bank, and Director General of the European Commission. He has also written two fine books on the problems of the Union: Europa, forza gentile and Europa, una pazienza attiva [Europe, gentle force and Europe, an active patience].

According to a famous image attributed to Delors, Europe is like the bicycle: either pedal or you fall. As you see it, are we pedalling today?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: The image is fitting. The particularity of the European Union, in fact, is that of being an institution in movement, in fieri, while institutions tend to be static to the point that their worth is also measured by their stability. The processes of political union of the past, such as the formation of the United States of America or of the Kingdom of Italy, took place quickly and had only one constituent moment, that marked a sharp discontinuity with the prior institutional and political situation. European integration, instead, is a process of long institutional change, with plural moments of discontinuity, in which the institutions must be stable and at the same time dynamic. The image of the bicycle is therefore apt, but let me add that one doesn’t have to pedal all the time on a bike. There are moments when one freewheels, one gets by on interest, exploiting previous pedalling. The problem is that for too many years Europe has been living on interest.
If the European construction consists, as I think it does, in gradually creating the structures of a political union, the last time that any basic pedalling was done was at Maastricht. The two most important things afterwards have been the creation of the monetary union and the enlarging from twelve to twenty-seven countries. Today we are suffering from the fact that for too long there has been no institutional impetus comparable to the Coal and Steel Treaty of 1951, to The Rome Treaty of 1957, to direct election of the European Parliament of 1979, to the Single Act, to monetary union. The momentum is slowing and the bicycle is having difficulty in staying up.
Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa

Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa

What is your opinion of the solemn Declaration signed on 25 March last in Berlin by the Heads of Government?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: It’s a sign that we are in one of those moments in which the conditions are created for giving a new impetus. The lowest moment was reached in 2005, with the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in France and in Holland. At that moment, if anybody had wanted, I don’t say to give the coup de grace, but really block the Union, they could have done it. Luckily it didn’t happen: it wasn’t done by Great Britain and not even France, where the majority that had rejected the Constitution had such heterogeneous motives as to be incapable of any proposal. Now the conditions for a renewal are beginning to be there and the Berlin Declaration could be the step that creates a new possibility. It’s important because it’s difficult to take bold political initiatives in a negative climate like the one there was at the moment of the French and Dutch referendum.
Even if we come from years of stalemate in political and institutional construction, Europe is ever more a point of reference in our social, economic, cultural life. So, is the Union a process that goes ahead even in the absence of a clear plan and a fixed schedule?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: In certain ways that’s true. I’ve put the stress on the institutional aspect because it’s through the institutions that we’ll be able to tell whether the Union is only an occasional fact or a lasting historic construct. In 1914 it looked as if Europe was united: there was a cosmopolitan society, one travelled without passport, there was wide freedom of exchange. But in a brief while the political situation degenerated and a pistol shot, the one that killed the heir to the Austrian throne, was enough to destroy everything. The illusion of having built Europe, without it’s really ever having been done or completed, is dangerous. That the Europe of concrete facts is going ahead is very positive, provided the process is not perceived as substitute for the completion of an institutional design that is incomplete. It is experienced only as a condition favorable to the overcoming of hesitations and differences. The Erasmus project, the cultural and commercial exchange, the making of the “Schengen space”, are all positive things that give citizens the feeling that Europe is the space in common. But woe if they induce one into thinking that integration has been achieved.
There is much talk of fixing a road map for Europe. What do you think are the pressing and necessary stages?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: To have a road map one needs to know where one wants to go. Among the mistakes being paid for today there is that of not having faced with sufficient clarity, in recent years, the problem of a destination. The way may be winding, twisty, but it has sense only if the goal is clear.
In my view the goal is two things: the abandonment of the principle of unanimity and the availability of budget resources to put into effect the decisions taken. While unanimity is required, it will be ever more difficult – if not impossible, in a Europe of twenty-seven – to make important decisions. And even granting they get taken, while resources are lacking it won’t be possible to put them into effect. Furthermore while resources are lacking, there will be no action even in those exceptional cases in which a decision has been managed. From this point of view the Constitutional Treaty presents more than a few defects, because it doesn’t get over the obstacles of unanimity and the lack of resources in decisive fashion. It restricts itself to systematizing and tidying up the existing arrangements. Now, given those two objectives, the first question to ask is this: is the Constitutional Treaty, though not achieving them directly, a useful passage toward them or no? In spite of everything, I believe so. If the Treaty were definitively rejected, it would be still more difficult to go ahead. Above all, it would consecrate the fact that two “nays” are worth more than eighteen “yeas”. And that is unacceptable.
The fact that Angela Merkel has claimed the right not to set aside the Constitutional Treaty because of the French and Dutch “no” is very important, because it blocked the gangrene that was developing. I think that the Berlin declaration of 25 March, and the commitment to decide by 2009, strengthen the hand of the eighteen countries (a large majority of the members of the Union) that have already said “yes” to the Treaty. The meeting held in Spain of the countries that have ratified the Treaty, though without the participation of the French – who suffered because of it – and of the British – who didn’t even say whether they intend to engage in any ratification – is a sign that there is a will to make the most of the attitudes favorable to the treaty and that there is a clear wish to get back on track.
The signing of  The Treaty of Maastricht, 7 February 1992

The signing of The Treaty of Maastricht, 7 February 1992

It’s nothing new for Great Britain to keep one foot in and one outside the European Union. But France, that was one of the founders of the Union, how can it have lost its pro-European thrust?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: France has always had one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake in the European process. For fifty years there has been as much union as France has wanted there to be. The greatness of France, which came out a victor from the Second World War, has been that of reconciling with Germany and of making herself promoter of a united Europe. France has brought up such great builders of a united Europe as Monnet, Schumann, Marjolin, Delors. But it is also the country where the myth of the national absolute State, untouchable, self-sufficient, is strongest. In the other large countries of continental Europe (with the exception of Poland) the pro-European position prevails: the voters are widely in favor, none of the big parties has a platform hostile to supranationality. Whereas in France the sceptics and those in favor are even and are scattered to some extent through all the parties. The problem is that without France Europe doesn’t go forward. The internal clarification of France is the real problem of today.
Why should countries that are so proud of their own national sovereignty yield part of their own powers to a supranational institution? For the founding fathers of Europe it was clear: to avoid another world war. But today?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: The prime reason is that the sovereignty that the countries believe they have, is already lost in reality. There are the symbols, the plumes, the ceremonies, including the democratic one of electing governments convinced they can resolve fundamental problems that go beyond their power of solution, yet they are still the topic of political debate as if they were. Much of that power is lost to the economy, where there is a world market; it’s lost so as to deal with environmental threats that concern the whole planet; it’s lost so as to be able to govern the phenomenon of immigration. It no longer exists for homeland security, because terrorism know no frontiers, and it no longer exists for peace, because the problem is no longer war in Europe, but war beyond our borders. Most of the wars of recent decades have occurred immediately beyond our border: in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Balkans, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. The sovereignty that people want to hang on to is in great part illusory. The real problem is not yielding it, but regaining it.
In Poland people have not digested Merkel’s opening to Putin’s Russia. In some Polish newspapers the German Chancellor has even been compared to Hitler. But is it possible to conceive a Europe without a special relationship with Russia?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: I don’t think so. When the United States of America was formed, among the founding fathers such as Washington and Jefferson there was a clear awareness that the natural frontiers of the young nation were the two oceans, that America was potentially a continental, self-sufficient State, defined by the ocean. This is not possible for Europe; we’ll always lack natural frontiers to the east and also to the southeast. For Europeans the over-the-border policy is a great deal more arduous to work out than it is for America. Till now such policy has been conducted by bringing into the Union those who were immediately across the frontier. But in the nature of things that policy is coming to an end. It’s natural that the Balkans are destined to enter the Union, but it won’t be like that with Russia or the countries ofNorth Africa. What’s needed, therefore, is a policy of shared security with those countries, a policy of partnership, of reassurance about the consequences of having a united Europe stretching to their borders. We can’t reproduce the hostile closeness there was between France and Germany in the second half of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century. I can understand that sometimes Poland may feel gripped between two giants that in the past were enemies. And in addition, at this moment in Poland there’s a resurgence of nationalism; but I don’t think the stance you mentioned mirrors the feelings of the majority of Poles.
Celebration for the decision in favor of the entry of Slovenia which, with Romania, was one of the latest two countries to join the EU

Celebration for the decision in favor of the entry of Slovenia which, with Romania, was one of the latest two countries to join the EU

Isn’t the significant presence of NATO in Eastern Europe, apart from being no reassurance for the countries beyond the confines of the European Union, slowing down the taking of responsibility by Europe for the problem of security?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: For the countries of central and eastern Europe security is the prime problem, their survival as independent countries depends on it. So, to the extent to which they have a problem of military security, they see in NATO – very much more than in the European Union – the factor of security. If in 1954 the Treaty on the European Community of Defense had not been rejected by the French, we would have a common defense; and today, when a country from the former Warsaw Pact joins the Union, it would join the ECD (European Community of Defense) rather than NATO.
What has been the effect on the Union of having split over armed intervention in Iraq?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: It has weighed dramatically on Iraq itself above all and on the Middle East. If Iraq and the Middle East are in a tragic situation it is also due to the fact that Europe has not known how to operate in a zone to which it is historically tightly linked and geographically close. It has not known how to operate because it is divided, because it doesn’t exist as a unitary historical agent of foreign policy. Our split has done immense harm to the Iraqis; but has also caused many problems for the Israelis and the Palestinians by leaving the field free for a policy whose catastrophic results we have before our eyes today. The divisions have done harm to Europe besides, because having conflict and chaos two hours flight away is dramatic.
Might the Iran crisis find a different outcome?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: I don’t know how to make predictions. Thinking positively leads one to hope that experience may have taught something. But the basic problem remains: what are the reasons that hamper a shared foreign policy? One mustn’t forget that Europe was indeed split on Iraq, but no more than domestic opinion in many individual European countries was split. Perhaps only half of the British were in favor of military action against Iraq – an initiative approved, for that matter, with the decisive vote of the Conservatives – as not all the French were against. The difference compared with the European Union is that in individual countries an institutional system exists thanks to which, even when public opinion and the political rank and file have different opinions on what to do, a clear decision is taken. Europe, instead, doesn’t have such a system and, it has to be said, would not have it even if the Constitutional Treaty were in force. We won’t ever be a real union until there are institutions capable of allowing us to proceed even when we’re not all in agreement.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, 21 January 2007

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, 21 January 2007

Debate continues on the lack of reference in the Constitution to the Christian roots of Europe. What is your opinion on the subject?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: That the Christian roots are backbone of this European corpus is a historically unchallengeable truth, acknowledged by all; democracy itself was reborn in the monastic orders. It’s a different question deciding whether that fact should be inscribed in a Constitution or not. Some Constitutions of the European States do mention it, the Irish Constitution and the German, for example. In the drafting of the European Constitution the secular position of France prevailed, the country that fought most against the acknowledgement. Yet the great constitutional scholar Joseph Weiler, a practising Jew, offered strong reasons why the European Constitution should contain explicit reference to the Christian roots. It’s clear that the question is still open and of interest not only to militant Catholicism. I understand the value that that explicit reference would have, but I don’t share the fear that the destiny and salvation of Europe depend on its presence or absence.
Is the building of Europe still today, according to you, the most interesting process of globalization taking place?
PADOA-SCHIOPPA: Yes. The fact that the European Union has in recent years gone through one of its recurrent moments of loss of confidence and melancholy, doesn’t change my conviction. Let’s not forget that the economy is regaining strength. In Spain, in Italy, in Germany, there are at this moment more explicitly pro-European governments than there were three or four years ago. Above all, the fundamental reasons for which the Union is necessary are still all present.
In the end the Union may not reach its goal, just as no one can assure us that our civilization won’t disappear. Let’s not forget Easter Island, where the population self-destroyed by exhausting all its resources in the building of colossal monuments. Self-destruction because of mistaken policies is always possible for a civilization. If you ask me whether I’m sure that Europe won’t follow a similar tragic destiny, I have to reply no, I’m not at all sure. But I seek, in my own small way, to do something to avoid it. Then we’ll see, the totting up comes after.

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