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La Stampa - December 7, 2010

by Emma Bonino

In a climate of impending doom, the EU finance ministers are preparing the European Council meeting scheduled on 16 December, which will discuss a number of financial engineering proposals.  All aiming at the same outcome: to calm the markets. Will they work? Will they get us out of trouble?

If we try to observe ourselves from outside, we will find that the area where we live is not only one of the richest, but it also enjoys a decent post-crisis growth, it distributes quite equally the income it creates, it does not have huge debts impossible to be repaid and it maintains with the rest of the world substantially balanced accounts.

This area, where we live, is the eurozone. It is true that China and India are growing at a more steady pace; however, it still will take them a long time until the standard of living of their citizens will reach ours.  There is no reason either to envy Japan, whose economy has been stagnating for almost 20 years and has a public debt that exceeds its GDP. Or even the USA which suffers from tremendous imbalances internally (distribution of wealth) and externally (balance of payments).

If we succeed in seeing ourselves as just one thing, as a single entity, then our own perception, as inhabitants of the EU, and in particular of the eurozone, will be more serene. And it would seem absurd that somebody could even doubt the survival of our single currency, the euro.

However, the problem is that we don't have a political unity, and the markets can see that quite well: they do not "calm" for exactly that reason and not, as some think, for the "too big" diversity that exists between the European countries.

But, if we consider the credit default swaps, we find that California and Illinois are risking failure more than Portugal or Spain. Nonetheless, the accounts of California and Illinois do not threaten the monetary union to which they belong, while those of Portugal and Spain do. And the reason for that paradoxical situation is only and just political: nobody will ever question the political unity of the USA, while the political unity of the eurozone and of the EU still does not exist.

Political unity means having- apart from a central bank, which we already have -  a Treasury (finance authority) that manages a federal budget, with dimensions sufficient enough to stabilize the system whenever it deems necessary, helping the states who have difficulties with a fiscal manoeuver, an ordinary event to which nobody pays particular attention, unlike our continuous summits and our repetitive announcements of stabilization manoeuvers which, as it seems, do not stabilize anything.

To really get out of this crisis, to really stabilize the euro, Europe should immediately start to convince the markets and the rest of the world that its political unity cannot be put into question. And the only way to do it, is moving quickly to reinforce it so as to make it more credible.

But how? For instance by creating a functional federal budget that finances the supply of important public goods, like defense, diplomacy, big scientific research programmes, trans-European infrastructural networks, the security of the commercial traffics and of the movement of persons, just like the American home security model.

We are not talking about the monster that haunts the dreams of the British euroskeptic, the European Superstate.  On the contrary, we are talking about a "Federation light", that does not absorb more than 5% of the European GDP with the purpose of  assuming the functions of a government, against around 20% of the GDP that goes to the federal budget of the USA, and against 1% of the current EU budget that only serves to distribute subsidies here and there.

Incidentally, the 5% of the European GDP corresponds to almost 650 billion euros, more or less the amount of the current Rescue Fund.

It is possible to imagine the Federation light as the federation of Spinelli, Monnet and Adenauer adapted to the 21st century, an approach that simply acknowledges the reality: that the existence of the national armies in Europe does not have sense any more, as nobody threatens the territorial integrity; that the infrastructural  network already exists to support the internal market, though we finance it badly and hither and thither; that the custom union is already an exclusive competence of the Union and it is ridiculous to leave it to 27 different and separated national organizations.

A Federation, then, but a light one. If we have the courage to do it now, immediately, the markets and the entire world would have not only a clear and strong signal that our political unity is not in question, but they would also learn that we finally have a federal budget with sufficient dimensions to maintain, as an ordinary administrative action, the macroeconomic stability of Europe.

Right after the launch of Jacques Delors' project on  the single market, the Cecchini report referred to "the costs of a non-Europe", derived from the persistent fragmentation of the European market along national lines. And because the costs were really high, the idea of Delors received a big impulse.

Today, there is no need for experts' reports. The costs of a non-Europe are obvious to everybody, and they are represented by the enormous sacrifices imposed on our citizens - an obstacle to the whole European economy - and by the useless coexistence with the anxious doubts about the future of the euro and of the entire European project.

Getting rid of these doubts is not only urgent, but is also possible.

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