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from issue no. 02 - 2007

ANNIVERSARIES. The Fiftieth Birthday of The Treaty of Rome

The ever new old Continent

An interview with Emma Bonino, Minister for International Trade and European Policy: the building of Europe has slowed down but still goes ahead. How to unblock The Constitutional Treaty by 2009. The special relations with the extra-European countries that border on the Mediterranean

Interview with Emma Bonino by Roberto Rotondo

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

On 25 March the period of reflection following on the rejection of the European Constitution by France and Holland in 2005 symbolically closed. Was it a wasted period or will there be a fresh start with clearer ideas and a new impetus?
EMMA BONINO: In my view we’re between the two possibilities you suggest. Crises are always salutary when one manages to come out of them well, and I hope that also on this occasion Europe will be able to get back on track. It’s not the first crisis that the process of integration has gone through, and it certainly won’t be the last. Of course the hiatus has been weighty, not least because the world moves ahead ever faster and it’s certainly not waiting for the Europeans to come to agreement. I would, however, stress a positive element: the current situation is forcing us to reconsider the reasons for our being together, the goal we are pursuing with the European project. In a certain sense, this stalemate is offering us the possibility of building our future starting with a new spirit, that I hope will be more solid than that of the past, and that will lead us to equip the Union with the tools necessary for facing the challenges of the 21st century. In any case, it’s still too soon to say whether we’re starting with clearer ideas. With more awareness yes, but we still have to wait and see if and how we’ll be able to exploit the possibility.
So are we in a situation of stalemate?
BONINO: We have slowed down, but we’re still going ahead, even if maybe only because we’re freewheeling. It’s true we’re in stalemate on the constitutional reform, but many projects continue to go ahead. I’m thinking above all of the new Lisbon agenda and other, new projects on which work is starting, as shown by the results of the last European Council. It’s clear, however, that we need a plan as soon as possible for resolving the crisis that came out of the negative outcome of the referendums of 2005. And we need it because this plan will serve as a map, without which we’re in danger of resuming to pedal without knowing where we’re going.
The three meetings on constitutional reform – Amsterdam 1997, Nice 2000, Rome 2004 – were seen as attempts to reinforce and go beyond the current model. In fact for fifteen years the Union has had the possibility of continuing in the political field with the creation of a supranational power of the sort that exists today for the economy and the currency. With what results as you see it?
BONINO: Till now the results have been insufficient. With Amsterdam we took some important steps forward in some strategic sectors – the introduction of a new chapter on employment and the communitarization of key issues such as asylum, immigration and the judicial cooperation in civil law come to mind – but it was not a treaty that reconceived the organization of supranational political power. Nice was more an attempt at reform than a true and proper reform, and opinion is unanimous today that it’s insufficient to govern a Europe of twenty-seven. The text signed in Rome in 2004 might have made the difference. Both through reform of the community institutions and of the EU’s way of working, and through the introduction of important new elements such as a European Foreign Minister. The results in this case haven’t come about because the Treaty isn’t in force. Taking up President Napolitano’s suggestion, I’d say then that we need to start again from that treaty, keeping the essential, to ensure that its good features are, in one way or another, rescued. Whereas I’m more sceptical about short and middle term chances of achieving a profound reform of the EU’s politico-institutional system that put the stress on the supranational dimension and that leads – to set it out clearly – to the adoption of a federal model. If in the next fifty years we get there, it will be less by the action of national governments than by the action of European citizens. The next generations, those who feel at home everywhere in the territory of the EU, as much in Oporto as in Lyons as in Bologna, Prague or Bucharest, the generations that will take Europe as a fact of nature, will perhaps also have the strength and the DNA necessary to constrain politics and politicians toward this new horizon.
Is there any present relevance for Europe of Spinelli’s federalism?
BONINO: If we’re speaking in terms of aspirations, the federal system is as valid today as it was fifty years ago. Spinelli’s thinking, his insights, are in my view of tremendous relevance. I’ve often spoken in favor of a federal system and believe that Europe must aim at adopting the system over the next fifty years. Clearly, to make a political Europe, constitutional reform, however profound, however federal, isn’t enough. What it takes, together, is the development of a political community, that is to say of a community of citizens who on the large European questions are capable of debating along European, and not national, political lines. And national governments can’t bring about that development but only real transnational political parties that shape their message and fight their battles in reference to a European public sphere.
How can the crisis caused by the French and Dutch rejection of the European Constitution be resolved?
BONINO: I’m tempted to reply: with a magic wand! Joking aside, it’s clear that those rejections have a weight. We can’t ignore the fact that they occurred in two countries that fifty years ago signed the Treaty of Rome. I think personally that the way out of the crisis can only come from political action, not from some juridical trick. The French “no” was not all of one sort. It was a “no” in which those who said there was too much Europe and those who said there wasn’t enough found themselves together. To get over the crisis, we must decide which part of that “no” to deal with. And I’m of the view that we can’t permit ourselves a cut-price solution. We must therefore start again from The Treaty of Rome of 2004, saving as much as possible of it – and certainly do everything necessary for the institutions to function better, facilitate decision-making and strengthen the international presence of the EU. And perform, together with it, a double role: on the one hand, “exploit” the moment of the pause to insert into the new text everything that over recent years has shown itself to urgently require European action – think, for example, of energy. On the other, involving citizens and seeing to it that they adopt the European project. We can only succeed in that if we show that Europe is something concrete, that creates opportunities for everybody, and that it creates them every day. This is also the point of the information and sensibilization campaign that through the Department for the Community Policies we’ve launched on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
The European Heads of State and Government posing for a group photo on the Capitoline at the end of the ceremonial signing of The Constitutive Treaty of the European Union, 29 October 2004

The European Heads of State and Government posing for a group photo on the Capitoline at the end of the ceremonial signing of The Constitutive Treaty of the European Union, 29 October 2004

Is it true, as some say, that without a constitution the EU will die?
BONINO: First let me say something about the name. You call it “constitution”, but I prefer to speak of “treaty”, because I hope that one day we’ll indeed come to a real Constitution, with a capital “C”. As for the contents, I believe that without the reforms that enforcing The Treaty of Rome of 2004 would allow to be made, the EU won’t die, but is in danger of remaining at the starting post, in the best of hypotheses, or, in the worst, of regressing, of changing into something different from what it is today. The crisis of legitimacy would go deep, however, much deeper than the one – do we add the adjective temporary? – that we’re going through today. The citizens would lose faith in Europe’s ability to renew itself, to keep up with the times, and they’d abandon a project that remains hostage to its present instead of projecting toward the future. At that point many different scenarios could possibly open up. It occurs to me – for example – that we might also arrive at a vanguard of countries that go ahead alone and create a hard core. In what terms? With what formula? Difficult to say. However, I still haven’t lost hope that the next months will bring a turn-around from the last two years, and that we’ll be able to come up with the proper enthusiasm, the thrust, and above all the reasons that show us we don’t have alternatives.
Barroso has also several times stressed that it was a mistake to leave to each individual country the burden of finding solutions to ensure that their citizens ratified The Constitutional Treaty. Do you agree?
BONINO: If we succeed in arriving at a new text, we should think of a pan-European referendum, maybe in concomitance with the elections for the Strasbourg Parliament of 2009. A pan-European referendum would increase the possibilities that the citizens, as a body, debate on Europe and not on this or that national affair. It’s clear that the influence of a mature leadership will be needed to ensure that during the election and referendum campaign European questions and affairs are discussed, and that they don’t change instead, once again, into occasions for assessing the popularity of the government of the day.
The debate on the cultural and religious roots of Europe, even if in less strident tones, is still going on. What is your judgment on that?
BONINO: The motto of the European Union is “unity in diversity”. For that reason I believe that Europe must continue to be a Europe that safeguards and encourages such diversity. To transform it into a religious project would mean renouncing that diversity, whereas it is our wealth, our strength. Everyone in the Union should feel free to grow nourished by this or that root furrowing the European soil, and in the meantime we should focus on what all these roots have together produced, and that is democracy and the rule of law, which are the foundation on which our European homeland, our identity stands.
The recent entry of two new countries from Eastern Europe reopened the debate on the limes of the Union. Where does Europe finish?
BONINO: If one is of the idea that Europe is not a geographic project – and even less a religious one – but a political project, then its boundaries cannot be seen other than in terms of guarantee of democratic stability, rule of law and respect for human rights. And if the Union really is a novel social project, it is due to the fact that it has not been built in the mould of the old nation States, but on the basis of these shared values. And that is why in my opinion the door should remain open to all those who recognize themselves in this project and are willing to accept the rules of our coexistence. And that is why the Radical Party has for some time been raising the question of Israel’s entry into the European Union. Then let’s not forget the “evolving” nature of the European project. I believe that the comparative advantage of Europe, its added value as against the rest of the world, in these times of globalization, is precisely its flexibility, its capacity to respond to changes in the international context. Let’s not forget the “miracle” we’ve achieved in fifteen years, going from the Iron Curtain to the reunification of the continent.
You’ve always been in favor of Turkey’s joining the EU. But if Turkey does join it’ll be at the end of a long process yet. Too long?
BONINO: Turkey’s entry into the Union is an ambitious plan, and that’s why it needs time. If the enlargement to Spain and Portugal took seven years, I’m not surprized that the inclusion of Turkey is taking more. Let’s not forget then that in the current financial forecasts, that go up to 2013, there won’t even be the moneys for an eventual inclusion of Turkey. That said, I believe that the Union has by now gained a certain experience in enlarging, and that the experience should be made use in concluding negotiations with Ankara in the best and most rapid possible fashion. We shouldn’t then underestimate the importance of the negotiating process, that enables both parties to get to know each other better, to begin to work together, to gain more respect and mutual trust. The entry of Turkey will be aW historic event and effort must be put into preparations, not least because the citizens and civil society needs to be involved. It can’t only be the outcome of a diplomatic agreement between chancelleries. The important thing is that Turkish entry not be put in question again and that the entry process not be delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with the negotiation, but only with the hesitations of some European leaders.
The press conference at the closure of the European Council of Bruxelles on the topic of energy and the campaign against climatic changes, chaired by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 8 and 9 March 2007

The press conference at the closure of the European Council of Bruxelles on the topic of energy and the campaign against climatic changes, chaired by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 8 and 9 March 2007

Has looking East in these years caused us to put the importance of the Mediterranean scenario in second place?
BONINO: Certainly the inclusion of countries from central and eastern Europe has been the main priority in recent years. I wonder, however, whether enlargement should be used as an alibi for justifying reduced concern for the Mediterranean basin. Romano Prodi, as President of the European Commission, did his best to keep attention on the Mediterranean alive by operating a new neighborhood policy to go beyond the limits of the Barcelona process and to see to it that enlargement didn’t translate into a simple shifting of the limes – as you call it – by some hundreds of kilometers, but into a true and proper occasion for rethinking the very concept of frontier, for making of it an open place, a space for dialogue and cooperation instead of a line of closure. The proposal of the Radicals to include Israel in the EU is to be seen precisely in that perspective. Let me add that today Europe cannot afford to neglect the Mediterranean nor any of the other great strategic areas of the globe. That is the basic premise, the unrenouncable condition from which to start if we want to count in the world and help give a bearing, a governance to globalization. In these years not everybody has noticed that the center of gravity has moved to the East and the world has become multipolar, while we continue to cuddle up staring at our navels, almost as if Europe and America were the only actors on the international stage. Let me say finally that the Mediterranean is a vital area, that will take on ever more importance, both at political and cultural level, given that it is an extraordinary test-bed for co-existence among people and civilizations, both at the economic level – and here I’m thinking of Europe but also and foremost of Italy – for the growth that it will experience, as an area, thanks to the current of trade coming from South-East Asia through the Suez canal. In this context, geography is indeed important, and, considering its position, Italy should offer itself as a sorting junction for these new and important trade currents.
You have launched the idea of translating Altiero Spinelli’s Manifesto into Arabic. Why?
BONINO: The Manifesto by Spinelli, Rossi and Colorni is in my view one of the finest political insights of the 20th century. Let me add: one of the few that still today, though in a profoundly changed context, retains all its relevance. The idea of translating it into Arabic and encouraging its circulation in the countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East has two targets. On the one hand, in fact, to explain outside Europe the philosophical foundation – moral foundation, I’d say – on which the European project is based. On the other, something maybe more important still, to show that a model for the co-existence of “peoples with a divided past” exists that can inspire initiatives aiming at peace, at the consolidation of democracy, and at the stabilization of other areas of the planet. And to show it directly, in their language, to those who could find inspiration in it. Recently, then, in the spirit in which I proposed the translation of the Manifesto, I have asked the European Commission, along with my counterparts in Spain and France, to see to it that Euronews, the EU television channel, also broadcasts in Arabic.

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