The European project has not failed, but the crisis in the eurozone will only come to an end once the EU decides what it wants to be, writes Brando Benifei, a member of the European Parliament.
The deal painfully reached on the extension for the Greek bailout has closed, for now, the latest chapter of the apparently never-ending euro crisis we have been living in since 2011. The end to this story is, however, yet to be written. As long as some crucial points about the nature of Europe remain unsolved, no final solution to the crisis will be available.
The very first question mark concerning the future of Europe is whether we should go further in the integration process or not. This is not a rhetorical question anymore. Many people and parties in Europe believe that European project has failed or, at least, should be radically scaled down. I do not share this opinion. On the contrary, I think that one of the main causes of the crisis is the inability to push the integration process further. The lack of a real fiscal union and of a common industrial and investment policy strategy at the European level, alongside with the heavy dose of counterproductive austerity measures, worsened and prolonged the effects - and even the nature - of the crisis itself.
What we are facing now are the negative consequences of all errors made in the past when designing the original institutional architecture of the EU, especially with regards to the single currency. First and foremost, the euro lacks political tools able to counter structural imbalances. The conviction that markets could spontaneously adjust to the situation proved to be unfounded. The first fundamental step towards a deeper integration must therefore be the creation of new tools for a real common fiscal policy. But this should not only mean more binding rules. A stronger commitment to growth and investments should be the main focus, and budget rules should be interpreted in this light, too.
The Communication on Flexibility by the Commission, as well as the Juncker Plan, constitute new elements of a positive change of approach in this direction, but they are clearly not sufficient. Deeper and more radical efforts must be put in place; sadly enough, the recently published Five Presidents' Report is far from being satisfactory, especially if compared to the ambitious Italian government's contribution to that document, or even to the original Analytical Note published on February 12, 2015, by Jean-Claude Juncker in cooperation with Donald Tusk, Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Mario Draghi, which re-opened the discussions on the future of the EU and eurozone integration.
What is to be done in order to achieve such an ambitious and needed reform project? I believe that we should accept the fact that a deepening of integration could be put in motion starting from a limited number of countries. I think that a "two-speed Europe" is the only realistic way to trigger the process, since at present it seems hard to gather the required consensus to take radical decisions among all the member states.
"Another Europe" should include a significant increase of the European budget, a stronger mandate to the ECB, a Europe-wide investment plan, a greater role for the European Parliament and the Commission, the making of a real European public sphere, stronger Europarties [Parties that work in concert across borders as they do at the European Parliament - the ed.].
Populist and nationalistic movements are challenging Europe across the continent. The only possible answer to this challenge is a European one, strong enough to reply to their criticism. Making Europe less distant, more democratic, more able to answer people's everyday problems is essential to overcome citizens' distrust.
In the past, Europe was seen as a factor of progress and prosperity. This picture can be restored, and as a fitting example of a good European policy, one could mention the Youth Guarantee. Unemployment is a problem for millions of young people all over Europe. The Youth Guarantee is a concrete help for those people, contributing to give them a better picture of Europe.
On a larger scale, only a more integrated Europe can be able to become a motor for investments and growth and, at the same time, be capable of promoting the true meaning of European citizenship, based on opportunity, openness and prosperity, countering this way both on the economic and on the symbolic level the often simplistic and anachronistic recipes proposed by populists and nationalists of various forms and colors throughout Europe.
Brando Benifei, an Italian social democrat, is serving his first term as a member of the European Parliament. At 29, he is one of the body's youngest MEPs.