An abridged version of this article was published in the Financial Times on August 7th, here
To watch clips of the TV debate between Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling, or to read of the latest tactical manoeuvre by Boris Johnson on British membership of the European Union, is at once irresistible and deeply depressing. Irresistible, because such displays of political chutzpah are impressive, in their way. But depressing because they are really beside the point. Worse, in fact: they mislead the public grossly about the nature of the decisions that face them, in both the Scottish and the European referendums.
The chutzpah ought not to be surprising. It is politicians’ job to exude confidence, to pretend to knowledge about the future that even they must know cannot be justified. And the now reams of studies, by all sides and by non-partisans too, of what would be the costs and benefits of Scottish independence or of Brexit from the EU just encourages this.
CYNTHIA PELUSO - IL MATTINO
"The projects are too ambitious to be realistic." Bill Emmott dismisses Renzi’s European policy. The former editor of The Economist, co-author of a documentary film about the decline of Italy, speaks, as usual, with his calm, mild Londoner voice. But from an extremely critical opinion, the message is clear: "If the ‘Stivale’ wants to wake up from the coma, it needs to focus on internal reforms."
What are your impressions of the aftermath of the Italian Prime Minister's speech in Strasbourg? "I think the whole euro area is going through a difficult period. It is not only Hollande’s France that is struggling with serious problems. Even Italy and the Netherlands, as well as other European countries, are linked by this situation. So the important question to ask is whether Germany will allow the rules of the fiscal compact to be changed put an end to this period of austerity. "
For the second time in less than three years, an Italian prime minister is being seen as a potential game-changer in Europe. At the end of 2011 the role was played by Mario Monti, whose face was on Time magazine’s cover with the question ‘Can this man save Europe?’ Today, in view of Italy’s rotating presidency of the EU, everyone seems to be asking the same question about Matteo Renzi. This time, though, it is not just hype.
The big question that GIAC wants to ask, however, is not whether Renzi will be a super-hero, even if that might be his favoured image. Our question is: What does he actually want to achieve? This question applies both to the immediate issue of whether Jean-Claude Juncker should be the next president of the European Commission and to how Renzi will conduct Italy’s six months setting the European Council’s agenda, which begins next month.
In Monti’s time the problem was the EU single currency, on the brink of collapse. The Professore’s aim was simple: survival, both for Italy’s public finances and the Euro as a whole, along with the restoration of some international respect for his country. By preventing Italy from asking for an unaffordable EU bailout, he can be said to have succeeded, at least in his opening months. Renzi’s situation is different. He has more power and leverage, but a more complex set of goals.
His power comes from the mandate given to his Partito Democratico in the European Parliament elections last month, and the battering those elections gave to Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. This gives the former mayor of Florence credibility as a reformer, even though that election victory is his only actual achievement so far. His leverage comes from elsewhere: Italy stands to be the swing vote in the European Council between the pro- and anti-Juncker camps, led respectively by Angela Merkel and David Cameron.
It is an unusual, but surely rather nice feeling: for once Italy looks a lot better, politically, after the European Parliament elections than do a lot of other EU countries.
Matteo Renzi’s big success against Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi no doubt had its foundations in a lot of domestic factors, including voters’ hope that their still very new prime minister might bring about the change they need. Yet that very spirit could now also be an inspiration for Europe—especially as Italy, led by Mr Renzi, will be president of the European Council for six months starting in July.
Mr Renzi stands for everything that European voters clearly want: new, outside the old political elites, young, reformist, energetic, full of hope. Whether he eventually disappoints Italian voters we will have to wait to see. But for now let’s focus on what this means for Europe.
Andrea and Marco Nasuto are two young Italian students from Grargano, Puglia. After the graduation they received several job offers from North America and Europe. Facing the possibility of leaving their city, they decided to shoot Made Of Limestone a low-cost documentary to show the weaknesses and strengths of Gargano, trying to answer the critical dilemma: "leave or stay"?
Here our interview with them.
A low-cost documentary to tell the story of where you come from, Gargano in Puglia. How did you come up with this idea?
We both graduated the same year and received offers to study in North America and Europe. Facing this scenario and the awareness that this could have been a point of no return, we decided to give life to an idea that probably had always been there. When you are born in southern Italy, the prospect of “leave or stay” is inculcated in you, bitterly. Our land offers plenty of ideas to think about, so many diseases and extraordinary features that also fit common patterns throughout Italy.