(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
An optimist would draw much inspiration from Matteo Renzi’s convincing victory in Sunday’s primary elections for the leadership of Italy’s ruling centre-left Democratic party (PD). Doesn’t the success of the 38-year-old Florence mayor prove that a new generation of vigorous, reform-minded politicians is, at long last, replacing the squabbling, incompetent and sometimes corrupt oldsters who have presided over the nation’s decline over the past 20 years? Read more
Some young Ukrainians involved in Kiev’s mass anti-government protests like to jump up and down to the chant “If you’re not jumping, you’re a Moskal” – Moskal being a derogatory term for a Russian.
Others display a poster denouncing the Ukrainian government’s riot police force, known as the Berkut (golden eagle): “The Berkut are a pro-Soviet junta, the youth is for Europe.”
No wonder the authorities in Moscow, not to mention Ukrainian government ministers and police chiefs, are hardening their language against the demonstrators camped on Kiev’s Independence Square. They see the protests as a western-backed, anti-Russian conspiracy that will have to be throttled sooner or later. Read more
Critics of Germany’s actions in the eurozone debt and banking crisis often berate Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat chancellor, for lacking a “vision” for Europe. Not me. I am with Helmut Schmidt, West Germany’s plain-spoken Social Democrat chancellor from 1974 to 1982, who once said that people who have visions should go and see a doctor.
What is the view of Mario Monti, the distinguished former European Union commissioner, who worked closely with Merkel during his 17-month spell as Italy’s prime minister from November 2011 until last April? Monti now chairs a committee on promoting a united Europe at the Berggruen Institute on Governance, a non-partisan think-tank headquartered in California. I contacted him earlier this week in Milan, and as usual his thoughts were perceptive and full of common sense (and quite long sentences). Read more
Judges of the German Constitutional Court (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
In the beginning, the eurozone crisis was a banking sector, private debt and government bond market emergency. Then economic recession, unemployment and welfare expenditure cuts took hold, propelling the growth of anti-EU, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant political movements. Now the eurozone crisis is acquiring a third dimension: one in which national constitutional courts are moving to centre stage.
True, the judges sitting on Germany’s constitutional court have been going in this direction since 2009, when they issued a judgement on the EU’s Lisbon treaty. But before the eurozone crisis erupted in full force, such rulings were fairly uncontroversial. The judges could reasonably argue in 2009 that they were simply testing if the new EU fundamental treaty was compatible with the democratic principles of Germany’s 1949 constitution, known as the Basic Law.
Now that the eurozone crisis has pushed the German government and the European Central Bank into once unimaginable measures to rescue the 17-nation currency bloc, the constitutional court has parked itself on wholly different territory. The judges would indignantly contest this, but when the court opened hearings in June into the legality of the ECB’s actions to protect the eurozone, it looked from the outside very much as if the judges had appointed themselves the supreme law lords of European integration – to the exclusion of any other EU or national legal authority. Read more
(FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
As the FT’s former man in Rome, I find it poignant to see Silvio Berlusconi battling this week to hold together the political movement he launched 20 years ago. The billionaire Milanese entrepreneur did not seriously contemplate a political career until 1993, when he realised it would be the most effective way to protect his business interests. In fact, one of his closest associates once confided – perhaps only half-jokingly – that, if Berlusconi had not formed Forza Italia, the boss and his loyalists would have ended up either in prison or hanging lifeless à la Roberto Calvi under a London bridge.
In its various incarnations Forza Italia is sometimes depicted as one of the most formidable vote-gathering and coalition-building political machines of modern Europe. Read more
Nigel Farage at the European parliament (Getty)
In the crystal balls of the European Union’s political and bureaucratic establishments looms a mortifying vision: voters in next year’s European parliament elections punish mainstream parties and vote en masse for their populist, radical right and anti-EU nemeses.
The humiliation of such a result would be compounded if, as has happened in every ballot for the EU assembly since direct elections began 34 years ago, turnout were to sink to a record low. Between 1979 and 2009 turnout fell from 62 to 43 per cent, a trend cited by the EU’s critics to reinforce the argument that the bloc’s shortcomings are not just economic but democratic in nature.
Eurosceptic, anti-establishment and ultra-right parties certainly have their tails up at the moment. To varying degrees, voters in many of the EU’s 27 countries are fed up with economic recession, mass unemployment, the erosion of the welfare state, political corruption and perceived high levels of immigration. A Gallup poll conducted last month in six member-states – Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK – showed that absolute or relative majorities in every country agreed that the EU was “going in the wrong direction”. Read more
Nikolay Kolev, better known as ‘Bosiya’ (Barefoot), was arrested in Sofia on Tuesday after he threw a single tomato at the wall of Bulgaria’s parliament, in protest against corruption. Now a ‘tomato rally’ is planned for Saturday afternoon outside parliament. Read more
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on June 4, 2012 (PEDRO NUNES/AFP/GettyImages)
After spending an hour today with Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, I am more convinced than ever that a political career in the Balkans is not for the faint-hearted.
Borisov is a barrel-chested former police chief and bodyguard who holds a black belt in karate. The grip of his handshake is strong enough to convey the confidence of undisputed power and to make you realise that, if it were just a little tighter, you would experience measurable pain. Read more
In Berlin last week an impressive selection of elder statesmen from Germany and other European Union countries rolled up for a two-day conference labelled “Europa nach der Krise”. It was by no means the first event, since the eruption of potentially devastating turmoil in the eurozone in 2010, that preferred to ask what Europe might look like “after the crisis” rather than focus on what needs to be done to get out of the crisis in the first place.
To their credit, some of the conference participants, such as former UK premier Tony Blair and former EU commissioner Peter Sutherland, made this very point, saying in effect to their audiences: “You’re nuts if you think Europe is already out of the woods.”
Nevertheless I was left with the distinct impression that, by and large, politicians and experts from eurozone countries thought the worst was over and the crisis was essentially under control, whereas their counterparts from non-eurozone countries thought nothing of the sort. Why should this be? Are eurozone representatives guilty of wishful thinking? Are non-eurozone representatives so ill-disposed towards the euro that they want the crisis either never to end or to end in disaster? Read more
Silvio Berlusconi attends the presentation of the book "The big cheat" by Renato Brunetta (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)
Following a Berlusconi trial is like going to the theatre — it is your civic right to enjoy a spectacle even though you know perfectly well the act bears no relation to reality.
Very little about Silvio Berlusconi, or about the Italian legal system, is quite what it seems. The four-year prison term to which the former prime minister was sentenced on Friday for tax fraud is a good example. There is next to no chance that he will go to jail. The likelihood that he will ever be definitively convicted of this particular offence is not much higher.
Contrary to what he and his devotees might think, the reason is not that he is a paragon of virtue. Nor is it that the Italian courts always uncover the truth in the end. It is rather that the three-tier judicial system operates so slowly that, even if a defendant is eventually found guilty in the highest appeals court, the case has been going on for so long that a statute of limitations kicks in. Read more