A mix of ideal and pragmatic federalism should lead toward EU treaties revision quicker integration of the Western Balkans and Ukraine into the EU, according to Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Speaking before European lawmakers in Strasbourg on Tuesday (3 May), Draghi said that both the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine forced EU institutions to take on unprecedented levels of responsibility.
“It is difficult for individual states to defend these values, and it will continue to be more and more difficult. We need pragmatic federalism which embraces all areas struck by the current changes: economy, energy and security policy,” he added.
He warned that European values of peace, solidarity, and humanity need to be defended “now more than ever.”
For Draghi, pragmatic federalism represents the only way to cope with the many challenges the EU has ahead. “Dealing with these challenges together means designing the solutions together, monitoring what we’re doing together, ensuring that money is spent properly,” he explained.
However, he highlighted that it is also essential to pursue an ‘ideal federalism’ to find joint solutions, although EU members are very different due to their stories, traditions, and starting points.
According to Draghi, Europe’s crises require a strong reaction that will accelerate the integration process in the coming months.
For this reason, he called for a change in the EU treaties for an effective decision-making mechanism to get over the principle of unanimity, “which leads to a logic of intergovernmental decision,” and move towards decisions taken based on a qualified majority.
The integration process would benefit from this new mechanism, according to Draghi. “To fully integrate countries that have European aspirations is not a threat to the European project. This is part of its implementation,” he said.
Italy’s prime minister said the country is in favour of “opening up of accession negotiations with Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia”, boosting negotiations “with Serbia and Montenegro” and “supporting the legitimate expectations of Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
But the relaunch of the integration process does not limit to Western Balkans. “We are in favour of all of these countries joining the European Union, and we also want Ukraine as a member,” he stressed.
As the geopolitical situation is changing rapidly, Draghi said the EU has to “move and move fast” when it comes to effective coordination between defence systems.
“Security expenditure is around three times Russian ones, but there are many many different systems which this expenditure is spread across. This is inefficient and is an obstacle to the function of genuine European defence,” he said.
Since he came to power, Draghi focused on the Mediterranean, which he says should be an area of “peace, prosperity and progress,” avoiding putting only “barriers” between the EU and such a shore.
Introducing him, European Parliament’s president Roberta Metsola praised Italy’s leadership on migration in the Mediterranean. “You have borne the responsibility thrust upon you in a humane and value-based approach, and it is now on us to ensure a way forward where Italy and other states do not feel alone,” she said.
Draghi proposed to build “genuine partnerships” with Mediterranean countries, “not only [in] economic [terms], but also in political and social [ones]”.
He also believes in having more effective repatriation management and a boosting of legal channels for migration, overcoming the current Dublin Treaty system.
Draghi refers in particular to the Mediterranean region as a “strategic location as a bridge towards Africa and the Middle East.”
However, these two areas, in particular, might be affected by food security, as Draghi recalled that there is a substantial risk that rising food prices and reduced fertiliser availability could lead to issues with food supply.
“Many countries are more vulnerable to these risks and could experience periods of political and social instability. We cannot allow this to happen,” he said.
Support for Ukraine, independence from Russian gas
Draghi also renewed Italy’s support for Ukraine’s cause after the aggression of Russia. “This is a war of aggression. It’s clear who’s invading and who’s resisting,” he said, adding that Italy wants Ukraine to remain a free democratic and sovereign country.
“Protecting Ukraine means protecting ourselves. It means protecting our security and our project of security and democracy that we’ve built over 70 years. Helping Ukraine means first and foremost working in favour of peace,” he said.
According to him, the priority is to achieve a ceasefire as soon as possible “so that we can save lives and enable interventions in favour of civilians, which are currently very difficult.”
On the sanctions on Russia, particularly on the energy side, he called for other leaders to take a more strategic approach.
“We need to act. We can’t simply support sanctions. We need to ensure that we can achieve independence from Russian gas,” he said.
The EU moved exceptionally rapidly to try and diversify our energy supplies and speed up investments in renewables “at a rhythm that wasn’t envisaged last year.”
“At the same time, we need to find solutions to protect families and businesses from increased energy costs,” he continued.
He proposed to moderate people’s bills and fuel prices to ensure that sanctions are more sustainable, which is why Italy has asked the other EU countries to put a cap on gas prices imported from Russia since the beginning of the war.
The EU energy policy remains a pressing issue for Italy, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas to the tune of 40%. Once again, the solution might be found in the Mediterranean, as their countries “can and should play a key role” in energy supply.
Italy’s PM did not refer only to gas fields, which he considers a “transition fuel”, but also investments in renewables in Africa and the Middle East, which can represent meaningful “opportunities.”
[Edited by Alice Taylor]