Italy's prime minister discusses European partnerships


Massimo D'Alema, Prime Minister of Italy and leader of the Democratici di Sinistra (PDS), formerly the Communist Party of Italy, discussed the status of the new European euro, the necessity of international financial and social policy reform, and the future of Europe as a "security provider" rather than a "security consumer" at MIT last week.

His hour-long lecture titled "After the Euro and Before European Defense: For a New Trans-Atlantic Partnership," sponsored by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative, was delivered in Italian on March 4 to a standing-room-only crowd in Wong Auditorium.

Following his own welcoming remarks to Prime Minister D'Alema, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow introduced Institute Professor Emeritus Franco Modigliani, winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Economics, who in turn introduced Mr. D'Alema. Professors Bacow and Modigliani noted the strength of the intellectual ties between Italy and MIT.

Professor Modigliani reminded the audience that the Italian Communist Party has "always been apart, not a servant of the Russian Communist Party." He also gave a swift history of the party ("the Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the left, which became the Democrats of the left"). "Prime Minister D'Alema is an important leader of the left-central movement," noted Professor Modigliani.

Prime Minister D'Alema introduced himself in English and then switched to Italian to read his lecture. About a quarter of the audience, including Professor Modigliani, listened without translation devices.

FROM EURO TO EUROLAND

Prime Minister D'Alema conceives the new euro currency as a literal and a symbolic force for equity in relations between the United States and the European Economic Union (EU). He particularly foresees a rebalancing of trade and responsibilities, with military and political security as results.

"The benefits of the single currency in terms of stability were immediately evident when Europe was confronted with the Asian crisis," Prime Minister D'Alema said. "The euro has proven to be a very effective shield. A shield, however, needs a sword."

The "sword" of Euroland -- that meta-nation including Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands -- will be tempered by the euro's economic stability and by flexibility in social programs in individual countries.

He mentioned "welfare-to-work" programs as promising alternatives to "providing subsidies to remain unemployed," but he asserted that Europeans are "not necessarily looking for common European social standards" anyway. He noted that the Italian Finance Minister has already suggested a dual tax system -- a European one and a national one -- as an approach towards flexibility through tax policy coordination.

Financial institutions in general "need to be redesigned and modernized... We need stronger, more efficient, more transparent, and more independent international financial institutions, beginning with the IMF and the World Bank." To this end, he advocated "strengthening the functions and role of the Interim Committee" and warned that "the persistence and gravity of international financial instability" would surely worsen otherwise.

Prime Minister D'Alema and his audience shared a swift, knowing laugh at his comment on using the word "accountability" to describewhat international financial institutions would need. "I must use English for that political word. Italian does not have 'accountability,'" he said.

Prime Minister D'Alema acknowledged the current US-European trade standoff as "the most worrying type of economic conflict in transatlantic relations." He did not delve further into trade issues other than to note that Italy is a "staunch supporter of Agenda 2000, a major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Only full reciprocity will provide the 'level playing field' that is needed."

Turning to the less controversial area of alleviating poverty and hunger, he said "a major item on our common agenda is development support and debt relief... to [help] the poorest countries finally jump out of the development and debt traps in which they are imprisoned. The tragedy of Africa is there to show that the desperate response to ever worsening living conditions is increasing ethnic conflict and war."

NEW MONEY, NEW NATO

Looking ahead to the "post-bipolar context, characterized by diffuse threat and endemic instability along the Eastern and Southern frontiers of the new Europe, Italy's geopolitical position is particularly exposed," Prime Minister D'Alema said.

Yet the Cold War era solution, in which the US was a "security provider" and the European countries "security consumers," is no longer justified, he said. Italy is moving towards becoming a security provider, its troops stationed around Pale and Sarajevo numbering second only to US troops there, he noted. Italy is also "moving beyond conscription and towards a professional army," he said.

"Just as the euro is the instrument of a stronger economic union, the emerging European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) is the instrument of a stronger European security. The lessons of Bosnia and Kosovo show that a strong ESDI within NATO is needed to confront new crisis management tasks," he said.

THE AMBASSADORS

Mr. D'Alema, whom the New York Times described as "haughty, cold and free of easy charm," did not deviate from his prepared text. But he did occasionally reveal his -- and perhaps many Europeans' -- view of Americans and of "elite" American political culture as, well, haughty, lacking in any subtlety, and far too quick and easy with military or economic interventions.

The United States, "often called the 'indispensable nation,' was skeptical of the euro. The American discussion on Europe still reflects preconceived attitudes and not an attempt to understand reality," he said.

On the other hand, "Europe is still characterized by national identities and different instincts with regard to international crises. Many of the strains observed in Euro-American relations, especially with respect to the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, have been caused by misperceptions and divisions among Europeans themselves," he said.

NEW MONEY, NEW MEMBERS

Mr. D'Alema said he believes that the European Union must set its own house in order for the sake of current individual members and to pursue the enlargement of Europe as an economic entity.

But the EU's enlargement strategy depends on the "ability of applicant countries to comply with our standards: democracy, from human rights to institution-building -- and market economy," he said, citing Turkey and Russia as strategically important but politically troubling. Later in his speech, Prime Minister D'Alemo expressed his fervent support for Kurdish rights: his sympathy has not been shared by Turkey, Germany or the US.

Mr. D'Alema also met with MIT President Charles M. Vest on March 4 and with President Bill Clinton in Washington on March 5.

A version of this
article appeared in the
March 10, 1999

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
43, Number
22).


Topics: Special events and guest speakers

Back to the top