Brexit through the eyes of Paolo Gentiloni
By Michael Benigno
Nearly two years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the Hon. Paulo Gentiloni, prime minister of Italy from 2016 to 2018, visited the Gabelli School of Business on February 8 to speak about the economic future of the Eurozone.
The former prime minister gave context and an insider’s view on the Brexit movement, which he described “not as a catastrophic but isolated act, but the peak of the perfect storm.”
From his seat as founder of Italy’s Democratic party and former head of its government, Gentiloni sees a Europe that, for the last half of the 20th century, benefited from unprecedented prosperity.
“The new century changed everything, and the European project ended up being a victim of its own accomplishment, almost as if it was a luxury that we could afford only during a decade of unbridled optimism between 11-9-89 and 9-11-01,” Gentiloni said.
Despite a Eurozone GDP that is five times higher than that of China, Gentiloni said that increased European inequality has proven that the dome of never-ending globalization isn’t just unable to guarantee economic wealth, but has also emerged as a genuine threat.
“‘Take back control’ was the winning Brexit strategy – let’s take back control of our country. The target was the union itself,” he said. Gentiloni said that it is not only the British who are knocking down the European construct. Walls at borders are coming back, countries experiencing economic hardship are blaming others, and widespread disagreements on immigration policy abound.
Worse yet, the trend toward national populism, including the populist wave that won the recent Italian elections, offers a reflection of the pre-war era, which led to unprecedented strife. Gentiloni elaborates on this comparison in his new book, La Sfida Impopulista, which was published in 2018.
“In less than 10 years, the winds have changed and [relations with] the U.S. are blowing in the wrong direction,” he said. “It is not the first time that the American administration has looked at the E.U. with diffidence, but the tones now are unprecedented. The Europeans are seen as competitors, sometimes even not so different than Russia or China, so it’s been increasingly hard to defend the union.”
Before taking questions from those gathered, Gentiloni quoted a recent address that Pope Francis made to European leaders, a quote, he said, which might inspire European citizens to aim toward restored unity ahead of the late-May Parliament elections: “As leaders, you are called to blaze the path of a new European humanism, made up of ideals and concrete actions.”
The May 26 elections will be heavily divisive, but they will represent a moment of truth in the challenge against national populism, Gentiloni said. “It’s a choice between those who want to give sovereignty back to the little fatherlands undermining the very foundations of the European building and its many achievements, and those who want to change the union, giving more strength and legitimacy to the common policies on defense migration jobs, common good, environment, and education. Every European citizen has to choose a side.”
For more on Gentiloni’s views on the economic future of the Eurozone, watch the video below: