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It may have already been abundantly clear that Matteo Renzi is in full campaign mode ahead of his do-or-die December 4 referendum, after his attacks on the EU at the end of this month’s Bratislava summit.
But any remaining doubts will have vanished on Tuesday when the Italian prime minister revived the idea of building a bridge to Sicily from his country’s mainland.
Such a “ponte sullo stretto” was a favourite agenda item for Silvio Berlusconi, the former centre-right prime minister, and plenty of other Italian leaders of the past, including Bettino Craxi, the socialist premier of the 1980s.
But it never got off the ground, amid doubts about viability, including whether such a 3km-long suspension bridge could be constructed to withstand earthquakes and high winds, along with fears about corruption and the infiltration of organised crime.
Now Mr Renzi wants to give it another try, claiming that the €6bn project could yield 100,000 jobs. “This is a positive challenge,” the Italian prime minister said at the celebration for the 110th anniversary of Salini-Impregilo, the construction company that would play a key role in building the bridge. “It would be useful to bring Sicily closer and remove Calabria from its isolation,” he added.
Mr Renzi’s move can be explained by two factors. One is that some Democratic lawmakers fear that the push for a “yes” vote in the constitutional reform referendum is weakest in southern Italy, where unemployment is higher and growth has lagged behind.
Bridge and circuses
The other reason is that Mr Renzi is indirectly taking a jab at his biggest political challenger at the moment, which is the populist Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo. The Five Star Movement justquashed the government-backed plan for a Rome Olympic bid in 2024, giving Mr Renzi an opening to attack it for lacking ambition and vision when it comes to great infrastructure projects.
Critics are still likely to attack the plan as a purely political stunt. Even though they strongly backed the EU’s “Juncker plan” on investment, Italian officials under Mr Renzi said that Italy’s poor track record in terms of spending such money efficiently meant it was better to focus it on smaller, rather than larger projects.
But none would ever be as dreamy to the average referendum voter as the image of 3km suspension bridge carrying trains and cars over the Mediterranean.
Elsewhere in Europe
The Sarko Treaty Nicolas Sarkozy promised a new EU treaty on day one of the job if elected president – oh, and he’d try to stop Brexit. “I would tell the British, you’ve gone out, but we have a new treaty on the table so you have an opportunity to vote again.”
Brexit? ‘S— happens’ German commissioner Gunther Oettinger gave his own unique take on the recent Brexit vote in the UK at the FT-ETNO Summit on telecoms: “We have to accept the democratic decision and a s— campaign of Cameron. I’m sorry – we have to accept it. That’s life and s— happens.”
Facebook data protection woes Facebook has run into more data protection trouble in Europe – this time with a German data protection authority, which is unhappy with how the social network is trying to mix customer data from messaging service WhatsApp with Facebook itself.
Italy’s saviour: JP Morgan The US bank has emerged as the unlikely last hope for Italy’s ailing banking sector, according to the WSJ.
The J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. chairman and chief executive is an Italophile, his bank has long had a presence in Italy and it has built close ties to the government. It also offers what few European banks can: a vast balance sheet to back a cleanup operation.
Wednesday motivation Martin Wolf provides today’s excuse to crawl back under the covers and never wake up.
Sometimes history jumps. Think of the first world war, the Bolshevik revolution, the Great Depression, the election of Adolf Hitler, the second world war, the beginning of the cold war, the collapse of the European empires, Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up” of China, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the financial crisis of 2007-09 and subsequent “great recession”.
We may be on the brink of an event as transformative as many of these: the election of Donald Trump as US president. This would mark the end of a US-led west as the central force in global affairs. The result would not be a new order. It would be perilous disorder.
Brexit means … what exactly?
Britain and the WTO Liam Fox said that the UK will (or at least, try to) maintain its current commitments under the WTO post Brexit.
The UK is a full and founding member of the WTO. We have our own schedules that we currently share with the rest of the EU. These set out our national commitments in the international trading system. The UK will continue to uphold these commitments when we leave the European Union. There will be no legal vacuum.
Read the rest of Mr Fox’s speech at the WTO here.
The Hof huffs The European Parliament has a Brexit veto and is not afraid to use it, says Guy Verhofstadt, the institution’s chief Brexit negotiator. Remember: the European Parliament, “an unruly body of growing clout, must approve exit terms and any future trade deal”. The full interview is here. Expect the former Belgian prime minister to be a constant – and entertaining – presence during talks.
Yet in an extended interview, Mr Verhofstadt kept his sharper views in check, denying any ill will towards Britain, quoting Thatcher and Churchill and talking with pride about his vintage Aston Martin and Elva sports cars. “I like Britain,” he said. “I race British cars. How more a lover of Britain can you be than racing a British car?”
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