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

 

Juncker “melancholic” on the EU future

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Launching a debate on the future of the European Union, and subsequently the entire continent, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) – the president of the European Commission – has offered Five scenarios (5S), however none of them even hinted on a ‘catastrophic’ one – the  case of French or/and Dutch citizens would follow #Brexit way.

The front-runner for the presidency of France, the member of the European Parliament (MEP), the leader of Front National party – Marine Le Pen has integrated #Frexit – the referendum on France’s membership in the EU, – into her political project. So did her Dutch counterpart the leader of Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders, who is enjoying high esteem of the electorate, foreseeing strong presence of his party in the Parliament in The Hague after the upcoming 15th of March general elections, opening the way to #Nexit referendum.
It is not that as press we want you to say “bad things” about MEP Le Pen, as you suggest, Mr.Juncker, it is about your readiness to continue to lead the #EU26, or even  #25, if Dutch and French follow #Brexit, preferring freedom to the EU institutional cage, prescribing everything from shape of cucumbers to open door migration policies, flooding streets of European cities with strangers from the violent cultures. The policy of open doors so dear to the institutions you are not going to give up at any cost, disguising it in ‘solidarity’ – the fundamental EU virtue. More migrants, less believers in cultural relativism, nostalgic about the times ante-Schengen with well-protected borders…
However, some things have changed already. Most probably, the European Commission mandarins understood that it would be better for everyone, if they concentrate on ‘important’ issues, leaving the details to the member states – the ‘efficiency’ option nr 4 among the 5S plan? They understood it or, they do  it is because the ‘instinct of life’ dictated them to do so, hoping to survive the period of low tight?..
Too much disappointment has accumulated into a toxic mass: with the south of Europe in lethargic misery under austerity policy, and the industrial north of ‘lenders’ unable to develop as fast as they wished to, obliged to level their pace with all the other EU members in a ‘solidarity’ name. Is Juncker’s nr.3 ‘mulitspeed’ Europe an answer? Hardly so, as the creation of the sub-unions would lead to ‘structured dismissal’ of the initial EU bankrupt project – promising prosperity it lead to poverty too many; promising peace, it set its neighbourhoods in blaze…
Finally the EU scenario nr 5 – ‘Doing Much More Together’, but after #Brexit it sounds even more fiction, that four previous ones all together. How many believes in  the EU ‘togetherness’ one can count in the beginning of 2017?.. How numbered will they be by the end of the year after the elections in the member states? The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy…
Juncker’s striking ‘melancholy’ look replacing his personal warmhearted and extrovert style did not escape the MEPs, questionning his personal beliefs, but the president has every reason for melancholy – the l’époc d’oré of the European project is bygone, and discussing the EU obsucure future is not a euphoric exercise, especially knowing that the 6th scenario cenzored:  ‘no future’.
(Initailly published in @BrusselsDiplomatic)

Samyn’s Lantern turned on

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On Saturday 10 December 2016 during much awaited opening of European Council meeting centre Europa ‘The Lantern’ almost 2000 attendees enjoyed a guided tour.

The majestic project of the Belgium ‘Samyn and Parnters Architects’ took five years to erect, but the whole process was much longer, starting back in 2004, and included the renovation of the infrastructure of both metro and railroad stations of Schuman square, and an old historic site of Art Deco masterpiece of Swiss architect Michel Polak – the Residence Palace.
The Samyn winning design for Europa Council meeting centre with a big ‘Lantern’ inside evoked a whirlwind of passions, and even some criticism of contemporary art lovers, especially of its facade, covered with four thousands of old, recycled oak widow-frames collected in demolition from all over Europe.
However today one can admit Philippe Samyn triumph as the elegance and sophistication of the finalized construction are breathtaking. As contemporary art paragon ‘The Lantern’ has already inspired the European Council to engage with the edifice adopting it’s image as a logo.
Hopefully, the aesthetic magic of the building will have an inspirational effect on the officials who will start exploiting the site in a few weeks.
From the beginning of 2017, the Europa building becomes the home of the two institutions representing the EU member states: the Council of the European Union and the European Council, where more than 6000 meetings are planned to take place annually.
Located at the heart of the European district, the Europa building combines a new part, an innovative lantern-shaped structure designed by the consortium of Samyn and Partners (Belgium), Studio Valle Progettazioni (Italy) and Buro Happold (UK), with a renovated section, block A of the Résidence Palace, a partly listed Art Deco complex designed by architect Michel Polak in 1922.
The entire project amounted to 321 million euro, and was funded by the EU budget.
The Europa was built in line with the principles of sustainable development. The building was designed  with modern systems to regulate lighting, humidity and temperature. It also includes green features such as solar panels or a rain water collection system.
The Lantern uses LEDs as the most efficient and eco-friendly lighting system. Most of the light does not originate from the lantern itself but is projected onto it by lamps placed on the inner side of the façade. A white silkscreen printing pattern has been put on the lantern to maximize light reflection. The lantern will be on for a few hours in the evening and in the morning in winter, adjusted to sunset.

#Bratislava Summit: Roadmap Illusion

 

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Assessing the perspectives of informal #Bratislava Summit #EU27 Roadmap one has a difficulty to see any light in the end of a tunnel. Paradoxically the first Summit of #EU27 without the #UK appeared to be tumultuous, marked by disagreements, pessimism, and blame-games between the leaders, who with astonishing frankness have drawn new dividing lines among European nations.

A symbolism of a common Roadmap requested by #Merkel can hardly mislead anyone by its highly illusionary nature within a new dynamic situation while polarizing groups of states with conflicting interests created among EU members .

While Mediterranean members complain about #Merkel’s austerity
policy, the East Europeans Vicegrad group vigorously oppose migrant open-door strategy, and its consequences for security, rejecting quota relocating system.
The Italian Prime Minister #Renzi informed press  about his criticism of German surplus trade effects, rejecting any common press-conference by the end of the Summit. The crisis of Italian banks is becoming a pressing issue, but so far the #EU hasn’t changed its austerity line,  which fired back on popularity of  #Renzi government.
The Italian PM position came on the top of the wave of Mediterranean countries discontent with Brussels and Berlin worded in “Athens declaration” (9.09.2016) after conference of so-called Club-Med countries demanding to put an end to ‘Stablitiy and Growth Pact’,  thus changing rules of eurozone, meaning the end of austerity imposed by Germany.
Rebellion of Mediterranean and East European leaders became more sound, than before #Brexit vote.
Moreover after the long pause between the #Brexit referendum and evocation of article 50 the warning of Luxembourg Foreign minister #Asselborn to suspend #Hungary from the EU for its dissent were not taken seriously as nobody knows how to carry out #Brexit, and logically one more country falling out would only adds degree of heat to the EU crisis.
Facing the rise of Euroskepticism reflected in a number of processes across Europe with Hungarian referendum on migrants, Italian referendum on Constitutional reform, German, Dutch, and French elections – the whole ensemble of events that might lead to serious reconstruction of the EU project to advantage of the nation-states, especially with ‘Prime-Minister Geert Wilders’ and ‘President Marine Le Pen’. The only way to survival will be in tempering the Eurocrat’s appetite and transferring of powers from Brussels to member-states, and сreating a flexible network for cooperation, in the other words a the notorious ‘à la carte’. The question is if Brusssls is ready for reform?..
However not everyone might be happy with these solutions, preferring organizations without foreign policy and military ambitions like EFTA, who express readiness to consider the UK membership, and might welcome some other discontent EU members.
From Bratislava Summit #EU27 in one year one might witness a birth of new alliances grown from current sub-groups of the EU: the UK and Nordic countries joining EFTA, and the fragilized EU with major subgroups of Mediterranean states, and Vicegrad group under symbolic Franco-German chairmanship.
Finally, by the 25 of March 2017 there will be a big question if there is much to celebrate after 60 years of the EU haphazard integration and galloping expansion.
By the time it might shrink back to its origins to European Economic Community (TEEC) as once it started in Rome in 1957 with slightly different list of participants
-back to square one…
De novo!

#Italy: Europe lamenting dead

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The provisional death toll has  raised to 250 over night,  400 people in hospitals.

The populations of the four worst-hit towns – Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto and Accumoli – increase by up to tenfold in the summer, and many of those killed or missing were visitors. Aerial video taken by drones showed swathes of Amatrice, last year voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns, completely flattened.(Reuters)

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted “solidarity”, and said the EU was ready to assist the Italian emergency services.

Commissioner Christos Stylianides, responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis management, followed that up with a statement spelling out assistance already offered, or accepted.

Thus far, he said, “the Italian authorities have requested that the Copernicus Emergency Management Services provide damage assessment satellite maps for the affected area. This will of course be done”.

(Source: Euroactive)

 

#Renzi: bowing to graves

 

 

Merkel Spinelli tomb

The lay of a wreath to Altiero Spinelli tomb during German Chancellor Angela Merkel visit to Italy does not signal any willingness for change of the direction of the #EU27 policy, which already has resulted in the UK break away this very summer. The traditional recipe of throw back to origins and ‘more Europe’ still is seen as a universal remedy. However there is a substantial divergence in interpretation of the EU founding-fathers legacy.

A new ‘political season’ opened on Monday (23/08/2016) this week with a meeting of leaders of Germany and France in Italy, which is risking to become next ‘Greece’ of the #EU. The event was heavily overloaded by symbolic ceremonies, including the bow to Spinelli grave. The progression of idolatry has its reasons in the eroding European project.
The Italian economy hasn’t seen much of growth after entering of the Eurozone last millennium(1999), the problem continuously blamed to an absence of financial flexibility as a major constraint. With the help of his ‘comrade’ French Socialist president Hollande and Spinelli’s federalist legacy at his side, Renzi should have tried hard to convince Merkel to change her views on austerity, due to aggravating situation in Italian banking sector.
Crowded with uncountable branches of 600 banks with a gap of 40 billion euro, Italians invested hopes in Socialists, elected upon a promise to resolve the financial problem, but they have not achieved much so far. Many experts see #Brexit as an ace up Renzi’s sleeve in his talks with Germany as a major EU lender to weaker member-states, however no one has overplayed Merkel in her austerity so far.
Bow to grave of Altiero Spinelli – an Italian intellectual, entering political scene as a Communist, and coming down to history as a passionate European federalist, one of the founding fathers of the #EU, – symbolises Italian loyalty to its European engagement. Referring to Spinelli’s ideas might well reflect the intentions of Renzi to turn to ‘soft power’ and appeal to EU glorious past, while no other argument worked.
In vain, the EU project of founding fathers has mutated beyond imaginary,Spinelli might not have recognised it if Resurrected. There is no certainty he would approve to remain at any cost for his people, suffering not only imposed austerity, but tsunami of migrants from Africa, and highly unpopular sanctions against Russia, hitting the agriculture.
Further the upcoming Constitutional referendum foreseen this fall might seriously weaken position of Rezni as prime-minister is case the citizens will reject his package of reforms, the twist that might lead to chain reaction of down spiral of Italian economy beyond control, and questions a perspective for Renzi to remain at lead. In this case #Itexit definitely makes sense.
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image!”