BEFORE the European Union summit on January 30th, Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Monti, will have visited the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, whom he saw on January 18th. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, has been to see him in Rome. And the French, German and Italian leaders plan a pre-meeting just before the summit.
It is a far cry from most of the second half of last year, when Europe’s leaders did as much as they could to avoid being caught in a photograph with Mr Monti’s scandal-tainted predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi. Italy, it seems fair to say, is back at the top table. And that could have far-reaching effects on the euro crisis. For, as he is making increasingly plain, Mr Monti’s ideas on how to resolve it are significantly at odds with those of the Germans who have until now been doing most of the ordering—and choosing pretty thin gruel.
“Adherence to fiscal discipline is a necessary condition for growth,” he told an audience at the London Stock Exchange on January 18th. “It is not however a sufficient condition.” His message to Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy is that the EU must move from reliance only on austerity towards some growth-stimulating measures. This was a view repeated by Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency that downgraded nine euro-zone countries, including Italy, on January 13th. Unlike his colleague from France, also downgraded, and the European Commission, Mr Monti did not criticise S&P: indeed, he shared much of its analysis.
Mr Monti, who served as the EU’s commissioner for the single market and then competition between 1995 and 2004, is a rare creature: an Italian economic liberal. He is not a proponent of harrying Berlin to reflate to boost domestic consumption. But he would like to see the Germans do more to liberalise their own services, to bolster the EU’s single market (indeed, he wrote a report for the commission in May 2010 advocating further liberalisation).
In London this week Mr Monti pledged to back a British effort to complete the single market, and thus to improve competitiveness throughout the EU. Although he believes it is unrealistic to expect Mr Cameron to go back on his refusal in December to sign up to the proposed fiscal compact between EU members, he is keen to involve the British as much as possible.
Speaking before his visit to London, in his office in Palazzo Chigi in Rome, Mr Monti says: “The more the UK feels distanced from European construction, the less others are able to benefit from the full influence of the many good things that the UK can help us all to achieve, and therefore there are many areas where I think it would be beneficial to have the UK fully at the table.”