Pietro De Matteis, co-president of the European Federalist Party:
Non-Europe costs dearly
By acting together, we will be able to better tackle the challenges that we face today and save around 800 billion euro a year
Maria Koleva, Brussels
11 April, 2014
Close-up: Pietro De Matteis has been co-president of the European Federalist Party since its foundation in 2011. He holds a PhD in international studies from the University of Cambridge. An economist by training, he graduated from the Bicocca University of Milan (summa cum laude) and obtained a Masters-level degree from the European College of Parma. He took part in research projects at Columbia University, in the US, and at Renmin University, in China. De Matteis joined the federalist movements after his Erasmus year at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne in 2003. After some experience at the Chamber of Commerce of Milan, at the European Central Bank and at the EU Institute for Security Studies, he now works for the European Commission. He is currently running as a candidate for the European Parliament Elections in Belgium with the list: "Stand Up for the United States of Europe".- Mr De Matteis, what does the European Federalist Party expect to achieve in the forthcoming European elections?- As a new movement it will be difficult to predict what the outcome will be of the elections. We started in 2011 and now we have sections in 16 countries and will have candidates for the elections in 6, maybe 7 countries - Belgium, France, Greece, Austria, Italy, Portugal, and we are collecting signatures in Hungary. And, eventually, we want to have some elected people there. Certainly our objective is to raise awareness about the fact that another Europe is possible - a Europe which is more democratic, a Europe where citizens have more voice. Now we are coming out of the crisis, but in recent years austerity policies were imposed on the people in several countries, Greece for instance, without a truly democratic process. This was done through the European Council which is the least democratic institution, where the most powerful countries make their voices heard in a purely intergovernmental manner. The Parliament, instead, which should be at the heart of the decision making process in the EU, was largely sidelined during the crisis.- What will be the electorate of your party?- People look at Europe somehow in different ways. It is easy to say that we speak to the "Erasmus generation". They are clearly those who had the opportunity to experience what Europe is about. At the same time we want to go further. A few months ago I received a membership registration from a lorry driver from Ireland. This shows that actually Europe can be interesting not just for Erasmus students, of course they are Europeans by definition, but also to other people across the Union. Europe is not just for a few people. Europe can be for everybody if it is well put in place. We also expect to attract a large part of non-voters, people who currently do not feel represented and who want their voices to be heard.- What political family is EFP going to join if it gets seats in the new Parliament?- We will have to see. Currently we are working with the ALDE group in some countries. The best possible scenario would be to create a fully-fledged federalist group in the EP, because even within ALDE there is a part which is really federalist but also a part which is not. We would like to have people from all parties join us. Ideally, the current Spinelli group should become an actual group in the EP, composed of members from all different political parties.- Is it the time now for a federal Europe?- We think the time has come. Our younger generation simply cannot wait further to find a job and plan their future while our politicians find the necessary courage. In addition, the Eurobarometer data from September 2013 show how quite a number of Europeans are increasingly keen to make the federal step. According to it, 44% of EU citizens agree to transform the Union into a federal state, for Eurozone countries alone it is 48%. There are nine countries where there is an absolute majority to get to a federal Europe. When people are confronted with today's Europe, sometimes they do not like it. They think it means austerity, that it is not sufficiently "social". At the end of the day, Europe is always blamed when things are not working well at a local or national level. That is what politicians say. But then, when you give the citizens the opportunity to think something different, to have a vision of what Europe could be, they say "yes, let's do this", and are braver and more audacious than our politicians.- What will be the leadership of such a United States of Europe?- In our programme we suggest that there should be a direct election of the European Commission president which actually would become the president of the European government. We are aware that there are different democratic models in Europe. Some countries have a parliamentary system; some countries have a presidential system. I think that the link between the citizens and the elected European government should be stronger to compensate for the fact that the European decision-making process is - by definition - farther from the citizens. And, most importantly, such a government must be fully accountable to the European Parliament which should have the right of legislative initiative.- Would it be easier for a super state to tackle issues such as high unemployment, poverty or a debt crisis?- We think today there is a cost which is the "cost of non-Europe". This cost is huge. The fact that we do not have coherent policies at a European level actually results in the loss of effectiveness and of the duplication of costs by our Member States. We think that by acting together, we will be able to better tackle the challenges that we face in the field of employment, but also in the field of industrial policy, defence, foreign policy, social policy etc. Just as an example, now we have 28 embassies in third world countries, actually 29 if you include the EU one, and 28 armies, while we could simply have one EU embassy and one army. This would reduce the costs and would increase the visibility and effectiveness of our foreign policy. A report by McKinsey showed that around 30% of the costs on external action could be reduced by buying supplies, or machinery, and such sorts of things at a European level. The Cecchini report in 1987, the first time when the cost of non-Europe was studied, estimated that between 4% and 7% of GDP was lost due to the fact that there was no fully integrated market at that time. Since then, certainly, some steps forward have been made. But still there is a lot to do. If we think of energy, for instance, the prices are very different from country to country, or transport, moving from one country to another is still very difficult and very costly especially by train. More recently, a report produced by the European Parliament pointed out that the cost of non-Europe overall accounts for 800 billion euro a year, which is equal to the GDP of the Netherlands or of Turkey. Those savings could then be used to table different policies. We must be able to work more effectively together at a European level in many areas. This does not mean to become a super state. On the contrary, we want to have a federal state, which by definition is able to respect the differences of its components. These differences are what make Europe such a special continent. What we need to do is simply share a common vision, some common objectives and policies to enable us to tackle today's challenges.- What is the guarantee that there will not be two speeds in a federal Europe with 11 currencies?- We are in a situation in which a two-speed Europe already exists. We have a Schengen Europe, we have a Eurozone Europe, and we have the EU. This, actually, is very difficult to manage. We think that in the future we should have at least a core of Europeans that want to build a federal Europe. This could start from the Eurozone or the Schengen area, but would remain open to others to join. Those who do not want to be in a federal state can still be part of the EU and enjoy some access to the single market or could join EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement). The people will have to decide.- How can your party give Europeans a stronger and more direct voice in European politics?- It can give the citizens a stronger voice simply because we are the only true bottom-up pan-European party, created by people from all over Europe, discussing the European project all over Europe. The debate on our programme, for instance, was not clustered in country by country debates, but was a European debate allowing ideas to be discussed and amendments to be proposed that contributed to our political programme, and that was voted on by the European Convention in November 2013. It is a true European project not like what currently happens in the other groups in the European Parliament where national parties come together and try to find their lowest common denominator ahead of the European Elections to form a group. By bridging this gap between the citizens and the European project, by highlighting that a better Europe is possible and by debating such options with Europeans from all over, we contribute to a truly pan-European political debate.- What are the minimum socio-economic standards that you suggest?- In Europe there are several different standards and this is not something that can be bridged overnight without a clear vision. In the US, for instance, they have different standards, different costs of living in different states. We have a situation which is not necessarily very different from that of the EU. If you think of the difference of the GDP per capita between New York and Mississippi or Alabama, for instance, it is significant. Larger than the difference between Austria and Greece or Spain. To ensure that these differences are manageable, we should have some federal policies as it is the case in the US, even though they should be better designed to fit with our needs. For instance, we could have a European safety net which could be complementary to the national welfare systems, but which could ensure that there is some coherence at a European level. This will ensure that there is a reduction of the social dumping that scares those countries that have better performing welfare systems. Today, our welfare systems are funded only at a national level and some governments would like to reduce the freedom of movement of people within the EU to avoid the abuse of national welfare systems. If we establish a federal system of unemployment benefits, funded through the EU budget and complementary to national ones, we would eliminate this fear felt in those countries welcoming many job-seekers. This was implemented in the US in their welfare system and it actually fits the purpose. For very poor people in the US, there is a federal system called 'Medicaid' and there are some funds allocated at a federal level. Of course, states can add more, but at least something is done at a federal level to ensure basic rights for all citizens.