European summit: Italy, the ideal scapegoat
24 October 2011
Corriere della Sera
At the European Council of 23 October, Germany and France passed out some good marks and some bad marks to partners in trouble in the eurozone – to Italy, notably. While the criticism of the inertia of the Berlusconi government is justified, the current crisis is equally down to the sluggish reactions that Berlin and Paris have shown ever since the beginning, writes the Corriere della Sera.
It was no great pleasure for an Italian to be in Brussels yesterday at the joint press conference with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Throughout the meeting of the German chancellor and French president with the international press, the head of our government, Silvio Berlusconi, who, whether foreigners like it or not, represents all of us, was humiliated, singled out for having failed to adopt the measures that Italy ought to have taken against the sovereign debt crisis.
Tacitly placed on the same level as Greece (Sarkozy has Ireland, Portugal and Spain down on a separate list), he has been accepted only reluctantly as an intermediator (and considered as trustworthy in this role only by the Chancellor).
Considering that diplomatic language and moderation in behaviour are usually the rule in the Council of Europe, it is easy to grasp why France and Germany – whose role is certainly decisive if we are to hold our ground against the tsunami rolling up on the euro – have managed to irritate a large part of their European partners.
Twenty-fifth hour has come
But, after pointing out the excesses of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, how is one not to wonder if they were right, and just how right they were? The Berlusconi government has in effect broken down and has not brought to Brussels the reforming legislation that it should have pushed through long ago.
Through his inertia, Silvio Berlusconi is imperilling the entire rescue operation that will be settled on Wednesday. And the warnings that the Council sent to him in Rome regarding budget cuts (a trap?) have so far been in vain. Yet yesterday Sarkozy told him again that those who do not accept their share of responsibility have no claims on the solidarity of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
The uncontainable and ostentatious irritation of the French and Germans has, therefore, good reason to emerge. Many other European partners are said to share it, in more muted terms. And that, of course, is the point the Italian Government should take most seriously, if belatedly.
The final decision, which this time will cover all of Europe, is expected by October 26. This acceleration certainly explains the paradox that has come with the work done on October 23: never before has so much optimism been seen at a summit that went so wrong. Not so wrong as to transform the battle for the euro in a fratricidal war and prevent the necessary agreements from being concluded next Wednesday, but wrong enough to raise the political stakes to the highest level and to “compel” Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy to reach an agreement that, by stopping up the crisis, saves them from ignominy.
Because it is they, the German Chancellor and French President, who have taken the initiative of setting up a marathon of meetings and negotiations under pressure. And so it is they who, now that the twenty-fifth hour has come, should take sympathetic note of a common political interest: that of not failing, of not becoming the gravediggers of the euro and of Europe, of not transforming into a boomerang the guiding responsibility that the two “locomotives" wanted to take on.
Banks will not be happy
It is no coincidence that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, between their attacks on Berlusconi, declared yesterday that they were virtually certain to reach “common, ambitious and sustainable” agreements that they will present to the G-20 at Cannes in early November.
It is also salutary that on the internal fronts of both countries, and in the general interest of the eurozone, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have their backs to the wall and their hours counted at the edge of that abyss that Europe has often had to look into to find the strength to step back from it. What remains to be verified, of course, is the effectiveness of the formula that Berlin and Paris will choose, in particular to increase the "firepower" of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
The banks will not be happy over having to accept more than double their losses on their Greek ‘bonds’, despite the recapitalisation. And it remains to be seen – and here the worries shift to Italy – if these measures will truly bring back the confidence needed to fight the contagion coming out of Greece.