Italy is no longer striking a “bella figura.” The country’s post- election chaos has shaken the very foundations of the European Union as the idea of a politically united Europe appears to suffer a blow. Rome’s Colosseum appears somewhat run-down, with its enormous pillars stained gray by pollution and its basement vaults fallen down. Yet it continues to be a first-class European cultural good. Now, with the Italian capital’s coffers empty, a luxury fashion company is financing the site’s renovation, to the tune of 25 million euros ($33 million). These days, the monument to Rome’s former greatness appears to be a reflection of Italy. Because of its financial problems and current political stand-off, Italy – among the “most European” of countries – has become the problem child of the Continent. Like the Colosseum, the highly indebted eurozone country could be dependent on external help – namely that of the European Union. The EU is hoping that the Mediterranean country will be able to get itself out of its crisis, as the EU isn’t eager to take on the role of sponsor. But if the third-largest economy of the eurozone keeps tumbling, it could take the whole bloc with it. Developments in Italy, though a consolation to EU skeptics in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have placed basic assumptions into question: for example, whether Europe can be reformed, how fundamental sustainable solidarity is, and whether the political union even makes sense. Is European Union drifting apart?
Daniel Gros, director of the Brussels-based think tank the Centre for European Policy Studies, said he fears that “the idea of a political union has been put back by this election.” Gros told DW that it continues to show how the common European project is overshadowed by the domestic political situation and “who can attain advantages at the cost of whom.”
For this reason, Gros said efforts to push forward a political union should be undertaken very carefully. “What we’ve seen in Italy is what hasn’t worked,” Gros added.
Gros said there is a danger that northern and southern European countries may drift apart. “It’s already the case that this gap has grown,” Gros said, adding this is due less to economic inevitability than a lack of political will in southern European countries to overcome this gap.
In such a situation, comments from German opposition candidate for the chancellorship, Peer Steinbrück, added fuel to the fire. Steinbrück called both former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi as well as Beppe Grillo, head of the third-largest party emerging from the recent vote, two different kinds of clowns. With this, he insulted about half of all Italian voters, coming off as an arrogant German.