Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Inevitable Schism: Italy and the EU

When, back in the 1990s, the debate was being had in this country as to whether we should join the euro, which was at that time still a twinkle in eurocrats eyes, those of us who were opposed to our joining were met with the same patronising sad shake of the head we get now if we admit that we voted for Brexit. They have mostly gone quiet ever since of course, apart from a few fanatics like the egregious Paddy Ashdown, who still insist we should have signed up.

Had we done so of course it would have been a disaster. As a succession of countries around Europe's periphery have proven, this would have led to mass unemployment, permanent real austerity (rather than the minimal version we have actually suffered) low growth and resultant political turmoil. Extricating ourselves from the EU is a comparative doddle compared to extricating ourselves from the euro as Italy may be in the process of proving.

In part President Mattarella had a point when he vetoed the appointment of Paolo Savona, who had committed the sin of being right about Italy and the euro. But, as the reaction of markets around the world has shown, his intervention has not done much good because we can all see the writing on the wall anyway.

But why? wail the Europhiles. How can it be that one of the founding members of the great European project can have turned against them? Well look around you. Look around at the economic atrophying in Italy and elsewhere. Look at the immigration crisis that Italy is enduring. Europe is supposed to be a great project of solidarity and togetherness. Except it is only this when it suits the elites to pretend that it is.

The euro is an attempt to consolidate and entrench power at the centre, with rules that are sacrosanct. Except they have been broken from day one. Italy should never have been allowed to join the euro according to its own rules. It's travails have been entirely predictable and indeed were predicted by many, myself included. It was ignored. Yet as the consequences of that folly came home to roost so then the rules were enforced with absurd rigidity on some but kept lax on others. Germany has routinely broken the rules with their persistent trade and budgetary surplus. France has run a persistent deficit above the threshold. Others less powerful have not been allowed to depart from the rules. If Europe were being true to its all for one ethos there would be fiscal transfers between Germany, that has been doing very nicely out of the euro and the likes of Italy that hasn't.

And then there is the refugee crisis that has been left to the likes of Italy and Greece to deal with. Where has the European solidarity been on that most divisive and intractable of problems?

The consequence is the politics of populism in which furious people are given simplistic solutions thanks to being ignored by conventional politics. Consistently and persistently the EU powerbrokers, from national governments to the unelected Commission have elevated their central principles over the lives, livelihoods and quality of life of the peoples of the continent. The theory is that ever closer union requires these sacrifices to forge this federal Europe that nobody has ever voted for and which has been rejected every time the people have been consulted. Europe has even decided it doesn't much like referendums as a result. It wants them banned.

That is why there has been such panic around the world on markets and in the capitals of Europe. This is a crisis that we have all known is coming and yet the EU has pretended won't happen. They breathed a sigh of relief when France voted for Macron, but now Italy is asking the same awkward questions. Typically the European apologists have sided with the EU rather than their own countrymen. We know, here on this island, how that feels. History will have to be the judge of why such apologists behaved as they did. They will tell us that they felt they were defending something great and beautiful and worthy of sacrifice. It's just that they were not the ones making the sacrifices.

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