By Sergey Manukov
Italians were deeply offended by the European Union. They believe that Brussels betrayed them and left them to their fate in the fight against the epidemic of the coronavirus Covid-19.
“Staying in the European Union is pointless”
Italy faced the deepest and most severe crisis after World War II. The number of victims of the coronavirus epidemic as of the morning of April 9 is approaching 18 thousand, and the confirmed cases of infection have exceeded 140 thousand. The pandemic painfully hit the Italian economy, which had already slipped into the deepest post-war recession. Italian Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri recently said that GDP is likely to fall by 6% this year. Many economists believe that the decline will be more significant.
Not only the depth and scope, but also the growing feeling even among pro-European elites that the neighbors in the European home betrayed Rome and left face to face with the coronavirus Covid-19, differs from the recession a decade ago.
The story of Euro-optimist Carlo Calenda , who headed the Renzi government in the Ministry of Economic Development, is indicative of the past year, he participated in the elections to the European Parliament (EP) under the slogan “We are Europeans!”, And in November 2019 created the social-liberal party “Action”. The basis of his election program in the EP is the defense of Italy’s stay in a united Europe in an era of growing nationalism and populism. It is impossible to call Calenda a Euro-skeptic even with the most developed imagination, but now the 46-year-old ex-minister and permanent representative of Italy in the European Union (EU) has strong doubts about the correctness of the idea, which he devoted his life to the struggle for.
“This is an existential threat,” Calenda sadly shrugs. “You know, I’m not sure now that we will be able to overcome it.” My party is one of the most pro-European parties in Italy, but now almost every day I receive letters from members of the same party who ask me: “Why should we stay in the EU? It’s pointless!””.
“In Italy, very serious changes are taking place,” states Carlo Calenda. “Thousands of Euro-optimists are moving to this position (becoming Euro-skeptics).”
78-year-old Italian President Sergio Mattarella , the main defender of the Italian constitution, warned back in March that the future of a united Europe would be in serious danger if its institutions did not show solidarity with Italy.
“I hope it’s not too late yet, everyone clearly understands the seriousness of the threat that Europe is now facing,” he said in an address to the Italians broadcast on national television.
In Rome, the number of Euro-skeptics is growing every day, who believe that if the northern European countries do not take radical action, they risk that Italy will forever turn its back on the project called Europe.
There is a lot of evidence that the faith of the inhabitants of the Apennines in the European Union has weakened significantly. In the March Tecnè poll, for example, 67% of respondents said that staying in the EU is more likely to harm Italy than it helps. In November 2018, there were one and a half times fewer such Euroskeptics – 47%.
Former European Council President Donald Tusk , now the head of the European People’s Party, emphasized in an interview with the Financial Times (FT) that the situation is much worse now than it was during the financial crisis ten years ago. And both in terms of economics and politics.
The hopes of southern Europe at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic for a quick demonstration of solidarity from the rest of the European Union remained hopeful, despite the fact that the EU, albeit very late, still began to provide southerners with financial support and assistance with medical equipment and protective equipment.
“I hope it can still be fixed,” Tusk expressed hope and added: “But in any case, the damage to the reputation of the (EU) has been done enormously. We must save Italy, Spain and the rest of Europe and not be afraid of extraordinary measures, because now there is an emergency. ”
By the way, in an interview with FT, Tusk first announced that the assistance of the European Union to Italy and other European countries that were most affected by the epidemic of the coronavirus Covid-19 is much greater than the help from China and Russia. He explained the calculations of who helps more and who less, because in “politics, perception can be more important than the fact itself”.
Words smoke and zero help
When Rome asked neighbors for help, they not only ignored the request, but also closed the borders, unequivocally telling Italians that their shirt was closer to their bodies and that they would have to deal with coronavirus alone.
The same sluggish was the reaction of Brussels. The head of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, also very late in the very beginning of April, asked the Italians forgiveness for the lack of solidarity from a united Europe in the struggle of Rome against the pandemic, but promised to help in the fight against the economic consequences of the coronavirus Covid-19. In an open letter published by the daily newspaper La Repubblica, she is justified by the fact that at the first stage of the pandemic, most European countries, unfortunately, did not notice anything but their own problems.
“They did not understand that a pandemic could only be defeated by everyone,” the letter says. – This is a very bad position, and it could have been avoided. Now Europe has rushed to help Italy. ”
In Italy, the apologies of the main European politician, and especially her last words about the fact that now almost a line has been drawn from European countries wishing to help Italians, have not impressed.
The far-right League party, still the most popular political party in the Apennines, is not averse to taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and trying to earn points on it.
“The President of the Commission, von der Leyen, apologized to Italy and the Italians,” wrote the leader of the League and, in the recent past, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on Twitter . “She could have done it before.” We received from Europe only words, smoke and zero concrete help. ”
Claudio Borghi , an economic adviser to the League, posted on his Twitter account a photograph of a German poster from World War II with a Wehrmacht soldier who, with a smile, reaches out and says: “Germany is your real friend!”
“Many years have passed, but the tactics have remained the same,” summed up the Borghi.
In 2018, Italy was the first among the founding countries of the EU to choose a government hostile to the Union. It is enough to recall the angry tirades of Matteo Salvini to the “Brussels bunker”. The coalition government, in which Salvini played a major role, has fallen, and already in 2019 he joined the opposition and gave the Eurooptimists a false hope that the threat of nationalism had weakened. However, many Italians now believe that the events of March can dramatically and permanently change the balance of power in the Italian political arena in favor of Matteo Salvini.
“And before, there was a feeling that the political system marginalized anti-European forces,” explains YouTrend political analyst Lorenzo Pregliasco . “Now that even pro-European activists and politicians are no longer confident in their feelings and views towards Europe, what can we say about what voters think!”
The crisis caused by the Covid-19 epidemic clearly gave courage to the right-wing Italian politicians, who immediately realized that the mood of the society on the Apennines was changing not in favor of Brussels and Germany.
“The European Union has moved from doing nothing to trying to capitalize on our difficulties,” for example, says Giorgia Meloni , leader of the ultra-right Brothers of Italy party, which now, by the way, according to polls, is second only to the League in popularity on the peninsula. – Someone is trying to use the coronavirus for their own purposes. There is a game to weaken Italy and buy up its strategic assets. ”
Euro-rich do not want to guarantee the debts of the Euro-poor
Now around Italy passions are boiling again. The focus of heated debate is the fight against coronavirus and especially the question of how monolithic the eurozone should be in the fight against the economic consequences of the epidemic. On April 10, an EU summit dedicated to combating the Covid-19 epidemic is due to take place in a fashionable videoconference mode. On the eve, as usual, the EU finance ministers gathered in the same mode, who were to coordinate documents on specific measures of struggle and provide a package of documents for signature to leaders.
On Tuesday, the main European financiers for 16 (!) Hours unsuccessfully sought a compromise. The disagreements between the rich North in the face of the Netherlands, Austria and Finland and Germany gravitating towards them, which, on a number of issues, is nevertheless forced to maintain formal neutrality already, which have borne the edge of the crisis of 2008–2009, and “ poor “South, consisting of Italy, Spain and Greece, again proved insurmountable. The participants did not agree on the conditions under which members of the eurozone will be able to receive loans from the European Stabilization Fund (ESM). Italy in the person of Roberto Gualtieri, of course, insisted on the easiest conditions for opening credit lines, while the Netherlands, together with Austria and Finland, demanded
This is not the first time that the north and south of Europe have been unable to agree on the so-called coronabond, i.e., joint debt, eurobonds, which, at the request of Rome and Madrid, should be issued by the eurozone to deal with the economic consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic.
The idea of issuing Eurobonds is not new. The South tried to take advantage of it even in times of the past crisis, but even then, as now, the rich North, led by the Federal Republic of Germany and the illustrious words of Angela Merkel , said in 2012 that while she was alive, there were no Eurobonds in Europe will be.
Now Berlin has handed over the baton to his deputy – The Hague, but remains on the alert and at any time, if necessary, is ready to say its weighty “no.”
The position of the North regarding coronabond was intelligibly explained by the Minister of Finance of the Kingdom Wopke Hukstra :
“The Netherlands has been against Eurobonds before, they are against them now and will be against and further, because instead of reducing risks in Europe, they (Eurobonds) increase them. The Netherlands will act not only stupidly, but also illogically, if they guarantee debts made by others. Most members of the eurozone support this position. ”
Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke in an interview about coronabond in a dismissive tone that outraged Conte and Gualtieri, added fuel to the fire . The European Commission had to urgently apologize for its boss and declare that the issue is still in the process of being resolved.
Italians, Spaniards and Greeks, of course, this position is annoying. They see it as yet another proof that a united Europe is not able to behave as a strong and healthy political union should be.
“As long as we consider our dead,” Claudio Borghi comments on the situation with coronondond , “they calculate the risk of lowering the rates on their bonds.”
Borghi, by the way, is categorically against taking money from ESM. He is sure that if this is done on the conditions existing now, it will be tantamount to renunciation of sovereignty.
Southerners are not quite right when they say that a united Europe never helps members of the Union who are in trouble. There are many examples of the opposite kind, and their solid number only makes Brussels’ indifferent reaction in this case even more offensive and offensive to Rome. For example, two years ago, when severe forest fires raged in Sweden, Stockholm turned to the Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC) for help and met for participation. Portugal sent two fireplanes, Germany – 5 helicopters and 53 firefighters, Lithuania – 1 helicopter, Norway – 8. France sent two planes and 60 firefighters to help the northerners, Poland – 130 firefighters and more than 40 fire engines. Italy itself, despite the fact that the fire hazard season was in full swing, and numerous fires of its own, sent 2 fire aircraft.
European help was greeted in Sweden with applause. It has become a powerful proof of an already forgotten reality, which says that the EU is not only and not so much boring financial transactions, but rather help to the members of a united Europe who are in trouble.
Accused of espionage
In February 2020, Italy requested a request from the ERCC for medical supplies and equipment only. No one responded to the call, and the neighbors, as noted above, closed the borders just in case.
In their defense, in Brussels and the capitals of European countries, as Ursula von der Leyen has already noted, they say that in such an emergency situation as now, everyone should first of all ensure that these supplies and equipment are enough for their own citizens. However, the situation was really emergency and Italy really was in desperate need of help.
Help nevertheless came, but it came from where, perhaps, few were waiting for it. On March 13, at almost midnight, a transport plane from China landed at the capital’s international airport with 9 doctors on board and 31 tons of medical supplies and equipment. At about the same time, a convoy with more than 200 medical equipment drawers arrived in Italy from China.
Beijing continued to help Rome fight the epidemic thereafter. At the end of March, Russia joined him. In total, 15 transport aircraft of the aerospace forces landed at a military airfield in the vicinity of Rome. In addition to medical equipment and medicines, IL-76 was delivered by about a hundred specialists, including epidemiologists and virologists, as well as eight medical and nursing teams. In Bergamo and its environs alone, over a week with a little Russian specialists from the radiation, chemical and biological defense forces carried out a complete disinfection of 65 nursing homes. In total, they disinfected boarding houses for the elderly in 30 settlements of Lombardy, as well as dozens of buildings and structures.
Of course, not everyone is ready to meet the Russian military doctors in Italy with Katyusha and the Russian anthem. The role of the main fighter against the Russian threat was taken by one of the most popular publications in Italy – the daily newspaper La Stampa. Almost since the landing of the first transport aircraft from Russia, this newspaper tried in every possible way to discredit Russian aid.
When the military department of the Russian Federation responded to the ongoing attempts by La Stampa journalists to accuse Russia of insidious plans in general and intelligence activities in particular, Italian journalists were greatly offended by the allegedly harsh tone of Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov , who said that Russia’s help is selfless in nature.
Even stupid is the accusation against Moscow of certain Italian media, including La Stampa, that help from Russia is supposedly 80% useless. The governor of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana , answered these accusations best of all , saying that there will always be people who want to “arrange speculation.”
Rutte changed his mind?
The story of medical supplies is not the first case of the so-called European solidarity that Italians have had to face. During the 2015 migrant crisis, approximately 1.7 million refugees from Africa and Asia arrived in Europe. Mostly they got there through Italy and Greece. Nevertheless, in 2017, a number of European states refused to accept migrants under the solidarity program.
Supporters of the European Union hope that the growing fear of the coronavirus Covid-19 will force stubborn northerners to reason and try to make amends. The government of Mark Rutte recently even proposed the creation of a $ 20 billion solidarity fund, from which money can be used to finance health systems in Italy and Spain.
But this proposal of Rutte, if adopted, will give Rome only a small part of the necessary funds. On the other hand, the very fact that in a country that has always categorically opposed any money transfers within the eurozone has made such an offer, says Eurooptimists, hope that a public opinion will gradually change.
Of course, talking about Italy’s withdrawal from the European Union is premature. Perhaps she will remain both a member of the EU and a member of NATO, but millions of Italians will probably wonder for a long time, why should they support the European allies in trouble next time? And why should about 6 thousand Italian troops have to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and NATO in Kosovo or to protect Latvia from the mythical threat from the east? The inhabitants of the Apennines will also certainly be interested to know why their sailors risk their lives by participating in the European Union mission to combat Somali pirates or patrolling the Western Mediterranean, not only for Italy itself, but for the rest of Europe?