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What Europe for Savona? Everything and its opposite

Once upon a time Paolo Savona, the man who served as minister of European Affairs until yesterday (5 February), before being appointed new president of the government authority of Italy responsible for regulating the Italian securities market (CONSOB). He leaves after eight months characterized by a lower profile than expected, with a political legacy all to be decrypted.

The challenge is to try to give an answer to the following question: what Europe for Paolo Savona? Difficult to say, even for the members of the Senate who had the opportunity to listen to him in his last public hearing held on Thursday (30 January).

Savona is famous for his contradictory remarks. Last summer he first expressed his pro-European faith and then say that the country must be ready to exit the eurozone. So his latest statements were some kind of déjà vu.  

What EU Council?

The Italian European Affairs minister firmly believes that the Council of the European Union is useless. “EU directives, in their approval phase, go to the European Council and they are even not discussed: they are already packaged”, he told the members of the committees of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Senate. What he didn’t say, is that since he became minister he never attended a Council meeting.

From June 2018 on, when the current government entered into function, ten different ministerial meeting took place. The list of the General Affairs Council, which are normally attended by European Affairs ministers, is the following:

GAC in June (attended by Enzo Moavero Milanesi, minister of Foreign Affairs); GAC in July (Moavero); GAC and GAC article 50 in September (Moavero for both meeting); GAC and GAC article 50 in October (Moavero);  GAC in November (Italian ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari); GAC article 50 in November (Emanuela Del Re, vice minister of Foreign Affairs); GAC in December (Moavero); GAC article 50 in December (Massari).

Perhaps Paolo Savona remembers the Council in the 90’s, when he was minister in another government. That would partly explain his opinion of the institution where other people attend instead of him. 

Savona in now 82 year old. He was Minister of Industry and Trade from April 1993 to 1994 as member of the government of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. He found himself part of the current Italian government because of the great push of The League and its leader, Matteo Salvini. According to the original political plans of the League, Savona was supposed to be minister of Finance. The president of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, refused to appoint him at this post because of the lack of clarity about Savona’s views about the euro.

Strange vision of politics

Do the EU institutions count? Maybe, but not these. “Our interlocutors are close to the end of their mandate, they are going to be substituted during 2019, I don’t know whether they are credible”, Savona said, referring to the end of the legislature of European Parliament and the European Commission. “Next European elections are thus important for the reason I just recall”.

In politics actors use to speak to each other, and people are in charge until the very last day of their respective mandates. Savona’s idea of democratic rules sound quite weird, but he said what he said and that gives an idea of what the new Italian leadership has in mind: waiting for the next Institutions. Similar ideas were expressed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Personal ideas on Brexit

Although he is member of the government, Savona speaks as if he was an externa observer when it comes to Brexit. No joke. “An infernal mechanism has been built. Take it as my personal judgment”. According to the minister “the behavior of the EU was such that it has set up a ‘deal’ that generated the ‘no deal’”. The reason is simple, according to Savona. A failure in the negotiations “was needed more for Europe, Italy included, than for the United Kingdom: do you see what happens to you if you want to leave?”. The conspiracy theory is served.

More Parliament, less austerity. A not-so-easy task

This Europe is useless. Basically the idea behind Savona’s conception of the current EU is that reforms are needed. But it is less clear how such a changes can be made, given that all major reforms of the EU architecture requires treaty changes, transfer of powers from governments to the EU institutions and unanimity. These are things very difficult to get. Anyway, Savona outlined his project.

“Strengthening the European Parliament is an essential step for a political union, in order to ensure that the EU survives in the long run”.

On the economic side the fiscal compact, the stability and growth pact and all the common rules must be revised. “The problem of excessive public debts compared to GDP cannot be treated with primary budget surpluses, especially if continuously applied in the moments like the one we are going through, where the risks of recession increase”.

This is the reprise of the long-lasting dispute between austerity and spending, northern Europe versus southern Europe.

‘Italy is stronger’. Is it?

“My feeling is that the consideration towards Italy has increased”, stressed Savona. “Italy counts more because a strong political majority that other governments don’t have”.

It could be argued that the way of conducting the political debate in Europe is creating much more frictions between Italy and its EU partners, but the Italian minister is sure that on the draft budgetary plan “was a recognition” of the Italian requests. It would be, in Savona’s opinion, an Italian victory over the grey euro-bureaucrats in Brussels. But it must be recalled that everything changed when the French president Emmanuel Macron asked the European Commission more fiscal space after the huge protests of the ‘yellow jackets’ protests. And that shows who is really powerful…

Giuseppe Conte is the new Savona

So far the head of the Italian government, Giuseppe Conte, is the new Paolo Savona. He has the interim minister of European Affairs. Next week he will be in Strasbourg to address the plenary of the European Parliament on the future of Europe. That will be the occasion to clarify what is the Italian stance on all the major files.

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