Wednesday, 13 February 2019

EU Parliament and Italy

Yesterday, Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister addressed the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.

I do not share some of the views he expressed. However, I would assess his speech as moderate and pro-European.

The Prime Minister talked about immigration – a very central theme for his government but also for the rest of Europe. And about the need to go back to reinforced solidarity among the European States, as well as about defence matters, foreign policy and the EU at the UN. He emphasised that cooperation with North Africa and the Sahel are a priority for his government and invited the EU to be more coherent and proactive towards those two neighbouring regions. But above all, Conte reminded the MEPs that the connection between the EU institutions and the citizens is crucial. Too much emphasis on economic measures without considering the people’s views is wrong, that was basically his opening point and one of the key messages. It’s an opinion that reflects the view that there is a serious gap between the citizens and the elites. We might see that as a populist slogan, but I think it’s important to pay attention to it.

Giuseppe Conte represents a government that is politically distant from the mainstream parties that control most seats in the EU Parliament. Therefore, as many had anticipated, the responses that followed his speech were distinctly negative. The star MEPs focused their critical interventions on some of the recent decisions taken by Conte’s powerful deputies – Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio. These are the strong players in Conte’s government. The MEPs gave no truce to Conte on account of those two.

In my opinion, that approach was the wrong one. Conte’s statement was a constructive attempt to build a bridge. His effort should have been recognised. Nevertheless, the MEPs decided to push the Prime Minister into his usual corner, and punch him, instead of offering a helping hand and try to bring him to the centre-ground of the European preoccupations. I judge the MEPs showed little maturity. Once again, they were more concerned with theatrics and sound bites, trying to project a tough public image, than with looking for sensible action.

The Prime Minister must have gone back to Rome with a strengthened impression that key European politicians, in the EU Parliament, do not understand the political realities his country is going through. They prefer to put Italy in the dock.

That's poor political judgement.

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