Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: eu

Of European destinies and missions

On Monday I have published this article on the LSE – EUROPP blog: The Italian troublemaker: How Renzi’s European strategy is putting him at odds with Angela Merkel. I wrote the article because I felt there is a wide misperception of the Italian position in Europe. Several political analysts have reasoned that Renzi’s recent European quarrels are essentially a reaction to the rise of populism in the country. But this is only a part of the picture: Renzi has repeatedly said that he is not be happy with how Europe is currently run, but he always stressed that he not dismiss Europe altogether. In fact, the government is trying to turn Italy’s European destiny into a specific mission: to make Europe a little bit less German and a little bit more Italian. Italy has long been an important member of the European Community, but it has rarely been influential. To change this by becoming the counterweight of German might be a tricky game to play.

Update, 13/5: the article has been translated in German and published on Makronom: Matteo Renzi, Der italienische Troublemaker.

Please die where we can’t see you

On the emerging EU approach to refugees – original image here.

KAL cartoon on asylum seekers

Beware conservative bureaucratic elites

Capable bureaucrats guarantee the quality of our institutions and the general idea is that a capable bureaucrats come out from a tough selection procedure. This is generally true. But the idea of toughness is a questionable one and must be handled with caution. The selection procedure to become a public servant in Ming China, for instance, was ridiculously hard; and yet some historians agree that the kind of bureaucratic apparatus coming out from the selection procedure represented a tremendous obstacle to the modernization of the Empire. This is in spite of, or maybe precisely because of the fact that candidates had to sit for three days in tiny little rooms with one table and one chair and they could not even go to the toilet (some servants would come to bring away the faeces). Neill Ferguson suggests that yes, “No doubt after three days and two nights in a shoebox, it was the most able – and certainly the most driven – candidates who passed the examination” but at the same time “with its strong emphasis on the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism, with their bewildering 431,286 characters to be memorized, and the rigidly stylized eight-legged essay introduced in 1487, it was an exam that rewarded conformity and caution”. Put it simply, this was a selection procedure meant create a conservative elite, reluctant to embrace change and with a rigid mind frame. A very similar historical case can be made for Soviet Russia, whose bureaucratic class was encouraged to follow strict procedural rules and to adopt an awkward jargon aimed at rewarding continuity and benchmarking rather than innovation. Some of us might want to take these historical precedents in very serious consideration when thinking about the increasingly rigid and self-conservative selection procedure put in place by the EPSO, the European Personnel Selection Office in charge of choosing the public servants working in the Commission.

E non ci lasceremo mai

Oggi é una di quelle giornate in cui tutti si inventano esperti in studi elettorali. Io non aggiungo nessuna analisi, solo quattro dati che personalmente trovo interessanti. Primo: secondo gli exit poll forniti a urne chiuse, che sono poi una mia vecchia fissa, il PD avrebbe dovuto prendere il 32% (ha preso il 40), il M5S il 28% (ha preso il 21), FI il 18% (ha preso il 16). Secondo: il PD ha ottenuto  2.5 milioni di voti in più rispetto alle elezioni politiche del 2013 e oltre 3 milioni di voti in più rispetto alle elezioni europee del 2009. Terzo: per la prima volta nella storia delle elezioni per il Parlamento europeo l’astensionismo (56%) é calato (anche se di molto poco) rispetto alla precedente tornata elettorale. Quarto: l’Italia si conferma il Paese con il più basso tasso di astensionismo in tutta Europa, al netto del Belgio dove votare é un obbligo sancito per legge; mentre ovunque nell’Europa dell’est il tasso di astensionismo é pericolosamente alto.

astionismo elezioni europee 1979 - 2009astensionismo elezioni europee 2014

 

 

 

Fraught with blind spots

On yesterday’s printed copy of La Repubblica, Barbara Spinelli, a well-known journalist and the daughter of Altiero, reflects on the role of Germany in Europe. What I found most interesting is her position on German political memory which, she argues, is fraught with blind spots. People in Germany, for example, remember very clearly inflation under Weimar, but they tend to forget the deflation and the austerity under Chancellor Brüning (1930 to 1932), which paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s electoral success. Similarly, people remember very well National Socialism but forget what came after it: the reduction of German debt, generously granted by 65 states including Greece in May 1953.

They should never have been allowed the join

As part of the Schengen agreements, restrictions on people from Romania and Bulgaria wanting to come to the UK will be lifted from the end of the year, prompting some to fear a major influx of migrants to this country. I wrote an article about the funny side of it a few months ago – in Italian.

One of the strongest opponents of this development is UKIP’s one-man-show Nigel Farage who, in a recent session at the European Parliament – always entertaining to watch – he said: “Romania and Bulgaria, these two countries are racked with corruption and organized crime. They should never have been allowed the join the EU since early stage. … Let’s face it. We should not be in a political union with Bulgaria and Romania”.

Farage, a consistent critic of the two countries, has come under fire from the Bulgarian ambassador to Britain for using “very feeble” arguments to criticise the lifting on migrant restrictions to the UK. More recently, he has been taken on a trip to Bulgaria to discuss his ideas. The video is well worth watching.

Hiking on a highway

I spent last weekend in Brussels and Lorenzo asked me to write some lines for his blog.

Brussels is an interesting city, ugly yet beautiful at the same time. It is fascinating how a city which embodies the great European dream can be so depressing – at least, the new European part looks depressing. No statues of liberty in this city welcoming new people. Literary terms occurred in my head: Brussels seems like a weird paradox to me. Its exterior can be seen as some kind of awkward metaphor for today´s situation of the EU, as viewed by many people: the old part I found quite beautiful, while the new buildings taking over the city looked threatening. Sometimes, content is not enough – it should be expressed in tangible objects to make a strong case. Inspiring architecture would be a good start.

Anyway, there has been enough talk about this topic and certainly on Lorenzo´s blog. Because let´s make room for another cliché here: it doesn´t matter where you are when you are with friends. I discovered some universal rules about true friends during my visit, which I can apply to all my best friends:

  • they are hanging out with interesting people;
  • they are pursuing great things in life;
  • even hiking on a highway after taking some wrong turns is fun.

 

Iris, in Stockholm now.

The light!

After one intense week in Trento I’m now back in Brussels. Straight into the proper European mood thanks to this week’s Kal’s timely cartoon.

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Women

Almost half of the people working for the EU are women. It must be said that the persons who sit on top of all the institutions are men. But women do already have a fundamental role and you see a lot of them walking in the streets busy while talking on their mobile phones. I realized this is something is really notice. It should be natural that way, but unfortunately it is not, especially if you come from Italy.

Trustworthy

Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries. Figures from Eurobarometer, the EU’s polling organisation, show that Euroscepticism is soaring to a degree that is likely to feed populist anti-EU politics and frustrate European leaders’ efforts to arrest the collapse in support for their project.