This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium-Brussels – 2016 will certainly be remembered as the “Brexit year,” but not only. All the unresolved challenges facing the European Union came up during this year, starting with the migration crisis, which has enlarged the divisions between the member states after the proposals (or threats) by some to build walls, and calls for the Schengen treaty to be put under review. Let’s not forget the terrorist threat that has put the sharing of data and information at the centre of the EU agenda.

After this, Turkey, one of our Nato partners, as an exchange for managing the migrant influx from Syria, has asked for the abolition of visas and the re-launch of the negotiations for its EU membership. At the same time, after the failed “coup,” Ankara has accelerated acts of repression and anti-democratic reforms.

On the economic treaties side, we observed the temporary stop of the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) with the US and the complicated “signing” of the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with Canada.

Moreover, 2016 was the year in which, thanks to the ever-present economic crisis, for the first time someone confronted a specific idea of Europe based on bureaucrats, economists, technocrats and supporters of a “0 policy”. Europe seems to have lost its common points of reference and the project of the founding fathers De Gasperi, Schuman and Adenauer.

Europe has to make a key choice: it has to find a way to reach the hearts of the EU citizens and give them once again the hope of a future based on peace and prosperity, but also the awareness of their active participation in building the EU project. The support for this idea is growing throughout the continent, but incredibly during these discussions we observed the rise, not of the three EPP founding fathers’ project, but of the one formulated by Altiero Spinelli.

The shift, from a media point of view, took place in my country, Italy, when the former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi described Spinelli as an ideological EU point of reference. Renzi took French President Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ventotene, where Spinelli, imprisoned during the Second World War, wrote what a political manifesto calling for a free and united Europe.

Now, with all my respect for Spinelli as a politician and for his contribution to the birth of the EU, for his political and human path, which he paid for in prison during Fascism, my idea of Europe is very different from his.

But I also believe that the negative elements of the EU, which are critical, are closer to Spinelli’s idea more than the one of the three founding fathers. If we read the famous “manifesto of Ventotene,” it is clearly presented a Europe without nations, key point of his ideology, which has forgotten its (Christian) roots. Spinelli, in his manifesto, speaks about “class struggles,” “revolutionary movement,” “revolutionary party,” and even refers to the “abolition of the private property” of the production tools, “tolerated only if temporary when really needed”. There is no liberalism in Spinelli’s political thinking.

The two visions of Europe, the one of Spinelli and the one of the three “founding fathers” were born to overcome the horror of the two world wars and the totalitarian ideologies which devastated our populations.

There is a difference between these two ideas of Europe: while the three founding fathers were deeply convinced that the European people had in their roots, values, ideals, history, traditions and culture, the strength to overcome the horror and build up a Europe based on peace and prosperity, Spinelli, on the other side, wants to cancel all this because he finds in this ideology the roots of the bad/evil that devastated our continent.

But, as a former Italian minister once said: “If the EU will decide to renounce its traditions, cultures, roots, popular sentiments and commune sense; it will have no future”.

As we are inside the EU institution representing our citizens, we have to work hard to ensure Europe once again becomes a point of reference and a sense of hope that is close to the citizens and the EU’s common ideals.

2017 will be key due to two important elections that will be held in the two most important political and economic countries in the EU.

In May 2017, elections will take place in France where observers already foresee a too-close-to-call result between pro-EU political forces and the Euro-sceptics. In September 2017, we will have elections in Germany where in the last local elections we saw some signs that could serve as a prelude to possible changes.

Also in 2017, the UK should concretely trigger the famous article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that sets out the path for leaving the EU. In this case as well, we don’t know what will happen. We don’t know if it will be a hard or soft Brexit, if London will remain in the EU market paying a quota and if Scotland will try to find a way out of the UK.

In the end, for our dear old Europe, it will be a period of difficult tests but it could also be the year finally giving a start to the changes that everyone is more and more urgently invoking.