One thing Europe should learn from Italy [Archives:2007/1014/Viewpoint]

January 8 2007

During these recent holidays I met with the Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ugo Intini, who was visiting Yemen. We had a chat about issues relating to the Middle East, Europe and the world. What interested me during the discussion is the extent he valued European unity and felt it should be taken to higher levels, reflecting the political opinion of the Italian government. “We believe that there should be a strong political power in Europe to balance the world,” he said, reflecting on the political domination of the U.S. and the rising powers in Asia. He believed the European Union member states, having succeeded in achieving economic unity and now working on defense cooperation, should start aiming towards a united political stance. Frankly speaking, I have not heard this point of view much while in Europe or while talking to many other European diplomats or even European citizens. The feeling I keep getting whenever the idea of a united Europe politically is approached, is that Europe or the Europeans are not even ready to contemplate the thought, let alone implement it.

I believe the rest of the world sees Europe as a single entity, but Europeans themselves do not. Europeans have a lot of inhibitions and fears regarding their expansion, especially the deepening versus widening debate concerning the growth of the EU. This concern saddens me personally and I believe it saddens many people in my part of the world. To us, Europe has more political credibility in the Middle East than other political powers. We view the European Union as a successful example for unity and power, but the Europeans must understand that no matter how economically strong there are, it is politics that move the world.

During the interview with Intini, he told me Italy has learnt its lesson from the past regarding political unity. In the 15th century, during troubled times, Italy was one of the strongest powers in Europe and could be seen as the heart of the renaissance, but it was divided into different federations and powerful families. The struggle for political power diminished its status quickly, and this is the lesson Italy has learnt and does not want to repeat with the European Union.

The problem is that not everyone in Italy feels this way, in fact around 20 percent of the Italians want to create North and South Federations instead of one Italy. Many Europeans believe the European Union should exist while preserving the individual identities of all its member states, which is a very difficult challenge against the existence of a political unity.

Perhaps our disappointment with ourselves as Arabs, who have a greater potential to be united, makes us hope the solution will come from elsewhere, mainly Europe. Yet eventually what will come from the EU is up to the Europeans themselves and no one else.