“The European Union must change pace, it must change its decision-making procedures and rules of the game to meet the challenges posed by global transformations, starting with its institutional edifice.” Lisa Ferrarini, b. 1963, managing director of the agri-food Group Ferrarini, is the Vice-President for Europe of Confindustria. She shared across-the-board reflections on the economic and political integration process, Brexit (“an irresponsible crisis in the dark”), fake news and disinformation that she defines “propaganda.”
In your view, a few weeks ahead of the vote for the renewal of the EU Parliament, what stage has been reached by the European integration process?
In more than sixty years the integration process has managed to guarantee peace and prosperity and to create an enviable development model. The Union has worked fruitfully in the preservation of peace and less fruitfully in terms of prosperity and protection. Today there is much talk of the future of the integration process while feelings of dissatisfaction for the bureaucratic and self-referential features of current European Union governance sparked off public debates in all member Countries, thereby uncovering widespread malaise of people left without a job or who strive to make ends meet, of people who suffer the burden of precariousness and put the blame also on migratory inflows. This shows that the goals achieved so far are no longer sufficient. The world has changed, challenges are of a global nature and needs have evolved. In recent years, we witnessed the emergence of the idea that the European Union is not able to protect its citizens from external threats and that it exposes them internally to fewer guarantees and rights, thereby causing impoverishment and precariousness. In this political, social and economic climate, the integration project seriously risks taking retrograde steps. This is worrying for us, since as entrepreneurs we are ontologically pro-European. For us, Europe is indispensable.
“To change Europe” is the recurring leitmotiv. Which reforms does the EU need? How can citizens be brought closer to the European project?
We can no longer afford to adopt the same policies or to follow the same procedures as if nothing had happened in the public arena, especially in the past years. The European Union must change its pace, it must change its decision-making procedures and the rules of the game to meet the challenges posed by global transformations, starting from its institutional structure – that makes it too slow and often inefficient – to the rules of competitors that hinder our businesses confronted with economic giants such as China and the United States. The intergovernmental method, based on the coordination and determination of national governments, especially the most powerful ones, has increased the mistrust between Countries, distancing citizens from the EU and increasing the perception of a technocratic and poorly democratic Europe. If we want to ensure that the European Union is not perceived as a mere bureaucracy it will be necessary to promote not only economic integration but also political and social integration. EU decision-making powers should be shifted to European institutions by adopting the Community method with the support of adequate democratic legitimacy, having as prime objective the real needs of citizens.
Disinformation and fake news are risks highlighted ahead of the European elections. Could populisms grow also through these “breeding grounds”? Moreover, the economic and migratory crises have left deep scars…
The European Union is in the throes of an identity crisis. This identity crisis is closely connected with a climate of mistrust, discontent and concern that affects first of all the so-called middle class. In recent years, all that citizens saw of the “Stability and Growth Pact” was a quasi-obsessive quest for stability. As a result of the crisis and the measures taken to limit its impact, they had a clear feeling that they were being excluded from crucial decisions for their future, thus fuelling the propaganda on a Europe of bureaucrats, of banks, of a Germany that controls Europe, and so on. Fake news exist and they can simply be defined “propaganda.” In recent years we allowed a narrative on a “hostile, punitive and bureaucratic” European Union to be told, neglecting the positive aspects and failing to highlight the chain of political responsibilities of decisions or inactions. The challenge we are facing today is not to counter propaganda with other forms of propaganda but to reaffirm a narrative that reflects the truth. And the truth is that notwithstanding countless mistakes, living together for over sixty years has been propitious, it brought prosperity and peace to families and businesses. The idea of questioning the integration process by opening a crisis in the dark such as the one caused by the British people is utterly irresponsible!
Brexit nonetheless remains a political signal to the EU. But it could also bring economic and trade problems. What is the view of Confindustria?
We believe that the withdrawal agreement defined with the negotiators is the best possible compromise solution providing legal certainty, thereby mitigating the consequences of Brexit, enabling our enterprises to continue to invest and trade with an important partner such as the United Kingdom in a clearly defined context. We shall wait and see what happens in the coming weeks. Indeed, for us avoiding a no-deal scenario is of the essence, along with the guarantee of a transition period with a definite timeframe to orderly prepare for a future change in paradigm. Now the solution is in the hands of the political players, whose decisions are not always taken according to the same criteria adopted by the business world. That’s why a no-deal exit from the EU cannot be ruled out, and it is therefore necessary to be prepared for any eventuality, making impact assessments and taking the necessary countermeasures to cushion the impact of a possible no-deal.
What are the business sector’s requests to the European Union? What are the expectations for the future?
Since the outbreak of the economic crisis Europe’s business world has been concerned about preserving societal social fabric. For years Confindustria – along with its major European partners such as Germany’s BDI, or the French Medef, and in the context of BusinessEurope (the European Confindustria) – has been calling upon national Governments to adopt policies that give a central role to labour, young people and enterprises, policies that create job opportunities for the young generations and that represent a satisfactory response to the climate of mistrust, unhappiness and concern that afflicts European citizens, through the development of industrial policies. We also call for reforms of the institutional architecture and procedures to make the European Union more transparent, participatory and democratic. It must be understood that the challenge is not one among European countries: it involves Europe and the outside world. Only under the banner of Europe can individual countries have a say in the definition of global rules for the future. If we don’t act soon by 2050 no country in the Union, not even Germany, will be part of the G7.