Sunday, April 26, 2015
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So Long, Silvio (April 2006)

This article was first published on The Guardian's Comment is Free

The 'Europe of the nations' touted by Blair and Brown is looking anything but healthy, while the smaller nations and regions are powering ahead.


"Go to jail. Do not pass 'Go'. Do not collect L 100." Such is the fate confronting Silvio Berlusconi: once out of office the long arm of the law will reach out to him for crimes and misdemeanours going back decades. Hence his energetic attempts to cling to the shadow of power. Angela Merkel has now backed Romano Prodi, but still no word from Downing Street. So much for comradely solidarity.

Well, given the fact that the Craxi Socialists, back in the 80s, were something of a model for New Labour, and it was under them that Berlusconi expanded his empire, this silence may have historical causes, in place long before Tony's holiday treats. Sleazeballs of the world, unite!

Memo to Menzies Campbell and Nicol Stephen: get the Scottish parliament's non-Labour majority to congratulate Prodi, who counts as a Lib Dem. This will emphasise Labour's silence and annoy Downing Street. Quite right.


UK coverage of the Italian elections didn't tell us a lot about the class and regional split. But one interesting bit on the map was the red patch in the upper right-hand corner: Alto Adige or South Tirol. Europe's most prosperous region is run by the S├╝dtiroler Volkspartei, which is rather like the German CDU. So why red? The opposition is the post-fascist National Alliance, supported by Italians schlepped north by Mussolini to colonise the place in the 20s, and of course part of the Berlusconi coalition.

This brings out the point made back in the 90s by the American political scientist Robert (Bowling Alone) Putnam: that Italy's political and economic strengths are regional, and that Cavour's centralised nation is as dead as Thatcher's UK. The cause of federalism wasn't helped by Umberto Bossi's Lombardic tantrums, but it will have to be deployed, sooner rather than later.

In fact, with weak or discredited central governments in Germany, Britain, France and Italy - all the major powers of Old Europe - the "Europe of the nations" touted by Blair and Brown as the only way forward is looking anything but healthy. While the smaller nations and regions, from Ireland to Alto Adige/South Tirol, are powering ahead. Time to dust down the federal "Europe of the Regions"?

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