Berlusconi, right, hands over ceremonial bell to Monti, marking the transfer of power last year.
With Silvio Berlusconi’s vow to run again for prime minster in February’s snap elections on an avowedly anti-German and anti-austerity platform, Italian attitudes towards Berlin and the EU’s handling of the eurozone crisis are suddenly back on the front burner.
Fortuitously, we just completed one of our regular FT/Harris polls, which surveyed 1,000 adults in the EU’s five biggest countries – including Italy– in November. And it’s no wonder Berlusconi believes his new attacks will be receptive at home: Italian attitudes against Germany and austerity are hardening.
We’ve posted the 16-page report with the complete results here for anyone who wants to wade through them, but it’s worth highlighting the Italian findings. Fully 83 per cent of those polled believe Germany’s influence in the EU is “too strong” – the same total as Spaniards, but a stunning jump since October 2011 when only 53 per cent of Italians felt that way.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, at last week's G20 summit in Cannes
At the European Commission’s regular mid-day press briefing today, Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio, the spokesman for economic issues, said the Commission’s Italian monitoring team is expected to arrive this week. After agreement Friday in Cannes, the International Monetary Fund will be sending its own team at the end of the month.
France and Germany may be divided over the key issues on the agenda of today’s European Union summit. But President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel have found common ground in the need to hammer Italy over its heavy debt load.
The leaders of the EU’s biggest and most powerful member states called in Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, this morning for a pre-summit tongue-lashing. The message they delivered, according to one diplomat familiar with the discussion, was that Italy must deliver “specific and convincing reform measures soon.” They communicated a similar message to Berlusconi at a gathering on Saturday evening held by the centre-right European People’s Party.
Sarkozy also expressed his displeasure with Italy’s refusal to make way for a Frenchman on the European central bank’s executive board, according to the diplomat. France is due to lose its seat when Jean-Claude Trichet steps down as ECB president at the end of the month to be replaced by Mario Draghi, the outgoing president of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi infuriated the French this week when he declined to free up a seat on the powerful decision-making committee by refusing to name current board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi as Draghi’s replacement.
Mario Draghi meets German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last week
UPDATE: Draghi has been confirmed, but not before lots of horse-trading. See our story here.
Day two of the European Union summit is already underway, and among the issues we will be watching closely is the nomination of Mario Draghi to become head of the European Central Bank, which even at this late date appears not entirely a done deal.
As we’ve been reporting for several weeks, France has been grumpy that Draghi’s confirmation will lead to two Italians on the ECB’s executive board and no Frenchman, since the current president, Jean-Claude Trichet, is retiring. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, thought he had a deal with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for the second Italian, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, to resign.
But Bini Smaghi, citing the ECB’s independence, has resisted political pressure, and is rumoured to be holding out for Draghi’s current job: head of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi, however, has an alternate candidate in mind and has thus far resisted French pressure.
For those looking for a break from Osama bin Laden news, Brussels Blog is keen to tout our scoop today on the forthcoming European Commission proposal on migration, and how it’s expected to suggest allowing countries to re-impose border controls when they’re overwhelmed by illegal immigrants.
Although some diplomats had been concerned about a new round of demagoguery over the issue, the decision by José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, to embrace calls for overhauling Europe’s visa-free Schengen area rules appears designed to turn the debate into a technocratic one over when and where such controls can be reinstituted.
In a letter over the weekend to Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, the French and Italian leaders whose dispute over North African immigrants has put the issue back in the spotlight, Barroso acknowledged the “temporary restoration of borders is a possibility” he was considering, but emphasised the devil is in the details:
With France’s presidential election already in high gear, some top EU diplomats Brussels Blog has talked to in recent weeks are concerned that in the months leading to the summer break, the Brussels agenda could become overwhelmed by the politically sensitive issue of migration.
Tuesday’s summit between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is evidence their concerns are well placed.
For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s worth taking a look at the letter Berlusconi and Sarkozy sent to the EU’s two presidents, Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and Council boss Herman Van Rompuy. Pay special attention to the letter’s section III, where the two propose “enhanced security” in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area.
Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s first full-time president, is getting down to business. Hitting the ground running? Not exactly. But in various subtle ways the mild-mannered, philosophically inclined former Belgian premier is already making an impact on the way the EU goes about its work.
On Monday, his first official working day, he announced that he was summoning all 27 EU heads of government to Brussels on February 11 for an unscheduled summit on economic policy. This statement didn’t attract much attention, because plans for such a summit were being laid even before Christmas. But the announcement was significant nonetheless. Chairing summits is one of the few duties that the EU’s Lisbon treaty specifically reserves to the full-time president. By calling an unscheduled summit, Van Rompuy was signalling to the world that he intends to use his presidential authority to the full.
It passed largely unnoticed by the outside world, but perhaps the most intriguing event in European foreign policy last week was a visit paid to Belarus by Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. The European Union has kept Belarus at arm’s length for years because of the repressive domestic policies of President Alexander Lukashenko. Berlusconi was the first western head of government to go to Minsk for well over a decade.
There was something surreal about the visit. Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, praised Berlusconi as “a global, planetary man of politics, our friend”. Berlusconi responded: “Thank you, and thanks to your people who, I know, love you, as is demonstrated by the election results which everyone can see.” One can only assume this was an example of Berlusconi’s famous sense of humour.