Progressive Futures

A transnational alliance to rediscover the EU

17 September 2018
Sandro Gozi

We’re facing new challenges of a scale and a nature without any precedent. These are not ordinary times: we’re living through an extraordinary phase, that will probably be seen as a major turning point in modern European history. The Italian election on the 4th of March is just the latest of a series of deep transformations within Western democracies that have shaken the pillars of our communities after more than 70 years of relative peace and development. In Italy the nationalists are in power now, but beforehand other changes happened with elections in Austria, the victory of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit to mention just a few of the most significant events.

Progressives and democrats in Italy responded in a weak and inadequate way to these changes, both in terms of content and method. In terms of content in response to Salvini’s extreme right-wing agenda and the 5 Star’s populism, we need radically alternative proposals and a new way of thinking. It’s time to get back on track and to present a clear idea of how our societies should be. It is only like this that we can win back the votes of those who chose 5 stars or those who decided to give up on politics altogether and to abstain. In terms of method, a decisive political rendez-vous is ahead of us; in 8 months the 2019 European elections will provide a litmus test for our ability as progressives to react decisively and effectively. If we do not want to be swallowed up by extremists, and to become “Lepenised” or “Orbanized” in our political discourse, we must come up with a new set of political proposals. That way we can occupy a large central, reforming, pro-European, liberal and social space, and can build new alliances that go well beyond the traditional PES camp.

The key question is very clear: can progressives really march divided into these elections, each of us standing within old political cleavages, remaining stubbornly within our so-called European political families? These allegiances have meant little in the past to only very few voters, and in the present no longer say anything to many Europeans, yet these groups and families continue to strike power deals in the European parliament and Council following elections. Can we now pretend that we’re still living in yesterday’s world, where just marginal adjustments are needed so that we can continue with ‘business as usual’? I’m afraid there won’t be any business for us if we continue along that path. Let us be very clear: the real matter is not simply about winning the next set of elections, which is already in itself an extremely challenging prospect. Rather, we need to set out to defend the very notion of the liberal democratic system itself. Our values and principles are under serious threat, and the likes of Viktor Orban and his allies openly wish to dismantle them.

Confronted with these challenges, the Italian Democratic Party (PD) must position itself on a new political frontier in Europe, working on a new political platform that is addressed to all the progressives and liberal forces and to those who are open to civil-society. Starting again from the basics – regarding the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and the ongoing fight against inequality – we must renew our commitment to a Europe that enhances our security and that protects and promotes opportunities for a society that has become mired in fear and mistrust. We must form a new transnational and transpartisan alliance, that mobilises all the democratic, liberal and ecological forces, including the new strongly pro-European movements such as En Marche!, and all those who want to change the European Union so as to save the European project.

In my view, this pro-European movement should play a role in the British debate as well. Brexit was the first of the long list of earthquakes we have witnessed in recent years, and since June 23rd 2016, many things have changed and many doubts have been raised among the British people. The current debate shows that even within the Conservative Party a few voices are standing up to call for a second referendum. In this phase, I sincerely hope that the Labour Party will fully and openly adopt a pro-European stance and will forget its past ambiguities on the European question. It would be incredibly frustrating for progressive Europeans if Labour are absent or ineffective in this debate, especially when the need to build up a progressive alliance is more urgent than ever.

We must develop and assert this political proposal before the European elections take place in May 2019 in order to promote a transnational, cross-party electoral campaign and to mobilise European civil society. We must address our new political offer also to those who feel increasingly disorientated and uncomfortable in an EPP that is being transformed into an ‘ECP’ – a European catch-all party – dragged rightwards by the threat of the extreme right, and more and more “Orbanized” by its own membership. Faced with neo-nationalists who want to destroy Europe, by attacking Schengen and our fundamental freedoms, rebuilding Europe as a political project must be our main political goal and our key electoral proposal for 2019.