The remark came from Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is chairing the rotating presidency of the EU Council (forum of EU heads of state and government) until the end of this year. He was upset about an ill-prepared EU summit last Thursday. The leaders were called in to decide on some top appointments only to be told, once in Brussels, that no agreement could be reached, and that these and other nominations for the new EU Commission were tabled for the next extraordinary summit on August 30, 2014.
"An SMS could have done the job, saving a lot of public money" is how Mr. Renzi was quoted in Italian and French media. The message was apparently well received in Italy, which is struggling with recession, an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent and austerity programs to keep the budget deficit down and to stop the growth of its huge public debt of 146 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Mr. Renzi's ire at Brussels bureaucracy and some of his EU colleagues is emblematic of a continent torn by mistrust, lack of unity and little belief in shared destiny. In addition to enormous economic and political problems at home, he sees that Italy has to deal alone with the plight of unending waves of Africa's desperate "boat people" dying to reach Italian shores. Not a man to mince his words, he told the Italian parliament a week before last Thursday's ill-fated Brussels summit that a Europe that "turns its back when there are dead bodies in the sea cannot call itself civilized."
Fiddling amid drowning and bloodshed
After nearly 400 African migrants drowned in October 2013 near the Italian island of Lampedusa, Rome had set up a search-and-rescue operation "Mare Nostrum" – Latin for "Our Sea" and a Roman name for the Mediterranean – which has so far saved 74,000 lives.
At the time of this writing (Saturday, July 19, 2014), the message was coming over the newswires that 19 Africans died when an 82 feet (25 meters) wooden boat, carrying between 400 and 600 people, was capsizing some 80 miles (148 km) off the island of Lampedusa.
The commendable humanitarian action "Mare Nostrum" is reported to cost the cash-strapped Italy some 9 million euros per month.
In the middle of all that, and the tragedy currently unfolding in Central Europe, months have to be spent in an all-consuming political infighting for Brussels plum jobs to balance east-west, north-south, left-right and male-female composition of the EU Commission.
Last Thursday, for example, a mere suggestion that Italy could put forward its own candidate for the post of EU's commissioner for foreign and security policy promptly unleashed a storm of protests from several east European countries, arguing that they had a better qualified person who would also be much tougher on Russia.
Italian Socialists still have a good shot at that position because the center-right parties got the EU Commission's presidency for Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's former prime minister.
EU's selfie: "tired" and "resigned" image
The long-running divisions about the economic policy are equally sharp.
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As Italy was taking over the EU presidency, Mr. Renzi told the EU Parliament on July 2, 2014 that "if Europe was to take a selfie today, it would be a tired, resigned image," a place "deeply wounded" by the financial crisis and unfit to lead on global issues. And then he came to the key point of his program: Italy wanted the economic "growth to be a fundamental element of European policy."
The incoming president of the EU Commission, Mr. Juncker, appears to be on the same page when he says that he wants a "social market economy" (a paean to Germany) and a "re-industrialization" of Europe with an investment program of 300 billion euros over a three-year period in infrastructure, energy, transports, research and high-speed internet.
But, to reassure Germany, he adds an important rider: This more activist, growth-oriented policy will be conducted in strict observance of the fiscal discipline imposed by the stability pact. There is no question of breaching the limits with respect to budget deficits and public debt.
These, however, are the limits that Italy and France want to reinterpret in a more flexible manner to open up the possibility of more supportive fiscal policies in their quest for economic growth.
You can be sure that Mr. Juncker – and the German Chancellor Merkel – are unlikely to oblige.