4 things I learnt from meeting Mario Monti
As he walked in, he curved his back, as if to hide from everyone’s solemn stares. He looked down to his feet and awkwardly sat down in a small black chair. I have to admit that as he sat down he looked overly bemused at the entire process. I came out of the meeting with one certainty: Mario Monti enjoys playing himself down, it’s part of his personality and his very peculiar humor. This is in stark contrast to his assertive personality on the face-to-face level, as I found during a brief conversation at the end of the meeting.
At the London School of Economics I had the pleasure to hear some very interesting words from the former prime minister, that touched on topics ranging from Structural reforms in Italy during his government, his personal fight against German and Dutch apathy towards the suffering of southern European nations, and he even had time to illustrate some euro council gossip. But let’s take things in order:
1- Monti is funnier in person than on TV:
During the entirety of his campaign for office, we never witnessed if not a hint of the spirited man that the former PM proved to be today. He was very satirically critical of David Cameroon and his conservative backbencher’s requests on Europe; he spent unequivocally harsh words for the Dutch, even going as far as saying : ‘I cannot deny that seeing those who preach fiscal discipline still deep into the excessive deficit procedure, whilst Italy is out if it, gives me some pleasure’; finally his demeanor, sometimes distracted and looking at his phone in the middle of his speech, sometimes strangely fixated on the perfect choice of words to make an impact on the public. This is a man whose humor was simply too complicated or too ‘foreign’ to be appreciated in the boot.
2- He fervently believes that the European integration process must be saved at ALL costs:
At the end of the speech, a few students surrounded him for questions (one , in full blown elitist LSE styile, went to bring his father’s regards… I am not going to say anymore on what I think about that to avoid getting taken to court). A very interesting one was ‘Why do you think you got 30% of the votes from Italians living outside of Italy, and only 10% in the boot?’. His answer was very coherent with all the rest of his speech, and as such, rather worrying: ‘Italians are not mature enough to know what is right or wrong, we need to grow as a nation in terms of education first’.
Now this is quite a statement.
This is a man who believes so passionately in the bureaucratic process of European integration, but finds himself very critical of democracy as a whole! He event went as far as saying ‘I hope in the future we won’t find ourselves envying China too much’. Now I know this feeds conspiracy theories on the Bilderberg group, free masons and what not (which I think are all bullshit), but we must question whether an unelected PM with so little faith in democracy would do the bidding of the state of Italy, or that of the people of Italy. Often the 2 are very, very different in nature.
3- Cameron’s big macho show on the veto was a fluke, and Sarko’ bashed him on it:
According to Mario, this is how it went: in the European council of June 2012, the leaders of all the European countries had been locked in a room for over 24 hours. After endless discussions, at the prophetic time of 2:30 am, David Cameroon takes the floor and decides to ‘use the veto’ on the the entire package of regulation (which, if I remember correctly, was further regulation on the fiscal compact and the possibility of an introduction of a Tobin tax on financial transactions). At that point, in full blown Napoleonic style, the french president Nicolas Sarkozy shouts out ‘Finally! Here end 50 years of hypocrisy!’. And then this happened:
4- Monti ran for a single reason, and he admitted it to me, unashamedly, face to face:
My brief face-to-face encounter was characterized by this short exchange : ‘Mario, I gave you my vote but you only got 10%. You knew you were never going to win, why did you run!?’ his answer was brief and explicit: ‘If I hadn’t, do you know who would be the President Of the Republic today?’. I didn’t answer and somebody stepped in to harass the poor man with other amateurish questions, but what he meant was obvious. He ran purposely to avoid having Silvio Berlusconi being elected as President. How real was that ”threat”? and did his candidature really make a difference? but most importantly, would that 10% have voted for him knowing its single and true purpose, and was it his duty to disclose it more explicitly?
My personal opinion is that he didn’t make a huge difference. Whilst his intent may have been to steal votes on the right, he sadly just ended up sucking the tit of Casini’s party and falling into the anonymous void that is the center of Italian christian politics. At the end of the day, from this encounter I gathered that Mario Monti is a man of conviction , with a strong faith and belief in Europe, but lacking the necessary will to change Italy. His list of unaccomplished structural reforms is probably what will be highlighted from his record in the future. Whether this is fair or not, is not up to me to decide.
All I can say is that for a man of his intellectual strength, it was legitimate for voters to expect more from Mario.