New grounds of Euro-scepticism in Italy by Ronny Mazzochi

Policy Study

09/10/2014

Although the Italian electoral campaign formally began only a few days ago, the European issues have been attracting the attention of the main commentators for a long time now. The enthusiasm that was created in the late 1990s during the convergency-process towards the Maastricht criteria quickly left room for disappointment and anger by a large proportion of the population. The European Union, which was seen as a lifeline for a country apparently unable to reform itself, has been transformed in one of the main culprits of the general welfare deterioration. It is therefore no coincidence that in recent weeks the anti-European parties have found fertile ground for their campaigns against the euro and against any step forward in the European integration. Because of the negative consequences of the austerity policies, the reform of European economic governance, the six-pack and the Fiscal Compact are subject to strong criticism.

The positions in this field can be classified mainly into two categories. On the one hand there are the populists, who reject any form of constraint to the decisions of national governments, arguing that the technocracies of Brussels and Frankfurt do not have the democratic legitimacy to influence the decisions taken by national governments, which are instead democratically elected by the citizens. Within this first group, which also includes the coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, emerge in particular the positions of the political movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, who does not even exclude an abandonment of the euro and a return to the national currency.

On the contrary, in the second group stands out the position of the progressive coalition led by the Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani. He ruled out an unilateral revision of the European agreements made on the budgetary targets, but at the same time he strives for a new European pact. The arguments in support of this position seem very convincing: the Fiscal Compact looks like a new version of the Stability and Growth Pact and there is a real

risk that it will replicate the same limits that have been highlighted in the operation of his illustrious predecessor. The logic and indicators of fiscal discipline introduced with the Maastricht Treaty are no longer relevant because they have been formulated in a context in which individual States could decide independently the conduct of monetary and fiscal policy. With the introduction of the single currency, national governments can only control the primary budget and therefore any objective formulated on the basis of indicators that contain interest payments can not be pursued independently but involves the cooperation of the ECB. The exchange that the Democratic Party seems willing to suggest is to establish an European Super-Commissioner with supervisory powers over national budgets and, at the same time, a more rational interpretation of public finance constraints, allowing for example the spin-off of the investment expenditures from the calculation of the annual deficit. This new budget pact should be accompanied by a more cohesive management of the European public debt. This should be done creating a common guarantee on the debt and establishing the right incentives so that it is possible to avoid an increase in moral hazard by individual countries.

The idea of a concerted renegotiation of the Fiscal Compact seems to have convinced even Mario Monti, that in this first phase of the electoral campaign has abandoned the intransigent positions that had characterized especially the beginning of his term as prime minister, when he was in the front row with the other conservative Prime Ministers in claiming the effectiveness of the Fiscal Compact and of the austerity policies. In conclusion, on European issues it seems that in Italy a strong dichotomy between Europeans and non- Europeans is emerging, which had never been observed in the past, at least with such intensity. This new feature will certainly influence the definition of possible post-election alliances and the political debate that will develop in the future.

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