The spread won’t stop. On Monday, the Italy to Germany 10-year basis spread reached 200 points, something that had not happened since 2014. Experts blame the concentric Trump-Le Pen attack on Europe. But Angela Merkel has already prepared the prescription. She won’t discuss it with anyone, but everyone likes it.
It seems incredible, but Italian politics, always so anxious to comment on every trifle, remains voiceless before the jarring prospect of a two-speed Europe. Only Romano Prodi’s thunderous voice can be heard, one of the true founding fathers of the “real Europe” — that is, the E.U. reduced to the minimal expression of the single currency — and he does not hide his enthusiasm. This is, finally, “the first answer to Trump and Marine Le Pen,” he said. Here is “a Germany that seems willing to take that leadership role that it had always avoided.”
The professor admits in passing that the project is not exactly what he promoted. “Of course, I wanted a Europe that was able to develop quickly in a linear fashion, a kind of free downhill skiing, and now we have to move forward with a complicated slalom.” It is an admission of failure, but it takes a magnifying glass to see it. And there are hints of some risk: “The two-speed Europe is not and should not become a Europe of a first and second class. Especially not a Europe where the passengers in first class decide who should be in second.”
The message is hidden between the lines, but it is clear: Italy must do everything possible, which translates as “it will have to accept every sacrifice” to ride in the first class coach where it’s not clear it’s even wanted. Giulio Tremonti, who unlike Prodi considers Merkel’s strategy bad, is convinced that “the Germans do not want us there.”
And it is possible he is at least partly right. The government, however, was not lingering waiting for the dictate of the founding father of the Ulivo party. It had already rejoiced with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
“This is indeed the horizon to work for,” as the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs for Europe Sandro Gozi specifically gloated, even claiming to have birthed the proposal “now also shared by the German Chancellor.”
And just in case the imperative had not been perceived as absolutely categorical, another former prime minister, Enrico Letta, said a few days ago: “Berlin’s move is right. Let the ballast go.” But Italy “must board the fast convoy.” Certainly he is more sincere than Prodi, who does not expect major differences between the two convoys.
It’s as though we’re back in the ’90s, when the great challenge to join the single currency was like a gymnastic feat. Back then, no one thought it was useful or appropriate to explain the costs of joining or what it meant, beyond superficial references to national pride.
And even now, 20 years later, Stefano Fassina is almost the only one deviating from the pack. Writing in detail in The Huffington Post, he said, “the eurozone is on the Titanic route.” Fassina explains that “accelerating the economic and political integration without a radical change of course implies anticipating the collision with the iceberg of economic and social suffering.” For Italy, that path means “surrender to the economic and social suffocation and complete political colonization. It means continuing to contradict the fundamental principles of our Constitution.”
The reality, as everyone knows but nobody says, is that the choice Merkel wants to ratify in Rome on March 25 still involves risks and a very high cost for Italy. It is likely that Germany will not create real obstacles to Prodi’s and Gentiloni’s pace, since, just like in the ‘90s, the new top-tier European currency without Italy would create too many problems in terms of competition. But “keeping the pace of the most virtuous countries,” as the daily L’Unità put it Monday, will not be painless. And on the other hand, the opposite option, preferred by part of the German establishment, will hurt, too.
We will get some taste when Europe delivers its verdict on the Italian response to the additional required measure. Moving in a more transparent way than when we entered into the single currency should be a must.
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