Romano Prodi, best known as a former EU commission president, was in the Strasbourg EU parliament yesterday. And, according to the IHT, he was arguing for a "vanguard" of European Union members which could move ahead with closer integration if EU leaders fail to agree on a new treaty next month.
This was part of an appeal to the MEPs at the "toy" parliament, with the Italian prime minister urging the 27 EU leaders to reach a deal at the European Council on 21-22.
Continuing with the myth that 18 countries had ratified the proposed EU constitution, he said that those who had done the deed would not accept a "downward revision" of the substance of that treaty. The most ambitious aspects of the text should remain and that Eurosceptics should not be allowed to dominate the debate.
"If this compromise does not convince us, we will not sign it," he declared. "At this point, a vanguard of countries could turn out to be the best way to proceed toward a more integrated union, on condition that the door remains open to those countries willing to join later."
Those with slightly longer memories, however, will remember that Prodi was in Strasbourg in October 2000, just a couple of months before the negotiations on the Nice Treaty were due to be concluded.
On this occasion too, he made an impassioned speech to the MEPs, but his text was somewhat different. As commission president, he warned that moves to strengthen direct co-operation between member states – which he felt would be at the expense of the commission – "undermined the democratic nature of the whole EU structure". (Yes, he did say that.)
In so arguing, he was opposing the then president of the French Republic, the now departed Jacques Chirac, who had been pushing hard for the very thing that Prodi is now supporting – a "vanguard of countries".
A slight change of status, it seems – from head of the commission to head of the Italian government – can have a remarkable effect on one's perspective.