Federico Rampini Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the Left: Conversation with Federico Rampini, West Coast and Pacific Rim Correspondent of La Repubblica; 9/25/02 by Harry Kreisler

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Europe and the Left

I'm curious about your own background as it fits into these changes within the party. You studied economics. You studied international relations, doing some course work with Raymond Aron. What helped you in these studies to navigate these great changes beyond just the fact that your party was changing?

Well, certainly, the experience of studying with Raymond Aron in Paris at the École de Pratique was a very important experience for me. I learned a lot. Raymond Aron was a great thinker. He was not Marxist. He was definitely not a communist. He was a liberal in the French sense, in favor of free market, in favor of NATO. But very, very realistic; a very acute observer of what was happening inside the European Left. I remember that, although I was very young at the time and he was very old already -- it was only a few years before he died -- he was extremely curious to learn from me what was happening inside the Italian Communist Party. He followed that with great attention. And he was a great reader of Gramsci. He applied to international relations a lesson of pragmatism, great pragmatism, and I learned a lot from that. He was not a hawk.

Now increasingly, European political leaders (not just in Italy) came to see Europe as an answer to some of the problems of the Left and of national politics. I'm curious how your background as the progeny of somebody who had served in the European civil service comes together with this other element in your background, that informs answers to the questions about how the Left maintains a commitment to social welfare in the face of globalization. Talk a little about that.

Well, first of all, in my personal history, it's true that somehow there was a contradiction between my being raised as a European citizen, and then becoming an Italian Communist. The early tradition of the Communist Party was definitely anti-European. In the fifties, when the European Community was created, according to the Communist Parties --

In Italy? Or all of the parties?

All of the parties. All of the Western European Communist Parties condemned the European Community as being an instrument of NATO, an instrument of American influence in Europe, too much in favor of free market economic policies, against the labor movement. But already in the seventies when I went to Italy to attend the university and I became a communist, there was an evolution inside the Italian Communist Party in favor of the European Community. And why that evolution occurred, I think, is precisely because the Italian Communist Party, as well as other leftist parties, understood at that time that only a European federation would be strong enough to defend some peculiarities of the social European model against the forces of globalization. That each nation country was too small to defend its welfare state, for instance, in a situation of very hard international competition, where somehow you were forced to downgrade your welfare state. So only by unifying the nation state on a European level could you build a European model of economy, of society different from the American model.

And also offering the possibility of competing with the United States insofar as it is the main actor in globalization?

Absolutely. That was an idea which was especially keen to the French. The French had that objective very clearly in mind from the beginning, that by building a European community, a European union, Europe should become some kind of a superpower. First of all, an economic superpower then maybe, also, hopefully, a political and military superpower, so that the United States should be less lonely in their ...

At the top.

At the top ... at the top, yes.

In the evolution of your thinking and in your career, you have been close to people in the Party leadership as it changed its thinking, or as its thinking evolved, and as it assumed, essentially, a leadership of the country. Could you help us understand the particular problems posed for leadership when it's putting on the table a lot that's familiar, but a lot that's new, and the very idea of leading a country and saying, well, we have to think beyond the national framework? What are some of the problems in that process of political education that political leaders in Italy or elsewhere have to grapple with?

In fact, I have been and I am now a very good friend of Massimo D'Alema, the former prime minister who is still the leader of the Left Democratic Party in Italy, and whom you have interviewed here in Berkeley. I experienced from a very personal point of view the difficulty of leadership when he was a prime minister in Italy. He had to lead Italy into the next step of European integration, which was at the time, in '98, '99, and 2000, the euro, the building of the single currency in Europe, which meant, first of all, a very tight fiscal policy. So the Italian public opinion had to accept real sacrifices. They had to accept paying more taxes and have less social services in order to reduce the public debt. At the same time, there was a nationalist resistance, even in Italy, because it's the force of the legacy. A national identity is so strong in Europe. This has been really a very tough challenge for leadership, to be able to lead the Italian people in this important step of European unification -- the building of a single currency.

How does the toughness manifest itself? Is it convincing people, winning the votes? What, in particular?

First of all, they had to overcome very strong resistance from the labor unions. Labor unions, which are the main supporter of the leftist parties in Italy, opposed some of the measures that were taken, some of the legislation, like reducing public pensions and reducing public expenditures in general. There were strikes by the labor unions. And in the end, in fact, the Italian Left lost the general elections in 2001 because of the unpopularity of that very tight fiscal policy. So I would say they were so faithful to their European credo that they sacrificed power itself.

Is it the case that it is through Europe that some of the traditional goals of a social welfare state can be met and not within the particular state like Italy?

I think so. I think so, yes. I think that if there wasn't a European Union today, if there wasn't a single currency, in the economic crisis that we are in now, which is almost a recession in Europe, probably the dismantling of the welfare state would be inevitable. Because the pressure of the financial markets, for instance, in terms of high interest rates, would be really dramatic, the pressure of the financial market on single governments. Whereas, the European Union as a whole is at such a scale, a dimension, that it can resist the external constraints of the financial market.

What in this process happens to the old conflicts, and what is the role of a more powerful state in this union? A prime example, of course, would be Germany. At least up until the present, it appeared to be successful at being the dominant actor in the union, in defining the terms of the monetary system and so on. That may be undergoing a change. But talk a little about how this union not only is the answer for some of the problems of the Left, if they can develop a broader vision, but a way of reconciling the interests of the various states as they deal with each other. And also of managing the hegemony of one state or another.

Yes, this is very important today. Certainly, from the beginning the European Community was born to make it impossible between Germany and France to repeat a war like many of the wars that those two countries have fought. The Prussian War, the First World War, the Second World War -- all of them were started as a French-German war. So this has been a constant characteristic of the European integration that it was such a powerful instrument to make war impossible between European countries.

And then it became, also, in '89, the best instrument to reunify Germany without the partner countries being threatened by a unified Germany. In fact, this was also the origin of the single currency, that Germany understood that it was in its best interest to reassure its partners. Germany gave up its most precious good, which was the German deutschmark, their currency. They abandoned the deutschmark in favor of adopting the euro, the single currency. This was a tradeoff between the German reunification, which gave to Germany much more political clout, and abandoning an economic and monetary sovereignty from Germany in favor of a federalist approach. So the European Union has been a tremendously efficient and performing instrument to solve national conflicts and national tensions among European countries.

It sounds like three things are going on here. One, it can be a way for political leaders within a country to deal with national issues by changing the arena and enlarging it. Second, it appears to be a way of addressing the conflicts between the states within Europe. And third, it seems to be a way of approaching and dealing with the challenge of globalizations and American dominance in that.

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