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Italy mourns the politician who signed the Maastricht treaty

GIanni De Michelis (on the right) during a bilateral meeting [personal archive]

Gianni De Michelis put his signature to the Maastricht treaty, the legal document which gave more powers to the European Parliament

Italy lost another piece of its past, glorious, pro-European history, as Gianni De Michelis passed away at the age of 79. One of the most prominent names within the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), De Michelis was the man who signed the treaty of Maastricht on behalf of Italy. In 1992 the member states of what was at time the European Economic Community (ECC) found the political will to go beyond the ECC, by turning it into what today is the EU everybody knows.

The treaty on European Union (TEU), known also as the Maastricht Treaty from the city he was signed, gave new powers to the European Parliament. It was this treaty to introduce the so called “co-decision procedure”, conferring to the Parliament more powers in the decision-making process. Under the new Treaty the European Parliament started to have the right to invite the European Commission to present a legislative proposal on matters which, in its view, call for a Community act to be drawn up. The entire Commission must also now be approved by the Parliament, which also appoints the European Ombudsman.

Maastricht treaty with all the signatures of the ministers. De Michelis’ is at 7 o’clock’, clockwise [picture: European Parliament]

De Michelis had a date with history. When on February, 1992, the twelve member states gave their green light for the reform of Europe, he was in Maastricht to represent his country. It was not a surprise. At that time he was a member of the government chaired by Giulio Andreotti, another strongly-committed pro-European, recently celebrated for his political legacy by MEPs on the initiative of Lorenzo Cesa.

From Maastricht to Brussels

De Michelis didn’t betray his European vocation. After his personal career at national level, he finally made the big jump to Europe. In 2004 he was elected Member of the European Parliament. It was his first European legislature, and it remained the only one.

Sitting in the committee on Industry, Research and Energy, the Italian socialist took also part of the EP delegations for relations with People’s Republic of China, with Japan, with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union (including Libya), and with the Gulf States, including Yemen. Acting so, he could contribute his vast experience in foreign affairs.

It must be said the De Michelis has not been one of the most present MEPs of that mandate. According to attendance data kept by the European Parliament, Di Michelis’ number of sitting days during his term of office have been 288, or 52% of attendance respect to the entire European legislature.

De Michelis’ warnings

Nevertheless De Michelis was one of the MEPs who turned the spotlight on the deterioration of the economic context. Already in January, 2007, he warned his European colleagues on the general disaffection toward the EU. “Europe is in crisis and too many of our fellow citizens have lost confidence in integration”, he pointed out, speaking on the occasion of the debate on programme of the German presidency. “We need to turn this situation round as fast as we can”.

Twelve years later the threat De Michelis talked about is more alive than ever, much bigger than in 2007. Anti-European sentiment rose everywhere, including Italy. The once founding member is today drifting away, when it comes to Europe. Italians and Europeans failed, then.

Once it started to be evident that the prolonged recession had turned to a huge crisis, De Michelis called the EU to properly react. At the end of 2008 he was among the co-signatories of the written question to the European Commission for a recovery strategy. The European Parliament wanted to know whether the executive body of the EU intended to “adopt a specific strategy in order to combat the negative repercussions the crisis is having on employment, work conditions” in areas suffering a severe recession. The Commission did a very poor job, unfortunately.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe fueled anti-European sentiment and euro-scepticism. There was no citizens-friendly strategy, and the communication policy of the political agenda was pitiful. If sovereignism has been rising, it is also because of the way Europe was led in the last years. De Michelis represents the generation that didn’t fail.

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