Not everybody wishes more transparency and communication in Europe...Berlusconi’s attempt to ’shut up’ Commissioners and their Spokespersons. CARTON ROUGE!

, by Alessio Pisanò

Not everybody wishes more transparency and communication in Europe...Berlusconi's attempt to 'shut up' Commissioners and their Spokespersons. CARTON ROUGE!

“My position will be clear and precise. We will not give our vote, thus blocking the function of the European Council, unless it is clear that no Commissioner or spokesperson can speak in public about any issue”, declared Mr Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minster, talking to the Italian press on Tuesday 1st of September in Gdansk, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War.

Mr Berlusconi referred to the confirmation by Mr Abbot, a Commission spokesperson, that the Commission had sent a letter to the Italian government asking for clarifications on a boat of African migrants stopped and sent back to Libya. Mr Berlusconi complained that this statement has been used by left-wing newspapers to criticize him and the immigration policy of his government.

What may be judged as astonishing in the rest of Europe, does not cause any surprise in Italy. In fact, Italian people are rather used to hearing statements like this by Mr Berlusconi.

Many complained about the threat of blocking the European Council, others raised concerns that there is still someone who believes the European Union should not have any influence in national issues such as immigration. But the main worry is the threat to the freedom of information as such. Not only information from mass media, but also from politicians or, paradoxically, from spokespersons. Indeed, some might comment that the primary role of “spokes-persons” is to speak. But the situation is all but ridiculous. Demanding that only the President of the Commission be in charge of talking about European topics – as immigration must be considered nowadays – is not only nonsense but also a threat to the values on the ground of every developed democracy. Moreover, asking that all Commissioners shall keep quiet means transforming the European Union into a medieval empire; paradoxically on the verge of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty which will reinforce the voice of the European institutions.

Demanding that only the President of the Commission be in charge of talking about European topics is not only nonsense but also a threat to the values on the ground of every developed democracy.

Such a statement does not sound new to Italian people. On the 10th of March 2009, Mr Berlusconi had already proposed that only the chairmen of the parties should have the right to vote in the Italian parliament. If accepted, this proposal would have transformed the Italian parliament in an oligarchic council in charge of ruling almost 60 million people, more or less like the ancient Roman senate – obviously watched over by the emperor. A view like this must not be underestimated on the verge of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty which will strengthen the powers of the European Parliament also on the nomination of the President of the Commission, the only person who, in Berlusconi’s view, should have the right to speak publicly. At the same time, the EU is going towards a wider balance of power within its institutions, which makes the Italian Premier’s claim sound even more like nonsense.

In addition, both the European Parliament and the Commission are committed to improving the transparency of the EU and to increase the involvement of citizens. Not least, the European Parliament has run an information campaign for the most recent European elections through social media such as Facebook and MySpace, which allowed people to have their say on all European issues. Within such a broad communication strategy, who is Mr Berlusconi to say that the Commissioners and their spokespeople cannot publically comment on European issues?

Deep attention should be paid also to the subject of the quarrel: immigration. On the one hand, some European countries, such as Italy and Malta, ask for a bigger help from the EU in order to be able to handle the situation. On the other hand, some countries consider all statements from the EU on the issue as meddling from Brussels. There are clearly many daunting challenges ahead of us which cannot be faced nationally. Immigration, energy security and supply, climate change and so on are matters that require cooperation at international level. For this reason, Mr Berlusconi’s claim should not be ignored at all. If this way of thinking spreads throughout Europe, the EU itself will have serious problems to face further challenges.

Mr José Manuel Barroso replied to Mr Bersluconi’s bizarre claim saying that he is “proud and trusting of my spokespersons”. Mr Franco Frattini, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Commissioner of Justice, answered that “Barroso said something obvious. It couldn’t be any other way". Maybe this time Mr Frattini is right. The candidate for his second turn as President of the European Commission could have dared more.

- Silvio Berlusconi, source: google images

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