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June 22, 2018

Why a fearless Italy is so dangerous for the EU

The real danger coming from Italy for the EU is not some hypothetical plan to leave the euro. Or a tougher stance on immigration. That's the category of the devil we know.

The real threat comes from a sudden loss of fear. It is the fear of isolation which has kept Italy in line over the decades, and ready to accept legislation that was manifestly against the country's interest, such as the bank resolution directive or even the ESM treaty, at least the way it is constructed.

Angela Merkel called Giuseppe Conte after he threatened not to travel to the migration mini-summit this Sunday, to assure him that the draft resolution would be cast aside. Mr Conte got a commitment that there will no conclusions whatsoever from this meeting. That's also the position of the Visegrad countries, with which Italy is aligned.

The first concrete sign of Italian assertiveness came in Brussels yesterday, according to a story deep inside Corriere della Sera. Fabrizio Massari, the Italian ambassador, put in a formal reserve on the funds the EU has earmarked for Turkey and Africa. The paper rightly notes that the casting of a formal reserve in Coreper often foreshadows a negative vote in the council. The article writes that Italy is passing from words to deeds. 

"Italy is preparing, without fear of consequences, a real diplomatic war. We know we may not get anything, but seem firmly convinced that we can not go back, even at the cost of isolating ourselves."

We have yet to see Italy's formal reaction to the eurozone reforms, but we doubt that the Franco-German ideas will survive the Italian political filter. If treaty change is foreseen, this Italian government will at the very least demand an end to the fiscal compact and the associated fiscal rules. Even the PD asked for this during the election campaign.

The fear of isolation remains in the DNA of Italian political commentators. Massimo Franco writes in Corriere della Sera that this risk will always remain in the background with this administration. We recall that one of Matteo Renzi's first acts as prime minister was to seek a photo opportunity with Merkel - having spent time denouncing her policies in the run-up to his political take-over. This is clearly different now. 

What makes Matteo Salvini so dangerous for the EU is his complete lack of fear. That's a category of recalcitrant politician Merkel has not yet encountered within the EU. And Conte is really not his own man. He acts under instructions from his two leaders. On immigration, Salvini is the relevant guy. 

In that new political climate it is diplomatically not smart for Germany and France to pursue their classic pre-summit diplomacy. Merkel desperately needs an agreement within seven days to keep her government together. This looks increasingly improbable. We doubt that Conte will agree to sign any piece of paper that says that Italy will take in refugees from Germany. He will only accept proposals to protect the external borders of the EU. There are some efforts to appease the new Italian administration. We note that the leaked draft conclusions of next week's European Council support regional disembarkation platforms

We also note two important appointments that seem to have shocked some observers. One is that of Claudio Borghi to the chairmanship of the budget committee of the chamber of deputies; and that of Alberto Bagnai to the finance commission of the Senate. These two are eurosceptics. They have published extensively on an Italian euro exit. We always warned that the campaign against Paolo Savona was a red herring. We don't think this government plans a euro exit - though we do think that will be making technical preparations. But with Borghi and Bagnai in the driving seats of parliament power, the finance ministry is severely constrained. The Italian bond spread went up to 242.6bp at one point yesterday, and stocks were down by 2%. La Repubblica noted that Salvini was still reeling from the rejection of Savona for the finance ministry job.

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  • What will happen on January 1
  • March 09, 2020
  • Lockdown measures are not working
  • Will the ceasefire hold in Idlib?
  • October 27, 2019
  • German political centre is melting
  • Train drivers in all-out confrontation with Macron
  • Erdogan makes threats again
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • February 04, 2019
  • Watch out for the resurgence in Tory unity
  • The gilets-jaunes' effect on the European elections
  • What did he possibly mean by that?
  • September 27, 2018
  • Two ways out of the Brexit impasse
  • May 22, 2018
  • A €60bn ESM credit line - is this what they call a backstop?
  • Will Nato survive Trump?
  • Northern Ireland's Brexit disillusion
  • Would Corbyn become prime minister if he accepted the single market?
  • January 15, 2018
  • Is the section on Europe for real?
  • Can Drahos upset Zeman?
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • May 08, 2017
  • A message of hope
  • Barnier's not so easily agreed Brexit principles
  • The rebirth of the paranoid conspiracy theory
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • August 24, 2016
  • Towards a hard Brexit
  • Is there a pact of Ventotene?
  • La rentrée
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • September 25, 2020
  • Regional revolt against new lockdown measures
  • August 17, 2020
  • How Putin could divide the EU over Belarus
  • The impossible mission of forming a federal government in Belgium
  • July 01, 2020
  • Macron's executive - obstacle or enforcer?
  • New low in transatlantic relations
  • May 26, 2020
  • French fashion stores - lockdown is one crisis too many
  • An important German supreme court ruling against VW
  • Public scrutiny over lockdown rules
  • April 20, 2020
  • What if we are wrong?
  • March 16, 2020
  • Why many of the Covid-19 statistics are misleading
  • February 10, 2020
  • A new era in Irish politics with Sinn Féin
  • More fish, please
  • January 06, 2020
  • A decade that started with a bang
  • What to expect of Spain's next government
  • Divide et impera: Macron's pension reform strategy
  • November 25, 2019
  • Twenty years on - and less safe than ever
  • Philippe's last round of talks ahead of strike actions
  • October 24, 2019
  • Will the Bundestag stop Merkel's 5G unilateralism?
  • September 24, 2019
  • Corbyn’s sweet victory, and why it matters
  • Redistributing migrants rescued from sea - a first step
  • August 27, 2019
  • Remain’s narrowing pathway
  • Macron's diplomatic masterstroke
  • July 15, 2019
  • No queues in Berlin for von der Leyen’s succession
  • Mitsotakis moves fast with tax bill
  • The feel-good factor in the pre-Brexit days
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • May 23, 2019
  • ...twere well it were done quickly
  • The Tsipras-Mitsotakis duel dominates EP campaign in Greece
  • April 29, 2019
  • Labour's national executive to vote on second referendum
  • What the debate about electric cars says about Germany
  • April 03, 2019
  • Game on
  • Can someone please take the table off-the-table!
  • March 12, 2019
  • US threatens withdrawal of security co-operation with Germany
  • AKK goes for politics, not policy
  • February 18, 2019
  • How the splits on the left and the right will affect Brexit
  • January 28, 2019
  • Battle of the amendments
  • How the Prespes deal affects the next Greek elections
  • January 07, 2019
  • What to look out for in the Brexit debates
  • Macron's last-resort tool for the gilets jaunes
  • December 20, 2018
  • Revenge of the stupid women
  • China's marching orders to the EU
  • December 03, 2018
  • French protests coming to a head this week
  • The Galileo fiasco, an ill omen for the future UK-EU relationship
  • November 16, 2018
  • Why no-deal is far more likely than no-Brexit
  • November 01, 2018
  • Is candidate Merz a keen pro-European?
  • Around the corner - Brexit edition
  • October 18, 2018
  • Disorder, disorder....
  • Tsipras sacrifices Kotzias - but what's the end game?
  • October 04, 2018
  • The Brexit Queen’s new dancing clothes
  • Ceci n’est pas une crise politique
  • September 21, 2018
  • SPD ministers want to continue grand coalition
  • September 10, 2018
  • Steadfast Juppé stays true to embattled Macron
  • Sweden’s Democrats and Germany’s AfD: they don’t win elections, but they set the political agenda
  • Is Boris going to challenge Theresa May?
  • August 30, 2018
  • Macron's strategy for Europe
  • The difficulty of a new centrist party in the UK
  • Is this not the time for European integration?
  • August 20, 2018
  • ... and a subtle shift in EU policies towards both Russia and Turkey
  • Nothing to celebrate about the end of the bailout programme
  • Support for Brexit holding up
  • July 31, 2018
  • Much ado about nothing - French version
  • Eurozone reform: Purple bonds
  • July 23, 2018
  • A Watergate affair for Macron?
  • Irish insist hard border is politically impossible
  • July 16, 2018
  • How to think about the three Brexit options
  • How to respond to Trump
  • July 09, 2018
  • German panic about Target2
  • AfD level with SPD
  • How the EU could fail
  • July 02, 2018
  • Is Trump out to destroy both Nato and the EU?
  • Salvini’s empire
  • Remembrance as a way forward?
  • June 29, 2018
  • On the EU's red lines in the Brexit negotiations
  • As bad as Nafta
  • June 26, 2018
  • Could the Irish border issue trigger a no-deal Brexit?
  • Is Harley-Davidson's decision really a victory for the EU?
  • June 25, 2018
  • Trump's car tariff to come early
  • On the lack of a sharp focus in the eurozone debate