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2013 Elections. Italy in Europe: choices for relevance

11/02/2013, Rome

The election campaign ahead of the political vote on the 24th and 25th of February was marked by the absence of a serious discourse about Europe. Despite this, any government that will emerge from the polls will be forced to give the EU assurances and answers regarding its respect for the commitments and reforms Italy has pledged to implement. The Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and the Centro Studi sul Federalismo (CSF) asked coalition leaders and candidates for the premiership to define their “Agenda for Europe” by answering a questionnaire covering crucial issues for the future of Italy and the EU, the Euro currency and the economy, the financial market and European defence, as well as developments in the further democratization of European integration.

The Agenda and questionnaire were discussed during a conference organized by IAI and CSF that took place in the media room of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank on 11 March. Introduced by Ettore Greco and Gianni Bonvicini, respectively the director and vice-president of IAI, the debate was animated by Franco Frattini, member and president of Sioi (Società Italiana per l'Organizzazione Internazionale), as well as former Foreign Minister and European Commissioner; Lapo Pistelli, responsible for the Foreign Affairs department of the Democratic Party; Oreste Rossi, a ‘sceptical’ MEP from the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD); and Adolfo Urso, deputy and president of the foundation Farefuturo.

Greco described how a debate on the choices confronting Italy in the context of international politics was necessary in light of the limited attention given to foreign policy throughout the campaign. The run up to the vote was instead dominated by rhetorical and generic statements and this without counting those ideas – defined by Greco as “crazy” – such as an exit from the euro, a restructuring of Italy’s debt, or a renegotiation of the Fiscal Compact proposed without a serious analysis of its eventual costs.

Bonvicini admitted that few had answered IAI’s questionnaire but also noted a trait that was common to all the programs of the different parties: Europe is often mentioned in the preamble, concentrated in a single paragraph, but then it is usually absent throughout the following pages. There is also a problem of quality in those issues related to Europe that are discussed: rhetoric is very important, whether you are pro- or anti- European, but a serious explanation of the issues is mostly lacking.

The debate provided positive answers to the questions posed by IAI and CSF in the questionnaire: according to most of the panellists’ Italy’s future is in the EU and in the euro, and European integration must continue apace but that attention must also be given to national interests.

According to Urso, the party programs lack a true agenda for Europe because the parties and their representatives are not aiming to govern but simply wish to get enough votes to secure a position in Parliament and reap its benefits. This is valid – the president of Farefuturo said – especially for those forces that are members of the Ppe.

According to Rossi, Europe does not work and, if it is to survive, it must be reformed: speaking as a eurosceptic and not an anti-unionist, the former Northern League delegate maintained that the Union is perceived as distant by the people, is undemocratic and doesn't constitute a true federation. Also, it wastes resources in defence and embassies, areas where it can save money without cutting the budget. Finally, an internal energy market is also lacking.

Contrary to a majority of the views expressed during the conference, Pistelli thought that Europe was very present in this campaign but that debates over the issues have been reduced to media formats. The representative of the Democratic Party underlined the necessity of adopting a new model for foreign, energy and defence policy and proposed steps to get out of the conundrum he termed “the devil’s alternative”: if eurosceptics’ scream and euro-enthusiasts are silent, the advancement of European integration can only be done in silent mode, while its retreat is likely to be noisy, especially in the event of a defeat via a popular referendum.

Frattini, agreeing with Pistelli, thought that Europe was not lacking from the campaign, but that the EU is only considered in simple terms, as an opportunity or a source of problems. The former minister stressed the high cost of not being in Europe for Italy: the only possible option is more Europe, in market, defence, institutions. According to Frattini it is not possible to renegotiate Italy’s commitments: the Fiscal Compact, for example, should be integrated with national growth and development strategies and shouldn’t be renegotiated again.