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Gentiloni: «Athens is to blame, not the Germans. Time now to avoid EU exit» (Corriere della Sera)

«The situation has not been resolved with the Greek referendum’s “NO” victory. I understand the Syriza voters’ celebrations, a bit less the Italian cheering section. The vote established that Tsipras has the support of the majority of Greeks, but this is not the solution. It is now time for Greece and the EU to set a political goal: to avoid Athens’ exit with a sustainable plan of reform and debt repayment. This is the battle that will engage Italy today. Will Tsipras’ political victory strengthen his ability to move in that direction? I hope so. It’s up to him to take the first step», says Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni in an interview for our newspaper.

 What is the greatest risk we are running?

«That of Europe’s total political inadequacy; that of responding to problems simply by applying numeric parameters to them. We must not underestimate the specific gravity of the Greek problem, but it will be resolved only if the EU gets its political horizon back in sight: we are well aware that Greece is outside the parameters, and it’s not the fault of those bad Germans but of a 15-20-year succession of Greek leaders. The ECB has taken its decisions, which are not the remit of governments. But governments cannot unload the weight of their choices on the shoulders – however strong they may be – of the governor. Governments cannot shirk their role».

Why is keeping Greece in the Union important?

«The reasons are not only cultural, sentimental, historical, but there are also powerful geopolitical arguments. The prospect of the so-called Grexit cannot be considered solely from an accounting standpoint, but also a strategic one involving international alliances and its location in the Mediterranean. That it remains an EU and NATO country cannot be a secondary consideration. And I say this without any justification of the decisions taken (and not taken) by Athens in these past months. But it is one thing to criticise, quite another to simplistically and myopically minimise such exit prospects».

And the argument that a eurozone without Greece would be stronger and more homogeneous, with Athens continuing as a member of the Union?

«I think it’s going to be hard to put the pieces back together after the referendum, but I also think we should be seeking agreement rather that fresh scenarios filled with risk. I think anyone that pursues those is playing a bit at the sorcerer’s apprentice».

The referendum gave the populists their voice back, both Europeans and our own. Those that you call the Italian cheering section are returning from Athens heartened.

«I do not accept the domestic political dimension as decisive, because if it were I would have to respond just like a portion of the European establishment, and say: dear Tsipras, you wanted a “NO” response, now deal with the consequences, that way we’ll avoid contagion and the impression that populism pays off. I have no soft spot for Syriza, but we are talking about the fate of millions of people here, and of a nation strategic for its European history and geography. There are no lessons to be taught, such as Tsipras needs to be punished because that’s the way we teach our own. Those are the distorted glasses of domestic policy».

Grillo says that the referendum at least allowed citizens express themselves.

«Yes, but on what? This was not a matter of accepting or rejecting an agreement. It seems to me that in this case the sole objective was to show that the Greek government had the support of the majority of the population. I cannot join the chorus of enthusiasts. Was it a choice against Europe and the euro? The Greek leaders have said it was not, and I take their word for it, and that’s why I am expecting new proposals from them».

Has the German leadership fallen short? Der Spiegel has described Chancellor Merkel as the «rubble woman».

«We cannot accuse Germany of having too big a role and then call for its greater leadership. Europe is a great project, and Berlin is a major part of it. But if there has been an absence in recent months, with regard to Greece but not only, I think it has been Europe’s in general. It is going to be difficult to reach an agreement on Greece without imagining another more responsible, united, integrated Union capable of placing growth at the top of its priorities».

But is it realistic today to reach for ambitious goals – the federalist perspective, for example – or is it better to stay on the path of what is possible?

«We need to set more ambitious goals. The paths followed thus far have not led to resolving any problems. We have been arguing for a month over the difference between obligatory, voluntary, binding or consensual. I am talking about the relocation of migrants – a significant but, all things considered, circumscribed problem, whose solution has certainly not been helped by the repugnant scenes at the internal borders between European countries. We are facing the prospect of the UK’s possible exit from the EU, the challenge of terrorism and instability in the Mediterranean. Can we go forward with a weak, technocratic Europe stuck on parameters and regulations while struggling to make political choices»?

There was a Franco-German summit yesterday. Does every relaunch start there?

«With all due respect for Franco-German collaboration, which in the case of the Ukraine crisis produced good results, absolutely not. The decisions in Europe are being made today, not in bilateral summits. And over the past year Italy has contributed to bringing political encounter on the economy and immigration to Brussels. But more important results are needed in order to end the standstill, the stalemate. Italy will do its part, but I am expecting that from all those European countries and citizens for whom it is clear that a stalled Europe today is destined for failure».

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