Enrico Letta’s plan for the future of EU – 7 takeaways

The former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is a full-blooded European.
enrico Letta
Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta

His new book, ‘Through thick and thin’ (‘Contro venti e maree,’ published in Italian only), is his guide to relaunch the European project in the dawn of a new era marked by Donald Trump’s election and Brexit.

Mr Letta, the current Dean of the SciencesPo Paris School of International Affairs, moved to the academic world having held the highest position in Italy’s political system from April 2013 to February 2014 – the coronation of a brilliant political career. He was previously a Member of Italy’s House of deputies and then moved to become a member of the European Parliament (EP) from 2004 to 2006. He also held several cabinet positions in centre-left governments.

Here are the 7 principal changes he believes Europe must make:

Convince the people that Europe is not made for the elites.
Like former French Foreign affairs Minister Hubert Védrine and journalist Jean Quatremer* – both of whom we have recently interviewed – Mr Letta says Europe should show the people that it is not made for the elites. He proposes an extension of the Erasmus program to apprentices, a focus on education, and to help all Europeans adapt to the internet and learn foreign languages, primarily English.

Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family.

*However, Mr Letta and Mr Quatremer disagree on several points.

According to Mr Letta, the originality and the force of the European integration project relies on giving every member state the same level of recognition. Whereas, for Mr Quatremer, this is precisely what causes the impotence and decline of the European institutions. He deplores the increase in the number of commissioners to 28, the relative overrepresentation of the small countries in the EP, and the rotating presidency of the Council.

Likewise, Mr Letta says that every commissioner draws their power from his or her remit, not from their nationality, and insists that this principle is the foundation of European integration. Mr Quatremer, however, sees in every commissioner a servant of his or her country of origin, a problem aggravated by the unnecessary representation of every state through a commissioner.

Mr Letta also believes in redirecting European subsidies towards weaker nations.

He would call the plan Dionysus, after the Greek god who is born and reborn again and again. In order for the Europeans to accept change, he recommends that Europe focuses on providing security in the face of change.

Europeans should be rule makers rather than rule takers.
This applies to values. What are the European Values? Our opposition to death penalty is definitely one of them, says Mr Letta. So are gender equality, the promotion of LGBTQI rights, the protection of the environment and heritage, secularism, and the right to work.

The same rules must be applied to all religions.
Mr Letta – a Christian – controversially writes that history shows that Christianity is inseparable from Europe; that Christianity is part of Europe’s identity. But the freedom of religious belief and conscience are among the most cherished European values.

However, does Homo Europeus truly exist, asks Mr Letta? Not as an ethnicity or human race, but as a cultural fact? His answer is yes, although Homo Europeus is hard to define. Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family, he says, observe them from outside Europe and their singularity is obvious.

Europe is simply an additional level of identity, on top of the “paese,” – village in Italian – the region, and the country. And the subsidiarity principle is there to help distinguish between the powers of every level.

Facade of St Andrew’s Church at dawn. Kiev, Ukraine. © Mstyslav Chernov

France should resist Germany more actively.
Now that the UK is out of the picture, France remains the only counterweight to Germany’s supremacy. With its position on the UNO’s Security Council, its nuclear weapons, and military capacity, France should play a more active role on the European stage and in its relationship with Germany, says Mr Letta.

Only France can convince Germany to use its fiscal surplus to help relaunch European growth, to get more involved in security, defence and foreign policy and, last but not least, to accept reforms of the euro.

The euro must be more than a currency.
Let’s consolidate the European Stability Mechanism, complete the Banking Union with a single deposit guarantee fund, create a proper European budget, and appoint a European Finance minister, writes Mr Letta.

Let’s increase the scale of the Juncker Plan in the field of innovation, education and research, as well as giving up the unanimity rule for the Eurozone, and harmonising the taxable bases, starting with environmental taxes.

Europe could also get involved in financing countries that wish to combat unemployment, in exchange for an increased effort to reduce it at national level.

The refugee crisis can be remedied in five steps.
According to Mr Letta, the refugee crisis is, to a large extent, the result of President Bush’s wars.

Though he also points to the West’s big mistakes in Libya and Syria, he believes that if the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes in Florida at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.

Like Mr Védrine, Mr Letta bases his proposal on the necessary distinction between refugees and economic migrants.

Refugee crisis action plan enrico letta
Refugees from Syrian and Iraq arrive on the island of Lesvos, Greece.

This may be a convenient distinction from a moral point of view, but those in charge of enforcing the distinction, whether as civil servants or as magistrates, know that it is often hard to determine whether a migrant should be put in one category or the other.

Moreover, benefitting from the theoretical distinction requires whichever state or organization applying it to effectively deport those classed as economic migrants, which usually doesn’t happen in Europe.

Mr Letta’s first recommendation to European governments is to prevent crises in the ‘sender’ countries through responsible foreign policy and development aid.

Second, Europe must harmonize migration and asylum policies.

Third, the ‘Dublin’ rule – that forces migrants to apply for asylum in the country of arrival – must be changed. (That’s Italy’s ex-Prime minister speaking.)

Fourth, Europe must agree on a common, and shared, refugee relocation policy.

If the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.

Fifth, the European Border Control Agency must secure the continent’s external borders.

Mr Letta believes that the scale of the EU migration policy must be kept within integration limits. “It is clear that diversity becomes a problem when the original population of a country ceases to be the majority.”

However, he doesn’t say whether a limitation based on proportion should be implemented.

It’s time to debrusselize.
Enrico Letta sees in Brexit an opportunity to review the role of the EP. It is time to give the EP what it lacks the most: the power of legislative initiative. Likewise, Mr Letta suggests calling the commissioners ministers.

Mr Letta wants to change practices, not rules.

Deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.

Consequently, the European Council should draw inspiration from the European Central Bank, whose president is the only one who speaks to the press. There should be fewer summits and more lower-level meetings, while every summit should take place in a different European city.

In order to remedy to the so-called democratic deficit, deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.

Here, Mr Letta has a bold proposal: the 73 seats about to be given up by British MEPs could be replaced by Europe-wide candidates, and voted in by the single European constituency. Another progressive proposal is to involve the national deputies in the European decision-making process.

enrico letta
President Barack Obama greets Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.
© Pete Souza

We have saved our favourite proposals for last. Civil society is weak because of the barrier of languages, says Letta, so let’s make the learning of foreign languages compulsory and reduce the gap between the multilingual happy few and those who only speak their mother tongue.

And finally, he says, we need Pan-European media outlets.

We couldn’t agree more.

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