Countering euroscepticism will be a central topic of the European socialist party’s campaign, according to Massimo D'Alema, the president of the the left-wing foundation FEPS, who worries about the surge of populist and extreme parties at next year's European election.
Speaking to EURACTIV, the president of the Foundation for European Policy Studies (FEPS) says that “the only way to counter such euroscepticism isn’t to defend Europe as it now exists."
“The socialist slogan of this campaign should be: ‘we want to change Europe’. We are not defending the current form of the EU,” he adds.
D’Alema is a former prime minister of Italy, who led two successive governments from 1998 to 2000. He now leads the foundation of the socialist political family on the European level, FEPS, which is involved in drafting the text that will serve as European common manifesto for the socialists' campaign.
“We cannot ignore what the eurosceptics are saying,” he says. “We must take it into account. But the problem is how to answer to their arguments; how to offer an answer – including technical solutions. This is our duty as traditional political parties. Populists don’t offer such answers.”
No reason to panic
The rise of Eurosceptic parties has tended to dominate the headlines over the past weeks. In an interview with several major European newspapers, the Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, called the rise of parties such as the French National Front (FN), the UK Independence Party (UKIP) or the Italian Five Star Movement the “most dangerous phenomenon” facing Europe.
These worries are shared by the centre-right European People's party (EPP). At a recent event in the European Parliament, the deputy director of the European Peoples Party's political foundation the Centre for European Studies, Roland Freudenstein, addressed these alarmist calls, stressing that “there is reason to worry" but "no reason to panic".
“Populists are problem seekers, not problem solvers. This means we should not shy away from addressing the topics they address,” he said. “The worse reaction would be to cry out: ‘Help, the Barbarians are at the gate; we have to team up’.”
D’Alema agrees, pointing towards an emphasis on anti-austerity on the upcoming socialist campaign. “The point is that it is not true that socialists and conservatives agree on Europe."
Manifestos to counter eurosceptics
The liberal ALDE party will gather this weekend in London to adopt their common ‘manifesto’ text for the elections campaign; the centre-right EPP will discuss their programme in the coming months, to be adopted at the electoral congress on 6-7 March; the European Greens plan to adopt theirs at a congress on 21-23 February.
Going over a draft text for the socialist manifesto, set to be adopted at a congress in Rome on 1 March 2014, D’Alema mentions “how to face the euro-rejectionism” as one of the handful of focal points mentioned in their manifesto.
There is a risk that the upcoming campaign becomes a battle of pro-EU politicians versus anti-EU politicians. “This will benefit the Eurosceptics, and not the pro-Europe camp,” argues Paul Taggart, who studies Eurosceptic parties from across Europe at the University of Essex.
It also distorts a debate on policy, Taggart says: “A normal [political] debate would be to have a range of different opinions. If politicians discuss the welfare state, you don’t hear a debate on whether you should have one or not; you hear a variety of positions.”