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Where Does the EU Want to Go? A Perspective from Rome and Brussels

September 27, 2021

Speakers: Pietro Benassi (Italian Permanent Resident to the European Union) and Antonio Parenti (Head of the European Commission Representation in Italy)
Moderator: Veronica Anghel (Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe, European University Institute) Where Does the EU Want to Go? A Perspective from Rome and Brussels

The discussion began with Veronica Anghel asking Pietro Benassi and Antonio Parenti where the European Union should go from here. Parenti began the conversation by stating that there is a need for three "C"s to be achieved: cohesion, coherence and capacity. By cohesion, he means that citizens across the EU need to have access to the same fundamental rights and have the ability to actively participate in decision-making processes. By coherence, he believes that there is a change in the way that Europe is making decisions, and that this way of making decisions needs to be streamlined in a coherent fashion. By capacity, he signaled the importance of the EU being given the means to achieve what has been agreed upon. He pointed out the need to recognize inherent limitations of what the EU can achieve given the fact that the EU does not have a standing army. He also discussed the role of the Conference on the Future of Europe and marked it as having great potential to shape the European Union by giving citizens a platform to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes. Yet, he also pointed out the minimal participation of around 30,000 individuals in this platform, which signals that there may not be enough discussions being conducted to support actual reform. Parenti concluded by stating that the biggest issue of choosing a future path for Europe are the deep divides that separate the Member States. Those divides may prohibit them from reaching consensus.

Benassi answered the question by speaking about two critical divides that the EU will have to take into account as it maps out its future path. The first of these divides is the North/South financial divide and the second is the geopolitical divide between the East/West. Benassi also stated that another challenge the EU will have to overcome is the issue of migration, both in the external dimension regarding what policies should be put in place to limit an influx of migrants coming into the EU and in the internal dimension regarding reaching an agreement on migrant redistribution.

The discussion then continued with the questions of whether the EU is guilty of having double standards regarding its rhetoric and its actual actions. A second question referred to the special status of the transatlantic relation and whether it could be maintained in the future. Dr. Anghel asked why the United States needs the EU as a partner. Benassi responded to the first question by stating that it is too severe to suggest that the EU has a double standard and that the EU record of using soft power to incite change is positive. Parenti agreed with Benassi and asserted that the EU must be pragmatic and look at situations on the ground realistically instead of being idealistic. Both Benassi and Parenti answered the second question by highlighting that the EU is the United States' greatest trading partner and that the EU plays a pivotal role in working with the United States to contain China.