In an article for the newspaper “Il Messaggero” the Italian politician Romano Prodi, ex-President of the European Commission, wrote that after the refusal of the European Council to agree on the emission of union-wide bonds the European Union risks to dissolve.

“It becomes impossible to identify with a community if the members of the same community do not feel such even when collective suffering has now reached an intolerable level”, wrote the Italian.

“If European rulers respond only to the wishes and short-term instincts of their electorate, the pact that has so far held the various European countries together can only dissolve. This not only puts our future at risk, but also that of the States that believe that their destiny is better if detached from that of others.”

“We should not be surprised if anti-European parties pick up on this sentiment.”

“This is the now usual clash between North and South, between the so-called virtuous countries and us southerners, who are evidently the vicious.”

Such criticism of EU institutions is generally quickly dismissed in public discourse as nothing more than the crude manifestations of narrow-minded nationalism, particularism and populism, something that does not belong to our era. The fact that now these accusations come from a figure that occupied the very top position in the EU hierarchy should maybe provide a reason to take them a bit more seriously.

This is however hardly likely. The rift between the virtuous North and the undisciplined South is deep and entrenched in many years of history, popular conceptions and stereotypes. Endless talks of a European community of values can only do so much to counter these ideas, especially when in moments of need and crisis, these prejudices regularly resurface.

Romano Prodi was President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, in a very decisive moment for the European Union, which formally introduced the euro in 1999, establishing a fixed exchange rate between individual member countries’ currencies, and in 2002 saw the first euro coins and notes enter in circulation.

After ending his tenure as President of the European Commission in 2004 Romano Prodi went back to national politics, and he was briefly Prime Minister of Italy between 2006 and 2008, an intermezzo between two Berlusconi’s governments. After leaving his post as Prime Minister, he went to work for the UN.

Stefano Di Lorenzo