The immigration problem in Italy, and the response to it – articulated by La Stampa – is perhaps more serious than is fully appreciated in the UK, and has considerable implications for the future of European integration.
What is at play here is a scenario not dissimilar to that played out in 1965-6 when de Gaulle opposed further European integration yet accepted exactly that in order to secure funding for the CAP, most of which was to be paid to French farmers.
This scenario is one addressed by US academic Andrew Moravscik, in his book the Choice for Europe, where he addresses "the most fundamental puzzle confronting those who seek to explain why sovereign governments in Europe have chosen repeatedly to co-ordinate their core economic policies and surrender sovereign prerogatives within an international institution".
What basically he concludes integration is the outcome of "interstate bargaining" whereby governments trade-off their powers in return for gains that can only be achieved through concerted action.
In de Gaulle's case, although he did not want to see a strengthening of the powers of the EEC, he desperately needed the money to pay subsidies to his farmers, without whose co-operation the very stability of the French state was threatened. The trade off, therefore, was a centralised agricultural policy in return for money paid by all the other member states.
Currently, we see in Italy a right-wing government headed by Berlusconi, which is not particularly enthusiastic about further European integration – and where in fact EU politics take second place to domestic concerns. Yet we see one of the leading newspapers – La Stampa – calling for further integration, with the apparent support of the bulk of the population.
The reason in this case is not dissimilar from what drove de Gaulle. This time, though, instead of funding for agricultural subsidies, Italy's need is for help with the ever-increasing costs of policing her maritime borders and dealing with illegal immigrants. In return for that help, influential voices are making the case for Italy surrendering her "sovereign prerogatives" and accepting a common immigration policy.
Where Moravcsik goes off the rails, however, is in failing to accept that there is a third player in the field. This is the constituency that sees European integration as a "good" in its own right, which is every-willing to represent difficulties encountered by individual nation states as "European problems" and thus offer "European solutions". These siren voices are appealing and difficult for national politicians to resist, which explains why they are so often gulled into accepting further integration, even though they are not enthusiasts for the process.
Immigration, however, is a problem that extends far wider than "Europe", on the one hand, but in many respects is a problem in part manufactured by the European Union and, in particular, by the common agricultural policy which brought de Gaulle into the integrationalist fold.
This was illustrated in an earlier Blog, when it was pointed out that the iniquitous (and illegal) EU sugar regime was stripping the economies of developing countries of hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars a year, and other subsidies regimes have similar effect.
Without wishing to pre-empt piece in preparation by my colleague on the relationship between aid and trade, it has to be pointed out that if the developed countries continue to adopt protectionist policies, and exclude third-world produce from their markets, while also dumping their surpluses on the world market and thus undermining the economies of developing countries, those countries will continue to have difficulties in supporting their growing populations. And it is the lack of prosperity in those countries – and the political instability which often arises as a result – which triggers migration.
Putting it bluntly – if slightly simplistically – if developed countries refuse to accept surplus produce from developing countries, then we will have to accept their surplus people.
Italy's problem, therefore, is not a "European problem" that can be solved by "European solution" in the way that the siren voices are claiming – an EU-wide immigration policy run from Brussels. In fact, the answer to the problem is, in large measure, "less Europe" – dismantling of the ruinous CAP and opening up our borders to free trade, something the EU has never, ever been interested in.
The problem for us all, in this context, is that the integrationalists are exploiting the difficulties of member states to pursue their own agenda. In so doing, the real causes of pressing problems are misdiagnosed or obscured – simply because the better solutions would not suit the integrationalist cause. We need to recognise this and expose the siren calls for "European solutions" for what they are – drivers of integration.