Countries that want to leave the EU will see that it isn’t easy The U.S. has always been in favour of European integration
The History of relations lecturer at the University of Siena, Massimiliano Guderzo, visited Barcelona to participate in a series of conferences organised by La Caixa’s Palau Macaya. He has also been a lecturer at Urbino and Florence, where he directed the Jean Monnet Chair in the History of European Unification. Guderzo has written books on Spanish neutrality during the Second World War (Madrid e l’arte della diplomazia, 1995), the attitude of the United States towards European construction in the 1960’s (Interesse nazionale e responsabilità globale, 2000) and relations between the United States and Latin America during the presidency of Jimmy Carter (Ordine mondiale e buon vicinato, 2012). In this interview, the historian reflects on the current international geopolitical times and the role of the European Union.
Who’s running the world?
At the moment, we have three major powers: the US, Russia and China. Should the EU be included? There are doubts over that. What is certain is that we cannot be included until we’re a political union. It’s a European Union that is far from the idea of its founding fathers. The federation of the European Union is not a utopia. It’s a very real goal if we want to be considered a world power. Germany, France, the United Kingdom... are all strong powers but they aren’t at the same level, nor will they ever be, of the three I’ve already mentioned. Nor can we say that these three dominate the world, because what we have now is a kind of multipolar power, a kind of game in which the actors work together to gain influence in the name of national interest.
And that’s what’s happening in Europe?
We must try to go beyond national interests and achieve a pan-European interest.
Is Brexit weakening Europe?
Yes, it is weaker, but it’s also worth noting that some institutions that were created seventy years ago will not evaporate from one day to the next. They’re very strong. And Brexit has become a problem due to bad political decisions by the Conservative Party and especially David Cameron. The referendum was organised and there was no plan to leave the EU. And May took this mandate almost as if it were a Churchillian mission: “I will do what I have to do. Whatever the cost.” But it’s a disaster. I don’t know how they will get out of it.
And what do you think might happen?
In my view, they’ll have to leave. They have a departure date. They’re asking for an extension beyond the European elections... The situation is a little crazy because they will have to hold the election campaign and elections... and then leave! Or organise a new referendum. This is all new. It’s the first time anyone is trying to use Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out what needs to be done when a country wants to leave. I’m very sorry about what’s happening, but it will be a historical lesson for the future. Because countries that want to leave the EU in the future will see that it isn’t easy, and has very high costs. The European founding fathers didn’t build it with this idea. Gasperi, Adenauer, Monnet, Schumann... they didn’t think they would build it and then go home and that’s it. I think Angela Merkel could have done much more for the construction of the EU. Emmanuel Macron has some ideas but at the same time has a strong idea of France and its national interests. Or even Spain with the excellent speech by Pedro Sánchez on January 16, arguing for a European army. Although often these speeches are just talk.
Catalonia has traditionally been pro-European. However, the latest actions by the EU have disappointed many people. Europe doesn’t have the feeling of belonging that the United States or Russia may have, for example, and this can lead to disaffection such as Brexit and Catalonia.
Yes, that’s true. Take the metaphor of the river, when you’re trying to cross and you’re right in the middle. Europe is in the middle of the river and this is the most dangerous point. We’re leaving behind the typical things of the nation states on the other side and we’re in the process of giving more power to Brussels. And that doesn’t mean another European capital. Rather it means an us, and leaving behind the me, me, me. And that would be in line with a stronger Europe. A proto-federal Europe, but we’re not there yet. Only with a real European Union, probably a federation, will we have all the advantages that would justify the sacrifices. And in between we have processes like those that you have mentioned: things happening in Catalonia, in Italy, in Scotland... and what’s the problem? The EU still doesn’t have the power to react in the way people would expect. And so you have these disappointments... and people think it’s better to go back to the past. And we have to think about the future generations. For example, in the case of Brexit, most young people are against it. National borders don’t make sense.
There are far-right parties that want to get rid of the European Union...
In the next elections [for the European Parliament] people from all over Europe should understand that the parties they have to vote for are not the ones they should vote for in national elections. They should vote for parties that have an interest in Europe.
The Italian prime minister, Matteo Salvini, is a leading voice on that issue.
What he’s trying to do is become the leader of these parties throughout Europe. Trying to present the European elections as the way to enter Parliament, as La Lliga [Salvini’s party] did in the Italian Parliament. At the beginning, La Lliga was a local party from the north, and then they radically changed because when they entered the Parliament they became a national force and, little by little, also changed their ideology. And this is the kind of Europe we have to reject because it’s a Europe that looks to the past and not the future. That isn’t going in the direction the world deserves. These are the values that we should protect even outside Europe.
And will the countries from the east align themselves with these values?
They are newcomers. Many people have criticised someone who I think is a great politician, Romano Prodi. He knew there were risks when accepting these countries, but he knew that it had to be done, even if it seemed too fast a process. I thought it was the only way to really end the Cold War. Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have suffered a kind of underdevelopment because they’re on the periphery. They were under Soviet control and so had to develop by themselves. So, in 2004, when they joined the EU, they thought: “Now is the time.” Now they are in the club and they must comply with the rules. Although sometimes there are some temptations and especially with the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orbán, who has the idea of “illiberal democracy”, as he says. And that is anti-European. We have to fight against it because the EU is built on the values of liberal democracy, not illiberal democracy. And if someone supports this idea, I wouldn’t say they should be expelled from the EU, because that would be stupid, but the Union should be very strict and say that these are not the values we are sharing.
You explain that the US has been in favour of having a strong European Union and that it is false news that it is against it.
For example, with the case of Brexit: “Don’t worry, Britons, we’re here to help you!” There’s a widespread image in public opinion that the US has always been against European integration. That’s not true. If you look at history, in the fifties, in the sixties... the American establishment was in favour of European integration, not only economic integration, but also political, because on the other side of the Atlantic it would mean a strong Europe capable of protecting itself. Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson talked about real collaboration. The United States of America on one side, they said, and the United States of Europe on the other.
Europe and the United States
Guderzo has published several books and is an expert on US foreign policy. In Interesse nazionale e responsabilità globale, he argues that Washington has always been in favour of Europe being integrated in a federation and that it even talked of a United States of Europe. He explains that US presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson talked about real collaboration to move the project forward.