18 settembre 2014
(articolo pubblicato da European Voice)
When Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, made Sandro Gozi minister for European Union affairs in February this year, the appointment went largely unnoticed in Rome. Gozi was a virtual unknown in Italian politics and the post to which he had been named – undersecretary for European affairs in the prime minister’s office – was obscure. A profile in France’s Le Monde newspaper expressed incredulity that someone so little known could be as brilliant as Gozi, and on top of that speak flawless French. (His English, though accented, is also impeccable.)
Gozi, who turned 46 shortly after his appointment and has two children, was neither a political novice – having served in the Italian parliament since 2006 – nor indeed an unknown in the small world of EU policy. He had been an official of the European Commission for almost a decade, from 1996-2005, a period that included stints in the private office of Romano Prodi, the president of the Commission at the time, and in the bureau of European policy advisers at the start of the first José Manuel Barroso administration.
He also came with impeccable academic credentials that included degrees from the elite Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences-Po) in Paris and the University of Bologna, not too far from his birthplace near Cesena. From Bologna he obtained a doctoral degree in public law with a dissertation on the EU’s comitology procedure. At barely 20, he had spent a year at the Sorbonne on the Erasmus programme. Gozi says that it was from him that Renzi picked up the term “Erasmus generation”, most famously used by Federica Mogherini, the foreign minister. It is supposed to signal, with Renzi and his entourage, the advent of a younger and less inward-looking crop of Italian politicians.
Gozi is well connected in European politics, having served as a deputy secretary-general of the European Democratic Party in 2004-10 and as a member of the federalist Spinelli group since 2010. He has also taught at various European universities, including the College of Europe in Bruges (in 2001), further expanding his network. In 2006-08, he again advised Romano Prodi – who in the meantime had become Italy’s prime minister – on European politics.
There was a solid logic behind Gozi’s appointment; not only was he qualified for the job, but Renzi is in need of good advice on European matters. Never having been a national minister, Renzi lacked the experience of the interminable, dull meetings that characterise (in its various sectoral formations) the EU’s Council of Ministers and the sort of compromises that are forged there. This lack of experience showed notably in his handling of Mogherini’s appointment as EU foreign policy chief, which he tried to push through with little regard for the diplomatic niceties that are supposed to govern relations between national leaders.
While Renzi’s career had been primarily local, grounded in his native Florence, where he served as mayor, Gozi’s had been international: before his election to the lower house of Italy’s national parliament in 2006, Gozi lived abroad for 16 years – as a practising lawyer, an academic researcher, a national diplomat and an official of the European Commission. Improbably enough, the two men met during an official visit to India.
But to what extent does Renzi actually listen to those around him? He runs a very centralised, disciplined government and maintains tight control over the centre-left Democratic Party, having won its leadership in a ruthless palace coup against Enrico Letta, the previous prime minister. It is important to note that Gozi was not parti-pris in the various internal fights that have shaped today’s Partito Democratico, with its idiosyncratic mixture of reformed Communists, denizens of the centre-left and former Christian Democrats.
Indeed, Gozi’s politics are hard to pin down. When he returned to Italy in 2005, he initially worked as diplomatic adviser to Nichi Vendola, a Communist, environmentalist and gay-rights activist who had just been elected president of the Puglia region. The following year, he returned to work for Prodi, who during a long political career had gravitated from the Christian Democrats to the centre-left.
Gozi’s own allegiances seemed to be somewhat complicated. He is close to Emma Bonino, foreign minister in the Letta government and a former European commissioner, and is a member of Bonino’s Italian Radicals, an anti-clerical, liberal party with libertarian leanings that is practically defunct and has had a tortured relationship with Renzi’s Democrats.
Gozi espouses libertarian causes such as the legalisation of marijuana and an amnesty for prisoners that in the Italian context appear radical left-wing. (“Smoking a joint is a life-style, not a criminal activity,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in L’Unità.) At the same time, he favours civil responsibility for magistrates – holding them more accountable for frivolous or wrongful prosecutions.
This is a favourite topic of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian left’s bête noire, who has been accusing Italian magistrates of being on a crusade against him and his political allies. Holding these views simultaneously suggests someone who is independent and does not worry too much about what voters, and his political peers, might think, or how such contradictions might fit in with the partisan battle of the day.
Gozi is equally intense about his conviction that Europe – the European Union – needs deeper integration in order to deal with the problems of youth unemployment, declining legitimacy and lagging competitiveness.
In a wide-ranging interview before the elections to the European Parliament in May, Gozi was also adamant that the EU should not shy away from seeking treaty change out of fear of provoking the Eurosceptics or opening up the Pandora’s box of member states’ particular interests.
As someone who exercises daily and has run the New York Marathon, the former squash champion seems to have the stamina to think long-term, to hold unpopular views and to be undiplomatic in expressing them. What he has yet to do is to get those above him to turn them into political reality.
di Toby Vogel