Juncker versus Italian corruption

Anna van Densky. OPINION. This week Brussels institutional  freedom of speech reached a new low, when the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has been confronted with the demands of withdrawing his comments on corruption in Italy.  During a public  exchange of views, the top EU executive referred to corruption and insufficient efforts as  the key obstacles,  blocking the development of the poorest regions in the south of Apennines peninsula.

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work; less corruption; seriousness,” Juncker said. “We will help them as we always did. But don’t play this game of loading with responsibility the EU. A country is a country, a nation is a nation. Countries first, Europe second”. These words caused the whirlwind of emotions from newly endorsed vice-prime minister Matteo Salvini, numerous political personalities, and even the president of the European Parliament (from Italian origin) Antonio Tajani, – all of them indignant about Juncker referring to the well-established facts. Yes, objectively speaking, there is a huge problem of corruption in Italy,  regarded as plague first of all by the Italians themselves.

According to the official statistics corruption, including political one, remains a major challenge, particularly in southern Italy, affecting Calabria, Campina, and Sicily, where citizens suffer from its consequences at most.  Transparency International   annual reports indicate Italy has been consistently assessed as one of the most corrupt countries in the Eurozone.  While 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks Italy 54th place out of 180 countries. Scoring on a par with Montenegro, Senegal and South Africa. Yearly the crime of corruption causes Italians a damage of €60 billion .

However an attempt to smother Juncker with ‘politically correct’ banning from public debate the tensions in eurozone is not a unique episode in European political life, it is a chronic syndrome. A year ago then the chair of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem came under the fire for his criticism of abuse of solidarity by heavily indebted countries of the  EU south. The degree of indignation had  amounted to demands of resignation put forward by Spain and Portugal. However the most striking in rude tone was the comment from Italy: “He has missed a perfect opportunity to shut up,” former Italian Socialist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote in a Facebook post. “The sooner he goes, the better.”

The entire calamity was caused by the Dutchman remarks to a  German newspaper: “As a social democrat, I think that solidarity is extremely important. But whoever benefits also has duties,” he added. “I can’t spend all my money on booze and women and then ask for your support.” It was the allegory implied to illustrate  the role of corruption and tax evasion in ongoing Greek financial crisis that caused the indignation, not the depressing reality. The Transparency International estimated Greek tax evasion figures between €11 – €16 billion per annum ‘not collectable’, and the corruption also played ‘massive role’ in an outbreak of financial crisis.  Dijsselbloem survived the criticism, so  did his corrupt foes.

One year later the situation of tensions between the north and south of eurozone reflected in Dijsselbloem polemics has not improved in a meaningful way, but instead of fighting grim realities of corruption, the Italian politicians almost unanimously prefer to put some makeup on a face touched by leprosy, while the northern societies reject to accept the trick, requesting accountability. Dijsselbloem then, and Juncker now said what millions of taxpayers in the north of Europe know and think, and silencing them one guarantees the rising pressure of their discontent, because they are the ones to endorse the checks.

Obviously, the expected contemporary modus operandi of the presidents of European institutions, reserving them a role of modern royals – smiling to cameras and shaking hands, plus signing big checks for charity – will not please the EU taxpayers from the northern countries. Being the donors to the southern economies,  where a portion of their transfers is systematically disappearing in the pockets of the corrupt, they are increasingly concerned about the profile of the recipients of their funds.

With the upcoming departure of the UK, the second net contributor to the EU budget, the monitoring of funds transferred from donors to recipients in the bloc will be much more keen. It is possible to smother the heads of the EU institutions by ‘politically correct’ reserving them a public role of mute modern royals, but it will hit back,  undermining the trust in EU institutions, unable to defend the European values.

Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est pas d’éloge flatteur”, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (“Where there is no freedom of blaming, there can be no genuine praise”).

Bruxelles, 3 june 2018

 

Zuckerberg promotes Facebook in Brussels

As bright as he his,  Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in the European Parliament Brussels for a short address, representing a mixture of advertising for his company and benefits it brings to the EU, and his intentions for future cooperation. Unlike any other CEO of a telecom company he has competences  to provide service and powers to decide if we are good enough to use it. A  very innovative approach, we have never experienced before: is post office allowed to inspect the content of our letters, before sending them? Are telecom operators encouraged to listen to our conversation and decide if we are entitled to remain the clients?…

But in case of the Facebook the MEPs encouraged Mr.Zuckerberg to filter content, banning the “fakenews” in spite of the absence of a legal definition, monitor the exchanges to define if it does not contain a threat.

Mr.Zuckerberg came to European Parliament with an aura of the Emperor of the World, who can make, and overthrow kings: he apologised for Analytica, but accepted the mission of filtering the Facebook content. Who is the judge? Mr.Zuckerberg himself?..

We do not expect the same people to construct the roads, maintain them and monitor those, who use them – ‘unbundling’ is the word for the policy requiring the division of powers. But in case of Mr.Zuckerberg it does not work: he is the one who provides the communication service, monitors the content, bans those, who he thinks are not entitled. Is the Facebook a modern service provider or an old-fashioned monopoly?

Imagine you are coming to a post office, where an agent is opening your envelope, reading a letter, and denying a further service, sending it into trash! That is what Mr.Zuckerberg does: he provides service, monitors the users, and bans those unwanted upon his own subjective criteria. The most striking  element of the entire endeavor is, that it is accepted by the otherwise democratic societies. Where is the division of powers? In case of Facebook, it goes a beggar.

#FutureofEurope: MEPs fail to show up

Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel received warm welcome from European Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani,  who stressed the importance of these debates on #FutureofEurope with European leaders, which ‘enable us to look ahead at what we can do together: member states, Commission and European Parliament”. However we did not receive any confirmation for the ‘importance of the debate’ from the behalf of the overwhelming  majority of MEPs, who simply failed to show up.

A few of Parliament’s group leaders praised Michel’s commitment to a strong Europe that delivers  added value to citizens, referring to the city of Brussels not only as the capital of Belgium, but also as the heart of the Europe. However, their compliments did not sound very convincing in a big void space.

One can question if the idea to give the PM speech of such a paramount significance in Brussels during mini-plenary was such a good idea, and wouldn’t it be better to follow the established format of presenting Belgium in Strasbourg? But this thought by no means diminishes criticism towards MEPs who regard their participation in mini-plenary as ‘benevolat‘. It is definitely not.

The nonchalant attitude is especially detrimental in view of upcoming European elections. In case the citizens will adopt the symmetrical attitude towards MEPs and ignore polling stations, the European Parliament would simply suffer lack of legitimacy, dramatically affecting the #FutureofEuope, at least its #EU dimension.

Europarl: Tajani in Salvini’s shadow…

With Matteo SALVINI, MEP, leaving the European Parliament (EP) to lead one of the key economies of the European Union as a prime minister, the EU Institutions face one more set back. However in this particular case with Lega Nord chair ascendance, an extra turmoil is left behind in the Europarliament. 

The incumbent president of the EP Antonio Tajani lost his bid for premiership in Italy, after a short involvement in election at the side of Silvio Berlusconi, his former boss and powerful friend. Many ask, if the EU institution head should demonstrate such a passionate involvement in national politics, ready to ditch his office in Brussels for a glimpse of hope to become a national leader, to succumb to magnetic powers of the Eternal City…

However one can’t step into the same waters twice, Tajani returned to Brussels ‘on his shield’. An initial concept to ‘civilize’ far right Lega Nord in alliance with Forza Italia is in tatters –  it is Salvini, who surfaced as a victor, returning to European Parliament “with his shield”.

And now… There is the ‘loser’ of EP president from a  party, which scored so low in the elections; roughly half of Italy is in Eurosceptic camp, and another congregation which he treated like a nuisance ascended to command. Tajani compromised himself, demonstrating his EU office is his ‘second to best choice’  to his own detriment, and what a disservice to declining European project! Vanitas vanitatum!

Catalonia taking flight

Anna van Densky, OPINION. While the entire world watched events at Iberian peninsula, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker  looked at stars, visiting Kourou space centre in French Guiana – spaceport of France, shared with European Space Agency (ESA) for launch of Ariane6  in 2020 project.  Contemplating stars and accepting fate at a moment of birth of a new state in Europe, most probably, is the best thing to do, when there is no power to reverse events: following Brexit, one of the richest EU regions of the Mediterranean – Catalonia, has floated away.

While Madrid is obsessed with the direct rule over breakaway region, Barcelona is celebrating freedom of  Catalan Republic, waiting for recognition to come.  Although president of European Parliament Antonio Tajani ensured “no EU member state will recognize the independence of Catalonia,” the reality indicates otherwise:  politicians, feeling huge sympathy of public towards Catalonia, started to express their support:

Next to Slovenia, Finnish parliament is going to debate on the issue the next week:

On the other side of the world, Argentina will debate whether or not Catalonia is recognized, while Venezuela has always been on the side of the Catalans. The first signs of recognition will inspire the following, allowing Catalan Republic to breath freely, brushing away the threats from Madrid.

Appointing his deputy as a governor of Catalonia, Prime minister Rajoy is clearly uninterested in Czech-style ‘velvet divorce’, but attempts keeping the rich region under control by means of repressions. Punishing Catalans might be also seductive for the EU political forces at power, presuming that Barcelona sets a bad example for the other multiethnic states in the EU, encouraging them to search for independence, scattering Europe in micro-states. From the other hand there might be those who like the idea, for example, the federalists, who don’t mind Europe of micro federal states, run from Brussels.

The fears of ‘cracks’ in Europe are not caused by Catalonia, the tectonic ‘seismic’ effect came from collapse of the USSR, changing map of Europe, and opening space for new independent states, each of unique pattern, dependent of geography, infrastructure, history and culture.

Some of the new European states are stuck by misfortune, trapped in absurd of political prejudice, like Macedonia, blocked from joining the EU by neighbouring Greece in a name dispute. There are also positive examples, like Czechs and Slovaks, who had improved relations and economic ties after splitting up. However Catalonia, with it highly developed infrastructure, and a long coastline, with Barcelona among top 20 EU ports, does not need to search for a pattern to follow among any of existing models of new European states, it has all necessary elements to develop it own unique way.

Regarding the negative attitude of #Rajoy government towards Catalan independence, it does not make much sense to try to re-enter EU, where Spain would do its best to prevent Catalans to join. Pulling down EU flags along with the Spanish ones confirmed Catalans have no illusions about their possible future in EU27 bloc.

Aware of the EU deadend, Catalans are looking another direction, as the leaked vice-President Oriol Junqueras report suggests, visualising joining  EFTA common market with Iceland, Switzerland Norway and Liechtenstein.

Within this perspective, next to Brexit, Catalan departure from the EU is second blow to the image, and even more so for the budget of the bloc.

When stars are fading away from the EU flag, thinking about travelling through space to stars with Ariane6 is truly comforting idea:  per aspera ad astra!