Monday, July 05, 2004

Which matters more: European or national politics?

Here is another difference between Britain and its Continental partners: our Commissioners are, one and all, failed politicians, who have no future in this country. When they do return, they become members of the House of Lords but, unlike other peers, do little by way of work. They continue to have lavish lunches and stagger to their feet from time to time to defend the European Union and all its manifestations without, let it be said again, ever declaring their extremely generous pensions as interest.

Not so in other member states. Their Commissioners are frequently failed politicians but equally often they seem to see their stints in “Europe” as a career step in national politics. Romano Prodi is an obvious example. Other Commissioners left in droves in the last couple of months to re-enter the hurly-burly of their country’s political life.

Now it looks like Mario Monti, the present Competition Commissioner, who is due for retirement, will re-emerge as an important Italian politician (wot dat?).

Berlusconi’s government is in trouble on all fronts. The party is unpopular with the electors and the EU is demanding that the budget deficit be reined in. To appeal to the electorate Signor Berlusconi has promised tax cuts; to obey the Commission’s injunctions he has to do the exact opposite. Which will prove to be more important?

Just before a key cabinet meeting that was due to discuss supposedly drastic spending cuts, Giulio Tremonti, the Economy Minister resigned. It could have been worse. Gianfranco Fini, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Alliance Party was going to resign as well. That seems to have been averted.

There had been little love lost between Fini and Tremonti and, clearly, it was the latter who became dispensable, for the time being at least. This is where Mario Monti comes in. The Italian press seems to think that he is the man to step in as the next Economy Minister, sort out the economic mess and calm the coalition. Otherwise, Italy may well find itself on the old treadmill of short-lived governments and frequent elections. Both Romano Prodi and Mario Monti may find Italian politics rather too frenetic after the calm of Brussels.

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