April 21, 2013


Clouds over Europe’s future grew a little darker yesterday. Italy is still without a new head of state as an effort to have former Prime Minister Romano Prodi elected failed miserably after 100 left-wing delegates refused to vote for the center-left politician. His defeat has thrown the Italian left into chaos, and ensured that the elections will drag on into the weekend.

The failure of the Italian Democrats (a coalition that stretches from the mildly liberal to the hard left) to get the widely respected Prodi through parliament makes it extremely unlikely that a stable government will emerge from the divided parliament created by the last election.

Polls show that Berlusconi would be the favorite in a new round of voting. This is an old pattern in Italian politics. Since Berlusconi emerged as a national force, the Italian left has never been able to provide stable and effective governance, so voters return to Il Cavaliere over and over again. Italy’s problem in a nutshell is that nobody but Berlusconi can govern it, and he is unwilling and perhaps unable to govern it well.

But there is a deeper problem: It is simply impossible for Italy to function along the lines necessary for the euro to work, and the Italian political system is breaking apart under the strain. No political movement in Italy could carry out the reforms the euro demands and survive in a democratic system. Italians do not want to be Germans and do not know how to operate a German style economy.

Europeans are fond of telling Israelis that Israel must choose between being a Jewish state (by ending the occupation) or being a democracy; some are beginning to realize that Europe faces an even more wrenching choice. Europe can have monetary union or it can have democracy; it cannot have both.

I worry about the outcome.

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