Interview with Pietro De Matteis - Candidate MEP in Belgium

OneEurope is presenting a series of interviews with MEPs in order to help Europeans make an informed decision for the elections. You can find the others in our debate on the European Elections 2014.

A convinced European federalist, Pietro De Matteis holds a PhD in International Studies from the University of Cambridge. After working at the European Central Bank and at the EU Institute for Security Studies, he currently works for the European Commission. An economist by training, he graduated from the University of Milan-Bicocca (summa cum laude) and obtained a Masters-level degree from the European College of Parma. Thanks to some scholarships he had the opportunity to research in the US (Columbia University) and in China (Renmin University).

Pietro joined the federalist movements (e.g. JEF, GFE) after his Erasmus year at University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne in 2003. Following the rejection of the “European Constitution” in France and in the Netherlands he started to work for the creation of a truly pan-European and federalist political party, capable of giving Europeans a stronger and more direct voice in European politics. Since 2011 he serves as the Co-President of the European Federalist Party. 

He is currently the 2nd candidate for the European Parliament in Belgium in the list n.20: Stand Up for the United States of Europe (a list composed by 14 candidates all below 37 years old) 

OneEurope: What is your party’s vision for Europe? What are the main obstacles in achieving this vision?

Pietro De Matteis: Our vision for Europe is that of a Europe that is fully democratic, more transparent and better able to tackle the challenges that Europeans face every day, especially younger generations.

We believe that only a federal Europe can ensure that the citizens' voices are fully heard and contribute to shape decisions at the European and international level while delivering real results.

Europeans must be at the heart of the European decision­-making process, but this requires a simplification of today's institutions in order to ensure that each citizen knows who is responsible for what and can vote accordingly. In other words, we must increase the level of accountability, and this is more important the further the decisions are taken from the citizens. This simplification includes the direct election of the European Commission President, the attribution to the Parliament of a full right of initiative and the creation of a Senate representing the states and replacing the councils.

A federal Europe would also be able to finally develop those policies that have always been blocked by member states and that Europeans are demanding. These include: a) the development of a more “social Europe” protecting mobile workers/students, unemployed and job-­seekers and reducing social dumping. b) The creation of an industrial policy that facilitates the life of SMEs, of young entrepreneurs as well as the reinforcement of European industry, enabling it to compete on the global markets.  c) The development of policies more attentive to youth employment and to key sectors such as energy, transport and research and d) the creation of a truly European foreign policy, including a single European diplomacy and armed force which would reduce the waste of resources and enhance our foreign policy capabilities.

The main obstacles to achieving a more democratic and effective Europe is the lack of vision of today’s politicians who are comfortable in their current positions and prefer to postpone, once again, the necessary changes. Unfortunately the crisis has shown that we cannot wait any longer, and an increasing number of anti­-European and nationalist parties are taking the lead across Europe by riding the dissatisfaction of the people who are sick of the inability of traditional parties to deliver on their promises. In fact, the only way to deliver on those promises is through a federal Europe.

OE: Federalism is the "F-­word" of European integration. What motivated you to take on a leadership role in the European Federalist Party?

PM: In Europe we are fighting a landmark fight: ours is a fight to show that transnational democracy can work. This is crucial because today's problems are increasingly global due to the process of globalisation. In fact, citizens are losing their sovereignty, because their countries cannot tackle global challenges and Europe has not yet the legitimacy and the tools to fill that gap. And this is not true only for the smaller member states. Even the largest European countries are too small to face the global challenges that we are confronted with. In 20 years' time no European country will be in the G8. This should make us reflect. We need to unite our forces if want to defend and build on what former generations have achieved for us, because “unity makes strength”. At the same time, we must ensure that our union is fully democratic so that each citizen has the same voice, regardless of the size of his or her country and its economy. Democracy is a key European value and a key European contribution to the world that we need to preserve for future generations. Federalism, on the other hand, is the only method that can allow us to ensure that the voices of the citizens are heard at all the levels in which power is exerted: be it the local, regional, national, Euro­-regional and European.

The reason why we decided to create the European Federalist Party and why I am serving as the Co-­President of this "political start­up" is exactly to fill this gap between what Europeans want and what the EU is providing today. Thanks to our work, I can proudly say that the European Federalist Party (EFP) is the only truly pan­-European party present in 16 countries and which is proposing a different vision of Europe on the table, obliging other politicians to engage in the debate on the future of Europe.

By federating the federalists in Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal the EFP launched in Brussels on May 5th Europe's first transnational list for the European Elections, hence  contributing to develop a pan-­European political public space (more info: www.votefederalist.eu). As an Italian living in Brussels, I am n.2 in Belgium in the list "Stand Up for the United States of Europe", a list composed exclusively by young people under 36 years old.

OE: What will be your top five policy priorities if elected to the European Parliament?

PM: a.                 First and foremost we need to fight youth unemployment and social and political exclusion, this is crucial because if we do not allow the young generation to contribute to society we lose the best energies that we have. This is even more serious if we consider that Europe is an ageing continent, and we have a decreasing number of young people. We must put in place the condition to allow current and future generations of Europeans to plan and have a future in Europe. Only if we do so, younger generations will regain trust in politics and will play an active role in it. We should support youth entrepreneurship, hence transforming the unemployed into employers, for instance by developing a fund for young European entrepreneurs. Also, we could exempt young entrepreneurs from taxes for the first 5 years of activity and significantly expand the budget for the European Youth Guarantee. (The latter is a new programme which aims at providing to each young person a job, apprenticeship, traineeship, or continued education within four months from the end of his/her education).

b.                 Secondly we need to create more opportunities for small and medium enterprises. They constitute the backbone of the European economy and provide the largest share of jobs, but only 2% of them are able to enjoy the benefits of the European single market. We must simplify their life by allowing them to follow one set of simplified procedures to register and to pay taxes if they decide to operate Europe­-wide.

c.                 Thirdly we need to ensure that future generations benefit from the same standards of living and quality of life that we enjoyed before the crisis: a safe and secure environment, a high level of education at an affordable price, a sound protection of the weakest members of society and equality of opportunities. To do so we need to act at a European level, with a complementary European welfare system, European minimum revenue, and larger investments in the fields of education, research and new and green technologies.

d.                 Fourthly we need a true European industrial policy. We need to ensure that the European economy has the tools to compete with emerging economic giants by supporting a competitive and innovation­-driven economy and by facilitating the cooperation and integration of European companies. Airbus, Galileo and Ariane are good examples of what we can achieve when we work together.

e.                 Finally, but most importantly, we must transform the European Union into a fully­ fledged federation, as it is only by doing so that we will have the tools and the democratic legitimacy to put in place the reforms outlined above.

OE: It might seem self­-evident for some, but given the ever decreasing voter turnout it is worth asking: why vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections? Do the European Parliament elections really matter?

PM: It is crucial to vote for several reasons:

a.                 If you do not vote, you give more voice to the extremists. To those which are moved by the wish to destroy the present and not to build a better future.

b.                 The Euro­-crisis has shown how key decisions are now taken at the European or global level; hence it is fundamental for the citizens to decide which policies should be implemented: growth or austerity?  If you do not vote, it means that you do not care. But you do care. So Vote.

c.                 This time, for the first time in history, the citizens will have the opportunity to vote for the president of the European Commission, hence transforming the European Union in a sort of parliamentary democracy.

d.                 This time, for the first time in history you could vote for a true transnational list with candidates in 6 countries defending the same political programme voted by the members: this is the European Federalist Party's list in Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal (more info: www.votefederalist.eu) 

OE: ‘There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come’ reads one of the mottos on the EFP’s website. Is this the right time for a federalist agenda for the European Union?

PM: We believe that changing Europe is not just wishful thinking. It is now possible, necessary and urgent. Europeans can finally vote for another Europe. But we have to act now, starting from these European elections. If we want to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges we have to think European, and we need to support those political movements that put Europe as the “number 1” of their political priorities and which support an ambitious vision for Europe.

Only  a  truly  democratic  and  federal Europe  can  liberate  the  energy  that  is  latent  in European society and trigger a new European Renaissance.  If Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of today's Europe, were with us today, he would tell us that we took enough "small steps". It is now time to run  if we do not want to  miss our meeting with history.  Current  and  future  generations  of Europeans will not excuse our inaction and will hold us accountable. What will you say to your grandchildren if you did not even try to change things?