Even the most perfect system breaks down. Tomáš Sedláček

"I am not a dreamer"

Romano Prodi was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the Euro currency. He talked to Alexander Görlach and Florian Guckelsberger about Germany’s love for Italy and the future of the European project.

The European: The European Union continues to face the deepest crisis of its history. Do you think the Eastern European countries might eventually lose their enthusiasm to join the troubled Union?
Prodi: If you go to Armenia, Georgia, and the former Yugoslavian countries, you will see that the attraction to Europe is absolutely as strong as it was before.

The European: Is there also interest and enthusiasm for the Euro – or merely for the European Union?
Prodi: It is for the Union, but probably not for the Euro. In spite of everything, Europe has remained a kind of anchor or pillar of the future of these countries. The former Yugoslavian countries are still waiting to be a member of the Union. And the European attraction has not faded away. Certainly, if the standstill goes on for a long time, it could disappear. But honestly: they have no alternative.

The European: How long do you think we can bear the standstill?
Prodi: Well, Europe might be in the deepest crisis of its history, but not in the deepest moment of the crisis. Two months ago, the crisis was much worse than it is now. That doesn’t mean I am optimistic, but I have grown less pessimistic. The message I have received from Germany is that the country’s long-term commitment to Europe is strong. Berlin realizes that Europe is the solution to the current problems but remains reluctant to make the necessary steps in its direction. Of course, I am afraid that Germany ultimately wants to take further steps but doesn’t know where to go.

The European: Is there a hidden cost to the crisis? If we look at Turkey, it no longer seems interested in joining the Union and has instead become a regional powerhouse.
Prodi: Turkey is a different case, the country has changed. It is no longer the Turkey of ten years ago. Like you are saying, it is now a regional power and if you analyze its foreign policy, they are more and more reluctant to accept obligations. Sure, the negotiations are ongoing in good faith, but I don’t think they will end in the foreseeable future. In contrast, Ukraine, Georgia, and the former Yugoslavian countries don’t look at themselves as a regional powers.

The European: Are we focussing too much on the European South and are missing the those opportunities in the East?
Prodi: We look at Southern Europe, because that is where the turbulence comes from. Our focus is a clear consequence of what is happening in the South. The problems of the Euro are an emergency – and nobody wants to strengthen the old nationalist and populist forces that are still operating in many European countries.

The European: One of the Union’s promises – aside from peace – has always been prosperity. Considering the high youth unemployment, how can we continue to fulfill these promises?
Prodi: In the context of history, Europe is still highly prosperous. There might be a deep crisis now, but before it we had decades of good performance. Looking at the crisis, we must focus not on belonging to Europe – which is an advantage – but on whether the crisis has been well-managed or not. I doubt that it has.

The European: What mistakes have been made?
Prodi: Germany is now sending a clear message that Europe is their focus, but to achieve the necessary levels of growth and recovery, I don’t think the Germany policy is going into the right direction. There should be room for more growth, for reflation. There is no danger of inflation. The crisis is not a problem of Europe, it is a problem of economic policy: If you make an economic policy so tight and so depressing, the consequence is a deep crisis in other countries.

The European: The German government first wants to make further commitments only after integration has become deeper…
Prodi: Germany’s long-term goals can only be achieved by financial integration. We need a strong institutional center and we need eurobonds. Politically, this is a dirty word; but at the end of the day, a monetary union needs eurobonds. We were clear on this when we founded the Euro and I remember discussing the issue with Helmut Kohl: “Look, we cannot have a monetary union without fiscal union.” Back then, I even said that the stability pact was stupid because it was an insufficient policy. I was absolutely right then, but I paid a high price for speaking so clearly.

The European: Why didn’t Europe take this step at the time?
Prodi: When I rose the matter with Kohl, he told me about the big effort required to introduce the Euro, since Germans did not want to abandon the Deutschmark. “Don’t ask us to immediately do everything,” he said “we shall do it in the future.” That was a wise decision at the time, but Europe has changed.

The European: Eight years passed between your two terms as Italian Prime Minister. In the meantime, economics became the hottest topic of European policy. Like your successor, Mr. Monti, you are an expert in the field of economics. What is more important for a modern statesman: To be a homo politicus or a homo economicus?
Prodi: First and foremost, you have to be a homo, a human being. I don’t think you must be a scientist to be a good politician. You must simplify programs, you must understand people. Monti is a good mix: A technician who also knows people.

The European: But even he struggles to run the country in these difficult times.
Prodi: The real problem of leadership is the frequent elections: They have made opinion polls all too important. A leader is now always under stress, which influences their decisions. Today, leadership means to have the strength to go beyond tomorrow’s elections. The more parties there are in parliament, the more difficult it has become. Germany will most likely have six parties, it is a good example.

The European: This problem goes hand in hand with what we are seeing on the global stage: Politicians are struggling to balance domestic issues with international demands.
Prodi: All countries except the United States and China are losing sovereignty. Even the United Kingdom, which isn’t part of the Eurozone, was obliged to have a restricted economic policy because they were afraid of the crisis spreading. This brings me to the absolute necessity of Europe: If we don’t share our sovereignty, we lose our sovereignty. We must realize that because of financial globalization, the concept of sovereignty has been completely reversed. If we don’t pool our sovereignty, we lose it – even Germany.

The European: A lot of people are afraid that intensified integration will lead to a post-democratic system within the EU, where people lose control of their own country. This fear has led to indignation, for instance in Greece and Spain.
Prodi: We are losing control not because of European integration but because of how globalization operates. The source of trouble lies not in European integration but in European disintegration. We can only preserve sovereignty if we stick together. The United States is mighty because they are a big dog. China is mighty because it is a big dog. If we don’t become a big dog, we are lost.

The European: What is the price we have to pay to be a big dog?
Prodi: Well, not all dogs are the same: There are big and small dogs, aggressive and peaceful dogs. I don’t think we have to be the same dog that the United States is. That is why I have never mentioned the United States of Europe. We must preserve our languages, our traditions. We must come together preserving our strengths and our autonomy.

The European: What components can a European identity consist of?
Prodi: Europe has always been built on the concept of subsidiarity. I don’t think we have to share everything, I am talking about the main decisions that are necessary to preserve us in the process of globalization. We are clearly changing the nation state already, which has always been based on the currency and the army. We modified this when we introduced a common currency, and in the future we might merge our armies.

If we don’t work together, we might face the same fate as Italian states after the Renaissance: They were leading in many fields such as the arts, science, and technology. Then came the first globalization – the discovery of America – and the economies of scale increased. Because they did not stick together, they disappeared from the world map when France and Spain occupied each of them. Europe isn’t in peril because of military occupation but because of financial speculation. We must understand history: Germany, France, and Spain are like Venice, Florence, and the others.

The European: Nevertheless, not all states are willing to accept deeper integration.
Prodi: The new Europe will have different speeds. It already does: Schengen and the Euro are different speeds. Look at the UK: They are demonstrating that they have different goals. This means the British influence in Europe will become smaller and smaller. They will remain in the Union but go at a different speed.

The European: Doesn’t that counteract the goal of becoming a big dog?
Prodi: Different speeds do not mean different directions. My idea is that all countries currently belonging to the Euro will move forward. Others, who do not want to take part will stay in the Union but won’t participate in the intensified integration. They won’t lose their membership but there will be decisions in which they won’t take part. Europe is not a dictatorship, which is why I think the new pillar of Europe will be the end of unanimity.

The European: Please complete the following sentence: “If I think of Europe at night…”
Prodi: I am not a dreamer. You can dream all you want, but when you wake up in the morning, you should know there is a lot of work to do.


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