A while ago, I linked to a good piece in the FT (subscriber only - sorry) about the potential for a new 'variable geometry' within the EU. Wolfgang Munchau thinks that core countries will increasingly develop smaller multilateral agreements to ensure that the Eurozone (at least) can be dynamic and effective.
I'd argue that the European ideal is one based on solid democratic foundations. You have to demonstrate reasonable standards of governance to get in, after all. The problem is that, once you're in, you can abuse the privilege. I'd suggest that the only way that Europe can renew itself is by a process of continuous improvement. One in which the member states set each other improvement goals.
So, take all of the indicators of good governance that there are, for instance.....
- The rule of law
- Independent judiciary
- Strong regional and sub-regional government
- Representative democracy
- Low levels of media concentration
- Freedom of expression
Continued membership of any internal sub-club should be based upon continuous improvement on all of these. This would in turn provide a democratic core that latecomers like the UK, or still-developing East European newbies could aspire to in the medium term. Europe could, thereby, continue to develop in a dynamic way.
The problem with all of this (and thus my pessimism) is that Italy is a member of the Eurozone. If it were applying for membership of the EU today - never mind the Eurozone - it wouldn't get in on almost any of the criteria I outlined above. That the inner core have included Italy among their number speaks of a moral vacuum at the heart of the European project.
Removing Berlusconi would only be the first step in rehabilitating the Italian state. Assuming Prodi wins next spring (no certaintly) he will find it a quagmire to reform. And to win and govern, he will have to rein in a political left that is about as narrow-minded and infantile as anyone could possibly imagine.
I argued a few weeks ago that, if you campaign against something in an incompetent way, it will be your own fault when you are defeated and the policies you oppose are implemented. Well Berlusconi's success - and the unreformable nature of the Italian state - is a testimony to the idiocy of the Italian left.
Update: there's a piece in today's Guardian sketching out Berlusconi's alleged plans to spend a million Euros in every marginal constituency in the run-up to the election next April. It's here.