EU boss Ursula von der Leyen's imperial ambitions

There are many illustrations of the EU's neo-authoritarian, neo-imperial ambitions. Italy provides lots of them. The incoming EU president Ursula von der Leyen promises to make a bad and shabby situation even worse

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Ursula von der Leyen could crash in a No Deal
Timwork
Tim Hedges
On 3 October 2019 11:22

Ursula von der Leyen, President-elect (if ‘elect’ is the right word) of the European Commission, is known ironically in Germany as ‘Flinten Uschi’ (‘Shotgun Ursula’) for the mess she made as Defence Minister, and it seems her reputation for disaster is being maintained even before she takes up her new role.

The European Parliament have rejected two of her proposed Commissioners, those from Hungary (Laszlo Trocsanyi) and Romania (Rovana Plumb), for being associated with Russian arms dealers and for suspected corruption respectively.

This sudden puritan streak may cause the odd raised eyebrow internationally given that the Commissioner (or High Representative) for Foreign Affairs, a Spaniard called Josep Borrell Fontelles, was convicted of insider trading and fined €30,000 only last year.

And no one seemed to mind much that the new President of the Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, had been convicted in 2016 of negligence in public office. One approves of conviction politicians but not this sort of conviction.

The truth of the matter is that France and Spain are in favour whereas Hungary and Romania are not. And France’s nominee for the Commission, Sylvie Goulard, has found to have been overclaiming her expenses and had to repay €45,000. Perhaps Macron just couldn’t find anyone straight.

There is a lot more bureaucratic interference in national affairs than one might think. It is rumoured that ‘discussions’ have already taken place between Brussels and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz as to who he might go into coalition with, having come first in the Austrian elections. His previous choice, the Freedom Party, was met with displeasure in high places.

Few countries know more about this than Italy, which has regularly been out of favour. They (Merkel, Juncker and the rest) were open in their disdain for Silvio Berlusconi, the last person to have stood in a general election as party leader and won, without having to be appointed by the President. To be fair, Silvio found the Brussels élite comical.

In 2004 Rocco Buttiglione, pro-EU, multilingual and Roman Catholic, was proposed by Berlusconi as Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. He was interrogated on his views on homosexuality and abortion, giving the standard Roman Catholic line on each. He was refused for the job.

In 2011 they got rid of Berlusconi himself, threatening Italy with economic collapse unless he stood down.

Berlusconi was followed by a succession of European puppets: Monti, Letta, Renzi, Gentiloni, and finally Conte who hadn’t even stood for parliament. All this they found good, not being that fond of democracy, but in Conte’s administration they particularly did not like Matteo Salvini.

Once the junior partner in the coalition, Salvini became increasingly popular and by this summer was the most popular politician in Italy. He might even have achieved Silvio Berlusconi’s feat of being elected with a sufficient majority to last a full term. Hitherto Silvio has been the only modern day politician to achieve this.

When Salvini made his bid for power, trying to force an election which the polls say he would have won easily, the only thing which could conceivably have stopped him was an alliance between the anti-establishment 5-Star and the establishment Deomcratic Party, two organisations which had sworn never even to talk to each other. 5-Star’s constitution forbade alliances with mainstream parties.

However, such an unlikely marriage, or rather stitch-up, has taken place, organised by Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister and former European Commission President, another Brussels puppet.

So Italy is currently back in favour and has been rewarded with the prestigious Economics portfolio in the new Commission. An unlikely choice, you may think, but the nominee Paolo Gentiloni is much loved in Brussels, having been one of the non-elected Prime Ministers. Next, the newly well-behaved Italy may get some leeway on its budget.

How long will it last? The bad news is that Matteo Renzi has split away from the Democratic Party, forming Italia Viva, Living Italy, which could well signal an early end to the PD-5-Star stitch up. Salvini awaits his electoral destiny, but democracy can only carry you so far in the modern Europe. Uschi will have her shotgun loaded.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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