Italy has given Europe many things, but rarely has it been political leadership in modern times. Among the European Union countries, Italy is important but not always influential, in part because of decades of political dysfunction. France and Germany traditionally set the agenda, while Italy is relegated to a minor partner, and at times even a sideshow.
Thus begins an article in the New York Times entitled: “Matteo Renzi, the Italian premier, pushes for a place at Europe’s Power Table.” The article appeared at the end of January 2016 on the same day as a face-to-face in Berlin between Renzi and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The NYT describes the evolution of the political relationship between Italy and the EU: The analysis starts with “a conflictual approach” of the premier “that has brought new tensions to the area” to the fact that the premier “demands that the voice of Italy be heard and taken seriously.” The newspaper goes on the say that “Renzi’s sudden claim…has left him open to being accused of obstructionism and of putting on a show to obtain political points at home.”
“I am the leader of the great country,” Mr. Renzi said during an interview the prior week. “I have my ideas”—ideas that he no doubt shared with Chancellor Merkel when the two leaders met. But the most powerful leader in Europe is facing the most serious crisis of her career with the influx of refugees. The New York Times recalls the words of the Italian premier in a German newspaper: “If we are looking for a European solution to the refugee problem, then it is not right that Angela first speaks to Hollande and then calls European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and I only find out about it in the press later.” And then: “After two years of listening, now I speak.”
Mr. Renzi claims that Europe lacks a larger, positive vision on fighting unemployment and spurring growth and also needs a foreign policy strategy in the Middle East and Africa to curb migration. He says that bureaucrats in Brussels must not only focus on fighting with national governments over budget flexibility and on achieving fractional deficit targets.
Approaching his two-year anniversary as Prime Minister, Mr. Renzi says that Italian credibility has suffered from past political dysfunction. But he presses his case that under his leadership, Italy has now earned the right to be taken seriously, given that his government has passed a series of political, labor, public administration, and economic reforms. “We are no longer the problem child of Europe…in fact, we contribute more to the European coffers than we receive in return.”