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Prodi makes the case for social Europe

Former president of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi (left) with the current president of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker [personal archive]

Europe of States wasn’t the answer and can’t be the answer. Mistakes of the past must be avoided in the future, and the future is now. Now it is time to bring the EU closer to its peoples, by mixing together more social attention and less sovereignism. Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Commission, has no doubts: more Europe and more social Europe are the cure for all anti-integration pushes.

“The challenges are a lot, but the need of Europe remains strong”, the 79 years old politician stressed in his latest visit in Brussels, last week. Prodi’s current capacity is United Nations special envoy for the Sahel.

He briefly enumerated the major challenges the ‘Old Continent’ is called to deal with: political instability in the Middle East, trade wars, old traditional partnership put in question, a new geopolitical order with emerging powers seeking their place.

“Nationalism is rising worldwide”, Prodi pointed out. He said that fear and global disorder were triggering the reflex of returning to the nation-state, but he made it clear that this was not at all the smartest solution. “In front of China and the United States there is no possibility of operating alone. Not even the [economically] strong Germany can make it”.

Less states, more Europe

Prodi’s message to all those who are keen to listen to, is to work for a true European Union. He didn’t talk about a United States of Europe openly, but his views can be described as clearly federalist.

“The great mistake was to shift the power to the Council of the EU, which is the set of different interests, but not the synthesis of the common needs”, Prodi lamented.

It is perhaps natural for someone who has been the head of the European Commission to say so. To make his case that seeking national solutions is harmful,Prodi used as example the British referendum on the EU membership.

“The Brexit drama shows how strong and essential was the link with the EU even for a great country like the UK”, the Italian politician said. He added with some irony: “Instead of a United Kingdom in a divided Europe, we have a divided Kingdom in front of a United Europe”.

A long shot

Prodi thus invited all leaders, all politicians, all people involved in the European elections campaign, to raise all-European, not national issues. This however seems to be a long shot.

“If you reduce European elections to national elections, people vote for national elections”, Prodi said, alluding to the fact that across the EU, the turnout for national elections is higher than for the European elections.

It will remain difficult for Europeans to understand the European project if the politicians are talking about something else, Prodi said. Conversely, he expressed his conviction that if the European elections would focus on Europe, “then people will love Europe”.

Relaunching social Europe

Relaunching social Europe is another key element to relaunch the EU, according to former president of the European Commission, during the term of whom the euro was introduced. He argued that after the single currency for the single market (both still under construction), it was now time to give European something else, something in his words that they really need: social tools.

The European Commission has been working on the so-called ‘social pillar’ since the beginning of September 2015, when president Jean-Claude Juncker announced it for the first time in his State of the Union speech. The first proposal was put forward in spring 2017.

Prodi actually came to Brussels to try to convince Juncker to put a bit of order in his social agenda.

“I didn’t do so much, the Commission already produced a lot”, the Italian modestly said, adding: “But instead of investing money in many fields, I suggested to focus on three areas: health, education and affordable housing, which once was called social housing”.

Prodi hammered out that a more social Europe is the right answer for populism and eurosceptics. Promoting European policies on welfare, school and accommodations “will get Europeans closer to Europe”.

“Interest rates are low now”, you must “act immediately”, he urged.

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