There is something vaguely masochistic with one part of the Italian intelligentsia, in Italy and abroad. I became aware of this some time ago, when I would hear them ramble about how the Erasmus Generation would finally change Europe, or better, the world! To be honest, I did Erasmus in Paris, and it was an amazing experience. In Sorbonne, I took courses on the history of politics, and I considered the Spinelli Manifesto to be a brilliant idea. From my time in Paris, I remember tersely how history was taught partially, in that France was always the protagonist. For example, we studied the Apartheid in South Africa. Well, in that period, France too was engaged in anti-racism. And when we studied the pacifist movement of 1960’s America? Well, in that period Paris was the San Francisco of Europe. And when we did research on the Italian Communist Party, the greatest in the Western world? Again, even France had something to say… It was like those fairytales where the subplots are narrated extemporaneously as corollaries to the main story. “In the United States, some young folks wanted more freedom and more rights; in the meantime, far, far away, in the more important French kingdom…”.
Despite all of this, I really felt a part of the Erasmus Generation, I had a lot of fun discovering these oddities. I had friends from all over Europe. We were young, but we still opened the door to the diversity that characterizes us in our adulthood. The Germans would quietly show off, they were the momentum of the European economy. The Austrians and Dutch didn’t, being as modern as they were. The Portuguese spoke English really well, and for this, they showed off plenty. The French boasted because, well, we chose their country to host our studies. The Italians, unable to find an up-to-date brag, would enter in “I-am-Italian-so-cool-by-definition” mode. A super helpful mindset when used with conviction. In short, everyone showed off for various reasons, and in the end, our motto is “united in diversity,” isn’t it?
So, I returned to Rome to discuss my thesis with a blue and yellow shirt signed by all my Erasmus friends. I also brought with me the idea that we have made Europe (that is, the EU), now we must make Europeans. Erasmus had carved a great path, after all. Sometime after, Alexis Tzipras was elected in Greece. News of a disastrous situation began to pour in: unemployment at 60%, the absence of even minimal health care, and national security in a crisis. In other words, a country on its knees. I carefully observed the reactions of the EU. The Europe of Erasmus would have never let Greece fail, as the honorary mother of European and even Western culture. Instead, following the interests of those in the North, first and foremost the Germans, the EU became like a loan shark: You want us to save you? Alright, you can use this money and then pay us back with interest. In the end, it happened like this. In a second, Greece lost its major assets: the privatization of the Port of Piraeus, the privatization of its airports, the privatization of the health system, the privatization of the banks. One blow-out sale and the country was on clearance. And guess who bought all these newly-privatized assets? Germany and France in Europe, and then China. I had read in Bild, “Athens must sell its islands to pay its debts,” and soon thereafter the Emir of Qatar had purchased nine Ionian islands. Talk shows all across Europe chatted about lascivious Greek cicadas had spent more than they could have afforded, and that the debts of fathers had to be paid by their children. At that moment I had my first identity crisis: wasn’t it precisely Germany who created the motto, “the children will not pay for their fathers’ mistakes,” which launched their industry into the most powerful in Europe. Alright, fine, it happens. However, let’s put this sad moment aside. Everyone makes mistakes. As for me, someone who doesn’t have great long-term memory, I tied a knot in my blue and yellow Erasmus shirt with all the signatures on it, just like that, so as not to forget.
Sometime after that, Russia annexed Crimea. The European Union reunited its Foreign Ministers and together they decided to speak with only one voice: finally! Yes! Everyone is united! Save for France, Germany, and Russia deciding, behind closed doors, a peace accord (the Minsk Protocol, which then didn’t even work) in the name of all of Europe. I recalled Oriana Fallaci, called Fascist-Communist by the intelligentsia, and wrote warning her readers of the European inner-circle acting only in service of “two countries that have always been masters of Europe, that is France and Germany.” Even now, I bite my tongue and I keep myself from making a second knot in my blue and yellow Erasmus shirt with all the signatures on it. I hadn’t even had the time to leave my country (for lack of a job) when the Arab Spring blew up. North Africa was a mess and Gheddafi, who, not long before, had gotten a free pass into the Élysée (the seat of the French Presidency), had become public enemy number one. The United Nations was voting on a motion to send blue helmets and stop the civil war, but France had thought—single-handedly—instead to bombard Tripoli and to send Libya into chaos. According to the French, Libya is all better now, having three different governments as well as an endless number of tribes that control the Fezzan territories. The UN, in an attempt to make amends, decided to support the new government in Tripoli, but obviously France selected a competitor, Colonel Hafter, one who does not hide his dictatorial ambitions. I added two other knots on my blue and yellow shirt with all the signatures on it.
The years that followed saw Italy tighten its belt with austerity, while more than 600 thousand refugees arrived on our shores. Another 15 thousand died at sea since the beginning of the exodus. Italy had asked for help from Europe which, to quote De Andrè, is dismayed, indignant, undertakes then throws in the towel with great dignity. I had been living in Berlin for about a year and only twice did I hear the migratory crisis mentioned in national German media. Life went on as usual and everything was rosy in Berlin, while the German people noticed the arrival of migrants because some had discovered an Eastern passage. Now Merkel, a paladin of inclusion, accepted 40 thousand migrants from Italy (in actuality far fewer and only those from Syria, because they were better educated although we’re not at the market here), the same Merkel who went to Turkey and decided to give, motu proprio, € 6 million to the “democratic” Erdogan in order to open refugee camps (read: prisons) in Anatolia. Just like that, without any warrant. No one in Europe said anything. Everyone with “with our face under your feet, without even asking you to stay still. You can move.” (from the movie Nothing Left to Do But Cry). And so two more knots are tied in the blue and yellow Erasmus shirt with all the signatures on it.
In 2016, the STX Corporation, a Korean company who took control over the Saint Nazaire shipyards, filed for bankruptcy. That same year, the Italian Fincantieri decided to buy that shipyard, creating a leading European pole for the construction of ships. President Hollande gave his assent. Everything seemed to be going well, until Macron—not quite as Napoleonic as he’d like—was elected. The newly elected president supported the violent workers’ protests (that’s how things get done in France) and immediately blocked Fincantieri from purchasing, recalling the fact that you cannot give such an important asset to foreigners (before it was the Norwegian Alstom and the Korean STX, which evidently Macron considers to be Overseas French Territories). In the last 30 years, French entrepreneurs, with the help of the state, looted Italy as if it were a thrift store, acquiring, in order: Saiwa, Galbani, the brand Agnesi, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Brioni, Pomellato, Emilio Pucci, Fendi; Bulgari, Loro Piana, Luxottica, Telecom, Edison Energia, Parmalat, Eridiana, the supermarket chain GS, the National Labor Bank, Carifarma, and half of Unicredit. Practically, faced with French acquisitions in Italy amounting to € 52.3 billion, Italy has counter-implemented with only € 7.6 billion. The blue and yellow Erasmus shirt with all the signatures on it had become more of a clumped-up rag, but I still was able to make another knot. In 2018, a few French politicians had thought to release four migrants in a forest outside of French borders but in Italian territory. With an embarrassing nonchalance, they admitted that this was not the first time, then to say that they had “been lost.” An insult to intelligence.
A few days ago, Macron declared that France would exceed the 3% of its public debt, immediately supported by the EU Budget Commissioner, the French Moscovici. Various articles sprung up in Italian newspapers: justifications on “why the French overthrow is tolerable” (Corriere della Sera), insights into why “France can afford it and not Italy” (La Repubblica), interviews that clarify “two very different cases” (Il Sole 24 Ore). The question that no one seemed to ask, surreptitiously, lies in Europe’s totally uncalled for and ambiguous institutional process. The French debt trend is more worrisome than the Italian one. It stands to mention that France has emerged from nine years of proceedings for excessive deficit infringement, and that in two of those years, the Minister of Economy, named Moscovici. The rules can become elastic, for some. A few years ago, someone asked Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, what he was going to do about France that kept violating all the rules. Junker spread his arms saying: “but France is France.” In the Italian case, as early as August when the EU had not yet even read the DEF, they were already talking infringement. Not even 24 hours passed, and immediately in France, without reading the numbers, there were openings in the Commission: please, s’il vous plaît, the red carpet is unrolled. After all, the pro-European Romano Prodi confirmed the rule in force in the EU: “France and Germany told me: we are in charge” (min 12:20) and “France governs European foreign policy, Germany the economic, and everyone else minds their own business”(13:04).
The Commission’s attack proved to be more political than economic, that is, against the evil sovereigns and alongside the good, pro-European Macron. How can we call such a consortium if not anti-democratic? How can we judge the behavior of the intelligentsia above, which continues undeterred in shouting, “viva Europe, viva Europe,” and that justifies everything so as not to lose face? It is as if delinquents have entered the house: they kill your dog, burn your living room, rape your daughter, and you say “yes, but they didn’t do anything to grandma, in the end they must be good guys!” I added two more knots to the blue and yellow shirt. I realized that the signatures of Erasmus friends had become all twisted. In my hand, the bumpy cloth is heavy and I watch it dangling from side to side like a noose. It looks like a rope, or rather a whip, which can do a lot of harm to the flesh.