Voting for the EU Parliament a way to create a real Union

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It is time of election all over Europe or better say all over the countries member of the European Union. Almost 400 million citizens in 28 countries part of the Union will cast their ballot in a 4 days marathon to elect the members of the European Parliament. It seems pretty clear that the majority of voters will either stay away from the ballots or vote populist and extremist parties ( both at right and left side of political spectrum) which are campaigning against the ideals and principles of an “ever closer union” as enshrined in the founding treaty establishing the European Union.

Much of the criticism is against the European Parliament itself that instead of being regarded as the most democratic body of the Union because directly elected by, is actually bashed as the most striking example of integration illegitimacy. Strong is the voice to return power back to the member nations and in particular to the national parliaments that should have a stronger voice in all the major decisions being taken at European level.

The true is that in the last 3 years the same national governments had to forge ahead a much deeper integration in order to cope with the devastating effects of the euro crisis, centralizing many competencies in Brussels where the EU is located. Facing the real risk of disintegration of the common currency union, the heads of states of the EU, all democratically elected, had to push with a much deeper integration and coordination of the overall financial and economic policies of the members. For instance the level of integration is so advanced that now the governments have to send a draft budget to the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, before even discussing it before their own national governments or the fact that a banking union, though far from being perfect, will soon be a reality. All this implies an erosion of national sovereignty in each member state.

During the crisis there was no way to go back to the people and ask their consent for such drastic devolution of power to EU: the leaders had to act fast and quick in order to offset a potential disintegration of the European economies. The real problem is also that the centralization of more competencies at the center was accompanied by conservative financial policies that forced many member states to drastically cut their deficits, hitting harshly on the lives of millions of European citizens. As consequence the unemployment skyrocketed all over the Union and many welfare schemes, the cornerstone of European welfare model, had to be downsized in order to get the budgets back in track. It was and it is still a painful shock theory that has particularly damaged the social fabric of local communities especially in the southern countries of the EU. Millions of people are unemployed, small and medium companies are in disarray and many citizens live in poverty. This explosive cocktail of austerity policy laid the foundations for the strongest ever backlash against the EU.

Citizens are angry at institutions that are considered too “remote” and isolated with a governance mechanism and decision making process that is truly a nightmare. Definitely there is a huge gap in perceptions and understanding on how the European institutions are working. The objective complexity of European institutions cannot simply be grasped by the ordinary citizens. The ways the institutions project themselves are not helping the cause of integration. Despite all the criticisms, the European integration project cannot simply be dismissed: if it is true that there is no an European “demos” (at least not yet), the foundations are laid for millions of youth Europeans to consider themselves as part of a wider community that has a common understanding on a variety of issues: from a strong position against death penalty to a concept of justice and wellbeing that is so rooted in all the EU countries.

Still those at margins of the societies, those who will cast a “protest” vote all over Europe have legitimate grievances and concerns that must be addressed. We need to explain them the value of the integration project. We need to reach them out and convince them that there is no return back to a past full of chauvinist and nationalistic feelings. The European Parliament recently acquired much more powers and its bargaining authority is much stronger now than before the eruption of the crisis. This should be welcome. The Economist, probably the most authoritative magazine worldwide, instead, led a campaign against the European Parliament proposing devolution of powers back to the national parliaments.

The magazine also decries the fact that for the first time ever the major political parties, aligned in common political European platform have chosen their candidates to lead the European Commission that as executive arm of the Union is slowly and amid much criticism, gaining more and more authority and power. For the first time ever Europeans had the opportunity to watch the candidates for the Presidency of EU Commission debating their visions for the future. It is not a small achievement to be able to know better the persons who will lead the policy making process in the next five years. You can criticize the opacity of the European decision making; you might decry as a shame the ideology behind the austerity drive that created such mayhem all over the continent. You might get frustrated for the lack of clarity and transparency among the different institutions.

Still bashing the elected body of representatives as illegitimate is the wrong recipe to advocate against the European project. Why going back and give more power to the national parliaments when the governments which still hold considerable powers are a direct representation of national parliaments? Being able to vote directly for European MPs is one of the greatest achievements of the Union, together with the free market, the free movement, the Erasmus student exchange program and the strong international development agenda promoted by the EU. You might be against further integration; you might be against the idea of a United States of Europe or some sort of Co-Federation. The integration process, while must be improved and enhanced, especially in terms of accountability and proximity to the people, is inevitable and cannot be stopped. I am from Milan. I am from Italy and I am proud of it. You can call me a citizen of the world but you can definitely call me a European too. And I am proud of it too.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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