Italian Economics Minister “Explains” Italian Elections (3/12)     Print

By Michael D. Mosettig, former Foreign Editor of PBS News Hour

It was hardly an enviable assignment, but Italian Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera has been making the rounds in Washington trying to persuade U.S. officials and think tank audiences that the recent national elections were not a disaster for his country and the European Union.

"Italy is a strong country," said the banker, who was called to politics last year to serve in the technocrat government of Prime Minister Mario Monti, which was thrown out in the recent elections that did not produce a clear winner.    

What Passera could not do for a group of 20 plus Europe watchers and Italophiles at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was predict what kind of administration might emerge from the election that shocked Italy's neighbors  in the vehemence of its anti-establishment vote. He acknowledged a deadlock and did not rule out the possibility that his "program government" might be serving for some time.

"It will be difficult if not impossible to create a stable majority in the Senate," said Passsera, whose English was as flawless as the cut of his suit.

He said he was surprised at how Americans considered the fate of the Euro currency and the European project as the same. He acknowledged that European leaders mismanaged the Euro crisis

"We made Armageddon out of Greece, which represents two percent of the European economy," he said,  but insisted that public accounts in the EU are under control and "we have a central bank acting like a central bank."

The minister also expressed concern about the way the EU budget was shaping up in Brussels, asserting that projected cuts in education, infrastructure, environment and research and development are the wrong ones for a continent that needs to focus on economic competitiveness and job creation

"We are proud of our economic and social model, but we need sustained economic growth." he added.

And like other European officials, he made a strong pitch for the U.S.-EU free trade agreement, asserting that a deal that covers 50 percent of the world's GDP offers a great opportunity for Europe. But perhaps indicative of where Washington's interests are aligning, a CSIS conference the same morning on Asian infrastructure development took place in a larger room and drew a much bigger crowd.

Passera insisted the Italian vote was not a negative referendum on Europe or the Europe, even if the issue was used in "a demagogic way" during the campaign. He insisted "Europe will not be put into question.

While acknowledging the vote against his government's austerity program, he said its reform initiatives on pensions, health care and tax evasion had to continue. Italian voters, he said, "have to remember how close to the wall we got two years ago."