a case, but one of those that make you think: yesterday in Rome in the same hours first Ursula von der Leyen, then Pascal Donohe passed. President of the Commission one, president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers the other. Coincidence is pure coincidence as far as timing is concerned, but much less so politically. If there is something that it signals, it is not the fact that Italy is today under special surveillance in the European Union as Greece could have been in 2015 or the yellow-green government in Rome in 2018. Rather, a more subtle tension. Because working on the merits of the things to be done, without proclamations, the top figures in Brussels try to help the new government take the last step: from a radical critique of the system to a political role – sometimes in the minority, others with the majority – but within it.
The decisions to be made on the Pnrr
Neither Von der Leyen, nor Donohe of course spoke of anything like that yesterday. They had no lessons to teach. By style and by their role, neither of them indulges in ruminations on the main systems, rather they express themselves through work on specific dossiers. It is here that the knots are coming home to roost and we are entering, in Rome as in Brussels, a season of choices which will in any case deeply mark the path of this Italian government. Ahead of all are the decisions to be made on the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, of course. Having passed the mark of 55 reforms completed by December to be able to ask for a new disbursement of 19 billion euros, the government is now at a crossroads that is both symbolic and concrete. Yesterday Von der Leyen spoke about it at Palazzo Chigi with Giorgia Meloni. During the electoral campaign, the prime minister had always said she wanted to review the Pnrr and now she has the opportunity. The war and the energy crisis changed the picture. In the coming months, many countries will make changes to their plans, mostly minor ones. Palazzo’s agreement with Von der Leyen, for now vague and in principle, that Italy integrates elements of RePowerEU into the new Pnrr: language in Brussels code for measures and policies aimed at accelerating energy independence.
Yeah, but which ones? The truth is that nothing is ready in Rome yet. From the next few days Raffaele Fitto, the Minister of European Affairs with responsibility for the Pnrr, will begin meeting the top management and technicians of the large state energy companies (Eni, Enel, Snam, Terna) to probe what their projects are and understand whether it is appropriate to integrate them into the national plan. Even as far as Algiers there is an air of an opportunity to be exploited because in recent days the Minister of Energy, Mohamed Arkab, has returned to advocating for an Algeria-Sardinia-Piombino gas pipeline. In Italy that project is not convincing. Also because Algerian gas has replaced Russian gas so soon and so well that one is now wondering whether it is wise to pass from dependence on a Eurasian autocracy to that of a North African dictatorship. If anything, diversification will be the watchword.
The doubling of the Tap
That’s why it seems more important the doubling of the Tap, the gas pipeline that leads from Azerbaijan to Puglia via Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. This month the market test ends, the consultation with the big gas intermediaries to understand if there is interest in doubling (to 20 billion cubic meters a year) over the next few decades. But in the European sections there would not be many jobs: for Italy 25 kilometers at sea and eight on land, for expenses contained at most four billion – perhaps much less – and already partly financed by European funds as projects of interest common. Something similar also applies to the pipeline of the Adriatic line, from Massafra in Puglia to the north. That too is a project of common interest in Brussels, even that already half-financed with European resources outside the Pnrr. Same story with Elmed, the electricity transmission cable from the photovoltaic fields of Tunisia to Sicily (Terna works there). Even the one of common interest is already co-financed by Brussels. The regasification terminal already authorized by Enel at Porto Empedocle would certainly still need to be built, but not necessarily the submarine gas pipe from Spain to Livorno because in recent weeks there has been a sudden acknowledgment: with the new Algerian agreements, the new regasification terminals of Piombino and Ravenna and the doubling of the Tap, Italy will soon heal the damage of the break with Moscow.
The infrastructure to transmit solar energy from South to North
New European loans at subsidized rates, obtainable from the approximately 100 billion in Recovery funds not requested by other governments, can certainly serve to supply Italy with cables to transmit solar energy from South to North. Or maybe for renewable energy parks financed directly with the Pnrr. But we need to hurry, because all the projects must be ready in detail by the end of March so that they can pass through Brussels. And you have to be careful, because those new funds would go straight into the public debt so – if it takes them – the government will have to give up some other promise.
what Paschal Donohoe spoke about yesterday with Giancarlo Giorgetti, the Minister of the Economy. The president of the Eurogroup began his tour of the capitals from Rome to hear everyone’s positions on the new hypotheses for budgetary rules. The Commission’s proposal has aspects that can help Italy: a slower pace in reducing the debt, up to seven years for the structural consolidation of the deficit if real reforms are made in the meantime. Giorgetti, however, also pointed out what he least appreciates, well beyond the greater automatism of fines for those who violate the rules: Italy does not like that at the center of the recovery plans there is an analysis of debt sustainability made with criteria unclear. It will be a raw nerve. How discovered the nerve of the full wave of state aid to the industry that Brussels is about to authorize in response to the White House subsidies, but which will above all favor those who can afford them: Germany and, a little less, France. With Italian industry therefore risking losing competitiveness. All these are the issues on which the government will discuss in the coming months. There is some argument, as long as the government does not cut itself off by refusing to ratify the reform of the bailout fund (MES) or by attacking Frankfurt’s central bankers in a disorderly manner. But, precisely, the difference between playing against a system and playing within it.
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