Following tense negotiations that led to the surprise naming of four new faces to the EU’s top jobs list, New Europe’s Federico Gradesso sat down for an exclusive interview with Michele Geraci, the undersecretary at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, to discuss the EU debt procedure and the Italian vision about trade deals, as well as he role Italy played in the decision process during the recent talks to decide who would lead Europe into the next decade.
New Europe (NE): The Italian government was able to avoid the EU debt procedure, what is your comment on the matter?
Michele Geraci (MG): The European Commission puts every single Member State under through a very thorough analysis. The fact that Italy was able to avoid the EU’s sanction procedure is the confirmation of an important, but also, a new scenario. In one year we were able to show to the EU Commission what we are doing, In September and October of last year, I remember that Brussels was extremely aggressive with us, now it is clear that they’ve changed their mind. Another key element was the way we communicated to them about our circumstances.
I would also like to comment about the major changes for the EU top jobs by recalling the positive results during the recent EU Parliamentary elections by sovereignist parties in France, Italy, and Belgium. It is important to underline that Marine Le Pen outperformed President (Emmanuel) Macron during this important vote. Then, of course, we have Nigel Farage leading in the UK and Lega (in Italy) which doubled its votes and effectively becoming, if we exclude the coalitions, the most important party in the EU parliament.
This positive electoral result is the confirmation that we are doing a good job and the electorate is satisfied with our policies.
NE: Then, of course, there is more good news…
MG: Yes, Italy’s unemployment is now down to 10%. This is a very important result, because we can see the results of our measures. It’s important to note, however, that is not an arrival point but it’s just the start. Italy was given an important role in the choice of the four top EU positions. This disproves the belief that Italy had been isolated by Brussels. On the contrary, we constructed a minority block in order to stop (Frans) Timmermans, the Dutch Socialist, ultra-liberal candidate to preside over the whole of the EU Commission. For the first time our voice was heard.
NE: Are you also lowering taxes?
MG: We are lowering the fiscal pressure to allow our enterprises to have more money to manage in order to also raise salaries. The consequence will be that workers will have more money and consumption will increase. It is important to say that once this becomes the reality, the 15% flat tax will be also for so-called “physical“ persons, it is clear that lowering taxes has an initial cost, but this measure will bring advantages in the near future by stimulating the economy.
NE: Which message are you going to send to the next trade Commissioner?
MG: The EU should be more careful signing free trade agreements with commercial partners. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom was too hasty when signing trade deals. Italy wants more attentions given to the quality of the agreement, rather than the number of pages included in the trade deal that is signed. We just saw this same issue with the two trade agreements involving Vietnam and Mercosur. In both cases, the final agreement was fast-tracked by a lame duck EU Commission that is nearly out the door. I don’t like this very fast way of working that does give proper attention to details.
For me, it is important to focus on the interests of each single Member State. We want Brussels, when negotiating, to take into consideration the improvements of the economic and labour situation of every country, individually.
This is not happening now because at the moment the priority is the EU market without focusing on what happens in, for example, the Italian market. There could be a situation where 14 countries are taking advantage of a certain agreement while 14 others not. We would like all 28 countries to benefit.
NE: Can you comment on the outcome of the EU top jobs negotiations?
MG: We were happy to be able to stop the previous candidates and, from our perspective, the new names are good. Minister Ursula von der Leyen should do a very good job and we will see what the monetary policy of the ECB will be under Christine Lagarde. I would like to emphasise that by stopping the set of names (that were recently proposed for the EU’s top job) was a serious blow for the left. It was also a defeat of austerity and a major defeat for the Northern European countries, the Netherlands included. The are the ones benefiting from years of fiscal dumping and then go after that Italy for challenging them on issues related to debt and the deficit.
NE: Which EU Commissioner position do you think Italy could get?
MG: Those are sensitive negotiations, but I think it will be one of the economic portfolios…possibly competition, industry, market, or trade and the one we have now. Italy has economic problems and, therefore, we need an economic commissioner that could deal with these issues.