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February 22, 2018

Northern Ireland needs a structured dialogue

The failure of last week’s talks to form an executive for Northern Ireland has escalated tensions over direct rule from London - which is demanded by the DUP and rejected by Dublin and Sinn Féin. Each side issues separate statements about what the term means.

Newton Emerson writes what is required to get out of the gridlock is a structure with regular meetings. He takes a look back last time a deal in Stormont collapsed, between 2002 and 2007. Then Bertie Ahern ran a model of British-Irish co-operation, restoring devolution while fully upholding the integrity of the Belfast Agreement. By comparison, this time the cooperation between London and Dublin has been a fiasco. 

The mechanism for co-operation between London and Dublin in the Belfast agreement is the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a standing body based in Belfast. Regular meetings helped to get Stormont up and running again in 2007. The body has not met again since, but left a pile of issues that still has to be dealt with. Today, instead of pointless arguments the governments would be better off working within those common structures, so Emerson. 

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February 22, 2018

Something odd about the Italian discourse on Europe

We note that there is something distinctly odd about the Italian discourse on Europe. The discussion is not, as it should be, about shaping Europe so that it works for Italy politically. It is about how to be taken seriously be respected at the European level. There is certain feel of inferiority complex about this discussion. 

We are now in the period where the grandees of Italian politics are coming out in favour of Paolo Gentiloni to continue as prime minister, which is an odd choice because Gentiloni is nobody's candidate. Coming out in favour of him is like coming out in favour of political gridlock. If the centre-left were to win the elections (no chance, of course), Matteo Renzi would be prime minister. If the centre-right wins, one of Silvio Berlusconi's henchmen - possibly the current president of the European parliament Antonio Tajani - would get the job. Gentiloni will remain prime minister either in the unlikely case of a grand coalition, or if nothing can be agreed.

After Romano Prodi, the latest of the grandees to endorse this particular non-candidate is the former president Giorgio Napolitano. He said in the an interview with Corriere della Sera that Gentiloni had become an essential point of reference for the medium term, in terms of the governability and the political stability in Italy.

We think that the rise of euroscepticism in Italy, which is significant, is in part related to the unchanged European discourse in the country. We have noted on previous occasions that being pro-European has often been conflated with an acceptance of laws and treaties that are clearly not in Italy's best interest. There are several glaring examples in the last ten years. One is the European stability mechanism, Italy's contributions to which count towards the relevant deficit targets. Another is the bail-in rules of the European bank recovery and and resolution directive BRRD, which were a big factor in the defeat of Matteo Renzi's constitutional reforms in 2016. We fear that the same might happen again in the debate on eurozone reform, where France and Germany are currently pushing for an agreement that will vastly increase the chance of a semi-automatic debt restructuring if a country receives help from the ESM. This is clearly not in Italy's interest. While some Italian economists have raised the alarm bells, the lack of a veto threat by Gentiloni is very audible. 

The big issue should not be Italy's reputation in Europe, but Italy's long-term sustainability in the eurozone. Italy will need to create the conditions for it, both domestically and at European level. This is not about prestige.

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