24 Sep 2012

United in Euro disappointment in Siena

I spent the weekend in an old monastery outside Siena. I was attending the annual Pontignano Conference, which brings together UK and Italian politicians, diplomats, journalists, analysts, academics, corporates, and activists to discuss what unites and separates us.

We shared views on each other’s countries, and on the state of Europe present and future. We spent 48 hours in a sumptuously Italian setting with the towers of Siena sitting temptingly in the hot September sun on the blue skyline.

This year both the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano and the most lauded and only unelected prime minister in Europe Mario Monti attended. Despite our culinary and climatic differences we found much in common. In both countries support for the EU is drifting downward. Both countries are in recession, indeed uniquely amongst developed nations, Italy has not grown for a decade. Both countries are battered by the euro crisis whether in or out of it.

So what did we conclude? More than anything else we agreed that informed discussion about Europe is almost non-existent; that many newspapers had so ideological a view of the matter of Europe that they contorted developments to fit their particular convictions. Yet that if either of us left the EU we might well stand the very real prospect of isolation and diminution.

There was surprising consensus that the European parliament is an expensive waste of space and time and does little to address the democratic deficit. I could not find one person in the room from either country who could name their MEP! Rather we preferred a parliamentary model that had sustained before the European parliament – that of a group of national MPs serving on a European committee in domestic parliaments representing their countries in a parliamentary setting in Europe, thereby connecting the national voter with the European level.

We concluded that the 1999 Treaty that brought about the euro was poorly established and needed completely re- structuring. In short there needed to be a short-term settlement to sort the immediate euro crisis, and a five-year deadline to agree complete restructuring. No one was optimistic this could be achieved.

I don’t know whether it’s even interesting to you to hear all this. There will be hackles raised that we even bothered, but in my book, we ignore the development of Europe and its crises at our peril. In a busy time, I concluded it was time well spent.

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