Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Exercising hobby horses – Italian reflections on the rejection of the European Constitution

Ever the PR maestro, Silvio Berlusconi stage managed the signing of the the European Constitution, in Rome last October, perfectly. It simultaneously managed to cover up the various glitches of the Italian EU Presidency (including the failure to get agreement on the Constitution), and gave the signal that Italy under Berlusconi is a firm part of the European project.

According to a poll taken by the Eurisko Institute, 63% of Italians would vote in favour of the adoption of the European constitution, if a referendum was required for ratification (which it isn’t).

Remarkable considering the lack of information about the Constitution and its implications [implications here is intended in a completely neutral sense]. The double defeat has opened the way for Italian politicians, once more, to talk about their own hobby-horses rather than reflect on the Constitutions specifics.

In no particular order, our hobby horses are:

Egotistical and Agnostic Democrats:
Rocco Buttiglione, spurned candidate for the European commissioner post last October, an intellectual heavyweight, managed, in a brief interview with La Repubblica, to reveal the true reason behind the French ‘Non’ vote: “I expected it because those that didn’t want Christian values [oops, he seems to have forgotten the Judeo roots] in the Constitution, it was clear in reality didn’t want a Europe”. So the vote against the Constitution was because it was too secular? “It’s the culture of ethical relativism that is structurally contrary to the European project”.
Confused? The interviewer justifiably was – Buttiglione helpfully clarified: “Egoism and Solidarity don’t go hand in hand”[1].

It’s the fault of whining Governments:

Former EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, declared himself to be terribly displeased by the French rejection, and one presumes that he was doubly disappointed by the Dutch. His explanation for the rejection lay with sovereign governments who spend too much time criticising EU directives and regulations, covering up for their own inadequacies.

Was he talking about the French and Dutch electorates, or issuing a barely disguised criticism of the current Italian Government?[2]

It’s a local thing – not to be taken too seriously:

“Internal politics weighed heavily on the vote [in France]. I believe Europe shouldn’t and won’t stop”[3] said Franco Frattini, Vice-President and EU Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security. What one means by Europe going forward or indeed stopping remains unclear, at least to this Monkey.

It’s a vote motivated by fear:

According to former Italian Prime Minister, and current President of the Democratici di Sinistra party, the main motivation behind the rejections was fear. “Every morning two fears were summed up in France: that of those who fear to lose, through the European Constitution, their social rights, and that of those who fear to lose, through enlargement, their own identity”[4].

So the vote, according to D’Alema reflected a failure on the part of the Governments involved and the EU to get their message across, about the real value of the Constitution. He didn’t outline, with reference to the document, what that value might actually be, though.

It’s a vote against Neo-Liberalism:

While the centre-left and centre-right were agreed that the vote was something negative, regardless of the motives for the result, parties on the fringes of both the left and the right took the ‘Non’ as a victory. In Fausto Bertinotti’s case, the National Secretary of the Rifondazione Comunista party saw the result as a defeat for neo-liberalism: “An extraordinary participation, higher than any governmental election and higher than the previous referendum on Maastricht, has showed how alive the passion for Europe can be […] and how proposals for another type of Europe can take shape, as happened with the No campaign in France”.

An impassioned defence of the No vote, and one which staunchly refused to take into consideration suggestions that other motives may have been at play (fear of immigration and loosened borders with Eastern Europe for example).

A call to freedom for Padania:

On the hard shoulder of the right, the Lega Nord party, one of Berlusconi’s coalition parties, saw the rejection as supportive of a) their long held wish for an independent Padania, and b) a return to the lira.

The logic, as far as it goes, is that the No vote was a rejection of heavily centralised government, and as such can be translated into an Italian context as a two-fingered salute to the government in Rome (of which they are a part).

Whilst metaphorically giving themselves the finger, one of their ministers, Roberto Calderoli immediately proposed a motion to the Government that ratification of the Constitution should be put to the people in the form of a referendum. Opportunistic perhaps, considering that the party has publicly called for abstention in the upcoming referendum on assisted procreation – their reasoning being that the issue is too complex to be decided by the electorate. The European Constitution is obviously, in their eyes, an extremely simple issue.

As to Minister Maroni’s calls for the re-introduction of the lira, they deserve a consideration to themselves in a future entry.

Notably absent* from debate was Prime Minister Berlusconi – who briefly, four days after the French vote gave us the revelation that there was a lot of bureaucracy in Brussels, though this was more in relation to increasing worries being expressed in Europe about Italy’s

The reaction to the rejection of the European Constitution has been strong on opinion and idle speculation, but very short on concrete debate. No mention has been made, during discussion to specific articles in the Constitution. And so, are we any the wiser about this historic document? Another opportunity to discuss real issues falls by the wayside as the hobby-horses go galloping by…

*Cynics would suggest that Berluska is keeping a low profile in the run up to next week’s referendum on artificial procreation, while all party leaders have been pressured to indicate whether they will be voting or not.
[1] Interview with Barbara Jerkov – La Repubblica 30/05
[2] As reported by Andrea Tarquini – La Repubblica 30/05
[3] Interview with “Radio Anch’io”, reported in La Repubblica
[4] in interview with Maurizio Costanzo
[5] As reported by La Repubblica 30/05