Niccolo’ Rinaldi is an Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Vice President for ALDE group and member of the Committee on International Trade. Before becoming a politician, he built a strong experience in International Affairs, working first for the UN in Afghanistan, and then for almost twenty years at the European Parliament. UNITEE had the opportunity to discuss with him about what to expect from the EU’s future.
Before Brussels, you worked for a long period for the United Nations. What moved you to enter politics?
I first worked at the European Parliament. Coming from the United Nations, it was a logical step, in some ways.
After 19 years as an employee at the European Parliament, I caught the opportunity to run as an independent for ALDE at the 2009 European elections. This indeed was highly unexpected. I had never had any special interest in Italian politics, but I always tried to facilitate the job of Italian MEPs, especially for what concerns the access to European funds. This project caught the attention of Antonio Di Pietro’s Party Italia Dei Valori, the Italian branch of ALDE, who decided to present me as a candidate.
With the European elections approaching, the trust in Europe seems to have never been so low. What has gone wrong with the European project?
Firstly, the European Union has chosen to follow a bureaucratic model. As a consequence, citizens see a technocratic world which does not communicate, even if it does good things.
Secondly, Europe has been unable to give Europeans a sense of belonging. Europe is still seen as something far away. We lack a positive feeling, the perception that, in the end, being a European citizen is a privilege.
Finally, the building of a common monetary system and a common internal market, not followed through by solid political institutions, has been unable to meet the challenges presented by the crisis.
Thanks to the initiative of the Spinelli Group, leading last November to the “Treaty of Bozar” proposal, there is a debate around the need for a new European Constitution. Do you consider that such a deep change of institutions is feasible?
Nowadays, it is not possible to approach a solution on a State-by-State basis. We need responses who are not only coordinated, but united.
I see the European Union as in the middle of a ford: on one side, we have left a shore where unilateral action had still its meaning, but we haven’t reached the other one yet, the United States of Europe. I think nevertheless that this impasse cannot last for long and we will witness a sudden acceleration. It is like the Berlin Wall: it lasted for decades, but all of a sudden it fell, unleashing irreversible processes.
In the course of your career as an MEP, you have always been on the front line informing citizens about the opportunities the EU offers them. Don’t you think though that, in general, there is an information deficit concerning European affairs?
I have had the opportunity to know many people who have been able to obtain some financing from Europe, which changed their life: what was an idea has become a project, what was a dream has become reality. To me, thus, Eurofunds are a very good way to make the EU effective at the local level.
Nevertheless, this is not our job: an MEP’s job is to legislate on European measures, not to sell Europrojects. This should be done by somebody else, local institutions or European associations. But if nobody does it, I think it is a political imperative for MEPs to take charge of it.
UNITEE represents ‘New Europeans’, i.e. European entrepreneurs and professionals with a migrant background. Which measures do you think could be useful to foster integration in their host communities?
I see immigration as a huge school of life, and the one who forms him- or herself as an entrepreneur through migration can then have a better ability to adapt to markets. Nevertheless, obstacles are many, and in many cases we even witness real discrimination. That is why Europe needs a common immigration policy. Nowadays, we turn down a lot of talents and highly specialized workers, which we enormously need.
There is some populism and fear in citizens saying no to immigration. But I think that also at the institutional level, there is a lack of perception on how important migrants are for our economies: China will soon need to intercept migration fluxes, and so will Russia. We cannot afford to miss this train.
Recently, the EU has been negotiating with the United States for the Bilateral Trade Agreement, also known as TTIP. As a member of the International Trade Committee, what is your take on its consequences?
The advantages will be many, because in an increasingly competitive world, it is natural for allies such as the US and the European Union to form a free-trade area.
Furthermore, as an Italian, I belong to an export-oriented economy, and being able to access the American market will create a lot more opportunities for us.
There are some main obstacles: the first one is the issue of GMOs, on which there is a deep cultural gap. Secondly, there is the cultural industry, which the European Parliament has already asked to be excluded from the agreement. And thirdly, the issue of privacy: now it is in the spotlight, after Edward Snowden’s revelations.
But it has always been a reason of deep disagreement with the US. For us, privacy is sacred, while the Americans see it in a slightly different way: for them National Security has the priority over individual rights.