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Former British MEP: Why I am running in Italy for the European Parliament

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By former British MEP Sir Graham Watson

Married to an Italian for over 30 years and with two children who are dual nationals, I did not until recently seek an Italian passport. My UK passport was headlined 'European Union' and gave me a right to work and reside anywhere in the EU. Since Brexit, the number of UK citizens applying for Italian citizenship has risen ten-fold. I am among those fortunate to be granted it.

As a Brexit refugee I am dismayed to discover the same forces at work here in Italy as I saw in the UK 20 years agoand which led to Brexit. 

Right wing political activists determined to break up the EU, funded by private money from the USA (some of the hedge funds of East Coast America, for example, funding Trump-and- Brexit activist Steve Bannon to set up shop here) and public money from Russia funding the useful idiots in Italian politics who have close ties to Putin. 

Taking their script from the playbook of Cambridge Analytica they use the drip, drip of social media algorithms to spread anti-EU propaganda. 

It is in one sense unsurprising: the EU's single market is the largest free market in the world, capable of facing down the monopolistic practices of Amazon, Google etc; and the euro is a global currency which rivals (and might one day overtake) the dollar as a global reserve currency. Since social media 'advertising' is relatively inexpensive and hard to detect, thismay be happening in every country of the EU. It may be behind the recent general election result in the Netherlands.

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Having served for 20 years in the European Parliament, including a seven year stint as leader of the Liberal Democratic (ALDE) Group 2002-09, I had not expected to be called out of a semi-retirement teaching the EU for three months a year to postgraduate students at the University of Toronto. 

In politics, however, when the call comes, one cannot say no. 

The offer to lead the list of European parliament candidates in North East Italy for the new 'United States of Europe' party is one I have taken up with gusto.

The 'United States of Europe' list, re-grouping six small parties and led by former prime minister Renzi and former European Commissioner Bonino, seeks to persuade the Italians that a confederal Europe is no longer capable of satisfying citizens' demands. 

A federal Europe has become a necessity. Unanimity in the Council of Ministers is holding up a robust response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine; horse-trading behind closed doors to choose the President of the Commission is sorely outdated in a world of direct democracy. The EU's budget is less than 2% of its GDP; the USA's is over 20%. America's Inflation Reduction Act is a massive stimulus for the US economy: Europe's Recovery and Resilience Fund must have the same capacity. 

The country which produced Altiero Spinelli, former European Commissioner and MEP, and likely future Commission President Mario Draghi, has produced the first serious federalist political party. 

To show that it practices what it preaches about EU citizenship, former EU Affairs minister Sandro Gozi is seeking re-election to the European parliament in France with Emmanuel Macron while I have been selected to stand in Gozi's north-east Italy.

'Having created Italy', wrote the philosopher politician Massimo d'Azeglio, 'we must create Italians'. Our message is rather 'having created Europeans, we must create Europe'. There are now three generations since the Treaty of Rome. They have the right to expect a Europe which can function properly.

So our campaign is for a Europe with a common defence policy to replace 27 national armies, navies and airforces with incompatible munitions; for a European energy market with laws and infrastructure to allow the free flow of gas and electricity between member states; and for a European migration policy, similar to Canada's, recognising the need for legal routes for immigration in a continent of plummeting birth rates and for proper policies of integration for new arrivals. 

With majority voting in the Council of Ministers, similar policies can be developed quickly and effectively in other areas. 

Twenty years ago, together with Romano Prodi, I created a new political group in the European Parliament: the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats FOR Europe. It was the largest third force the Parliament has ever known. Looking back, I see that the idea was 20 years ahead of its time. That time has now come.

• Sir Graham Watson is a European political leader from Scotland in the United Kingdom. He holds dual UK-Italian citizenship by marriage to Dr Rita Giannini, an Italian Liberal. They have two children.

Elected as the first UK Liberal ever to the European Parliament in 1994 after eight years in international banking, he served as Chairman of the Parliament’s Committee on Citizens Rights and Freedoms, Justice and Home Affairs from 1999 to 2002 before being elected as Leader of Parliament’s Liberal Democratic Group. He was Parliament’s Liberal Democrat Leader from 2002-09.

He remained in Parliament until 2014. During his twenty years in the European Parliament he co-founded and chaired The Climate Parliament, a global network of legislators committed to accelerating the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. He was ALDE party president from 2011 to 2015

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