Buried in an account for the London School of Economics by Fabrizio Gora of the problems (still) facing Italy comes this:
[In November, 2011], with the 10-year Bund-BTP spread close to a historical peak, a unique incident occurred. During an institutional meeting, the then minister of internal affairs Roberto Maroni received a phone call. It was towards the end of October. People attending that meeting, a select group of associates, reported that he turned pale. The call came from José Manuel Barroso, the number one of the European Commission. Barroso was very clear with Maroni: “I don’t want you to take this personally. Neither you nor all other members of the government. But you need to “unplug” Berlusconi.” And in that moment Barroso revealed what the strategy was: a flurry of declarations against the then prime minister. From all fronts, from every European policy maker. The message to be sent was one and one only: Berlusconi is inadequate….
The turning point of all this was the G20 in Cannes….The day before negotiations started, even Lord Adair Turner, president of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the British financial regulator at the time, declared: “For us, Italy is a much bigger problem than Greece. A solution ought to be found quickly in order to avoid the worst”. And that set the mood for the two days meeting in Cannes: the aim was to avoid chaos; to prepare a contingency plan; both for toppling Berlusconi, and for making the country safe. In that occasion, however, the most painful of defeats was realised for Italy. First, there was the grinning between Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy about the credibility of the government in charge. Then, in the night of November 4th, came the capitulation by the hands of Barroso and Van Rompuy. “Italy has decided spontaneously to ask the IMF to monitor its commitments”, said the former. He was echoed by the latter…
Berlusconi was out a few days later.
Open Europe’s take:
It was extensively reported at the time that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who are obviously much more powerful than Barroso) were putting enormous pressure on Berlusconi to take a hike – and it was always assumed that Berlusconi’s departure was at least in part due to European pressure.
However, this would be the most explicit intervention known to date. Now, we haven’t seen this reported anywhere else – and given that it is evidence that the EU fell just short of toppling a democratically elected leader – we’d expect it to be all over Italian and international media.
It concludes that the story should be taken with a “pinch of salt”. Perhaps, but given the all too public efforts by the EU’s leadership to undermine Berlusconi, it would not have been altogether surprising if there was direct pressure behind the scenes too.
And quite what that would say about the state of national democracy within the EU, well….