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from issue no. 12 - 2011

Europe: the vision of the founding fathers

“Also as honorary president of the De Gasperi Foundation, I have asked former Foreign Minister Franco Frattini,
who took the post of President of the Foundation in November 2011, to explain to our readers what links him with the political teaching of De Gasperi and the spirit with which he will guide the Foundation”


Giulio Andreotti

by Franco Frattini

Ibelieve it essential we follow the moral teachings, the idealistic urge and far-sighted vision of Alcide De Gasperi, especially in this difficult period for the economic and political climate of our country and the continent of Europe. For this reason, in November 2011, I accepted, in full awareness of the honor granted me and responsibility asked of me, the invitation to assume the prestigious post of President of the Foundation named after the statesman from Trentino, in the light of the immense political and spiritual legacy left us by one of the fathers of the European Union and a crucial agent in the democratic, social and material rebirth of Italy and Europe. I promised myself then to repay the trust given me by putting maximum effort and enthusiasm into furthering the advance and spread of the values of freedom, solidarity and European unification that the Foundation in recent years has marked out under the leadership of President Andreotti. And I’m still grateful to him and to Signora Maria Romana De Gasperi for their willingness to continue to help us in quest of this important goal.


Alcide De Gasperi with Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands and Luxembourg during a session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in 1951

Alcide De Gasperi with Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands and Luxembourg during a session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in 1951

“A politician looks to the next election. A statesman to the next generation”

This phrase of Alcide De Gasperi highlights in very effective fashion the enormous gap between the noble ideals and lofty ethical values that inspired the far-sighted activity of De Gasperi, Adenauer and Schuman and the horizons limited to the electoral advantage, the vacillation in the face of fickle polls and short term objectives that often characterize the current European leadership and political debate in Italy.

Not infrequently, in recent times, what have stripped European policies of the drive for a more inward unitary perspective, have been national selfishness, factional interests, short-sighted opposition, lack of vision. It is thus inevitable that the Europeanist debate be barren and become incapable of making Europe a real political agent in the world. And we all lose out.

The President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano has reminded us that “the EU institutions and the member countries, without exception, are paying the price of failings, hesitations, contradictions, for which each should acknowledge its share of responsibility”. In the face of awareness of this great gap between the high ideals of the past and the present leadership crisis, we must not let ourselves be overwhelmed by despair. On the contrary, we must react by striving to instill in the European project the vision and courage of the founding fathers.

I believe that for Italy today European action is an opportunity for stimulus and encouragement, so that those reforms, from the reduction of public debt to a structural reform of pensions, that reluctance and reciprocal vetoes have prevented us from passing, finally get enacted. We are aware of the urgent need for reforms of a liberal sort to give more competitivity to the economy and ensure concrete future prospects to disappointed young people. The social market economy, a pillar of European popularism, is also our guide in this and characterizes our values.

On the other hand, when one shrugs off onto the European institutions the moral and political burden of one’s own responsibility, one does not notice the further danger of contributing to a spiral in which the Eurozone and the higher collective good of the European Union risk getting entangled. Without the euro we would all be more prey today of the highly dramatic effects of market speculation. We should be more cautious in criticizing it and more confident in supporting it, not only because it is not the euro but national debt that is in crisis, but because the euro underpins the whole European project.

Today, if anything, we are paying the price of ‘non-Europe’: we are forced to adopt strict austerity policies because we are politically fragile, because there is still no real European governance. International speculation has not only bet on the insolvency of Greek national debt but also and above all against the political solvency of the whole European Union, focusing on its weaknesses and its internal divisions. If the Greek crisis had been tackled at the beginning with determination and a strong united spirit, there would have been no contagion. If, however, appeal to national sovereignty against Europe were to continue, no allocation of EU funds – however large – will ever dissuade the speculators from continuing with their cynical attacks.

And now, as never before there is “a pressing need for more Europe”, as President Napolitano has said, that is the leap of quality that the process of European integration requires. On the one hand, the European institutions are not strong and cohesive enough to protect us from the carelessness and recklessness of an unethical financial market and of an irresponsible accumulation of national debt. On the other hand, no single European country, not even the largest and most efficient, can ‘save itself on its own’.

To defend the credibility of the individual member countries in the financial markets, credibility must be restored to the whole European project, starting with a new impetus to the construction of a real economic governance. We must go beyond Maastricht, and rid ourselves of the illusory pretense that respecting rules and procedures can replace strategic political choices, that mechanical compliance with technical criteria and automatic penalties for failure can avert any crisis, present and future.


Protesters outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt in October 2011 [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Protesters outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt in October 2011 [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

From government by rules to government by choices

To ward off the attack of speculators we must shift from mechanical coordination of policies based on rules considered valid once and for all to a unitary government of economic policy which can make choices in response to the challenges as they arise. In the absence of such a unitary front, the speculators, having struck one country, will turn immediately to the next in the chain of the Eurozone. And the small Italian or French or German banks would not be able to keep themselves afloat in the stormy sea. Command must lie in Brussels, not in individual capitals. And it must have the means to change track when the radar indicates the shallows of the recession or a tempest of speculation.

So Europe must again become the true protagonist. And so convince the international financial markets that the peoples of Europe are still highly motivated by the higher political will to defend the noble ideals of solidarity, freedom and unity which inspired the founding fathers. This is not the moment to give new impetus to the European project by reopening the Pandora’s box of amending the treaties. But we can focus on making full use of the existing means.

With the current Treaties, for example, Clause 136 of the EU Treaty would already allow the strengthening of the European Central Bank and give it a role similar to that attributed to the Fed. In this way the markets would understand immediately that the bankruptcy of any single member of the Eurozone would be politically excluded. Remember that the stability of the dollar has never been undermined by the debt of the individual federal states. Yet California has often been on the brink of bankruptcy and its debt has more impact on the US GDP than does Greece on the European. It is the higher political will that leads speculators to attack those who lack it and not those who are united by a unitary agenda.

There is not even need of a modification of the Treaties to strengthen European supervision of banks and insurance companies, or to create a European rating agency. In the global economy it is essential to trust in third parties to certify in transparent fashion the state of public finances and of private companies. But it is right that Europe receive the judgment from European controllers, and not from people of other continents, who remain unpunished even when they commit serious errors of assessment.


De Gasperi chairing the Assembly of the ECSC, 10 May 1954

De Gasperi chairing the Assembly of the ECSC, 10 May 1954

Starting again from the courage and the foresight of the founding fathers

In this regard I would like to draw on some prophetic words pronounced by De Gasperi. Looking at a Europe that was coming to birth in a functionalist fashion, the statesman from Trentino acknowledged that “the construction of the instruments and the technical means, the administrative solutions are undoubtedly necessary”. But immediately afterwards he warned of the danger of involution inherent in “constructing shared administrations only, without a higher political will”. He added that without idealistic momentum, without warmth, the building of Europe “may also at some point look like an unnecessary and perhaps even oppressive superstructure as did the Holy Roman Empire at certain moments in its decline. In this case”, he stressed, “the younger generations... would look at European integration as an instrument of embarrassment and oppression”.

To restore warmth and idealistic momentum to the project, and prevent the Europe of spreads and GDP looking to the younger generations like the Holy Roman Empire in decline, its citizens need to be more involved. We must get beyond the democratic deficit through the rediscovery of dialectic, the passion for debate and free exchange of ideas, expressing the need that political Europe go hand in hand with monetary Europe. And maybe at the next poll, elect the President of the European Council by universal suffrage.

The De Gasperi Foundation can also make a significant contribution to this debate by encouraging the discussion on European strategic issues. The Foundation can stimulate interest in the construction of Europe, celebrating the successes of De Gasperi and recalling his idealism even while remembering the bitterness of failure. We must never forget that for De Gasperi and the other founding fathers it was not easy to sustain, in a Europe traumatized by fratricidal hatred, the principle of “no more wars amongst us”. Their success was not assured. They prevailed against prejudice and preconceived opposition because they managed to assert the power of ideas in free democratic debate, arguing their positions, but always striving to understand the reasoning of others.

Some of their projects, however, still remain unfinished, despite their struggle and determination in the political arena. But all of De Gasperi’s passion for Europe can be seen in a political disappointment he suffered. I refer to the failure of the European Defense Community, a project in which De Gasperi strongly believed. The rejection of the EDC put the process of integration at risk and even today we are paying the price in terms of the fragmentation of the European defense policy. Even today, in a Europe that has over the years provided itself with a monetary unit but not a sword, some people still prefer restricted formats to a unitary perspective in the defense sector.

The defeats of a father may, however, become victories for his offspring, if they are capable of reaping the legacy of the values for which he fought. The history of that political battle reveals more than many other successes, De Gasperi’s faith in the ideal of building a unitary and free Europe. Trust in these values of freedom inspired the movement for European unification, and must sustain us in our current activity.

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