On a visit to Brussels, Italy’s Maria Elena Boschi received a show of support from the major political groups in the European Parliament and from the Commission, ahead of the do-or-die referendum in October on constitutional reform.
The glamorous-looking Italian Minister of Constitutional Reform spoke to a packed auditorium in the European Parliament today (12 July), at an event organised by the Italian think tank Formiche, hosted by the S&D group.
Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, S&D leader Gianni Pittella, the deputy chairman of the EPP group Esteban Gonzalez Pons, and European Parliament Vice-President Antonio Tajani, flanked Boschi at the podium and successively took the floor. The name of the ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt was also in the program, although he didn’t appear at the event.
Tajani, who is from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and Pons, made it clear that they had no political differences with Boschi, representing the centre-left government of Matteo Renzi, on the issue of the constitutional referendum, on the need to reform the EU, and to ward off the rise of populism.
The representatives of the institutions, as well as Boschi, linked the need for reform in the EU with the particular case of Italy.
Tajani spoke of a need to change the EU treaties and to put in place new competition rules which would allow the European companies to compete with global players such as China.
He said that no matter what political discourse was in Italy, in Brussels, Italians had to tone down the differences and capitalise on common views.
He also developed an idea, repeated by the other Italian speakers after him – that Italian governments so far had been weak, and that a stronger Italy in the future would contribute to a stronger EU.
Simple and difficult solutions
Timmermans, who delivered most of his speech in Italian, one of the five foreign languages in which he is fluent, made a reference to the populists, who were creating illusions that simple solutions could solve complicated problems. But neither the vice-president nor any of the other speakers mentioned the elephant in the room, the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, which is now Italy’s most popular party and would easily win if a national election were held today.
“We should stop only the populists to speak out loudly. We should speak loudly as well. We have a lot to tell,” he stated, triggering applause from the audience.
Timmermans said that the solutions advocated by the Commission and by the Italian government were difficult, mentioning Renzi’s reform of the labour market.
In the absence of solutions, sometimes painful, there would be more scapegoating, the victims of which are minorities, the poor, women, and people without education, he said.
The Commission Vice-President said that the EU executive could do nothing without the European Parliament, and that a majority of MEPs shared the vision of an inclusive and sustainable European society.
He said that there was a need to modernise the economy in Italy and in Europe.
“If we do it in Italy, we will feel the success everywhere in Europe, We are all watching Italy, this great country which has left its mark on Europe’s history,” he said.
Re-launching the EU project
Boschi started her 27-minute long speech, for which she used no speaking notes, by making an appeal to re-launch the EU project, following the UK referendum, the result of which she said had been unexpected.
“Unfortunately, anti-European sentiment is not limited to the UK. It is common more or less to all our countries, and it is on the rise,” she said, adding that in Italy, the response to this was to strive for “more Europe” and a stronger Europe.
When Italy asks Europe to change, when it criticises Europe, it is doing it because it trusts Europe, and wants to see it closer to its citizens, Boschi said.
For a stronger Europe, we need stronger states, and a stronger Italy, she went on, describing the many reforms undertaken by the Renzi government over the last two years.
Among those reforms, she didn’t fail to mention the hotly contested legislation on gay civil unions, in which she was personally involved.
Boschi said that Italy had been less prepared than others to face the Eurozone crisis, that structural reforms were still needed. She said that the country needed more stable institutions, and this was the aim of the constitutional reform. She mentioned that in Italy, it was virtually impossible to have the same majorities in the two chambers of the Parliament, and lamented the lack of capacity to take important decisions.
“We need a more simple, more effective system”, Boschi said, giving as an example the European Parliament, in which MEPs knew in advance on which date such and such report would be voted in Commission or in Plenary, and even knew the dates of their holidays. “All this in the Italian parliament is very difficult to foresee,” she added.
Speaking after Boschi, Pittella slammed the Italian bicameral parliamentarian system, which he compared to the Stability and Growth Pact which provides for fiscal monitoring of the member states by the Commission.
“Bicameralism and the Stability Pact deserve the same adjective. They are both stupid. Stupid!,” he repeated.
Pittella said that the democratic deficit in the EU consisted in a discrepancy between the text of the Maastricht treaty, which said that the EU was a union of member states and their citizens, and reality, which was a union of states, but not of citizens. Only the European Parliament as an institution had achieved this objective, he said.
The S&D leader compared this situation with the push of the Italian government for constitutional reform, which he said should serve as an example and inspiration for the EU.
The referendum on constitutional reform is not a vote for or against Renzi and Boschi, it is “revolutionary reform”. Others tried, and did not “succeed”, he said.
“It is a referendum on bicameralism, which is an idiocy,” Pittella stated.