Germany votes: what does Italy think?

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In the third blog post in this series, we ask what Italians think about the German election. 

As elsewhere, Italians are waiting for Germany to vote with a keen sense of anticipation. But they are not waiting so much for the results and the unveiling of a victorious coalition of whatever make up, as they are waiting for the dictates of the election campaign to end and Berlin to apply itself to key European issues. September 22nd is seen as an excuse for Germany’s politicians to avoid discussing or acting on difficult issues.

Italy’s current government is investing a lot of time and energy in its European links, and on several occasions has called for moves towards banking, fiscal, economic, and political union. Germany is acknowledged as the key partner in these matters – both to show accountability for the tough economic and financial commitments that have been made, and because any national efforts would be multiplied if backed by Germany (and consequently by Europe).

Italy’s expectations of post-election Germany are therefore not merely economic. Italy’s determination to relaunch the European project at the political level is necessarily tied to what Germany thinks and wants. Following his appointment, Prime Minister Enrico Letta was wise to visit Berlin before stepping foot in Brussels.

Although some of the German press considers Italy the central country of the economic crisis, with the new “Alternative for Germany” party defining it as the “invalidating” factor for Europe, Italy still has substantial leverage over Germany. Firstly this is because Italy remains the third largest economy in the eurozone and a close trading partner for Germany. Italy cannot be allowed to fail, and has a critical mass that surpasses other countries affected by the crisis. It is also due to assume the EU presidency in the second half of 2014 (just after Greece), and the current government hopes to give the presidency a strong federalist flavour.

Back in February, Italy’s election campaign saw two contenders taking a notably anti-German line. Silvio Berlusconi accused Mario Monti’s outgoing government of being too weak vis-à-vis Angela Merkel’s imposition of austerity; something echoed by Beppe Grillo’s Five Stars Movement. Although analysts argue that Italy cannot ask Germany to be what it is not and will never be, Italians continue to expect several things of Berlin, whatever the outcome of the elections: mutual trust (Merkel’s government has not done enough to combat the media’s negative portrayal of southern Europe); the primacy of European law over national legislation; banking union (let alone the mutualisation of debt or eurobonds); and consumption-led growth.
 

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