The current year may well be the one that makes or breaks the fortunes of the European Union; but the feverish activity of illiberal forces has spurred a mobilization of liberal progressive forces from both the Left and Right. The Forza Europa meeting was one such instance.
At the behest of the Undersecretary to the Foreign Ministry, Benedetto della Vedova, Italian politicians from both government and opposition, as well as artists and representatives of civil society, convened in Milan in February to renew their commitment to European federalism. One of our contributors, also attended the meeting to report upon it.
Chief among the ranks of the attending politicians were members of the Italian Radicals, a party that champions civil liberties and freedom, and whose attitude to European federalism has always been one of enthusiastic support. Other attendees included the like of former Senate president Francesco Rutelli, several economists and journalists, the mayor of the city of Bergamo, enterpreneurs etc. Many of the attendees eventually took the floor to illustrate European relevance to their daily as well as political lives, recounting the experiences of past generations, for whom Europe was the point of arrival of a multi-generational project. But the real show-stealer of the event was Italy’s former Prime Minister Mario Monti.
“We truly risk of losing the European Union,” he said, explaining that it’s not far-fetched to try and imagine what kinds of scenarios await us down the road of a divided Europe.
“We have fought both for Europe and for a European Italy. The two are inseparable today, and the battles we face now are harder than those of the past, but more important,” said the former economist and prime minister. “A lot is being done to lose the EU, both positive action with a pickaxe and negative action with ambiguity and misunderstandings. Preserving the European Union is a duty.”
Monti added that “Europe is now becoming the almost exclusive depositary of certain values like multilateralism and democratic governance of globalization.”
Emma Bonino was the most prominent of the Radicals in attendance. Bonino is a former MEP, Italian Senator, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a figure held in high esteem across the country. After reiterating her deep belief in a federal Europe, Bonino stated that a counter-narrative was needed to the readily available scapegoating that sees every problem as caused by a faceless Eurocrat, and every success as due to the brilliance of capital.
“I am chiefly on the side of those who want to defend this European project, refine it, move forward and refuse to use the Union as a perennial scapegoat for all our ills,” she said. “That is easy to do, but illusory, and it serves nothing. I am on the side of those who surely agree there are drawbacks, but who want to move towards the United States of Europe.”
She described Europe as a boat halfway through a crossing. “On the shore we left behind lie millions of dead, but we’re halfway and out of momentum, and we need to push. There are only two ways to go: back to the old shore, or forward.”
Della Vedova himself criticized those who see Trump as a Reagan-come-again, underlining that the current ascendance of illiberalism in the West is in opposition to the very bedrock of international liberty. The way to contrast this fil rouge that ties current populists together is to gather the strength of centrist, liberal and progressive forces, and he cited Macron’s candidacy to the French Presidency as an expression of this projected bulwark. He urged his government to adopt federalist positions more bravely, underscoring how “we proved today that you can praise Europe and gain applause.”
And applause was indeed the framework of these inaugural talks, the first in a roadmap of concerted efforts for a European counterattack against the forces of illiberalism – those that, in Rutelli’s words, “believe they are attacking an enemy, rather than their own future.”