Eurozone: Why Mario Monti needs to speak truth to power
25 June 2012
Only a political union can save the euro and the EU, and only the Italian PM can say it clearly and convince Germany, argues columnist Wolfgang Münchau before this week’s EU summit. But will he?
Just imagine it is this Thursday evening in the European Council’s gathering of Europe’s heads of state, and the Italian prime minister stands up and says this: “Mr President, dear colleagues. We are confronted with a simple choice: we can today either save the euro and build the foundation for a future political union, or we could flunk it and achieve neither. We all know what we need to do to save the euro. We require a banking union for Spain, a fiscal union for Italy and a political union for Germany. “We can, of course, disagree on details. But we have to settle some of these differences this weekend, and take a decision on the steps that are needed right now. Our crisis resolution policies have failed time and again. We now need something that works fast. If we fail, I can assure you that I can no longer be part of this group, and my country can no longer be part of this project.” Let me say first of all that I do not really expect Mario Monti to say such a thing, not even a more cryptic version. He is the leader of a technical government. His job is to fix things. Standing up to the German chancellor – grandstanding as some people might call it – let alone wagering Italy’s future is not part of his remit. Italy’s political parties appointed him because they needed a plumber to succeed the playboy, not a gambler. The last thing they wanted was a leader. I believe there is a case for a calculated gamble. But its risks and pay-offs must be fully understood. The point is not so much to call Angela Merkel’s bluff, as some of my Italian and Spanish friends have been urging. She is not bluffing, despite the fact that a break-up of the eurozone would clearly be disastrous for Germany. Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister, said recently that by allowing the eurozone to break up, Germany would for the third time in a century have inflicted utter devastation on Europe and on itself. Those who advocate the strategy of calling Germany’s bluff often assume a degree of rationality that is plainly absent. The Germans have developed a strange narrative of the crisis. Following the debate there, as I do regularly, has a parallel universe feel about it. There is, for example, a denial that the current account surpluses are even remotely a factor. In the German narrative, the economy is like a football game, which Germany is winning. And the chancellor’s job is to support the team against another team – as she did in Gdansk last Friday when Germany beat Greece. Germany, like Ms Merkel, looks unstoppable.