The mood on the Continent about closer union

Eurozone view

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The Independent Online


Italy's usual approach to European Union diktats consists of giving them a sober welcome then trying to stop them making any difference to how Italians conduct their affairs – the opposite of Britain, which bellyaches about the EU yet obeys its rules.

The pattern was visible last month in the elevation of Mario Monti, right, as head of a government of unelected technocrats. Italy's parliament, that "circus of ferocious beasts" as it has been called, gave Mr Monti carte blanche to do everything necessary to save Italy and the euro. But already cries of pain and threats of dissent are being heard from every corner of the Italian political world: some about pensions, others about residence tax, others about a heavier burden on families, the Northern League denouncing the way reforms are being shoved through.

If Ms Merkel ups the ante further and insists on fiscal policy dictated from the centre, Italy's reaction is likely to be more of the same: bowing with mournful dignity to the inevitable, while plotting in every way possible to subvert its unappetising consequences. Peter Popham, in Milan


President Nicolas Sarkozy knows he is taking a huge risk in agreeing to a closer fiscal union. But he believes that it will help him to run as the statesmanlike "saviour" of the EU in presidential elections next spring.

By rejecting any drive towards a supranational EU in a speech last week, he defended his nationalist flank from attack by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, below. By arguing the case for some pooling of sovereignty to prevent a resurgence of old enmities, he exploited a poisonous European rift within the French centre-left.

The Socialists' ex-presidential candidate Arnaud Montebourg has compared Chancellor Merkel to Bismarck, pursuing German interests at French expense.

Socialist parliamentarian, Jean-Marie Le Guen, compared Mr Sarkozy to Edouard Daladier, the vacillating French Prime Minister at Munich in 1938. Intentionally or not, this casts Ms Merkel as Adolf Hitler. Germanophobia is a political taboo in France. By raising the prospect of a return to murderous old quarrels, Socialist politicians have strengthened Mr Sarkozy's search for a deal. John Lichfield, in Paris



Angela Merkel is leading the charge for greater European fiscal integration in an effort to tackle the eurozone crisis. But while some countries fear German domination, Germans are far from comfortable with what they see as increased responsibility for Europe's spiralling debt.

In her own CDU/CSU and its coalition partner the FDP, Ms Merkel has consistently faced dissent over the role Germany has played in bailing out Europe's faltering economies, something the majority of the public are also unhappy about. Nor are the German people or politicians immune from fear of ceding sovereignty. "Sovereign states don't like to give up their sovereignty," said the FDP's Frank Schäffler. "I don't foresee any kind of majority for [EU] treaty changes," he added, insisting a referendum would be needed – which many analysts say is unlikely. A survey for ARD TV this week showed 53 per cent of Germans are worried about their own financial future and 84 per cent say the worst is to come.Ruby Russell, in Berlin



To judge by their promises to toe the EU's financial line, it seems highly unlikely Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Partido Popular [PP] will make a fuss this week over future losses of sovereignty.

PP officials have emphasised they will respect EU budget deficit targets, with severe, if as yet unspecified, austerity measures.

The incoming government's relationship with Ms Merkel also appears warmer than that of the outgoing Socialists. The German Chancellor was one of the first to congratulate Mr Rajoy on his victory on 20 November, after which Mr Rajoy promised EU leaders: "Spain will stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution."

The Spanish media says Ms Merkel is set for a personal interview with Mr Rajoy at Thursday's meeting of EU centre-right leaders, and she will seek his support for tougher rules on national budget control. Alasdair Fotheringham, in Madrid