"Either there is complete European integration, or we will disappear"

Enrico Letta (Pisa, 1966) was Italian Prime Minister from 2013 to 2014, and then returned to the political front line of his country leading the Democratic Party (PD) until he stepped back after losing the last elections against Giorgia Meloni.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
19 November 2023 Sunday 10:30
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"Either there is complete European integration, or we will disappear"

Enrico Letta (Pisa, 1966) was Italian Prime Minister from 2013 to 2014, and then returned to the political front line of his country leading the Democratic Party (PD) until he stepped back after losing the last elections against Giorgia Meloni. He is now president of the Jacques Delors Institute and is touring Europe to carry out a report, commissioned by the European Council, on the future of the single market. This mission takes him today to Barcelona, ​​where he will learn the opinion of various economic sectors in an event at Foment del Treball.

Where is Europe at?

Europe is facing the last call. We need to understand that the growth of the giants around us is so great that either there is European integration finally in full, or we will disappear. We have a few years ahead of us to do some things we haven't done yet. That is why I believe that the next legislature will be the decisive one for the final integration and it must serve to solve a series of problems that we have allowed to drag on over time and that make Europe a fragmented continent and at risk. When I say that it is the last call, I mean that we must not unite only when the fire comes, which is something that has happened in recent years.

It happened with the pandemic and the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but then...

As soon as it happens, each goes his own way. If everyone goes on their own we will be totally irrelevant. In the world before, which was a small world, all European countries were large countries. In today's big world, all European countries are medium or small countries. This is the main issue. And if we do not understand that integration is fundamental to resist the Chinese, the Indians, the Brics... The United States' Inflation Reduction Act shows us that the Americans are also very aggressive in the field of manufacturing industry .

In this latest crisis in Israel we have seen how divided Europe is.

Absolutely. We don't realize that if we go to the UN with three different positions we condemn ourselves to irrelevance and that means that it will be others who will decide. This problem of dividing Europe has become huge and we will pay the price. Until now we had managed to be the regulators of the world.

What is the aim of your single market report?

Part of what I will discuss this Monday in Barcelona with social agents, with large Catalan and Spanish companies: verifying the barriers that exist in the single market, something incredible. In the field of telecommunications, banks, finance, energy, it is not possible to build large global entities. For example, in the field of telephony, each Chinese operator has on average 400 million users, each American 100 million users, while the Europeans have 5 million users. The same goes for the banks, they are all small compared to the big American banks. Or in energy, in the end we are small except for some rare exceptions such as in Spain and Italy, where there was the merger between Enel and Endesa. My report aims to give an impetus to complete the single market which today is not complete, it is full of fragmentations and obstacles.

The single market has not been completed, but we are facing the challenge of European enlargement. are we ready

I think we are not ready for expansion for many reasons. To begin with, because we have internal rules of unanimity that give the right of veto. The idea of ​​giving the right of veto to those who enter the European Union in important decisions seems crazy to me. We are also not ready from the point of view of the single market. I am in favor of the enlargement, it must be achieved because the Ukrainian people are paying with blood for the accession to Europe, but this enlargement must be done well.

Do you think that the next European legislature can be the one that surpasses the rule of unanimity?

It absolutely has to be. In my opinion, it will go down in history as the one that will remove the right of veto and overcome unanimity. There are many methods by which it can be done. I am of the opinion that it should be withdrawn and that decisions should be made by qualified majority. But there is also a middle ground, like moving to a collective veto, that is, that three countries can veto and not just one. This may make sense because the veto is never imposed for reasons of general interest, or even for national interests. In recent years it has always been used as blackmail to get something about another dossier. The collective veto eliminates the blackmail rule, and it would already be a step forward.

Energy autonomy is another big pending issue.

This is part of the work I'm doing. We Europeans have lived these last decades thinking that we can live dependent on energy, technology and security. We have entrusted the Americans with our security, the Russians and Arabs with our energy, and the Chinese with our technology. The report I am starting to write must be one that pushes us to move towards greater independence. I'm not afraid to use the strong word. Europe must be a power, but at the same time we cannot break the four freedoms of the internal market and only doing classic industrial policies of the old states. For example, in the field of energy, the single market must be completed and a more solid and interconnected energy system must be achieved. It is scandalous, for example, that there are no interconnections between the Iberian Peninsula and France.

And how do you achieve this stronger voice?

The sense of urgency forces us to think about this. We have no more time, we have to do it quickly, because the Indians and the Chinese are so strong and important that the only way for us is to have one voice, as happened with the purchase of the vaccines.

How do you rate Pedro Sánchez's success in being re-elected as Prime Minister?

I am a friend and I support Sánchez, I think he is a great pro-European and the Spanish presidency has played an important role in fundamental issues such as energy and digital. He is a great European leader.