A constitutional emergency government to take Italy back to the furrow of European democracies
Article by Sergio Pistone, Movimento Federalista Europeo
Italy is going through a very serious crisis.
The solidity of the democratic state is in danger and, consequently, its capacity to contribute efficiently, as one of the Founding States, to the European unification process and, in this context, to contribute legitimately to make Europe a world actor committed to the establishment of peace and international justice. We must be aware of this situation, identify the causes that lie behind and find solutions.
The gravity of the Italian crisis and its consequences
On the economic and social cohesion
In the general context of a “no-holds-barred” globalisation, and in the particular context of the world financial and economic crisis, which is one of its major consequences, Italy is currently experiencing trends of slow or stationary growth, unemployment, growing job insecurity, social exclusion, poverty, worsening of the immigrants’ situation, backwardness of the South, thus reaching a level that gives rise to tensions that are incompatible with the maintenance of the economic and social system.
The dramatic nature of this situation appears clearly if we keep in mind the deep dilemma faced by the political class. On the one hand, considerable financial resources must be mobilised to implement the structural reforms required to make up for the backwardness of the Italian system in comparison with its more advanced European partners, to stimulate an environmentally and socially sustainable development and to guarantee a suitable protection of the income levels (starting from the insufficient incomes of the most underprivileged categories); to fight against exclusion (immigrant integration policies); to guarantee efficient solidarity among the regions. On the other hand, not only the public debt must not increase, but its constant reduction must be strongly pursued, in order to avoid the emergence of a catastrophic situation of financial insolvency for the State. This situation calls for a strong commitment in the fight against waste, inefficiency, parasitism, tax evasion, illegal economy. None of the member States of the European Union can face on their own the current crisis or the challenges of globalisation but, in the case of Italy, which has the highest debt, failing to respond to the issues arisen by the crisis means endangering peace and social cohesion.
On the unity of the state
The Italian State has a weak structure in comparison with the more advanced European partners. In addition to the inefficiency of public administration, the widespread corruption and a weak public spirit, the control of the state is practically inexistent in large areas of the country, due to the strong presence of mafia. The government is weak in front of the pressures or diktats of groups representing specific interests in economics, politics, religion, local policies. This situation is bound to further deteriorate if, as a result of the lack of serious immigrant integration policy, ethnic ghettos develop in big cities. The structural weakness of the government allows strong micro-nationalistic trends to develop, with worrying secessionist characters that endanger the preservation of the unity of the Country. The implementation of federalism should therefore take into account these internal conditions. In this respect, there is the strong need to highlight and clarify two points.
Today, the transformation of the Italian state towards a federation is high on the agenda, as is the overcoming of the centralistic system the Italian Unity is based on. This was an inevitable choice in order to unify a country that is particularly backward, in a context where the clash of power among the national States called for a strong centralisation of the national power, for safety purposes. The implementation of the European integration process has deeply changed the situation. Against this backdrop of European Peace Process and of the subsequent economical and social progress, federalism in Italy has become not only possible, but necessary, as it is a determinant factor that can strengthen the democratic system, give impulse to administrative efficiency and fight parasitism.
In particular, fiscal federalism would allow to base the activity of each government level upon their own resources, but only if associated with a solidarity trend among strong regions and weak regions and, obviously, the reinstatement, on the whole national territory, of the State authority and the defeat of organised crime, conspiracy between politics and underhand dealings, illegality, abuse of the welfare state and secessionist driving forces. If these conditions were to fail, federalism could, in Italy, pave the way for the disintegration of the unity of the Country.
On the eve of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, many voices are rising to opposite it strongly, both practically and on principle. If the unity of the Italian State was questioned, the damages would be tremendous, not only for our Country (where catastrophic conflicts would break out) but for the very process of European unification, both due to the disruptive pressures that would spread to other European countries and due to the fact that the European constitution (that is not yet achieved and thus still depends on the national political decisions) cannot rely on states paralysed by their own contradictions; not to say on collapsed States.
Against this backdrop, the limitations of the proposal made on the Europe of the Regions, understood as a European federation made up of hundreds of regions, should be pointed out. Without the support of national governments, the European institutions would be bound to alternate between disruptive pressures and centralistic temptations. On the other hand, the federal model would allow to structure the political institutions on several government levels and to develop solidarity among the regions within a Senate of the Regions at national level, and solidarity between the States within a Senate of the States at European level. The second point to be stressed is the close connection between the national problems and the building of the European Federation. New progress in the European integration process would allow to relieve the Italian State from duties and responsibilities that it is not longer able to fulfil, and thus to promote the improvement of the efficiency and democratic nature of national institutions. European public assets such as foreign and security policy, energy and environment, if managed by the Union, would relieve the national levels, which would be left with the protection of the national public assets.
On the democratic system
The government, led by Silvio Berlusconi, expresses populist tendencies that result in alarming decisions of illiberal-authoritarian orientation. These tendencies are showed by the project of introducing a drastic strengthening of the executive to the detriment of the other institutions, thus altering the constitutional balance among the State powers. Other issues worth pointing out are the refusal to solve a conflict of interests that generates a concentration of media power at the service of the Prime Minister, a situation that does not exist in any other liberal-democratic State and that deeply alters information; the systematic effort to limit the autonomy of the judicial power and to depreciate the role of the Parliament; the ad personam laws that damage the most elementary constitutional principles; the attacks to the independent press and on pluralism. The attempt to reduce the organs of control to mere symbols is distressing, as is the attempt to remove important public services from the democratic control of the Parliament and the Head of State, through their privatisation. What is more, we should not forget the xenophobic forces that contaminate the government’s course of action in relation with the crucial issue of immigration. We are getting close to the disruption of the constitutional state.
On the basis of the European Treaties, Italy runs the risk of getting out of Europe. Art. 6 and 7 of the European Union Treaty provide initiatives and sanctions if, in any Member State of the Union, there exists a “serious risk” of infringement of democracy and freedom. And, if no drastic change of course is implemented in Italy, this serious risk exists. Furthermore, if it is true that the democracy crisis is a general phenomenon resulting from the incapacity to cope with and control globalisation, we cannot ignore that the risk is particularly significant for Italy as it is a member of the European Union. Democracy is the indispensible requisite to the transition to supranational federalism. In fact, the respect of the democratic principles and the constitutional state are the condition to access the EU. The efficiency of this principle is proved by the relation existing between the EU accession and the democratic-oriented evolution of the countries of the Iberian Peninsula and Central-Eastern Europe. The suspicion about Italy’s democratic reliability may undermine its credibility in Europe, which is the strategic ground on which its future is at stake. For Italy, the problem is worsened by the risk of collapse of the State, as a result of the astronomic public debt. For the most indebted states (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy), the main risk brought about by the economic and financial crisis is bankruptcy. Today, the victims of the crisis, following the collapse of the banks, are the States. The most urgent therapy is the reduction of the public debt.
The causes of the Italian crisis
The incompleteness of the European integration process and globalisation without government
Responding to the crisis implies first of all identifying its causes.
First of all, the starting point can only be the denunciation of the responsibilities, incapacities and inadequacy of the Italian governments of the last thirty years (regardless of their political trend), that were not able to raise the Italian system to the standards of its more advanced European partners. The process, initiated after the war with the purpose of making Italy more European, came to a halt. The condivision of some founding values, such as Resistance and Constitution, Europeanism and Parliamentary democracy, failed. As a consequence, the gap among Italy and the more advanced European States could not be bridged; on the contrary, it became deeper.
Today, the specific responsibility of the current government must be added to the above-mentioned responsibilities, with the existence of illiberal and Eurosceptic tendencies that further increase the crisis in the country. It should be stressed that there are forces, within the government body, that are trying to slow down the demanding requests of expenditure growth and, consequently, of debt growth, and that hinder the antidemocratic drift, reorienting the political debate towards the respect of the constitutional state and the balance between its institutional components. And we must not forget the crucial deficiencies of the Opposition which proved to be, in particular over the last few years, incapable of offering valid alternatives to the government policy, solutions and shared proposals . Even when the Opposition had government responsibilities, it failed to pursue a coherent federalist commitment and to give effect to the most significant and innovative decisions, such as the accession of Italy to the Euro zone, that it had achieved.
However the analysis cannot be limited to this sole point. The responsibilities of the political forces must be set in a broader context, where determining factors are represented by the incompleteness of the European integration process and by its relation with globalisation.
After the Second World War, European integration was the strategic response to the structural inadequacy of the national sovereign States to guarantee peace, industrial development and democracy. European integration gave rise to an institutional system characterised by important federal aspects, but also by the continuance of a confederal mechanism founded on the national vetoes in key sectors such as tax resources, foreign and security policy, defence, constitution revision. On the one hand, it established an institutional system characterised by important federal aspects, including the currency, the domestic market, the foreign trade, the legislative and monitoring power of the Parliament. On the other hand, the maintenance of the confederal limits entails very severe deficits that make this system structurally precarious and affect in a very negative way the life of the European States. These States strongly oppose the transfer to the Union of the powers and resources required to operate in economic, foreign and tax policy and therefore to tackle the complex issues of today’s world.
Since the 70’s, the situation has become increasingly complicated. Globalisation has triggered processes and given rise to issues of such importance that they cannot even be dealt with by the States of macro-regional dimensions or by unions of States of similar sizes. This contradiction is similar to that generated by the European unification, which created difficulties for the national States. Now, globalisation is creating difficulties for the macro-regional political groups and thus calls for a democratic and federal world government.
It is therefore more than ever crucial and urgent for the Union to complete the federalisation project, a necessary condition to give EU the capacity to cope with the domestic and international issues. This is the actual root of the declining consensus for the European Union. For half a century, peace has been the main objective of European unification. Today, the continent pacification has been achieved. What citizens expect from politics is a response to their concerns. The continent is hit by new dramatic issues that remain without solutions: economic and financial crisis, unemployment, job precariousness, competition with emerging countries, pollution and climate changes, terrorism and international crime, nuclear proliferation, urban insecurity, migratory flows, etc. All these issues are related to uncontrolled development, which must be ruled democratically. The above mentioned issues are such that the EU cannot face them on its own. They require a joint commitment of the world political protagonists, as well as a commitment of the EU to speak with a single, influential voice.
The consequence of an incomplete Europe (without government) in a globalised world is that politics ends up looking for solutions at the national level. In a country with a fragile democratic fabric, this search results in demagogic populism, in the search for the “saviour of the nation”. This is a mechanism that Italy experimented between the two World Wars, in a situation of “international anarchy” and that is reappearing today, obviously in a different form, because the world unrest, caused by ruleless globalisation, generates in people the same feelings of insecurity; thus, the search of a scapegoat (the odd man) and the delegation to the absolute leader. The Euro zone helped establishing a first important barrier against monetary and financial disturbances and led to virtuous behaviours at all levels. But the single currency was not followed by a European economic policy, nor by a real European government, resulting from the European elections.
There exists an organic connection between the need for a rapid and full federalisation of the EU and the building of the world government, since a fully federal Europe and, therefore, capable of acting efficiently, is indispensible not only to improve the living conditions of the Europeans but to take a decisive part in the building of a fairer and more pacific world.
Facing the Italian crisis: supranational commitment and National commitment
The crisis of democracy is occurring at all levels. The national democratic systems are relentlessly disorientated by the supranational dimension of the underlying issues. The condition of incomplete federation experienced by the European integration process and the lack of democracy in the UN institutions have until now prevented the creation of a fully developed and efficient supranational democratic system.
At national level, where democracy is, at least formally, fully developed, choices of strategic importance can no longer be made. At European level, not only efficient decisions cannot be made due to national vetoes, but the decisions made do not have any acceptable base of democratic legitimacy. At global level, due to the superpower of the financial and industrial multinational giants and to the violence of international terrorism and organised crime, the international organisations do not succeed in imposing the respect of legality. We must ask ourselves for how long democracy will be able to survive in a world where the citizens are excluded from the decisions their fate depends on. The question can be addressed to the European Parliament itself, which represents the first attempt to extend democracy at the international level but which loses approval, in spite of the ongoing increase of the legislative powers, as confirmed by the constant decrease of the voting participation at the European elections. Consequently, the fundamental factor of the political and democracy crisis that characterises the European countries in general and, more particularly, Italy, is not only the EU democratic deficit, but also the lack of democracy at world level. When the sense of uselessness of the active political participation starts spreading among the citizens, due to the fact that the democratic mechanisms are idle, when no consistent answers are given to the vital concerns of the citizens, political listlessness becomes inevitable and, at the same time, decisive political areas are conquered by the most irrational trends– from populism to micro-nationalism or xenophobia – that contaminate the democratic dialectic.
Trying to explain the connection between these trends and the wider context involving the incompleteness of European integration and its relation with ungoverned globalisation, cannot be considered a justificatory attitude, but allows to impose a political-strategic guideline that is truly appropriate to cope with the Italian crisis.
The supranational commitment of Italy
The Italian situation is strongly conditioned by the lack of European economic government, which needs a federal budget based on its own resources, represented by European taxes (starting with environmental taxes such as the Carbon tax) and by a European loan in Union bonds. A European economic government could implement the macroeconomic policy (investments for the European infrastructures in communications, renewable energy, advanced research, support to industrial restructuring, fight against unemployment and underemployment) that the national states are no longer able to implement. These policies should also aim at achieving a more suitable level of solidarity among the States, together with a better capacity to regulate the national budget policies. The lack of European democratic and federal government leaves the European countries “on their own” to face globalisation. The weaker European states, such as Italy, risk to collapse.
At the same time, the EU does not have the means to speak with a single voice in the world. Implementing permanent structured cooperation would allow to bring together the armed forces of the States willing to improve the EU intervention capacities in the operations aimed at maintaining, building and imposing peace, thus making the European defence system suitable to take part, under the aegis of the UN, in the building of peace in the world and reducing at the same time its overall cost in favour of the social and investment policy.
The critical economic-social and financial situation of Italy is clearly conditioned by the lack of global rules and institutions to govern the financial markets and international trade, and by the crisis of the international monetary system based on the dollar central position. The objectives of topical interest should include: the reform of the world monetary system towards the gradual implementation of a world currency; a world environmental organisation based on the ECSC model (having the power and resources required to reduce the polluting emissions and contribute to the financing of the ecological reconversion of the world economy, in particular in the developing countries); the UN strengthening and democratisation through the transformation of the Security Council into the Council of the main regions of the world (that would allow all the States of the world to take part in this organisation through their respective regional organisations) and the institution of a world parliamentary assembly; the institution of a European seat at the IMF and at the UN Security Council.
The fight against organised crime is a long-lasting problem in Italy, and this fight can only be carried out with successful results in a framework of economic-social and political-democratic progress. European unification is a driving force of this progress; however, due to its backwardness and incompleteness, it is a source of serious contradictions. One of them is the freedom of movement achieved by organised crime with the common market (as well as the removal of obligations as a consequence of globalisation) that is not associated with the creation of a suitable supranational capacity to guarantee public order (considering, on the one hand, the lack of European public prosecutor’s department and the embryonic nature of Europol and, on the other hand, the limits of the International Criminal Court and of UNICRI).
To strike at the root of the global economic, environmental and social imbalances and to cope with the flows of the “biblical” migrations that we are witnessing today, a development plan for Africa and the Middle East, coordinated by the United Nations is required, with the contribution not only of the EU, but also of the United States, Japan, China, India and Russia. The challenge of immigration in the EU calls for an efficient federal government, capable of implementing hosting and integration policies (recognition of the right of asylum, physiological emigration, right to vote, citizenship acquisition), fighting illegal immigration (supporting the states with strong emigration trends), providing resources on a much larger scale than those currently dedicated to the problem.
The national commitment
The Italian crisis is extremely serious. It can be confronted successfully only if a policy is defined; a policy aimed at tackling the overall causes. The driving moment of this policy is the commitment to a steady and fast progress towards the European Federation, that should be characterised by two distinct, yet closely related moments
1) fully implementing the opportunities and progress introduced by the Lisbon Treaty;
2) starting an action aimed at completing the European integration process.
The immediate step forward is the application and exploitation of the potentials of the Lisbon Treaty, which makes it possible to strengthen the common policies, to build a European economic government and allow greater capacity of international action. In parallel, the constituent process of the European Federation will need to be restarted – since the Lisbon Treaty is an important step forward but not the finishing point of European integration. This action can be implemented by a group of favourable countries, overcoming the national veto right in the revision process of the Treaties, and shall involve the European citizens in each stage of the process, until the final consultation, through a European referendum. The fully democratic nature of the constituent process is an essential condition of its efficiency and a critical element in order to overcome the ongoing crisis of EU legitimacy.
As shown by the history of European integration, progress towards the completeness of the European Federation requires a decisive commitment on the Italian side. All decision initiatives (in particular French and German) have benefited from the indispensible and strengthening support of Italy.
Increased European solidarity, required to face the serious economic and social situation of the country, cannot be pursued with credibility and efficiency if Italy fails to play its part. But Italy’s supranational commitment will be possible and efficient only if associated with a powerful and decisive commitment of internal recovery.
Without regained democratic credibility capable of taking it out of its isolation, Italy will not succeed in recovering its due role in Europe and in bringing about real progress in the European integration process.
To cope efficiently with the Italian crisis, a large front of political forces should accept to guide the country in the right direction. This can only be an emergency government. A government founded on broad convergences between all the sectors of the political front, that would not allow illiberal-authoritarian, populistic and micro-nationalistic trends to condition their decisions and that would be able to make the very difficult choices required to achieve economic-social, financial and political-institutional recovery, which go beyond the normal government-opposition dialectic.
The European Federalist Movement, based on an unconditional autonomy from the national political forces,
- reasserts that Italy’s exit from the crisis can only be successful through a quick recovery of the commitment to reach the primary objective, i.e. the achievement of the European unification
- denounces the degenerative trends that undermine the government led by Silvio Berlusconi, as they are in contradiction with the contents and the spirit of the Constitution and are incompatible with the active participation of Italy in the building of the European Federation.
- calls for the world of labour, production, services, mass media, and to the associations of civil society, to commit themselves to overcome the crisis and contribute to the creation of an emergency government that will prioritise the implementation ofa policy of efficient economic-social, financial and political-institutional recovery of Italy, giving priority, in line with the European policies, to the respect of the constitution and balance among the powers of the State, the repayment of the debt, ecological reconversion policies, income support for precarious citizens, and fighting xenophobic and racist expressions, mafias, pressures and diktats from groups having specific interests in economic, religious, local policies, waste, inefficiency and tax evasion. These actions are the bases required to restore the active and decisive participation of our country in the European constitution; a policy promoting the achievement of the federal unity of Europe, in particular through the creation of a legitimate and efficient government of European economy, with sufficient financial resources, and an independent foreign and security policy, based on a federal armed force, that will allow the EU to speak with a single voice and to take part in the building of the world peace.