Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Italy Shows the Way

From Bruegel:
Second, in Europe Italy has clearly chosen a pro-European side. This should not be underestimated, as it was not at all obvious before the elections. The electoral campaign has been fought by many on an anti-EU basis and the risk of a Eurosceptic drift was in fact substantial, but it has not materialised. This may partly be due to the attitude that Italians traditionally have vis-à-vis Europe. As previous analysis has shown, in Italy, confidence in the European institutions has decreased over time but the positive confidence gap between European versus national institutions has remained the largest since the start of the sovereign crisis. Third, the contrast with neighbouring France, is striking. Two countries that are frequently compared in terms of economic indicators, France and Italy could hardly look more different in terms of preferences expressed vis-à-vis Europe. The victory of Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU Front National – which affirmed itself as the first party with an unforeseen 25% - is impressive, in a country that has been among the founding fathers of the European project. Coupled with Holland’s approval rating being in the doldrums, this electoral result could slow down the traditional Franco-German engine for European integration and prelude to a reassessment in the geography of alliances. In this process, Italy should play a role and put itself forward as a decided leader in the project of more European integration. 
By the way, I think the Italian result is much more significant than the narrow Syriza victory in Greece. Greece has been an outlier throughout the crisis: a very small economy with a very high sovereign debt, quite atypical of other "Club Med" countries (Spanish debt was private, not sovereign, before the crisis, and Italy's high sovereign debt was contracted in the pre-euro years, not as a result of the euro as in the Greek case). Those who think that Alexis Tsipras is going to lead Europe to a sustainable order are dreaming. Italy, on the other hand, is about to assume the rotating council presidency. To be sure, Italy is in great need of substantial structural reform and is hardly a model of government efficiency. But there are positive signs.


DavidinParis said...

As many have commented (particularly the French), this was not a vote FOR the FN but a vote against the EU (i.e a protest vote). This reflects the general 'doldrums' that permeate the French psyche even in the best of times. In contrast, Italy remains far more optimistic. My take on the difference between to the two countries is perhaps not typical. In addition to the fact that Italy has more sunshine (which does change one's outlook on life), I find that every time I am in Italy (which is very often), I meet people who have 'parenti' (family) in the USA and for that matter, all over the world. This leads to a constant influx of foreign ideas. They do not flatly reject the US as an economic predatory monster bent on absorbing and erasing their culture but are more secure in the superiority of their lifestyle, food (and coffee!) and values, consequently do not even bother to defend it like the French. Italian is littered with English words and expressions which they absorb with glee. As one Italian scholar told me, 'ah, the French defending their language when it is but a patois of latin). Coming back to the recent elections, I believe that you correctly point out that Italians place less faith in their own institutions and count on some order being instituted by the EC...but they will nonetheless stick to a credo that has eluded France for sometime that is remaining pragmatic and being able to make fun of themselves.

Anonymous said...

But the FN is very popular in some of France's sunniest spots.

The difference in attitude to the languages and cultures perhaps has a lot to do with France's long history as a country (while until fairly recently Italy was several states) and the long history of French both as the language of a centralised country and of international diplomacy.

That may also be part of the reason that France became markedly more pessimistic during the upheavals of the middle of the twentieth century (it had a firmer standard to be threatened).

But I don't think France is as closed to foreign ideas as you do. There's certainly a strong tradition of self-mockery (even if that doesn't seem to reach very far into the political classes).

bert said...

May I make a prediction? This time next year you'll be looking back at the Renzi honeymoon as another missed opportunity for the mainstream left. In his first year, Hollande had numerous openings to form a mediterranean axis with Italy and Spain. He passed them all up. Why? Not merely because he is uniquely spineless. It's also because he shares the widely-held French self-perception of co-leadership in a Franco-German Europe.

He's not alone in narcissist self-delusion. "Ne permettez pas que la France soit autre chose que ce qu'elle est dans le coeur du monde entier" says the ludicrous Melonballs in the other (equally awful) video currently on your homepage.

Anonymous said...

if the influence you are interested in does signify the recurrent articles in Corriere della sera from giavazzi/alesina, the one which scientific articles were more or less disavowed by its ex-coauthors, I raise you the Rogoff interview in yesterday Le Monde. We can get our faith based economics in France too..

Same brandishing of unspecified, unnamed "need of substantial structural reform" - like our host, unfortunately.

I said it.

Don't people see it has the same sound and the same truth than "property of the means of production by the proletariat?

I will try to help them:
You have all variation of employement law - for instance- either through the US states or thhrough the EU. Can they show a shred of, I don't say causation, but just correlation with economic or society success in the last years???