Italy's Letta: UK 'is EU's big risk'


Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta spoke to the BBC's Gavin Hewitt

When Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta visits London later today his words will be analysed closely. He is, at 46, a relatively young Italian leader.

He is open, a fluent English-speaker and pragmatic. He is precisely the kind of European leader that David Cameron will have to get on side if he is to have any chance of successfully renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU.

Mr Letta describes himself as "very pro-European" and an optimist. He seizes on Croatia joining the EU and Latvia's intention to join the euro as evidence of the European success story.

He even brands the euro a success - and then he throws in a caveat. The European Union, he says, is close to a big risk. That risk, in his view, is Britain.

The exit of the United Kingdom, Mr Letta told me, "would be a disaster for Europe and it would be a very negative step also for the UK and for our common future".

He says the role Britain is playing in the European Union "is a very positive one".

He cites London's support for expanding the single market, for liberalising trade, for security and defence and for pushing for a big trade deal with the United States.

'More flexible Europe'

When I asked him whether Britain could win back significant powers he said: "It can be possible and it could be useful for us too."

He does not indicate what kind of powers Britain might be able to repatriate, but what he does say is that "we need a more flexible Europe".

"We can have a new treaty negotiation," he said, "for the UK to have a different link, but remaining on board and for Italy or other countries in the euro to have a more integrated eurozone".

It is a vision David Cameron will want to explore. To sell continued membership of the EU to the British public he will need to convince other leaders of the need for a more flexible Europe.

Mr Cameron has spoken at length to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She says there could be room for some powers to be returned to the nation states from Brussels, as long as that included all 28 EU members. There could not be just opt-outs for Britain.

The Dutch, too, are exploring a looser relationship. In June the Dutch government produced a report on "subsidiarity"- on what powers can best be kept at national level.

"The Netherlands is convinced that the time of an 'ever-closer union' in every possible policy area is behind us," the report concluded.

In all this there is an opening to negotiate and that is why a leader like Enrico Letta will be listened to so attentively in London.

Italy's struggle

The priority, of course, for Mr Letta is the Italian economy, mired in recession. He is adamant that Italy will not need a bailout. Italy is one of the very few European countries with a deficit below 3% and has a primary surplus.

That doesn't disguise the depth of the Italian recession - the worst in 20 years - nor a debt-to-GDP ratio heading towards 130%.

Businesses are struggling to find credit and many are still owed thousands of euros by the Italian government. Youth unemployment is at 40%.

Enrico Letta agrees there is a risk that an entire generation might conclude that Europe cannot deliver. He describes youth unemployment as the "nightmare of my job". He says it risks creating an "exodus generation" which opts out.

He says he has adopted a plan of cutting labour taxes for employing young people, but he knows that everything depends on growth returning.

In the midst of the economic storm there are questions over how long his coalition will survive.

He is a centre-left leader in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi's party from the centre-right. At the end of the month the Italian Supreme Court will hear the final appeal of Mr Berlusconi against corruption charges.

If his appeal is rejected he risks being barred from holding public office. He and some of his closest supporters maintain he is the victim of a political conspiracy. They have described the magistrates as being "in a secret association whose members are not known".

Some of Mr Berlusconi's allies have threatened to bring down the coalition - although how that will influence the court is unclear. But Enrico Letta felt it necessary to warn that for foreign investors Italy had to demonstrate a complete separation between political and judicial power.

He is optimistic his coalition can survive, but he is also making it clear there will be no influencing of the legal process just to save his coalition partner.

Even with its deficit under control Italy is a reminder that the crisis in the eurozone is not over.

Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I will vote to stay in the EU, and continue to do so until the cows come home, when it returns to its original state, that of a trading union.

    Until then, and while it remains a political one, UKIP get my vote. It’s that simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Is Italy a corrupt State? Do they pay their taxes? Are they on overly generous Pension agreements? Are the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra), Camorra (Neapolitan Mafia), 'Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia), Basilischi, Sacra Corona Unita (Apulian Mafia), Mala del Brenta or La Mafia del Brenta all behind bars and broken? I think not. The phrase "I want MY good fortune to be YOUR good fortune" means Bribe me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Just now
    The EU has been a total success... it's kept the peace for 68 years.


    Equally, there have been no major European wars since the development of nuclear weapons, the contraceptive pill and the skateboard. You are confusing correlation with causation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    They are all worried about the extra funds for Brussels the likes of Italy, France, Germany and Spain will have to find when we leave

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Re 37: Utter rubbish. That was due to NATO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The EU has been a total success... it's kept the peace for 68 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Sorry to mention it again but...


  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    Your comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.
    What on earth is going on! I wrote nothing that could have caused any offence to anyone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    With all due respect to signore Letta, in international relations the convention is that nations do not interfere in each other's politics. Obama displayed that recently by side-stepping which side of the debate he is known.

    I would respectfully urge European leaders to stay out of the UK's internal politics as it is precisely this kind of meddling that will further turn people against the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Firstly I would challenge the last sentence and that is “with its deficit under control". Italy has not got its deficit under control. It has managed to reduce its rate slightly but is still running way above where it needs to be. But Italy has other issues which need to be addressed which are shared with the likes of Spain and Greece and until these are addressed there will be no improvement!!!

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The Italians are us - we're their ancestors - from back in the day when we were all branded "ROMANS" (literally!)

    The London Property boom was created by the Romans when they built the port of Londinium in order to Invade us - & assist in the resupply of their armies.

    They didn't need a Treaty or an Excuse - just a simple reason:

    Why consume your own resources when you can plunder others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    what a crock of ****,the italians always have been in bed with the germans,this is more propaganda put forward by merkel & co to acheive what germany desired in '39,time for us to neg hard or leave this corrupt federal control freak before it's too late

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Amazing isn't it how all of the snouts in the trough, millionaire politicians urge us to stay in the EU dictatorship.

    It couldn't be their seven figure salaries and unlimited expenses could it?

    They REALLY ARE selfish criminals who will never give us a referendum until we take to the streets.

    Vote UKIP or live in slavery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Poor Italy, they want us bank roll them again... I'd have more respect if they actually admitted "we're broke lend us some money". We should leave the EU and become a credit agency for poor south Europe. like it or loathe it our banks are keeping us afloat. Time to use those bailout funds for a task such as being the debt agency and getting repaid from Greece Spain Italy etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Gavin, as I'm sure you'd agree, if you were sat in my Lounge alongside me, here in West London, the objective of the British People is not simply to leave the European Union, leaving behind all the other States in a group that would immediately GANG UP on us!

    No, our actual national objective must be to destroy the entire political EU construct & replace it with the original Economic Trade Zone

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It sort of feels like we're being 'given away' . . . . . .What for? I'm not sure, but I don't like the feeling it's leaving me with. . . . . . . .Since the EU started 'taking over', I have gone from being able to survive, to having to have 2 jobs and still not being able to survive. . . . . . I can't see any plusses for the ordinary fella

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    My problem is that I still like the idea of a common market, I actually like the idea of a common currency, but I hate the waste and burocracy, I would not want to leave the EU, but if things don't change then I may shift my position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I bet the Italian PM wants us to stay.
    The UK has a massive trade deficit with the EU and is a NET contributor (one of the few) to the EU (ie we pay more in than we get out) to the tune of tens of billions.
    Who will pay for all those bureaucrats, useless MEP's, stupid laws and looney projects?
    Radical change to the EU or out.
    It cannot go on like this, they treat us as mugs

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Enrico Letta has been sent here by Merkel. She's clearly put the wind up the Italian leader by threatening economic chaos on Italy & is trying a rearguard action to stop Cameron having a referendum on Exiting - which will destroy the EU.

    Remember people, we're NOT going to War with our fellow European's - we're simply trying to save ourselves from the EU Political Elite who wish to enslave us!!


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