Goodbye great Mr. Euro

In memory of Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa

, by Antonio Longo, Translated by Roberta Carbone

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Goodbye great Mr. Euro

Whenever a man like Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa passes away, all of a sudden, one realizes what Italy and Europe have lost. A great economist and statesman, he embodied the unusual combination of a technician and a visionary intellectual, with the rigorous approach of a philosopher.

He goes down in history as one of the founding fathers of the euro. Influenced by the European federalists’ thought, in one of his writings on economy of 1982 he said that the countries of the then EEC (hit by the competitive devaluation of national currencies) could not have free external trade, capital mobility, independent monetary policies and fixed exchange rates, all at the same time. These four objectives, every one of them desirable, could not be pursued without having a single currency, managed by a single Central Bank. And the 1989 Delors Report backed this point of view and proposed the creation of the European Monetary Union.

But TPS (as he was called by his friends) also had an important role in convincing the Italian Prime Minister of the time, Andreotti, to commit Italy to follow the path towards the single currency. And he highlighted this ‘political’ aspect of the currency, giving it immediate importance and famously coining the euro as ‘a currency without a state’. Only today, in the face of the international financial and economic crisis, do the commentators understand that the euro must be supported by a European political economy, in other words by a federal government, therefore by a form of European state. And this was the aim of his work in the final years, as he was convinced that this goal could be pursued only by mobilizing political, social and economic forces. In this aim, he created the ‘Spinelli Group last October, which includes several MEPs, politicians, economists and intellectuals, with the intention of re-launching the design of a federal Europe.

As it often happens to great men, he was better known and appreciated abroad than in Italy (nemo profeta in patria, i.e. no one is a prophet in his own country). Perhaps only now will one begin to understand the real meaning of a famous quote of his: “taxes are beautiful because they allow the state to pay essential public services: security, health care, education, etc…”. He goes down in Italian national history also for his contribution to the reorganization of the State finances, during Romano Prodi’s second term in government (2006-2008); an effort that never reached a political consensus in an Italy of waste and greedy patronage.

TPS never raised his voice. We rejoice in the memory of his clear and precise thought, his sober and concise speech, his analyses which went directly to the heart of the problem. Perhaps the word that best describes him is one he himself used as a definition for Europe in the title of one of his books: ‘Europe, gentle power’ (the title of the English version of the book is: Europe, civil power). He thought of ‘gentle’ as a word with many meanings: ‘of noble descent, worthy, perceptive, civilized, generous, virtuous, elegant’.

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