The maiden speech of the new Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, has set out a comprehensive reform strategy to address the challenges facing his country. Monti has made clear that certain measures must be implemented as quickly as possible to create a favorable environment for growth, pursue a balanced budget, implement structural measures and distribute the burden of adjustment fairly.
I wish to stress, in particular, the considerations that Monti is taking into account as a former European Commissioner, an early supporter of proponents of the first European civic forum, “Etats Généraux de l’Europe,” and a founding member of the Spinelli Group, a European political organization favoring further integration.1 In all these positions he has given much thought to the link between Italy and Europe.
He has said that the project inherited from the far-sighted vision of a few eminent politicians—such as Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and, in particular, Alcide De Gasperi—is facing the hardest challenge since its inception. A failure of the European construction would have very serious consequences, preventing Europe from transmitting its values and playing a global role in a world that needs effective multilateral governance. We cannot delude ourselves, according to Monti, that the European Union would survive if the monetary union were to fail. On the contrary, the end of euro would destroy the single market, its rules, and its institutions. It would bring Europe back to the 1950s.
After recalling the need to implement appropriate measures at the European level, the Premier has emphasized that Italy, a founder of the European project, must avoid being perceived as a weak link if it is to participate in the elaboration and implementation of such measures. He has then stressed how important the government’s actions are to the future of the euro. Italy must also convince foreign investors, who hold almost half of its public debt, that it is on a path of gradual but steady reduction of its debt-to-GDP ratio, which is today at the same level of 20 years ago, and the third highest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. To this end, the new government means to base its action on three pillars: budgetary discipline, growth, and equity.
Monti has stressed that the lack of growth has so far frustrated the goals of a balanced budget and a decline of debt/GDP ratio. For these goals to be credible, growth must be restored. The strategies to restart the growth process have already been clearly indicated by the major Italian research institutions well before they were incorporated in the documents delivered to Italy by the European institutions.2 Starting an effective growth strategy is therefore something that Italy must be able to decide and implement by itself, based on guidelines that are already well known to the country. The European constraints are not to be viewed as an external discipline imposed from abroad. Monti has insisted on this point, in one of the most forceful messages of his speech: “There is no ‘them’ and ‘us,’ because we, the Italians, are Europe.”
1. An organization created to reinforce European integration. Other founding members are Ulrich Beck, Jacques Delors, Amartya Sen, Joschka Fischer, and the late Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa. http://www.spinelligroup.eu/
2. See for example the section on growth in the Concluding Remarks of the Governor of the Bank of Italy last May, based on the analysis in the 2011 Annual Report of the Bank [pdf] (particularly chapters 8–11).