By Styliani Kampani. Originally published on 2013/02/19
One of the founding members of the EU, Italy, is going to elections by the end of this month and the current debate is fierce. After 14 months of technocratic-ruling administration, the Italians are called to vote for a new government in a critical moment for Italy and the EU. Pier Luigi Bersani, the center-left candidate has a good chance of becoming Italy’s next leader. A couple of days ago I attended a short, yet very meaningful speech of him at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.
Elections are scheduled to take place on February 24, and Berlusconi’s pleads to run as a coalition with the Northern Leaguehave caused anxieties and indignation to his opponents. So far the polls are giving Bersani between 34% and 37% of the vote -according to Nomura- and he is expected to team up with PM Monti’s party, With Monti for Italy, which counts with 13% to 14%. 
But who is really Pier Luigi Bersani, who by the end of the month might be Italy’s new Prime Minister?
He was born in 1951 in Bettola, a mountain municipality in Northern Italy and has studied philosophy. Initially supporter of the communist party, afterwards moved to the center-left, he has served in various political and directive positions, such as Minister of Transport and Minister of Industry. In 2004, he was elected to the European Parliament where he served for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. Since 2009 he has been the Secretary of the Democratic Party.
It was a very, very pro-European speech and the fact that he chose a non-governmental organization as a venue instead of the headquarter of his “political family”, shows his courage.
He went through the classical EU success story that according to him is being written day after day and through the forced destiny of the member states to remain bound to each other peacefully. A pretty matching and rather emotional quotation was that of the former President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi: “There are 50 million reasons, that is the 50 million who died in the Second World War, for being in favour of further integration”. And in the aftermath of the dark times of the war, Europe did manage to recover really fast.
Italy and Europe
As far as Italy’s position in the EU project is concerned, he argued that national interest coincides with deeper integration and committed to apply the necessary reforms toward the way out of the Eurozone crisis. In this course he highlighted the importance of staying realistic since the crisis is not over yet. Now pro-Europeans are facing existential questions and are under siege from populists and Euro-scepticists. Beside, ghosts of the past – nationalism, extremism, fascism – are intimidating signs for democracy and rule of law, thus he called for a European collective action. He also mentioned that Italy did not take profit by adopting the Euro as Germany did, but at the same time neglected to adopt measures and reforms that would have protected its economy more effectively.
Call it “former governments playing with anti-Europeanism”; poisonous arrows were not missing when he argued that he has always been a supporter of Romano Prodi at the time when monetary union was achieved. In addition to this, he underlined the cooperation with the technocratic government, although he was well aware of the painful decisions that they were to meet.
Speaking with figures, his country ended 2012 with a primary surplus of over 4% of GDP -one of the highest in the world- but is still grappling with debt that has risen to more than 120% of GDP, an economic contraction of around 2.5% and the loss of 700,000 jobs. These numbers give a small taste of what the next government is to face. Nevertheless he showed a strong commitment, courage and will to transform Italy and complete the cleansing phase that is still a long way ahead.
Hopes, goals and aspirations for the future of Europe – no comments
“Think as European and not national”
“Behind a single currency there should be a single sovereign”
“We need the united states of Europe” (eternal Churchill)
“We want a political Europe”
“We want a European president”
“EU as a federal power that is democratically legitimised with its own budget and resources and endowed with a Central Bank and a Treasury”
Op-ed questions and finishing remarks
Legitimacy & sovereignty – How democratic can a politically integrated Europe be?
Future crises – Are the measures adopted enough to avert similar “accidents” in the future?
In the end, are we really all ready to move forward?
Additionally, he sharply criticized the Euro-scepticists for being the only group in the EU to raise their voice in comparison to the federalists who remain silent. And inevitably since Euro-scepticism’s epicenter is Britain, Cameron was not spared from Bersani’s comments. Referring to his latest speech on Europe, he described it as a reflex of Old Island’s ideology which cannot be synchronized with the present. Nevertheless, he acknowledged Britain’s role as a bridge between the EU and America.
Moving to the end of the speech, Bersani made plead to the nucleus of the EU, the Eurozone. From his perspective, the Eurozone not only can be more easily integrated but it also decides unilaterally for issues of high sensitiveness like defense and security. In reverse, if it is not to envision future prospects, then the whole project might be called into question. He also stated that we are not experiencing just a financial crisis but a solidarity crisis restricted by the budget-based policies on national contributions.
In terms of the relationships with the hosting country, Bersani underpinned that Italy and Germany are both in favor of integration and will always be good friends. In the attempt to bring the two countries together for the benefit of Europe, he proposed that the parliaments set up a joint convention on the future of Europe, widening up the political debate. To the pleasure of its almost German audience he admitted that the Germany of today can become a model for a Federal Political Union, by replicating the strength of its economic as well as social and institutional model. Nonetheless he velvety slammed Germany for reluctance to take a political lead and responsibility.
One line sum: Cooperative, dynamic and skeptic. The Italian politician sent a strong message to Germany from various aspects.
The whole speech in English: