Toward a more perfect integration. How and why we should advocate for a Southern European Joint Integration Project.
DI GIACOMO BIONDI
One of the most important challenges concerning South European (SE) countries - Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain - is their high degree of geographical (and socio-economic) fragmentation. In this sense, since the 1981-86 rounds of enlargement that let SE countries inside the European Communities (EC), important issues have arisen regarding their integration. Considered part of the conservative model, SE welfare systems are shaped by an important local dimension (role of family, reliance on breadwinner). In addition, resource allocation was not balanced with central interventions, both in terms of qualitative standards and financial resources. Externally, regarding the influence of SE countries upon international relations, they have not proved to be effective international actors, in terms of their incapacity to produce collective decisions and their impact on events. In other words, as the bloc has repeatedly tried to be the principal voice of the developed world (especially Latin America), the bloc is not yet a fully genuine international actor.
To address these issues, a comprehensive proposal for a New Joint SE Integration plan at the EU level could be an important step toward a better development of the region, represent greater opportunities for future generations and unveil itsfull diplomatic potential.
First of all, a deeper integration should focus on culture, education, work and future generations. A great investment should be put in the study of our languages and cultures. Cross-countries organizations and alliances bringing together the various linguistic Institutes or Academies, for example, could represent an important asset. Stronger partnerships between Universities will lead to greater mobility of Southern European students, with greater interactions (f.e. ambitious joint Interrail plans and opportunities) that would be vital for their future professional experience. Moreover, funding new projects of job internships, study travels and paid exchange experiences could be incisive, representing the future backbone of regional welfare development. Important policies should be implemented by putting together an affirmative action towards young Southern Europeans.
Moreover, at the EU decision-making level, the formation of a new bloc could lead to a new leadership. If it’s true that the Visegrad Group has become very popular in recent years, a Southern European response is still missing. Inside the Council, a variety of decisions are taken by Qualified Majority Voting system (QMV) where the vote is “weighted” with respect to each country’s population. In this sense, Italy and Spain are respectively the third and fourth countries in the Council (13.32% added to 10.60%), enclosing their great importance. Coordinated and united voting session could shape the EU in a positive way, leading to a new “momentum” led by the South. In addition, at the European Parliament (EP) level, closer cooperation between EP groups could lead to shared legislation proposals that could transcend the political beliefs but find common ground between actors.
In addition, a bigger boost to our integration should focus on trade, technological innovation and sustainability. Fostering alliances upon the norms applied to similar goods exported around the world could improve the quality and remove bureaucratic obstacles. Imposing common sophisticated environmental controls and working standards in the production of goods, will avoid unfair competition and uniform the legislation in the field. Furthermore, wider cooperation in high-tech sectors will lead to economic growth, new job opportunities and unveil the full potential of our know-how worldwide, following the example of the Technological Park of Malaga.
The final point addresses international relations, highlighting the potential of the European Union to serve as a crucial link to Latin America. Spain, Italy, and Portugal, with their deep-rooted connections, cultural and historical, can play a pivotal role in fostering stronger ties. The unique bond deserves attention, particularly in various spheres. This includes intensifying Mercosur integration within the EU Common Market, enhancing university collaborations, initiating UN-level projects, and assuming a more prominent global role in peace processes (exemplified by the Spanish PM regarding the latest Middle-East conflict).
To sum up, the range of possibilities that can emerge from a future Cooperation Strategy is vast. Over recent years, the European Union has faced great challenges worldwide, from climate change to political upheaval and wars. Therefore, it becomes evident how a new diplomatic solution is necessary today, more than ever. To fulfill the promises made, to contain the climate crisis, to guarantee peace and prosperity, a comprehensive integration project could lead to innovative solutions.