In an exclusive interview with New Europe in Brussels, former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta speaks about populism, austerity and the Greek crisis. Letta, who left politics and is now dean at the prestigious Paris School of International Affairs of Sciences Po, explains why we need more creativity, innovation and a real change.
After the the French election, do you think Holland populism and anti-EU sentiments have finally been defeated?
We don’t have to celebrate too much, it would be a mistake, we are at the beginning. For sure, the French result was very important because it overturned a trend and it has blocked the progress of a destructive idea. After that, I think that also the status quo is not good for Europe. We need more creativity, innovation and a real change.
It is not enough just to be satisfied about the fact the Eurosceptic have lost the election in several EU member states, but we need a more advanced approach able to get to a real U-turn. I think then that Europe must not “suffocate” the national states and should not be perceived as an alternative to them. In this period of globalisation, Europe should be seen as something able to complete what cannot be achieved at national level.
Is austerity still a negative concept that endangers European solidarity values?
EU austerity hasn’t existed for three years. At the end of 2014, Europe implemented flexibility for the “weak” countries. Italy got a lot of flexibility. Mario Draghi and its quantitative easing has given another important support, so we can’t say that in the last three years we were confronted with a bad Europe, but in the previous period between the 2009 to 2014 there was a stop which was paid very hard by citizens in terms of social consequences. This kind of austerity of the past was a mistake, but now we have to be honest and tell the truth about this issue.
What do you think about the current situation in Greece? Are we still in danger?
I start thinking that we can get out of this difficult situation. Important and positive measures were implemented, therefore, I would bet on a positive outcome. We also have to remember that this was, if we exclude the war time, the biggest bailout ever, but if you put so much money the population should be happy. At the moment, nobody is satisfied and the system is still weak.
The key point in this case is the timing. A smaller amount of money, if injected at the right time would have avoided the collapse making everybody happy. In this case, the leadership and consensus would have been the solution. If the leadership is weak and there is not trust to intervene you need to show to all citizens that there will be disaster. But if you act when you are in front of a disaster the costs are enormous. On the other hand, it is necessary to act soon with a leadership able to transmit trust, not only to each other, but also to citizens.
In this case, what could be a concrete solution?
The best ways to solve the European challenges are often linked to the timing and the fact of implementing measures able to intervene at the right moment like, for example, the transformation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in a true European Monetary Fund. This tool should not be managed by a director, but by a politician with a clear mandate. And the transformation should take place when we have an EU finance minister able to use the fund, if needed, and at the same time the possibility to use sanctions against those who do not respect the budget rules.
About Italy, what’s your political message about the actual situation?
I just want to stress that various important Italian voices in the political arena, like Finance Minister Padoan, underlined a few days ago that the fact of organising early elections – because of tantrums by someone who wants to once again become prime minister as soon as possible – is something that in our political system is not helping our country. At the moment we should focus more on “we” instead of “I”.