Interview with the activist and researcher Andrea Pisauro about Eurobonds and his open letter to Angela Merkel.
Read the open letter to Angela Merkel here
The interview was conducted by Lena Kronenbürger of New Europeans on the eve of the EU Council meeting.
LENA KRONENBÜRGER: When did you first feel that you were a European citizen?
ANDREA PISAURO: I was very young indeed! I was born in Rome which historically has a strong European identity. My mum used to teach French and told me many things about European history and cultures.
And my second mum, the second wife of my father, was born in Brussels of one of the first EU officials who worked for the first Commission and studied at the European school there.
I grew up a European thanks to their stories about European history, the human factor and the political and cultural elements that built the fabric of my European identity.
LK: What are you fighting for when it comes to Europe?
AP: I am fighting for European democracy, the antidote against nationalism and xenophobia.
More democracy and accountability to govern the eurozone. More democracy to increase the powers of the European Parliament and make all EU decisions accountable to it. More democracy by giving the citizens more tools to make their voice heard.
I dream of a Citizens’ Assembly made up of a rotation of EU citizens, chosen by sortition and meeting in Strasbourg, acting as a check and balance to the Parliament in Brussels. But this is a dream for another interview…
LK: You wrote a letter to none other than the German Chancellor which has attracted over 700 signatures from intellectuals across Europe. What does it say?
AP: The letter was written by me and my German girlfriend Nina. We wrote it after many days in which we were worried about the growth of Euroskepticism in Italy, which felt left alone by the EU at the beginning of the pandemic.
We asked for help from Gian Giacomo Migone, an old friend of mine who is a former Italian senator, historian and a true European globetrotter.
We thought that a European response at the level of the crisis was needed and that the response should be led by Germany. We chose Angela Merkel as the German chancellor and as a physicist who understood better than any other European leader the depth and implications of this pandemic.
We asked Angela Merkel to make a historic step to build a European response to the economic crisis induced by the pandemic.
In the letter, we make a historical reference: after the first World War, Germany was let in ruin in a decade long recession by the sanction imposed by the other EU countries after the First World War, sanctions that John Maynard Keynes and many intellectuals of the time opposed. We all know how that ended.
We built the EU precisely not to repeat history so politicians now need to listen to the advice of a large majority of European economists who are saying: it is time for Eurobonds.
LK: Hardly anything else was so fiercely debated during the euro debt crisis as Eurobonds. While the pandemic accelerates, the idea has indeed resurfaced lately. Why do you think that European bonds are the right way to “tackle an emergency that could otherwise turn into a eurozone crisis”, as you put it?
AP: European bonds are the way to create European debt, which means raising money to invest in the recovery as Europeans and not as individual member states.
This is important. All states will need to hugely increase their level of debts to face the consequences of the pandemics.
If they all compete with each other to sell their bonds on the market, the interests and the spreads are bound to explode and a new eurozone crisis is inevitable.
If we issue European bonds there is no competition, just cooperation, and the interest on the debt would stay low because they would be guaranteed by the European Central Bank.
LK: What is the strongest argument of the opponents of Eurobonds? What would you tell them?
AP: Some of them say it's a way for southern European states to get cheap money to fix their financial problems.
These people need to understand that the recession induced by the pandemics will be way more severe than anything anyone has seen in their lifetimes.
All countries will have enormous economic problems that the markets won't be able to solve.
We need a strong, coordinated public intervention which should be European, funded by European money and partly by European debt.
We are all in this together and we should react together.
As a researcher in Neuroeconomics, you study human decision-making. From this perspective, do you understand why European bonds are so hotly debated?
I think much has to do with the framing of the narrative in different countries. Decisions are shaped by how you frame them.
If in the Netherlands citizens are told that Italians want their hard-worked money to fix the Italian broken economy, surely they would say no to Eurobonds. If on the other hands they are framed as a financial tool to provide an EU wide response that can help all EU citizens, one would give a very different response.
The deep question is why there are so different narratives in different states. The answer seems to be a complex combination of cultural, historical political and economic reasons. History is important.
A politician who for many years has said that Eurobonds are wrong because he didn't ideologically support the bailout of Greece or because he fears the nationalistic right in his country has a hard time changing his stance.
Humans are stubborn and usually struggle changing their minds. Yet this fictitious politician shouldn't be surprised if he gets defined as “the Ebenezer Scrooge of the EU”.
LK: In your letter to Angela Merkel, you mention Willy Brandt, who was committed to a peaceful and united Europe, not only during his time as chancellor. In your opinion, is Angela Merkel a chancellor who shares these values, will she go down in history as a European?
AP: I do think Angela Merkel is a sincere European. She certainly cares about solidarity as she has shown in welcoming a million Syrian refugees. And she has a chance to build a legacy as European leader by overcoming Germany’s historical opposition to sharing debt with the rest of Europe.
Symbolically, creating European bonds means that EU leaders signal to the world that they are ready to do whatever it takes to preserve our precious Union and strengthen it in the face of hardship as we say in the letter.
I can't imagine a better legacy for the longest-serving European leader.
Andrea Pisauro is a research associate in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and an influential activist.
Read more about Andrea Piscauro here
Lena Kronenbürger is a freelance journalist, writer and the editor-in-chief of 42 Magazine