Monti to make Italy 'driving force' of EU integration
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti charmed all major political parties in the European Parliament on Wednesday (15 February), pledging to defend EU institutions at a time when national governments are increasingly blaming Brussels for austerity.
"Too often in Brussels as a commissioner I saw national governments pointing the finger at EU institutions after they were part and parcel of the decision making process. I made a pledge never to play this dirty trick on the EU," the former EU commissioner, appointed last year as head of the Italian government told MEPs in Strasbourg to warm applause.
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His speech - one of the rare occasions when Italian was used for over an hour in the assembly - was aimed at restoring his country's standing as one of the founding members of the EU and the euro after years of political penumbra under his controversial predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.
The new Italy - in the words of Monti, a former banker and economics professor - will be committed not only to austerity, but also to growth and will not just "passively transpose EU guidelines, but wants to be a major driver of these guidelines."
It is in this "spirit" that he invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Rome on Friday, for talks which will "focus on the community method and recognise the priority of EU institutions."
He noted that Germany and France, with the "complicity" of Italy, were the first to water down original eurozone discipline rules, the so-called Stability and Growth Pact.
He promised to do everything he can not to further increase the gap between euro and non-euro countries. He also pointedly switched to English when criticising a "deeply superficial insular culture that naively might believe EU integration means a superstate" after the UK vetoed crisis-related changes to the EU Treaty last December.
His speech had something for everyone - praise for "German budget discipline culture," sympathy for Greece for arguably "excessive" austerity measures, but also a reproach that Athens cooked the books for years and tolerated "corruption, nepotism and dodgy public procurements."
Monti appeared to push all the right buttons.
Centre-right chief Joseph Daul - a Frenchman - said that even though he supports the Franco-German partnership as the "engine" of Europe, Monti is an "example" for the EU in his rejection of intergovernmentalism.
Socialist leader Hannes Swoboda urged him to "return to the European scene so we can elect you" as house speaker.
Liberal supremo Guy Verhofstadt suggested that Monti be sent to all troubled euro-countries once he has finished reforms in Italy. Even the Greens - usually caustic towards any unelected officials - had words of praise. "You are a strong man contributing to EU politics becoming more civilised," said Rebecca Harms, the Green group chief.
The only criticism came from the far right and the far left - for being an unelected technocrat and a member of the very same international banking elite that is to blame for the crisis in the first place.