The upcoming European elections will be a decisive moment for the Old Continent, when it chooses either to move toward disintegration, which will be ruinous for everyone, or to make a courageous and indispensable leap toward greater political unity.
The Italian Democratic Party comes to this electoral contest weakened by the defeat it suffered on March 4 last year, and after dangerously postponing the discussion of the reasons for its setback. However, in recent weeks, something has finally happened.
The party’s congress has led to different people and different programs competing for the leadership of the party, and to a confrontation of ideas within the body of the party, involving, in various ways, no less than 200,000 registered party members. I do not know of any other Italian party that would be able to accomplish such a process. This has resulted in a more positive mood and in some hope for the future. These are still initial signals, which have not yet translated into changes in the poll numbers, but which will work in combination with the emergent large-scale disappointment on the part of the electorate that has supported the yellow-green government.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people attended the highly successful joint demonstration in Rome, organized by the unions against the policies of the current government. To sum up: new openings are available, if we are up to the task of seizing them.
This is why I believe many commentators are wrong in their analyses, which write off the Democratic Party as destined to remain locked at a 17 percent ceiling, or even fall further in voters’ preferences. The same commentators also tend to portray our public and democratic debate as a kind of internal factional struggle.
What would be needed is a much more considerate approach. Pronouncements that preemptively declare the PD’s bankruptcy are a form of playing with fire. The Democratic Party remains, with all its limitations, the only consistent and well-organized political force in the field of the pro-European and pro-democratic forces. If the Democratic Party collapses, public appeals by intellectuals will not save us; rather, the right wing, which has unfortunately grown deep roots, will be victorious.
The need to strengthen the PD is therefore not a partisan matter, but something that is in the interest of democracy and the country. Of course, we do need a reformed Democratic Party. And that is what I am fighting for.
The issue of equality and fairness should be again placed at the center. There will be no economic recovery if society remains unequal, conflicted, unhappy and lacking in trust.
Trust is what drives the economy, and cohesion makes businesses more competitive. In the frightening gap which has gradually widened between those who have too much and those who have nothing, the anger, hatred and invectives of the right have made successful inroads, with the serious consequences that everyone can see right now.
Our understanding of that gap was too little and came too late. Another element that needs to be overcome is an attitude of arrogant isolationism within the PD, typical of those who think they are always right and understand everything.
That should be replaced with a dialogue-based politics: firm in its convictions, but open to listening, to trying to understand the causes that have given the upper hand to its opponents. It has to be a politics that would hope to persuade rather than mock the voters who are opposed to it.
The party should also engage in a study of economic policies that would be able, in our current conditions, to respond to the need to open up a new phase of economic development in terms of labor. It would have to be a Fair Economy, based on environmental and social sustainability, which would put concern for people at the heart of its objectives for reform.
Finally, the political and organizational form of the Democratic Party should become a “great open square” which would promote meetings, discussions and decisions by its members and regular citizens. It should place the focus on the commitment and personal responsibility of every individual, which have been suffocated by a notion of ideological conformity that was reform-minded, but too rigid at the same time.
Such a reformed PD would be the natural and essential engine for the growth of a democratic field that must become wider. And it would also have to promote, for the European elections, a list that would be as open as possible to all the forces that are willing to contribute. I have also said—and have taken quite a bit of criticism for it—that in order to strengthen the substance of this project, even the notion of changing the name should not be off the table.
What would be truly lethal for the Democratic Party is if it became a mere anachronism, with its familiar logo, narrow scope and lack of change, engaging in political adventures that, despite the good intentions of all involved, would risk becoming elitist as opposed to unity-minded. This is why I have written that the reform process for a new Democratic Party and the unity-minded process evoked by the “We are Europeans” manifesto are not opposites, but complementary in nature.
The open list that the Democratic Party must support, welcoming all the initiatives that have joined the fray in recent weeks, will need to indicate a clear direction for the re-foundation of the European Union: the final end of the austerity policies that have stifled growth and caused so much suffering to the peoples of Europe; a reform of the institutions and of representation, with the direct election of the President of the Commission, a central role for Parliament regarding the activities of the Commission, and a reform of the Council’s intergovernmental mode of operation, based on vetoes and a spirit of division on the part of individual states; and a real integration in terms of fiscal measures, budget, common defense, large infrastructure projects, research, innovation, science and education.
The size of this pro-European revival—and the rise of a new European patriotism, which must be our destiny—will be directly proportional to our ability to effectively reform Europe.
Nicola Zingaretti is the president of Lazio and a founding member of the Italian Democratic Party.
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