Italy’s outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday (23 January) criticised fellow EU leaders for the way they dealt with the euro crisis and said corporations are blocking reforms in order to promote “vested interests” in Europe.
“Leadership is the opposite of short-termism. And there was short-termism in the initial response to the euro-crisis,” Monti said in a speech at the World Economic Forum, a yearly gathering of political leaders in the Swiss resort of Davos.
The technocrat and former EU commissioner took over the reigns of power in 2011, when his predecessor and convicted fraudster Silvio Berlusconi stepped down amid market pressure which drove Italy close to a bailout.
Monti praised the Italian people for trusting him and for enduring the sacrifices that were needed to bring Italy back on track.
Without naming Berlusconi, he blamed the previous generations of Italian leaders who failed to transform the country, accumulated debt and allowed corruption and vested interests to flourish.
He spoke frankly about “northern leaders” – a hint to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Dutch and Scandinavian allies – who “failed to recognise the systemic component of the crisis,” meaning that markets mistrusted Italy even when it started to clean up its act, because there was no confidence in the euro as such.
As seen in Italy, Monti said painful reforms everywhere in Europe can be accepted by the public if they see justice and fairness, instead of the rich and privileged being let off the hook.
“I saw corporate interests having rather more taxes than opening markets. Sometimes their resistance is camouflaged behind traditional ideas. Vested corporate interests are found throughout the EU, not just Italy,” Monti said.
As for his own political choices, Monti – who so far had never been a political party member – said he took the decision to lead a coalition of centrist parties in the general elections on 24-25 February despite it being “against my nature and my personal interest.”
“The essence of my endeavour is to build a highly competitive social market economy in Italy and in Europe. It is an ambitious agenda but we owe it to our people, to the most fragile who pay the price of unemployment. They are victims of governments not strong enough in confronting corruption, vested interests, tax evasion, market manipulation,” he said.
Cameron is right
The former internal market commissioner, who authored a plan on how to improve the EU single market a few years ago, said he agrees with British Prime Minister David Cameron on one issue: that the single market is not working properly.
Cameron earlier on Wednesday said he wants Britain to renegotiate the terms of its EU membership, focusing on the single market, and then to submit the new deal to a referendum in 2017.
Monti said he also sees the “advantage” of putting the “real question” to the British people: whether they want to be in or out of the EU, rather than playing around with “marginal” questions.
“I don’t know what the British people will say, but I am confident that all the costs and benefits of this decisions will come up and facilitate a positive decision for all Europeans,” he said.