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European single currency, citizenship and constitutional developments

di - 19 Giugno 2009
      Stampa Stampa      Segnala Segnala

Where lies the source of this difficulty? Why, confronted with the national, European citizenship still appears a pale figure? Attention needs to be drawn to the persistent asymmetry between the enormous impact of the EU’s decisions on citizens lives and expectations on the one hand, and the representation of politics, which is still largely positioned within the borders of each Member State. Such asymmetry’s persistence is due to the interest of national governments and political parties in leaving on the EU the burden of solving problems which appear politically intractable at the national scale, thus threatening their own electoral consent. The fact that the European political decision-making depends largely on the action of national governments and representatives is therefore accurately hidden behind the image of the EU as a bureaucratic or technical entity, detached both from popular feelings and from political passion, which characterized it since the beginning. This result is achieved both through the sophisticated devices characterizing the EU institutional system, including the unanimity rule affecting the Council’s decisions, and through the resistence of parties to transform the EP’s elections into a competition among different political visions of EU’s policies, through the designation of a candidate to the Presidency of the Commission, and the presentation of a corresponding program, from the main European political families represented at the Strasbourg Assembly. Hence derives the fallacious impression of politics as a national activity steadily connected with the interests and passions of citizens, which media corroborate while depicting an EU standing against the background of a blue sky, remote from the earth of citizens lives and expectations.
The single currency issue is an important piece of the picture. Apart from its impact on the transnational dimension of citizenship, consisting in the facility of monetary exchanges within the Eurozone, for what concerns the supranational dimension the single currency created a parallel asymmetry. The single currency immediately acquired a crucial role for the single market’s development, and, contrary to some expectations, a positive impact on the certainty of market’s exchanges. It might also be inferred that, without the single currency, the 2008 global financial crisis would have brought to collapse the economy of the Eurozone’s Member States. Moreover, the euro’s performance in the crisis is likely to change the position of some of the States which have not adhered to it, although provided with the necessary financial requirements.
The institution of the single currency, and of an independent central bank aimed at granting financial stability, has thus proved to be a necessary condition for the sake of the European economy. However, it has also appeared insufficient for its flourishing. This depends inter alia on the absence of an institutional counterpart of the ECB, corresponding to the Finance minister at the EU level, which the informal gathering of the Eurozone’s Finance ministers into the so called Eurogroup appears unable to supply. For such purposes, the Eurogroup’s Member States should renounce to a significant part of their own competences in national political economy. But they are far from accepting such limitation, which would weaken their power over issues decisively affecting the relationship with their respective electorate, including taxes. At this respect, Member States are not ready to go beyond low forms of intergovernmental coordination, such as that provided in the 2000 Lisbon Strategy. Why, contrary to the Maastricht standards, aimed at granting financial stability within each State of the eurozone, and therefore strictly connected with the ECB’s task, the Lisbon standards, aimed at enhancing economic growth, failed in most cases to be achieved? The answer is to be founded in the respective institutional assessments. While the evaluation of the respect of the former standards, and the correspondent sanctioning, was centralized before the European Commission, the latter, beyond the rhetoric surrounding the “open method of coordination”, remained in the hands of national governments. A trade-off emerged thus in the last decade between the welfare of European citizens and the national organization of politics.
Such trade-off is unknown to citizens not less than the single currency’s success-story, and for the same reason. Even a minimal information on such issues runs counter politicians’ interests, and has no appeal for the media. Unsurprisingly, citizens tend to perceive the euro as the most powerful symbol of an European technocracy wholly detached from their own interests. Nor is a casualty that, once submitted to referendum in Denmark (2000) and in Sweden (2003), the adhesion to the single currency didn’t achieve the majority of voters, the popular support for the national currency, viewed as a symbol of national identity, being stronger than economic considerations.
Let us look, in turn, at the élites attitude. After the rejection of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe at the French and Dutch referendum, no reference to the symbols of the Union, including the euro, was made in the Treaty draft which was approved in Lisbon, as if the élites were now shamed of the neurotic quest for a European identity which affected the constitutional treaty.
Nevertheless, the single currency is the most powerful landmark of supranational integration, and corresponds to its point of no-return, being inextricably connected with the single market. Unless caught by a cupio dissolvi, no member of the Eurozone would abandon the single currency. The “paradox of the euro”, that is, the contradiction between the good performance and the scarce popular support of the single currency[2], ultimately reflects the same gap between reality and representation affecting the EU at large. Once again, we are confronted here with the lip-service characterizing the Member States attitude towards the EU. It is this attitude which inevitably biases European citizenship, rendering artificial the claim of an ‘European identity’. The vicious circle currently affecting the EU-Member States relationship is likely to be reversed either on the pressure of an external threat, or because of the emergence, particularly among younger generations, of a public opinion seeking a fresh approach to the European enterprise. At this respect, a longstanding commitment would of course be required from groups, associations and networks, founded both on the delivery of informations about the present, and on a thorough comprehension of the challenges which a democratic supranational organization as the EU is expected to meet in the years to come.


2.  L. Bini Smaghi, Il paradosso dell’euro, Rizzoli, Milano, 2008.

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