The Values of Europe (Mini-series): A view from Italy

His Excellency Raffaele Trombetta, Italian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, argues Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an incentive for the European Union to move forward and identifies next steps for the European project.

This blog forms part of a mini-series on European values, which will comprise of contributions on this subject from EU Ambassadors to the UK and UCL academics, running from 28 June-8 July 2022.

The great writer Milan Kundera in his seminal essay ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’ reports that the director of the Hungarian News Agency, shortly before his office was flattened by the Soviet Army in 1956, sent a telex to the world ending with these words: ‘We are going to die for Hungary and for Europe.’

Replace the word Hungary with Ukraine and we find the exact same situation today. When people’s freedoms are under threat and their fundamental rights are questioned, they turn towards Europe. The European Union has always been and remains the most extraordinary project of democracy, human dignity, equality, and rule of law in history. These are the very values that we are protecting in our effort to support Ukraine against the Russian aggression.

Inspired by those values, our common endeavor to back Ukrainian people needs a multilayered approach:

  • Military assistance, because democracy and sovereignty must be defended.
  • Economic support, because people cannot have a dignified life if their economy is so dramatically shuttered.
  • Humanitarian aid, by welcoming more than 5 million refugees who have fled their homes towards other European countries.

As has been the case in various turning points in European history, the crisis in Ukraine is an incentive for the European Union to move forward.

Three areas have been identified as the next steps for the European project.

First, energy. The conflict has heavily affected the energy supplies in some European countries, including Italy. It is high time to move towards an Energy Union. A first step could be an energy price cap, keeping in mind the serious difficulties our citizens have been facing with the growing cost of living.

Second, defence. A common defence policy would allow us not only to respond more effectively to external threats, but also to spend less and in a more efficient way.

Third, health. Covid-19 has been the other major crisis we have had to face in the last two years. The EU has responded with the most ambitious plan of economic support. However, more needs to be done to be ready if more health crises arise in the future. Having a truly European health policy may be pivotal to this end.

In parallel with effective progress in these areas, we need to scale up the decision-making process at a European level. We ought to move decisively beyond the principle of unanimity towards a majority decision-making process.

Some of these ideas were launched by the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in a speech at the EU Parliament in the beginning of May. He referred to these steps as the main features of what he called “a pragmatic federalism”.

After all, a pragmatic approach together with the will to rise up to new challenges is at the core of the European project. This is the legacy of the main architect of the European community, Jean Monnet. The final words of his ‘Memoirs’ still resonate in our time: “the European community itself is not an end, but a stage on the way to the organised world of tomorrow”.

His Excellency Raffaele Trombetta is Italian Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

This blog is based on remarks made by the Ambassador at a UCL roundtable on the values of Europe, which took place as part of Quo Vadis, a four day festival convened by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, co-hosted by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies and supported by the UCL European Institute.

A recording of the full event is available here.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

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