Alfredo De Feo
The European project is navigating in turbulent waters. In the State of the Union 2017’s speech, J.C. Juncker said that he wants to put ‘wind back in Europe sail’, but if Europe wants to sail again in calmer waters, in addition to the wind it is necessary a captain at the helm and a course to follow.
The European project was the result of a major crisis, world war II. Since its beginning, in 1952, crisis of various nature, political, institutional and financial, have been a constant in European history. Europe has developed itself through crisis. Sometimes the crisis have obliged to reduce speed or change direction, other times crisis have been the opportunity to relaunch and reinforce the European project. The history of the last seventy years offers several examples of crisis, some of which have changed the direction of the European project (i.e. the empty chair of 1965).
Today Europe is facing the deepest crisis of the last 60 years but this time the crisis is different. It is a multilayer crisis: political, institutional, societal and financial, it involves the public opinions and questions the governance developed in these 60 years. Altiero Spinelli said in the sixties ‘the day when citizens will start to protest against Europe, we have achieved our dream’. Europe has lost its appeal because it has raised expectations but, failed to deliver. In fact, Europeans feel that Europe is no longer a distant entity, it is present in everyday life but EU citizens don’t feel protected. It can threaten Europeans life’s, ie financial crisis, the eurozone, migrations, border protection, defence and security. Many citizens tend to reject the European project and look back to their national (or regional) State; would they have a different approach if Europe were more protective and could deliver according to their expectations? Is this the beginning of a new European demos ?
That’s why this time it is different, if nothing is done, this crisis could lead to more serious consequences and endanger the whole European construction. In the next two years, European Leaders have to choose whether to be the fathers of the relaunch or of the disintegration of the European project.
The rise of populists movements, in many part of the world, has many causes: the rapid societal changes, to the globalization, to the new form of communication but also to the incapacity of political leaders to deliver an alternative narrative, a positive message, a new vision.
Tempus fugit, populists, eurosceptics (France, Germany, Netherland, Austria?, Italy? ) didn’t give a blank check. Decisions on reforms have to be taken before the EP elections, mid-2019 and the appointment of the new Commission, so that parties and candidates can present their position to the public opinion. European Leaders have been granted an extra time to relaunch the European project with a new vision capable to attract the support of the public opinion. But this extra time will only last until the next election period, after that, the game is over: European Leaders can fix it or fail.
A simple word concludes this part: urgency!
 The European Defence Community (1954), the ‘empty chair’ (1965). the financial crisis (mid-eighties), the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty (2005)
Author : European pratictioner and researcher