Jean-Claude Juncker today called for EU unity before attacking “part-time Europeans” in a Florence speech that exposed deep divisions in the bloc and was given as Eurosceptic parties edge closer to forming Italy’s new government.
The president of the European Commission did not directly address the possibility of anti-EU parties taking power in Rome, which became increasingly likely yesterday.
But he decried “the return of populisms and nationalisms” in Europe at the annual state of the union conference in Italy.
The left wing Five Star Movement, which has called for Italy to leave the euro, and right wing The League, which made gains on an anti-migrant platform, have launched detailed talks to form a coalition that would bring a Eurosceptic government to the Eurozone’s third largest economy.
While Five Star has edged back from an earlier promise to hold a referendum on ditching the euro, The League remains hostile to the currency and wants to abandon it as soon as possible.
Both parties, who were rivals in March’s election, have attacked EU rules on national budgets, trade deals, sanctions against Russia and banking rules.
Mr Juncker highlighted divisions in the EU between the richer northern countries that “believes they are more virtuous” than poorer southern Mediterranean nations. He criticised Eastern European countries for refusing EU migrant relocation quotas, while praising Italy and Greece, which have borne the brunt of the migration crisis.
“I was shocked by the cracks that have emerged in the solidarity since the migration crisis,” said Mr Juncker, who declared that the world needed “more Europe” and a “strong Europe”.
He said: “There are part time Europeans. At times they participate, at times they don’t. They talk a lot. I would like that all Europeans, all member states, were pro-Europeans in a full time way.”
Italy analysis puff
Antonio Tajani, the Italian president of the European Parliament, gave an explicit warning to the prospective new government at the conference.
“A referendum to get out of monetary union,” he said, “is really irresponsible, really irresponsible. Look at what is happening in Argentina at the moment. You cannot play with fire.”
“Going out of Europe does not make sense, as going out of the Economic and Monetary Union doesn’t make sense,” said Mr Tajani, who was tipped to be Silvio Berlusconi’s choice for Italian prime minister had the Forza Italia party won the election.
The centre right Forza and centre left Democratic Party led by Matteo Renzi, another former Italian prime minister, were soundly rejected in favour of the anti-establishment Five Star and League in March.
On Thursday, Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella warned that the only answer to problems such as the migration crisis, which has hit Italy and Greece the hardest, was the EU.
"To believe one can go it alone is pure illusion, or even worse, a wilful hoax against public opinion," Mr Mattarella said. "Everyone knows that none of the great challenges facing our continent can be tackled by any single member state on its own."
Mr Mattarella had suggested forming a caretaker administration to break the impasse on forming Italy’s government, which spurred Five Star and The League, the two parties who performed the best at the polls, into coalition talks.
On Wednesday the influential Mr Berlusconi said he would not back such a coalition, which would have a slim majority, but would not oppose it either.