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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > EP2024Series_00 The tumbleweed of EU decision-making European Parliament elections

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Published on 2024-03-17 14:00:00 | words: 4417

In few months, we will have another round of European Parliament elections.

This article is the preamble of a series of articles that will publish once every two weeks (unless locals in Italy intervene to halt it, as they did in Brussels on my first temp-to-perm project there in 2008: still counting now how much that "scorched earth", as other non-Italians in Brussels called it, did cost).

Interesting evolution: while until 2010 basically the only training online for free was what I found on oyc.yale.edu (a posting of full classes on few subjects- luckily, the history and political science and philosophy where well represented), and had to physically go from Brussels to London, Paris, Zurich, Milan if I wanted to attend specific workshops or events, since 2020 everything is at least "hybrid".

Yes, meeting people face-to-face is fine, but it is also expensive and time-consuming, and at last since 2020 was able to attend not just workshops and training (often for free), but also accept invitations from the USA that I had received since the 1990s.

It is interesting to hear discussions on how even a federal state that had been integrated for centuries, a union (despite the mid-XIX century Civil War), still, when shifting to discussions about operational issues, shows significant differences.

And how policy-setting is a continuous process, ditto balancing between Member States and the Union.

In Europe, we had a long history of internecine wars, looking just at after the fall of the Roman Empire (Western side): hence, a real union will probably take a while, as we still have routinely surfacing in discussions old and not-so-old grudges.

Hence, this time, as what happened since 2020 has been a kind of compression of time and collation of crises, decided to do something slightly more like an "ongoing chronicle", following the approach I used when I visited Berlin in November 2012 (blogging that out of a joke turned into a book, that you can read and download for free)- i.e. more than the usual 5-8 articles that published since 2009 whenever there was an election either in Turin, Piedmont, Italy, EU (you will find here those for elections since 2016).

Within this series, each article (except this one) will start with a list of the articles planned, with links to those already published.

It might be that this series will be followed by another one shortly thereafter, but the aim of this series is to cover the full electoral cycle: from its preparation, to what results from the choices made by voters.

As this article is the preamble (hence, the "_00" suffix after the series name), the list of the planned articles is shown within the last section.

Except this article, I plan to keep each one of the following one at around 2,000 words: as it will be one every two weeks, any additional material on context, society, business, technology will be shuttled there.

Also, while we will have at the same time, as in 2019, regional elections in Piedmont (where I am since 2012), I will shift my commentary on the regional elections only to Facebook (for the political and social side) and Linkedin (for the political and business side), and will be generally either in Italian or English, followed by a "relaunch" in the other language to either contextualize (e.g. to summarize an Italian post in English, while adding also cultural references), or to add local-to-local concepts (e.g. to expand in Italian on an English language post).

Actually, I started last week with few posts on both profile linked above- have a look if interested.

Reason: while I am still a foreign-local (i.e. born locally but having been too long- since the 1980s- based elsewhere, including abroad), I can still contribute to pre-empt issues, not because I have a crystal ball, but because I am used to quickly contextualize and connect-the-dots across multiple domains, and therefore used to look from the outside for how those dots are, while having had some local political experience locally, and being born locally, adds an understanding of what lies under all the melodrama and rethoric that we Italians as so fond of.

Still, while general issues could be of EU interest (as Italy, not yet being really a unified country in heart and mind, represents a bit what a future fast-forward EU could become, hence could be useful to observe it to pre-empt issues), specific points are only of local relevance.

Incidentally, I am completing this article on March 17th- a day when we celebrate, in a typical Italian fashion ("un colpo al cerchio ed uno alla botte"- i.e. hedging to be politically correct): the unification of Italy, its Constitution, its flag, its anthem.

As any other shorter choice would have raised objections from one or the other of the countless local and political tribes...

I shared therefore this picture on both Facebook and Whatsapp: and I am fine with celebrating all the list of items within the official title...

... which sounds more like a "TO DO" list than an "Italian acquis".

When I visited Scandinavia by train the first time in the early 1990s, I was surprised to see so many national flags around Sweden- and then when visited the USA in mid-1990s to meet my former LSE Summer School classmates, I saw how often the flag was visible in buildings.

It took a while to see that common in Italy (along with the EU flag).

Shifting to the preamble (will explain the title later in this article), this time, while we are directly and indirectly involved in two conflicts just around the corner, one involving also a country on its accelerated path to accession to both the EU and NATO (Ukraine).

Looked at with envy and disdain from countries who had to get through the "forche caudine" of the traditional accession paths (the Balkans), and a country that it on a kind of Prometeian accession path (Turkey- there is always "something more" since decades, and having President Ergodan look as a president-for-life does not help).

Just as a cherry on the cake, in part due to COVID, in part due to the Monnet approach (why loose a good opportunity to push through something that has been on the discussion table for a while, but never reached a political consensus but sounds so appealing to few), a series of initiatives started in the early 2020s but that will have long-term impacts on both the EU and its evolution are currently ongoing.

Curiously, all of this happened while the formal decision-making of the EU is getting even closer to a Gordian knot that it was already before.

So, few sections in this short article, an article that is more to share some doubts- as solutions would require a different level not just of expertise, but also of access.

No, power is not relevant, in this case: being diffused, requires more coalition building than anything else, as "alone at the helm" has already created in the distant and not-so-distant past enough damages, damages whose costs European inhabitants have paid for generations and probably will pay for few more.

Sections in this article:
_ decoding the title: tumbleweed decision-making
_ tinkering with the Monnet approach on steroids
_ what's coming next: disclosure (yes, my vote)
_ conclusions and what will be in this series

Decoding the title: tumbleweed decision-making

As discussed in recent workshops and webinars e.g. on military-issues decision-making, anytime the EU adds some potential decision-making on shared issues, we have a compulsive inclination to create a maze of "contributing" bodies.

Within the EU, we do not have a chain of command- we have a tumbleweed of command that collects more and more while rolling around.

As if it were a collation process, akin to when an Italian political party presented an election platform with... 100 points.

Or: a bit for everybody.

Of course, a political platform is useful only to win elections, nobody expects you to implement it, but with 100 points, you are micro-managing the platform.

Adding probably the risk that, instead of having then a real implementation that differs from a platform, as each one of the requestors of each one of those 100 points will ask, if that resulted in winning, its own pound of flesh.

A tumbleweed decision-making approach, notably when adding new powers during a time of crisis, as it were both COVID and the invasion by Russia of Ukraine, generates another risk.

As those crises demand from the operational side immediate response and a coherent vision (be it the national health systems for the former, or a shared identification of objectives for the latter).

If you converted a chain of command into a tumbleweed by adding layer upon layer of "shuffling around" decisions, you could get two results:
_ if time is available, something akin to "Pentagon Wars"
_ if time is not available, the Alexander Gordian knot approach.

The latter is what we saw way too often with the incumbent European Commission- first by general delegated consensus, then as a "pre-emptive approach" that, seen from outside and from news, appeared as if it had sidelined all the structures, which were then involved into making that operational and reconcile with systemic needs as well as potential long-term impacts and sustainability.

A typical example was the accession fast-track for Ukraine, while instead all the other candidates since the 1950s had to get into a legislative and structural compliance convergence that takes a long, long, long time.

Or promises on the operational side that ignored the reality of warehouses and implementation needs: you can promise only the bullets that you have in stock (depleting those available for your own needs) or that you have capacity to produce, otherwise you need to carry out a conversion akin to that done during WWII by the USA, to meet a sudden surge.

In business the "tumbleweed decision-making" is usually resulting in somebody jumping forward by simply organizing meetings when nominally they have no power to do so.

Do it few times, and you are actually doing the equivalent of a "takeover", and probably will get recognition if and when serves shared needs.

Then, somebody else will probably have to fix the impacts.

In politics, usually you get "sniping" much sooner than you can build a sustainable power base, as those operating in that field have centuries if not millennia of historical knowledge and experience to relate to.

A Gordian knot approach is instead useful when you have e.g. to "prettify" the organization before selling it (let the buyers discover skeletons), or to show a change in direction.

Anyway, adopting Draconian measures might backfire, as could undermine motivation and generate doubts about when will be your turn.

In many organizations, what I quoted in a previous article ("Overcoming cognitive dissonance on the path to a real EU-wide industrial policy") was the famous "for whom the bell tolls" poem, which contains the central verses that many forget:
"Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less,

As well as if a promontory were:

As well as if a manor of thy friend's

Or of thine own were.

Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind."

In any complex organization "death" is not physical, but conceptual- in Ancient Rome there was the "promoveatur ut admoveatur", i.e. "bumping up to sideline".

Hence, if you mismanage the communication side of any change, many would think "for whom the bell tolls- next".

Tinkering with the Monnet approach on steroids

Let's be frank: the incumbent European Commission was not even yet really "settled", that the COVID crisis started.

Disrupting supply chains and showing how much the EU manufacturing sector was dependent on maybe cheap, but critical components for its products with high-tech content (from machine tools to cars and vehicles, to even the smaller "smart" white appliances, to health equipment, down to the humble face mask).

And how its industrial "engine", Germany, was dependent on cheap energy coming from outside the EU.

Then there was the recovery, halted by the invasion of Ukraine.

Which resulted also in affecting again land-based supply chains, and showing, through sanctions, again how much EU was dependent from external energy sources- not just Germany.

As I shared in the past, I disliked that the incumbent European Commission, notably its leadership, routinely "pushed forward" agenda items as if they were white rabbits from a magician hat.

Then, all the other decision-making levels, including those who actually had received a mandate directly from voters...

...often did not even dare to utter dissent, and toed the line for a misguided sense of "common Mianzi", i.e. shared face-saving.

I could now start a long, long digression- but, luckily, during my "journey to learn the basics of Mandarin and Chinese organizational culture", shared in August 2014 an article on one of my "language learning" websites.

Of course- the one focused on Mandarin- I had others in the past, and already setup few more: have no fear of sharing mistakes, if you then share also solutions, as this might help others to pre-empt your own mistakes (and make new ones).

If that is the democratic model we want to lecture others about, I have some qualms.

As discussed in the previous section, the EU has indeed a tumbleweed approach to decision-making.

And the mandate of the incumbent European Commission has evolved into being focused on fixing crises while pushing through de facto reforms with long-term impacts.

The key risk is that we end up as the Israel Prime Minister, who seems to need to keep the crisis alive to stay in power, at a time when internal opposition, before the Hamas attacks of October 2023, was gaining consensus against his political reforms.

The key point is: during this mandate of the European Commission, the number of reforms or de-facto reforms with structural impact has been staggering.

Some would consider that "productivity", e.g. the political "family" that confirmed the incument as "leading candidate", to be appointed at the European Commission should that political family obtain the most votes across Europe (albeit then newspapers reported that they too joined the majority of the European Parliament in a legal attack against a choice made by the European Commission).

Still, if tomorrow (let's dream) both wars were to end, and reconstruction of both Ukraine and Palestine were to begin, the EU will have to deal with a long list of promises and a patchwork of emergency measures turned into "rules of engagement", e.g. bureaucracies, spanning from the military to the political to the industry.

We created Gosplan 2.0 by "emergence", let's see how it can be converted into something more aligned with democratic capitalism (no, it is not an oxymoron- it is what the EU used to say to aim to represent).

Incidentally: yes, I am pro-two states, as it has been repeately shown the impossibility of a single state covering all, courtesy of "fringe warriors" on both sides- Hamas and others on one side, and expansionists on the other side.

Anyway, I think that this is the right time to shift to the next step in this article... a disclosure.

What's coming next: disclosure (yes, my vote)

A really short section as, if you read previous articles, you probably know already.

And if you did not, an "investment-fund-style" disclosure is enough.

First and foremost, I like to think systemically.

Which implies: a system of systems.

For those who played with videogames in the 1980s: it is a sprite approach (i.e. each component comes with its own constraints, resources, etc- interactions imply compounding, but not necessarily altering the internal balance, albeit eventually might), blended with what described in the past as (this time borrowed from physics) the distortion of surrounding space produced by the mass of each component.

In politics, you might win the democratic vote, but then, if your votes result from a coalition with a long list of participants, each with different agendas that surface once the elections are won...

...a nimbler but more cohesive entity might "leverage" (yes, from finance) its resources and mandate to a higher level.

Well, in Italy, we had over the last few decades political parties that were able to get over 30% in one election, less than half the next one, then get to a single digit in interim elections, and then back to almost 20%.

So, it is a rollercoaster: can you imagine building a system based on having two main coalitions, in this environment, something that we tried to import from UK and USA at least since the 1990s?

Thinking systemically in terms of a "system of systems", while being bipartisan but with a left or center-left inclination implies also something else: "winning" from my side does not really matter if that is done by bending rules in such a way that would affect the stability of the system.

And, to stay in Italy, this was my perception also of the "pushing through" in the early 2000s of some Constitutional reforms spreading nominally power down to the regional level, reforms whose "tinkering side" was shown both during the COVID crisis and more recently.

Shifting to the EU level, this approach implies that I routinely uttered (and wrote) how much I disliked the Monnet approach- as it pushed a jump forward without real consensus.

Do that few times, and you end up generating a significant distance from citizens.

Moreover: when, according to the discussion above in this section about relative power, you end up with "reforms" that in each country are sold as if were imposed by Brussels, but really are minority positions that could not get consensus at the national level, have been feed through the process at the EU level, and returned as EU+Member States choices to be implemented also where no consensus on them was politically achievable.

The national recovery and resilience plans associated with NextGenerationEU measures and funding suffer from that "genetic disease", and probably the side-effects will become politically visible only after 2026, when nominally it should be completed, and will be within the ex-post assessment (but some countries, including Italy, are routinely talking about delays) and "payback" time.

It has been useful since COVID, but I would not think that the EU would structurally recover with another five years of the current team, as it would turn a tumbleweed into a Gordian knot.

Just at the time when the payback and impacts of the national recovery and resilience plan, and all the other measures that followed (chips act, repowerEU, etc) would need instead a more sustainable and less "heroic" structure.

Hence, I was in doubt about which "political family" was going to vote at the EU level for the European Parliament.

Was even ready, for the first time, due to the less than convincing and too "flash-mob style" approach of the Italian side of the European socialist family, to vote for the one of the various splinter groups of the christian democrats for the first time in my life.

Anyway, appointing the incumbent European Commission leader as selected candidate for a new mandate solved the issue: no.

And now, will have to look at the profile of actual candidates across all the others to see who to vote...

... but, again, focusing on those who seem to understand that our reality and structural needs are within a more cohesive European Union with streamlined decision-making that is accountable to citizens on a supra-national level, not tinkering piled upon more tinkering.

Conclusions and what will be in this series

As promised at the beginning of this article, here is the list of the forthcoming articles:
_ EP2024_001_preamble
_ EP2024_002_preparing
_ EP2024_003_policy
_ EP2024_004_freedoms
_ EP2024_005_lastcall
_ EP2024_006_impacts
_ EP2024_007_firstlights
_ EP2024_008_dancing
_ EP2024_009_bartering
_ EP2024_010_preparing2
_ EP2024_011_settling
_ EP2024_012_spitzenkandidaten
_ EP2024_013_incoming
_ EP2024_014_next
_ EP2024_015_onetwothree
_ EP2024_016_halloween
_ EP2024-017_endofthebeginning

The first article within the series will be published on... April 1st- yes, as a tongue-in-cheek selection, but the content will be short and serious.

Beware: as keep writing in many articles on this website, and even position papers for customers and partners or members of my teams since the late 1980s, there is a time when no single expert is the answer- notably when the expert is a paper tiger- all theory, no practice.

Practice, being mere humans, generates competence- but limited competence.

What matters is that practice shows how transposing theory into reality has to cope with constraints and elements that weren't considered in your "God like planner" moment.

Hence, learning from others who have competence developed through experience (as I did since the early 1980s), or having practice after receiving a formal knowledge transfer (even indoctrination "how we do things" and "what is ordinary") both should generate a taste for the "humble pie"- as was Charles Laughton in that memorable speech at the end of "Advise and Consent"- an old movie that any manager who feels he is losing touch with reality and becoming infallible should watch.

Therefore, if you had your taste of the humble pie, and remember it, probably you will be better positioned to integrate and "contextualize" the advice of other supposedly infallible experts- and sort out the paper tigers from those who actually learned a lesson or two after contacts with reality.

A hint: except as an occupational hazard or need, those who passed through that learning path listen more than they talk, while paper tigers open anything with talking talking talking and trying to convert everybody- before they even pay lip service to listening.

Then, when they get stuck by going down a blind alley, usually publicly lambast their followers or staff: I rather go the "the buck stops here", Truman-way (from what I read about him did not like him more than other Presidents, but he had his own instincts- every person is a blend).

So, in this series of articles I will be both an observer and a commentator.

I currently live in Piedmont, Italy, working here again full-time whenever in missions since 2012, but the more I stay, the more I understand how "foreigner" I became from my own birthplace through the experience I developed outside of it since the 1980s, even by living elsewhere in Italy and abroad, and learning to interact with different cultures.

Am I Italian? Well, yes to a point- and do not deny it.

Anyway, I am European- and cannot see a role of Italy outside of the European Union, for now.

It is not just because of what wrote long ago Karlsruhe (roughly the German equivalent of the USA Supreme Court), i.e. that once in, leaving is not really feasible- formally now it is possible, at UK did.

Still, compare UK before entering the European Communities and then staying in within the European Union, and UK after Brexit.

UK is still carrying the EU-approach more than was in the 1950s, as to enter you have to align your whole legal system.

Do it for a couple of generations, and it starts becoming your "new normal".

I will let aside discussing Brexit- if you have time shared four years ago a short video presentation.

Still, I think that it is interesting to study how it will evolve in a decade or so after the Brexit.

Why? Because, as discussed above, we have to overcome the "tumbleweed" approach to decision making.

And we can learn from post-Brexit UK in a decade or so how a unified country could evolve (what could be in the future the EU, at least a core group, with "multiple circles"- as described in articles while in Brussels, and more recently and with more depth was proposed by France and Germany).

Starting from a EU-inspired "acquis communautaire".

As you cannot turn back the arrow of time- but have to move forward by looking at what the current context is, the lessons learned, and potential future scenarios.

And, then, select which one you are aiming for.

Have a nice week, and see you in two weeks for the next article in this series.