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How the EU destroyed Italian democracy Rome's president has been turned into an emperor

Bunga (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)


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January 5, 2022   7 mins
and
January 5, 2022   7 mins

On January 24, when Sergio Mattarella’s seven-year term comes to an end, the Italian parliament and its regional representatives will hold a secret ballot to elect the country’s new president and official head of state. Even though the appointment hasn’t garnered much attention outside of Italy, its choice will have wide-ranging implications — not just for Italy but for the entire continent.

It is generally believed that the Italian president performs a purely ceremonial and symbolic role, and throughout most of Italy’s life as a republic this has been largely the case. Italy, after all, is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy, with the government dependent on the confidence of the elected legislature.

And yet, in his official capacity as the “guarantor” or “guardian” of the constitution, the president holds considerable power: governments are required to obtain the “approval” of the president, who also nominates (“approves”) the prime minister and his cabinet ministers. Moreover, all laws passed by parliament have to be approved by the president, and he or she is also charged with signing off the dissolution of parliament, for example following a government crisis and loss of parliamentary majority. This means the president effectively decides whether elections should be held or not.

Nor does the president’s power stop there: the incumbent also ratifies all international treaties, and serves as commander-in-chief of the army and as the head of the governing body of the judiciary. The president also wields influence through the technocratic structures of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, particularly the all-powerful Accounting Office (Ragioneria Generale dello Stato) and the Bank of Italy.

It’s not, therefore, an inconsiderable source of power — especially in times of crisis, when the political system is incapable of delivering viable solutions and the president’s role tends to “expand”. Given the quasi-permanent state of political and economic turbulence that Italy has been mired in for at least a decade, it’s no surprise that the president today has evolved into a full-blooded political actor, with the power (and willingness) to intervene in the country’s decision-making process.

But this transformation has been long in the making, and can be traced back to Italy’s gradual integration into the European Union and the euro, beginning in the early Nineties. For any country, membership of the euro means that the role of government — and therefore of parliament — increasingly becomes that of rubberstamping often unpopular economic decisions taken at the European level. This has inevitably entailed a process of state reconfiguration involving the strengthening of executive and technocratic powers at all levels, including that of the president, and the consequent marginalisation of parliament. Typically, this is presented as a necessary precondition for the swift and efficient implementation of the kind of economic policies enforced by the EU: fiscal austerity, wage moderation, and pro-market liberalisations and privatisations.

Once the choice was made by Italy’s elites to join the euro, it also became necessary to defend their decision from any possible popular-democratic challenges. And so the president’s role was transformed in another way: from guarantor of the constitution to guarantor of the country’s “international obligations”, in particular those to EU treaties and rules. Finally, the transfer of economic prerogatives to the EU meant that political parties, even if they managed to secure a majority in parliament, increasingly found themselves lacking the economic tools necessary to maintain societal consensus.

A system of quasi-permanent social and political instability was born, with the president adopting an increasingly “activist” role in the name of “stability” and “governability”. In short, Italy’s euro membership effectively set in motion a unique case of institutional transition from one form of democracy to another: from a parliamentary regime to a de facto presidential regime in which the legislature performs a marginal role.

This became particularly evident under the double term of Giorgio Napolitano (2006-2015), which coincided with the turbulent era of the post-financial crisis fallout. During that period, Napolitano became the “quiet powerbroker” of Italian politics, with critics referring to him as “Re Giorgio”, or King George. It is generally accepted, for example, that Napolitano played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in the “international coup” — involving, among others, the Bank of Italy, then-president of the ECB Mario Draghi, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy — that led to the downfall of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his replacement by technocrat Mario Monti, personally chosen by Napolitano himself. Monti’s government was widely referred to as “a government of the president”.

Napolitano’s successor, outgoing president Sergio Mattarella, followed in his footsteps. In 2018, following an alliance between the Five Star Movement and the League, the two parties, as required by the Italian constitution, submitted their choice of government ministers to the president for approval. Yet their proposed economic minister, Paolo Savona, was vetoed by Mattarella due to his euro-critical stance, forcing the two parties to opt for the more status quo-friendly Giovanni Tria. As the law experts Marco Dani and Agustín José Menendez noted at the time, this would seem to point to the existence of “a form of ‘convention’ according to which political parties or coalitions that are critical of the existing economic and monetary arrangements within the eurozone cannot get into government. Or, more accurately, they are entitled to govern [only] in a tamed form”.

More recently, when Matteo Renzi pulled the plug on the Giuseppe Conte’s second government last January, Mattarella refused to dissolve parliament and call for early elections, instead working behind-the-scenes to ensure Conte’s replacement by Draghi, much like Napolitano had done with Monti a decade earlier. Indeed, according to several sources, Mattarella and Draghi were directly involved in the machinations that led Conte to step aside, with Renzi eventually moving away only once he had obtained reassurance from them that the former central banker was ready to step in.

And over the past year, Mattarella has gone out of his way to vocally defend practically every policy of the Draghi government, including the more legally and constitutionally shaky ones — such as the introduction of vaccine passes and a de facto vaccine mandate, as well as the maintenance of a semi-permanent state of emergency and the strengthening of Draghi’s authoritarian and anti-democratic grip on the country. In other words, the president today no longer even pretends to be a neutral arbiter of the constitution. It’s not only taken for granted that he plays a deeply political role, but indeed the Italian elites increasingly expect him to do so: to use his king-like powers to uphold the status quo and keep “the barbarians” at bay, be they euro sceptics or vaccine sceptics.

In light of the above, the importance of the upcoming presidential election comes into sharp focus. With general elections scheduled for 2023 (and the possibility of a Right-wing majority), an unfolding post-pandemic social and economic crisis, growing opposition to draconian Covid measures, and a structural reform agenda which the EU expects Italy to implement in exchange for the meagre Next Generation EU funds, it’s clear that securing a man of the establishment in the role of president is essential for Italy’s pro-EU elites. Long before the pandemic, Draghi was seen as the natural successor to Mattarella. But his appointment as prime minister last February has made a potential transition more complicated.

If Draghi were to be elected president, the parties that make up the coalition government would have to agree on a replacement prime minister to see the government through until the end of the parliamentary term in 2023. However, it is widely believed that without Draghi it would be very hard to ensure the survival of the current “government of national unity”, which includes practically all parties except Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. And since no one (except maybe Meloni, who is currently topping the polls alongside the Democratic Party) wants to go to early elections — and also because dissolving parliament before next September would mean that MPs would lose their hefty annuity pensions — in the secret of the ballot box many MPs might choose to vote down Draghi.

In the unlikely event of early elections, it’s very hard to fathom what the scenario could be: with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia now closer to the liberal-centrist Democratic Party than to its formal allies, the League and Brothers of Italy, securing a Right-wing majority might prove difficult. This opens up the prospect of yet another “technical” or “national unity” government, overseen by Mario Draghi, now in the role of all-powerful king-president.

And this scenario isn’t entirely implausible even if elections aren’t held until 2023. Even for those parties still betting on securing a Right-wing majority at the next elections, there would be a clear advantage in having Draghi as president: the “approval” and “supervision” of the former ECB leader would prove essential in safeguarding the government against any backlashes from financial markets or the European institutions — a fact that in itself says a lot about the democratic implications of euro membership.

Draghi himself recently signalled that he would be willing to become president, and explained that parties shouldn’t worry about future governments straying from the path of neoliberal righteousness: “We have created the conditions for the work to continue, regardless of who is [in government]”, Draghi said, essentially confirming that elections are of relatively little important these days, since the decisions that matter are taken elsewhere, namely in the technocratic apparatuses of the state charged with implementing EU dictates. Whether this will be enough to reassure MPs remains to be seen. Draghi’s election is not, for now, a foregone conclusion.

Another option would be for Draghi to continue serving as prime minister until the end of the current parliament in February 2023. That would allow him to oversee the initial implementation of the EU’s reform agenda while a coalition of parties — potentially comprising the PD, the Five Star Movement, other smaller parties, and maybe even Forza Italia — work on a political platform that would furnish Draghi with a new majority in the next general election. In this case, it’s hard to predict who the next president might actually be. The only person actively campaigning for the election is Silvio Berlusconi, who has always dreamt of becoming president. But it’s unlikely that such a divisive personality will muster the broad support needed to become president.

Some have also posited a “creative” solution to get Draghi elected president while saving the current government: electing Mattarella for a second mandate until 2023 and then have him step down for old age and pass the ball to Draghi. Indeed, in a telling demonstration of just how desperate the Italian establishment is, opera-goers at Milan’s La Scala theatre recently greeted President Sergio Mattarella, who was in the audience, with chants of “bis” and “encore”, imploring him to serve another term.

It was proof that whatever happens in the upcoming presidential election one thing is clear: Italian democracy has become a largely elitist affair, in which warring factions of the establishment vie for power, while the majority of citizens don’t even bother to vote anymore. It’s no surprise that global elites today look to Italy as a model – The Economist even went as far as crowning Italy “country of the year”. Many of its citizens, however, would beg to disagree.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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Paddy Taylor
PT
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Why is anybody surprised by this?
Only 10 years ago Italy had its elected Govt toppled by EU diktat – it happened right under our noses and yet the media chose to make so little of it that most people seemed barely to notice. They certainly raised practically no objection. Yet, quite brazenly, a mere matter of months later, insiders were openly admitting what they’d done. Former ECB governor, Athanasios Orphanides, “They threaten governments that misbehave with financial destruction. They try to scare them into voluntary acceptance of policies,” … “They cut off refinancing and threaten to kill the banking system. They create a roll-over crisis in the bond market. This is what happened to Italy in 2011.”
The headline suggests the EU is out to destroy Italian democracy – true, but a small part of the picture. The EU’s clear mission is the erosion of the nation state. It has always been that. By fair means or foul. The EU can’t hope to function with 27 sovereign states, each with a representative govt. The EU can only succeed in a future where decisions are made above the nation state; by institutions, large corporate interests and financial markets, overseen by politicians who remain entirely unaccountable and never have to subject themselves to the inconvenience of achieving a popular mandate. The commission – who sets such policy – operate with no transparency and under no democratic mandate. In the Eurozone it is even more obvious, with markets and Credit Ratings agencies able to entirely override the will of the people.
Given that no one in this supranational state ever voted for such an entity, it is tyranny, yet few ever pushed back against this clearly anti-democratic monolith.
Throughout its existence the European Project has been constantly changing (though never reforming), always moving forward towards further integration, towards political and fiscal union – towards federalism.
The EU’s direction of travel is quite clear – it always has been- if you had any doubts left then you only need look at who was appointed to replace Juncker et al. Open federalists – despite the fact that the EU Parliament put forward more pragmatic candidates who did not want to see the federalist future pushed so hard.
Wishing to be part of a USofE is an entirely credible and valid position – I wholeheartedly and strongly disagree with it, but have no problem with those who genuinely espouse such a view – if they have the moral courage to be open and honest about it. Where I do have a problem is with those who seek to achieve such an aim via the back-door, without gaining the consent of those they wish to govern.
If an honest referendum were held on a federalist future in all EU member states then we’d see a widespread rejection of it. Say the EU laid out a 5 or 10 year plan, leading towards a fully federal European state, then there’d be wholesale opposition to that idea.
Of course there’d be some backing for such a vision amongst Federalist supporters – but country by country, how many would see a majority vote to become a state within a USofE? Ireland? France? Spain? Italy? Germany? The Netherlands? Not a chance. Not even Denmark. …. Maybe, just maybe, Belgium would enjoy the idea, but who’d join them?
But, of course, the EU won’t do that – for the same reason they have never done that. The concerns of the citizenry have never been allowed to stand in the way of the broader EU ambitions. It would happen incrementally, as all these things do – but quite deliberately. As the arch federalist Herr Juncker himself described it, “We decide on something, leave it lying around, and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”
And don’t for a minute imagine that a veto would save a sovereign state from being subsumed – Such trifles have been swatted aside by the commission before now. ‘Unanimous consent’ becomes ‘Qualified Majority voting’ whenever it suits the commission’s broader objectives. I’d no more trust Brussels to honour a veto than I’d trust Jean Claude Juncker with the keys to the wine cellar.

Now that we have wrested sovereignty back from those who seemed happy to give it away, there’s a line in the Bill of Rights that should be forcibly upheld – and those who run for any elected office should be made to understand “That no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority … within this realm”
Yet the Europhiles in our own Parliament, Civil Service and Media seemed unconcerned that this unwanted and illegitimate federalism would have been foisted upon us – that this nation would have become a mere province in a country called Europe, without ever having consulted the people or sought our consent.
Never forget that, given the option, they’d want it still.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

What I continue to find extraordinary is the constant effusive gushing over what a wonderful job our beloved Queen has done these last 70 years. She’s supposed to be the defender of the constitution, but has totally failed – at any point – to bring up the incompatibility of the Bill of Rights with membership of the EU, or even to invite the PM of the day to explain how it is compatible.
It could perhaps be argued that the Bill of Rights does not apply where Parliament has approved the authority of a foreign state and decided to waive its provisions, but this doesn’t work either. EU federalism is designed to be irreversible, so if a later Parliament withdrew its approval of, oh, the European courts being able to overrule ours, or our having abolished the pound, it wouldn’t be possible. Once in possession of a given power, the foreign state could not be made to relinquish it.
Poland seems to understand this better than HMtQ. Taken together with the behaviour of Prince Charles and especially Prince Andrew, it all adds to the impression of frivolity that hangs around the royal family.

Katharine Eyre
KE
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The Queen has rightly remained silent on political debates. Now, my education in constitutional law lies WAY back in time, but I seem to remember that the making and unmaking of international treaties (which would cover the relationship between the UK and the EU, or at least parts of it) is part of the royal prerogative, which are powers vested in the monarch, but which are exercised on the advice of the monarch’s ministers.
The Queen has adhered to this and therefore never intervened in matters pertaining to the relationship between the EU and the UK, leaving it to her (more or less competent) ministers.
Happy to hear from anyone who has better knowledge on this than me though. Read the Miller decision by the Supreme Court – there is a lot to read in there about the relationship between UK and EU law and the various legal mechanisms at work.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

We don’t know what – if any – push-back there has been from HM the Queen to the various PMs who’ve served since ’73.
But Maastricht explicitly ran counter to the UK’s consitutional position, and Lisbon eroded it further – yet all our major political parties seemed happy to hand over sovereignty to an unelected body.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Surely that would suggest to the monarch that she must not intervene; the politicians, elected by popular mandate, were nearly all of them in favour of what happened at Maastricht. Her opinion or views are of no consequence in such a situation. Right or wrong does not come into it in an elective democracy. It is up to the people to dismiss the politicians at the next opportunity if they do not represent the popular view.
If there had been a clear groundswell in the country against, or a clear and fairly equal split of opinion then Her Majesty would have had a duty to warn, guide and advise, and all those Bagehotian things, to try to bring about agreement. That is what the role has evolved to, rightly. In Italy it is very dangerously evolving the other way.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Sure – but those Politicians were out of step with those they were elected to represent. There was always a strong eurosceptic streak in this country, that politicians were well aware of, which is why they ran shy of actually holding a referendum – despite endlessly promising one.
Major had promised his back-benchers (the “b*stards”) a referendum on Maastricht. He then reneged on that promise – and denied he made it. Which led to Goldsmith forming the referendum party.
Blair promised a referendum on the Constitution. When the constitution was rebuffed but then repackaged as the Lisbon treaty he called it “merely a tidying up exercise” and refused to set a referendum.
Brown had specifically promised a referendum in the 2005 Labour manifesto. Hence his slinking in to ratify the Lisbon treaty away from the cameras, after all other EU heads of Govts had done so.
Clegg had called for referendums for years in Lib Dem manifestos – yet suddenly thought they were a terrible idea when Cameron made it a manifesto pledge.
All made the promise – knowing it was right and proper to do so. It was the only way to legitimately push this country into further integration. All weaselled out of their promises because they knew that it would be a very close run thing.

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I don’t disagree with any of that; but the monarch is not there to override the politicians; she would soon be out of her role if she took an active, rather than passive, approach to her role. That is the very great danger that Italy is moving toward – Mussolini mark 2. Maybe it starts with the trains running on time but we know where it can end!
In Britain and on the EU the politicians failed the people for a while; the people eventuality sorted it out and got both the opportunity and the result the majority wanted.
The system worked.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Totally agree. Somehow the weird English/British system manages to get there in the end.

Ian Stewart
IS
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

No there were lots of dissenting politicians but the momentum was with the Europhiles – anyone standing in the way was overwhelmed.

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

They kept getting paid for just rubber stamping EU rules. And the chance of a sinecure in the EU made them even more grasping and compliant. No wonder they tried to destroy the people’s choice of Brexit. Constant surrender made them think it could go on forever. At least Cameron did the right thing.

Matt M
MM
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It was widely reported, though of course never confirmed, that the Queen did challenge a group of politicians (including Michael Gove) to name any benefits membership of the EU gave the UK in the period leading up to the referendum. It gave the impression, at least to me, that she disapproved of our membership.

Surely that is as far as a constitutional monarch can go. She probably has buttonholed PMs about it but that cannot become public without sinking the monarchy.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

But she’s supposed to go further than that; this is my point. That is what the throne is for. To take an example ad absurdam, suppose Boris and his majority decided that Britain should become a province of Russia, and that we should abolish Parliament and be ruled by Mr. Putin. Would the Queen intervening in that be “political” too?
If the most obvious and flagrant constitutional breach is to be serenely ignored by the throne because it’s too “political”, then we might as well admit that the Crown’s role has degenerated into one of waving from cars, opening things, and getting involved in comical, scurrilous or farcical scandals, while living an unaccountable life of hedonism. And that’s the point at which I become a republican. Because if that’s how trivial the role is, if it’s just to provide laughs and salacious tabloid headlines, then we might as well face up to it and elect Queen Davina or King Graham Norton.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes it is a good point – joining the EEC (or maybe Maastricht) was such a breach with the existing constitution in that it transferred power from elected representatives to unelected foreign bureaucrats that she had a duty to intervene. I think you might be right. Though surely that would have lead to the end of the monarchy, probably.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I think you’re right about the monarchy – there is an awful lot of respect for Elizabeth but I think the firm will be in a lot of trouble once she goes. The younger generation (under 30s) who are struggling to buy a house certainly bristle at having to pay for their’s when I speak to them. Indeed I would say their entire mindset is alien to the idea of monarchy. I think it will disappear soon down the sinkhole of time along with the beeb.

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

“EU federalism is designed to be irreversible, so if a later Parliament withdrew its approval of, oh, the European courts being able to overrule ours, or our having abolished the pound, it wouldn’t be possible. Once in possession of a given power, the foreign state could not be made to relinquish it.”

Erm, did you sleep through the last five years? The UK Parliament has withdrawn the UK from “irreversible” EU federalism.

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Alas but I have to agree with you that the Queen should, in theory at least, never have signed sovereignty away to the EU because by so doing she signed her sovereignty to it. The same logic might well apply to the Bill of Rights. She is duty bound to follow the ‘advice’ of her governments and accept bills. She can (and she may well have) question and warn but if the government insists then she is obliged to sign. Had she not done so you can imagine the political furore and the media reaction … The fine line between the Sovereign’s powers (what’s left of them) political fiddling, the legalities and the enormity of it all as well as HM’s wish to avoid confrontation … Had she refused with legal reasoning why she made the decision, it might well have sparked a revolution from the pro-EU factions.
But it didn’t happen and we are now sort of out of the EU but your point remains valid – in my opinion.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Eveleigh

Well, yes. The Throne is supposed to challenge stuff that’s in breach of the constitution; that’s why it’s called a constitutional monarchy. If it fails to do so then it is of no further use. There should not be anything political about the monarchy doing its job; in fact, if some proposal is somehow too “political” for this to be acceptable, it is probably exactly such proposals that should be challenged, not the monarch for fulfilling her constitutional duty.
Brexit happened just in time.

Chris Wheatley
CW
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes. Charles will not be so passive. He will open his mouth and people will have forgotten that the monarchy actually has a purpose. If we can pull down statues of past heroes, we can dissolve the monarchy. It just seems to take a few people painted green sticking themselves to the M25.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

So what would you have instead Jon? Easy to criticise but what’s the alternative – certainly not the extremists that are running Poland (who are a reaction to the extremists running the EU governance).

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

“Wishing to be part of a USofE is an entirely credible and valid position – I wholeheartedly and strongly disagree with it, but have no problem with those who genuinely espouse such a view – if they have the moral courage to be open and honest about it. Where I do have a problem is with those who seek to achieve such an aim via the back-door, without gaining the consent of those they wish to govern”.
This are my thoughts entirely. I am now an Austrian citizen with an Austrian voting right and – to be honest – if we were given the chance to vote on whether to officially found the US of E – I’d probably vote for it. However, this will not happen – instead the development (as you say) is being sneaked through the back door and will simply be presented as a fait accomplis. And – if the ordinary citizen never objected – then it’s their own fault!
There is no honesty in this – only a complete disregard for democracy. Unless and until honesty is brought into the debate, I will be placing my vote (above all at EP elections) for parties who promise to push back on the EU.
I believe that the manifesto new coalition in Germany openly talks of a constitutional convention in the EU which will lead to the establishment of the US of E…so at least they are being open about it. But I do not think it will be contagious.

Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Harry Child
HC
Harry Child
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

A single European State was the purpose from the beginning.
Brok .chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs.1980 – 2019 “The EU is currently a state under construction. The construction of one State is its final conclusion.
Barre PM of France 1978-81 ” I have never understood why public opinion about European ideas should be taken into account ar all”
and in my opinion the saddest of all. Ken Clarke is reported to have said ” I look forward to the day when Westminster is just a council chamber in Europe”

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Harry Child

Perhaps – but to make that final step, you would have to have a constitution. The EU in its current state is founded on, and governed by treaties. That is not the same thing as a constitution. Trying to introduce a constitution and make that final step in a democratic way is impossible – you wouldn’t get a majority for it (as Paddy rightly argues).
But I agree with him that the final step will be forced through anyway, so that there will be a de facto US of E – with the legal niceties being tied up in retrospect…and democracy in Europe being casually thrown in the dustbin.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

2048 could be 1848 all over again!

Harry Child
Harry Child
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Why a constitution? Britain does not yet have a written constitution and I think the leaders of the EU would fudge this issue and rule by every increasing subversive laws. An American Ambassador to the EU observing at close quarters the Commission negotiating a trade deal observed that they deliberately left things vague so they subsequently could argue that any dispute over the Treaty should be in their favour. The European courts would back them up.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  Harry Child

Exactly right. Nothing terrifies Brussels more than the idea of real democracy, hence why they’ve never tried it and why they deliberately put their legislators beyond the reach of the ballot box.
This is not an accident, it is calculated policy that goes all the way back to Jean Monnet’s first plans for a US of E. It was quite intentionally designed to be unaccountable to the European electorate – offering them just a fig-leaf of democracy, a pretence of democracy, with elections for MEPs, who are powerless to change the make up or direction of the EU institutions – or broader policy.
Those who’d watched the League of Nations fall apart (due to it having to allow for democratic decision-making) had learned a salutary lesson and were determined their new version would avoid such a mistake. Monnet and other architects of the European project all referenced the fact that building a pan-European entity to encompass such varied and disparate cultures would have been impossible if they’d stopped to ask the citizenry and so, quite deliberately, they didn’t.
To say such a thing among European political scholars would not be at all controversial – it is only in the UK that EU zealots cling to the fiction that the EU is somehow a bastion of democracy – it simply isn’t, really. Anyone who believes that the “democratic” affectation of elections for MEPs in any way represents actual democracy convicts themselves of frightening gullibility.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I think you’re correct. I’ve literally heard from the mouths of EU officials that democracy is ‘problematic’. The idea behind that reasoning is that the people are too stupid to make decisions for themselves and therefore need to be ‘managed’.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Excellent comment. To me this is something which has been going on for hundreds of years. You have the clever, able people and you have the rest.

The clever, able ones think, “How can we control the rest so that we get what we want?” So you have Marxism, Leninism, Royalism, Archbishops and high clergy, and European Commission. It is all about control and this is why I mentioned Tony Blair. He is one of these people who maneuvre in the background, who have secret meetings, who believe they have a natural right to control people.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

This is an excellent analysis. I voted to remain because I feared that our generally EU enthralled parliamentarians would make a mess of Brexit, would not embrace the new freedoms and that the EU would do all it could to bring the UK to heel, even though I was not convinced by the dire economic consequences of a Brexit vote that were touted at the time by the Remain establishment.
In retrospect, although my fears have been born out in many respects I do think that retaining a rather ropy democratic system was better than being absorbed into a post-democratic system. Had I voted Brexit that would have been my motivation rather than any xenophobia. We must retain the option of defenestrations our rulers short of a chaotic and bloody revolution which is always the worst option available.
Italian politicians may have ruled their country badly but it must be better than unaccountable rule by a self perpetuating oligarchy. There must be effective feedback when the rulers stray too far from what is desired by the people short of bloody revolt.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“Italian politicians may have ruled their country badly but it must be better than unaccountable rule by a self perpetuating oligarchy.”
Who will ultimately make an even worse mess of it as they become even more mired in corruption and nepotism

Last edited 2 years ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Good comment Jeremy. Oligarchies can only end in repression or revolution.

Carmel Shortall
CS
Carmel Shortall
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Why “short of bloody revolt”? Off with their heads I say!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Excellent comment

Will R
WR
Will R
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Great comments, thanks,

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Thanks for this comment. One of the most concise and cogent Brexit arguments I’ve come across.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Great stuff Paddy. I love this:

 “That no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority … within this realm”

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

“…there would be a clear advantage in having Draghi as president: the “approval” and “supervision” of the former ECB leader would prove essential in safeguarding the government against any backlashes from financial markets or the European institutions — a fact that in itself says a lot about the democratic implications of euro membership.”
If the ECB is forced into raising interest rates to combat inflation and Italy finds itself unable to bear its debt burden and is locked out of the financial markets…not even the presence of Draghi is going to help. All of the commitment to keeping the eurozone status quo and the sacrifices made will have been in vain if it becomes clear that dropping Italy in the drink is the only way to keep the euro together. It’s not impossible.
As Draghi himself once said: whatever it takes to keep the euro alive will be done. Democracy be damned.
One of the key moments in the breakdown of my relationship with the EU and its institutions was when the Greek vote against austerity measures was ruthlessly set aside in 2015. Even though the Greeks were being unrealistic, the casual disregard for democracy shown by the ECB et al was appalling.
Not joining the euro was truly one of the UK’s best post-war decisions. And Tony Blair would have had us in it in a flash. Why this man has now been given a knighthood is beyond me.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

Interesting read, but, Unherd, you could have found a picture of Berlusconi which wasn’t 25 years old and 5 cosmetic interventions ago. I struggled to recognise him.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Adrian Doble
AD
Adrian Doble
2 years ago

Italian democracy. Isn’t that a contradiction of terms?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

The sharing of roles between the Head of State and Parliament in Italy is the same as in many democracies. In the UK, the Queen has the role of President but ahe chooses to do it very quietly.

When Charles comes along, he will be more vociferous and will interfere. Then there will be a movement to remove the monarchy and become a republic, allowing Tony Blair to take over.

The success/political environment/noise level of the Presidency of any country depends on the character of the person.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

When I read the bit about Tony Blair, I nearly lost my breakfast.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Chris makes a good point though. Countries that elect their head of state do indeed get people like Blair offered to them as candidates. If we had presidential elections in this country the candidates would be people like Tony Blair and Davina McCall.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That’s one of the reasons that – despite periods of rather uninspired republicanism – I have always remained a monarchist (as far as Britain is concerned at least). Just look at the fetid pond from which you would be fishing your presidents! I think that the better royals (clearly excluding Andrew, Harry & Meghan) display a greater commitment to public service and leadership than anyone who would stand in a presidential election.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Agreed, the supreme virtue of the Monarchy is that it ensures we don’t have some political retread as President. I also agree that I might change my mind if we had Andrew or Harry at the helm, but I suspect in those unusual circumstances the political alternatives might be worse still. Fortunately I think Charles and William are likely to do a perfectly decent job of keeping ex-politicians out of a Presidency. Let us hope some public spasm of republicanism does not end the Monarchy since once it is lost it is unlikely to be ever replaced.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I’ve always liked William and think Kate has grown into her role wonderfully.
Always felt a bit “meh” about Charles and Camilla, although I have to say I am warming towards them and think that Charles, with his long-term preoccupations about the environment, has been vindicated. Regardless of what you think about net zero, we must take greater care of the planet and this is an excellent issue to which the monarchy can devote itself (being careful to avoid the more political sides of the debate, of course).

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago

No other country has been so consistently wrecked by the EU’s authoritarian austerity neoliberalism like Italy – albeit all of that happening behind the scenes, unlike Greece’s public wreckage. I am surprised that even my Italian students seem not to be aware of their home country’s situation. Maybe the chaos has made a lot of Italians shun a confrontation with the powers that be. This clear and beautifully written (except “Draghi’s authoritarian and anti-democratic grip” pleonasm) will hopefully spark some interest. Thank you.

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
2 years ago

Very interesting article… from a Euro sceptic.

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
2 years ago

Italy is an important economy in the Eurozone, but the next election of yet another pro-EU President, that has more power and influence within Italian politics, won’t have as dramatic effect on the continent as an EU-sceptic would. If the pro-EU status quo continues as the authors suggest, then what is significantly changing?

On a separate point, without an established, moderate monarchy are republics really satisfied with the increasing power of a singular titular head like “Re Georgio”?

David McDowell
DM
David McDowell
2 years ago

It’s what they voted for.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

They didn’t vote that recently (unusually for Italy) and they certainly didn’t vote for Draghi.