domingo, 24 de abril de 2016
Mario Monti: EU may well disintegrate
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Mario Monti: EU may well disintegrate
The former Italian prime minister and European commissioner blames cynical national governments for endangering the unity of the bloc.
By FRANCESCO GUERRERA 4/24/16, 9:00 AM CET Updated 4/25/16, 6:17 AM CET
MILAN — Mario Monti is worried about the break-up of Europe.
For the first time in a long academic and political life spent in and around the European project, Monti fears that a combination of morally “corrupt” (his word) national politics, structural holes in the Brussels machine, and external crises may trigger the collapse of the EU.
Or, worse — the return of the bloody past that preceded it.
Milan was basking in unseasonably warm weather when the former Italian prime minister and European commissioner sat down for an interview with POLITICO last week. But inside the airy office of the president of Bocconi University, the 73-year-old Italian’s current role, the mood was anything but sunny.
“The EU is going through a crisis which leads me and others for the first time to consider whether we are not heading towards disintegration,” Monti said, with his calm tone and deliberate cadence only emphasizing the seriousness of his words.
“The EU has never been hit by such a high number of different crises of this gravity,” he continued, referring to the migration problem, the rise of terrorism, and the bloc’s persistent economic malaise. “What I am concerned about is that, although the EU has developed itself historically through a process of crisis, response to the crisis, and advancement, this time around it may well not happen.”
Monti’s skepticism over the wisdom of Jean Monnet — who famously said that “Europe will be forged in crises” — stems from his low opinion of national governments and the body that represents them in the Brussels’ pantheon: the European Council.
Having himself been in the EU’s executive branch — as both commissioner for the internal market and more famously as competition czar, and then as prime minister of Italy in the European Council — Monti is clear on where the fault lies.
“Nobody could seriously pretend that the full-time EU institutions [the Commission, Parliament, European Central Bank, and European Court of Justice] are the ones responsible for the lack of adequate and timely responses to the present constellation of crises,” he said. “That is the Council, in particular in its highest formation, i.e., the European Council.”
While he was in office, Monti’s critics often charged that his training as an academic economist and his technocratic bent meant he wasn’t as skilled as the “professionals” in the dark art of politics.
But today, perhaps because he is largely out of the fray after a disappointing showing in the 2013 Italian elections, Monti is crystal clear on what’s gone wrong at the pinnacle of EU decision making.
“I think the turning point was the financial crisis, which coincided with the French presidency of 2008,” he said. “The problem of the day was rescuing the banks and even rescuing states to some extent. That was to be done with money from member states, not from the tiny EU budget. Therefore, it was inevitable that the power largely shifted from the Commission to the Council and, within it, to the top table, the European Council.”
In his view, the Council’s rise to prominence has been coupled with the steady drift of national political discourses towards nationalism, populism and a focus on the short-term. “The degree of mistrust and sheer prejudices between North and South and between East and West has never been so high and so unashamedly voiced,” he said.
Monti stops there, but his analysis contains an implicit criticism of the abrasive tactics practiced by Matteo Renzi, the current Italian prime minister, on the EU stage.
“Unfortunately, this has started to pay off, at least in the short-term, for politicians who cultivate the gut feelings of their citizens. Even heads of government and ministers belonging to traditionally pro-European parties now indulge in this habit. They hit out at the EU and also to other member states in bilateral acrimony.”
By now, his disgust for this “gut-feeling” politics is almost bursting through Monti’s polite persona of an old-fashioned Italian gentleman.
“In a sense, we live in mature democracies, but opinion-makers and citizens are still characterized by the medieval attitude of condoning, of being lenient to, les caprices du prince [the whims of the prince],” he said. “A politician is brought to trial, rightly, if he steals a glass or he displays a corrupt behavior. But the greatest ‘corruption’ of all, which is to misuse the democratic process for a clear political self-interest, is something that is taken as a natural state of life.”
With his age and experience, Monti is a bridge between a period of fitful but relentless European integration and the current moment when the idea of an “ever-closer Union” is being attacked on all fronts. But he contended that his views are borne out of genuine fear rather than nostalgia.
“If it is an irreversible process, we are going to lose our democracies in our member states,” he said. “Because what is at stake now … is the first wave of an earthquake deriving, in my view, from deeper stresses in the underground of politics. But at the same time, there is also a declining trust in national authorities, a declining participation in votes, a growing impatience with the lack of performance by national governments.”
The question is what he and other members of the traditional European elite can do about this.
There is a long pause and then: “Not much.” Then another pause before a call for an “intellectual insurgency” to expose the cynicism of national governments when dealing with Europe.
“It should be made clear to the public that often positions held [in the European Council] not only do not respond to a general European interest but in most cases, they … are mainly motivated by the party’s political, if not the personal political, interest that the leader of the day has back home.”
It sounds like a tall order — precisely because of what Monti described as the “degradation” of national politics.
He is, however, working on a more concrete, technocratic project as chair of the EU’s “high-level group on own resources.” The name is a classic piece of European linguistic obfuscation that clouds the group’s real purpose: to reform and perhaps expand the EU budget.
Monti sees his latest European assignment, which he has to deliver by the end of the year, as an attempt to rectify some of the wrongs he sees.
According to him, “over the past eight, 10 months for the first time in many years, we have seen the member states … saying, for the refugee crisis, the eurozone crisis, the fight against terrorism, ‘hey Brussels, this has to be a new function of yours.’ We want to work on the simple logic that if there are new functions, maybe there should also be new resources.”
But why does he keep fighting for the EU? Why not enjoy the prestige of heading Italy’s most respected university and leave it at that?
Like many times in the past — when he blocked the mega-merger of General Electric and Honeywell, or when he pushed through deeply unpopular economic reforms in Italy during the eurozone crisis — Monti is unwavering in his convictions.
He said he is speaking out “not for a moral crusade.” Rather, it is because he believes that “on European soil, the natural state of affairs is not peace — if it weren’t for the structured integration of countries, which have a habit of going to war with each other from time to time.”