2017: Elections in Germany with Angela Merkel likely to suffer reduced support even if re-elected. Elections in France with Francois Hollande not expected to be returned. The right on the rise in The Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere; much of it in response to Merkel’s miscalculation on the migrant refugee issue. Hungary openly opposed to German hegemony. Mediterranean Europe exhausted by austerity. Britain increasingly sidelined as Brexit slowly takes shape; certainly with much diminished influence. An increasing disconnect between governments and people.
It is not difficult to see a leadership vacuum developing in Europe. Is there a role for Italy? Assuming Matteo Renzi survives the coming constitutional referendum he will lead a country that can finally be governed and will be free to assume a fuller leadership role in a Europe that looks increasingly fractured.
Brexit may be difficult for Britain but it will not be easy for Europe. The departure of the second largest economy and arguably the major financial centre will mean a realignment of influence and direction if not a fundamental change of policy.
Calls from EU and European leaders for Britain to be ‘punished’ in order to deter potential leavers from following Britain out of the EU ignores the interests of European economies and the health of the companies that drive those economies. History would suggest that ‘punishment’ is the refuge of the weak or the threatened – remember the Treaty of Versailles – and it does not succeed.
The future of the EU will depend on the freely exercised willingness of the member countries to participate and make the union work. This surely means co-operation and negotiation in the common interest rather than fear.
Renzi might be encouraged to direct his efforts at making the single market a better single market and to work through banking structure reforms that will shore up the Euro even if they do not immediately favour Germany. Concepts like a European army are divisive and best left to the next generation as current leaders get back to basics and get the EU on a more solid foundation where members feel the Union represents mutual benefit.
The ability of Italy to be a positive force for good in Europe is dependent on Renzi succeeding at the referendum. As things stand there may be no Renzi if it fails. It is hard to imagine many Italians basing their referendum vote on the future of Europe rather than on parochial Italian interests but it is equally hard imagining Italy as any sort of force in Europe if Renzi goes.
With uncertainty the prevailing theme across Europe what role will Italy play? A force for good in the spirit of the Treaty of Rome or a self indulgent nation unprepared to offer leadership?
By Ex-Australian Politician in Tuscany Stephen Lusher
Stephen Lusher served five terms in the Australian Federal Parliament. He worked around the fringes of politics before setting up Lush on Bondi, a trendy bar on Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
Frequent trips to Italy led to an inevitable love affair with Tuscany. He and his wife Cathy sold up in Sydney and purchased Il Mulinaccio in 2008.
Within two months of moving to the Chianti Hills he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The experience led to him re-focusing his life and priorities. After a few uncomfortable years he thinks he has it beaten.
Stephen’s interests include wine, food, history, culture and travel. He struggles with the Italian language and indulges himself in some occasional writing.