Do you think that the Eurozone leaders could have avoided this crisis, or at least limited the damage ?
Not really. The Euro was a misconstruction from the start. From day one. Many of us from the start said that this was a huge, catastrophic and stupid mistake. Even if there had been more fiscal control from the beginning, it would not have mattered. There is a fundamental imbalance between many of the Northern and Southern European countries. In the future this gap in competitiveness will persist, and the cultural gap is so wide that this was a predictable crash.
It seems indeed that your gloomier predictions about a possible Euro crisis are coming true.
I think that actually what it is happening here may be far worse.
What’s next then ? What will be happening in the following months ?
We are entering into the really scary phase now. My predictions were based on the economics of it. I’ll be proved right on that. Now we are entering a different phase. The phase we enter now is that of public anger, of loss of hope and desperation. Italy is not there yet, it is not in that position yet. Greece is, and Portugal is heading that way. And there are elements in Spain that could cause it to head that way. Desperate people tend to adopt desperate measures. It becomes much harder for me now to predict what will come next. But what I can say is that I am genuinely scared about the consequences.
Talking about anger, if the Eurozone breaks up this will lead to more anger and more social upheaval...
There are two possibilities here. We can continue with the model that was wrong from the start and whose bosses are now prepared, in their attempt to defend it, to destroy democracy by putting in place public governments like in Italy or Greece. You are now forcing austerity measures upon countries that are already spiralling into deep depression. Not yet recession, but depression. So if we continue on this route we are heading to disaster anyway. What I am suggesting is that we need courage to choose a different route. Now I cannot sit here and say to you that this is not without a short term risk. Of course it is, but whatever the short-term costs will be for, say, Greece, within six or eight weeks the Greeks could see that, with a devalued currency, suddenly millions of people are booking their holidays in Greece and suddenly there is money, people and investment coming back into the Greek economy. I suspect that the risks of that route are far less than the risks of the path we are currently on. It’s something politicians always do. Even when they get it wrong, they tend to protect the status quo, saying the alternative is the sky falling. They always do this. And the thing I am particularly angry about is that we have not been preparing contingency plans. We should have looked at Plan Bs over the course of the last eighteen months. And I honestly think that history will judge Barroso and Van Rompuy very badly for not having actually prepared contingency plans. When you run a company you have a contingency plan. What if one day the building burns down ? You have to have a contingency plan for the way you move and what you do. The Euro leaders are not prepared to accept that something else may happen. So, I would say, life is about tough choices but it is clear to me that the current route is heading for disaster.
What about the short-term impact of the Eurozone crisis on the British economy ?
Of course there will be an impact. We have trading relations, we do forty percent of our trade with the European continent. Of course it is going to affect us.
So it’s not worth supporting a resolution of the Euro crisis for the sake of British economy ?
All we are doing is forcing failure, we are wasting money and guaranteeing that when the clouds come they will be even bigger and we will feel more pain.
Is there life in the European Union after a Euro collapse ?
As the Eurozone breaks down, we will start to ask some bigger and more fundamental questions about what the European Union is. When you see how badly people have behaved and the sheer level of contempt for democracy, I think - but this will take longer - that people will start to ask themselves the question : is this the European Union we want ? Do we really want this Europe where unelected people in Brussels and Frankfurt can choose who our prime ministers are ? I don’t think so. So I suspect a Eurozone breakdown leads to a much bigger argument about the EU as whole. And that is why our leaders are so desperate to keep people inside the Euro club : because they know that when that breaks this argument begins.
What would be the model of the EU you suggest then ?
Most of the people in Europe do not want a political union. In terms of terminology that’s the important question : the European Union is now a political union. Is that what the people of Europe want ? I do not think they do. But if we offer the people of Europe a viable alternative based on trade, based on cooperation, based on reciprocal rights for workers, student exchanges, etc., I think they would say “terrific”. We already have a model : it is the Council of Europe, which is existed since the 1940s. There are lots of ways that we can do things on a cooperative basis. We do not need the European police force, we have got Interpol. We can cooperate together to deal with things, whether it’s terrorism or people trafficking. We can do more about things with a cooperative structure. We do not need the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Court.
The democratic deficit cannot be resolved ?
No. What the EU has shown in the last 6 months is not that it is undemocratic but that it is antidemocratic.
And what about democracy in the member states ?
It’s gone ! It’s gone ! If I am a young Greek and I am not happy with what the officials from the Troika are doing to my country, where nobody voted for them and there is no electoral process to change anything, the only option I have is to take to the streets.
But maybe going to elections now in Italy and Greece would have triggered an angrier reaction from the markets..
What about the markets ! I spent 20 years in the markets. This is all fear. Look at Iceland. Iceland went bust, Iceland is now back to growth. Greece is not back to growth, Portugal is not back to growth. I am not worried. Of course the markets in the short term will react and yes, several banks may be nationalised because of losses. But all of that is manageable.
But it seems to me that this crisis is weakening the European Union by favouring a more intergovernamental approach, so handing back powers to the nation states.
You are right in a sense. What the crisis has done is give the Germans in particular enormous power. For two reasons at least : first, because of the weak competences of Barroso and Van Rompuy and their lack of leadership . Second, because they are unelected, they have no legitimacy, nobody respects them. Into that vacuum has stepped Angela Merkel and possibly to a certain extent Nicolas Sarkozy. The big states now have a bigger say. But the question is : is a German-dominated Europe where we want to live ? I do not think so. I do not think the Germans want to live in a German-dominated Europe either. It is ironic, isn’t it ? The ideal behind the European Union in many ways was to stop German domination in Europe and now it is actually leading to it. It’s a deep irony. I know German people, they do not want Germany to be the boss of Europe. They just want to get on with their lives.
Let’s talk about the European Parliament. What is the state of relations with the Northern League (Italian political party) ?
For us European groups are far more cooperative structures than political families. The EPP, the Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens are political families formed by similar parties. That can’t be the case within our group. We are the UK Independence Party. It is a very different thing. We work together with the Northern League. That’s it.
I heard that the relations were tense on certain points ?
They have been tense. This has not always been an easy relationship. We had difficulties with one or two of their members. There is no secret about that. Some of them we were not very happy with. On balance we strongly feel that with this group we are able to make bigger arguments and reach a very large number of citizens across Europe.
You are becoming a bit of star in Italy because of your speech against Monti and Papademos.
I heard about it. What’s happening in Italy is an outrage. Totally outrageous. Here is this man, Mr Monti, appointed Prime Minister by these “bully boys” here. A man who wasn’t even a member of the Italian Parliament. He had to be appointed in the upper house the day before so that it looked most respectable !!! And then he chose his cabinet, not one of whom is an elected politician. Italy has just been through a “coup d’etat”.
But Monti seems to be very popular among Italians..
He is one of the architect of this failure. So I would suggest that this popularity may be short-lived.
As regards Euroscepticism, do you think the movement will benefit from the crisis, and how ?
It’s bound to. Because what we’ve been seeing is that this idea, that we can force all these different states, different people, different cultures, different economies into one and we will be happy ever after, has been proved not to be true. Not only is the economics failing, but we are also getting real enmity between North and South. Look at the terrible things that have been said in newspapers in Greece, and in Germany eminently too. In fact the European project is not making us love each other, it is making us dislike each other. There will be much more of a resurgence of the idea that we want national identities. I hope that that manifests itself in the moderate, liberal and old-fashioned sense of the word, notably in a democratic way. But you never know. It may lead to very extreme nationalism.
In Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, we have not reached the point where strong Eurosceptic movements are flourishing. Why ?
It is happening at the moment in the north of Europe, where the anti-EU movements are rising. But it is matter of time before that spreads to Southern Europe. It is bound to ! But this may take longer than you think. But yes I am convinced that it will happen.
Interview by Francesco Molica, in collaboration with Lorenzo Newman of youtrend.it