21 April 2021

The myths, the traumas and the necessary understanding between Italy and Germany. An interview with Federico Niglia

Often represented as a half-sister or stepmother, Germany is a strategic partner for Italy from both an economic and a political point of view. Federico Niglia, Beda Romano and Flavio Valeri, authors of the book “Italy and Germany. The necessary understanding (for Europe) “, published by Bollati Boringhieri, have decided to narrate in a prismatic way, from three points of view – academia, journalism and finance – the interest in a country that is very important, “working on this ‘myth’, to understand if it is true or not”.


Professor Niglia, give us your conclusions, without revealing the most interesting analyses contained in the book.

The conclusion is that, in reality, Italy and Germany are much more similar than we ever imagined, especially in areas where we thought they were very different. On the one hand, the data is clear, for example, on commercial exchange and the production chain that links northern Italy and lower Germany. There are also other aspects, such as strong political convergence. Nonetheless, in the period from the 2008 crisis onwards, Germany was seen as the one that ‘imposes’ on the countries of Mediterranean Europe, including Italy, a series of constraints and obligations that would not be in our interest. This is not true, because the two countries often move in harmony, perhaps silently and by means of international relations, through governments and diplomats.


What are the main points of contact between the two countries?

Italy and Germany share a fairly similar vision of European integration, and have a similar vision of the rule of law and democracy. This is because they have a history that is in some ways parallel. All this bears weight in a 27-member Europe and in the definition of EU priorities. On some dossiers the two countries have been divided, such as on certain priorities of economic integration, and there have also been differences, for example, on the issue of migrants. But we must not confuse the present relationship of division and opposition with what remains a long-term strategic agreement.


So when did this narrative of Germany arise and what lies at the origin of this love/hate relationship?

It is a very deep story that covers the entire last century and has its roots in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a relationship of love, because the Germans look to Italy with interest as a nation, a country that offers a model of life and culture recognized as important; at the same time, Italians look to Germany as a dynamic, economically strong, stable country. Peculiarities that we often feel to be lacking in our nation.

In this relationship, however, there is also a feeling of rejection, fueled by a series of traumas, not least that of the Second World War. These are remnants that have remained and have left their mark, but which have also been used somewhat, in subsequent years, to play on the myth of the external enemy, of a Germany that imposed, of someone who in actual fact made decisions that concealed a series of failed reforms in Italy. And also because the myth of the good Italian and the bad German, for such a long time, was an excellent alibi, defining a dystopian image.


How much did Euroscepticism overlap with a fear of Germany?

We have often observed how a certain idea of  EU has merged with anti-German sentiment, to the point that it has often been said that Germany influences Europe and Europe imposes on Italy. This kind of defective thinking is linked to a reading of the EU as a purely economic and monetary entity and, as such, it is only natural that it is affected by the German criteria in terms of economic-monetary integration, because Germany is the main engine of Europe. What we should ask ourselves about are the other identities of European integration linked to the concept of democracy, citizenship and foreign policy. Italy has a lot to say about this, indeed, the Germans are waiting for greater Italian leadership on these issues.


Do we have an added chance with this present government?

Yes, but irrespective of this executive. Let’s consider some data: Germany is voting this year, after 15 years of Angela Merkel, and it is reasonable to expect the formation of a new leadership and therefore of a transition process. Also, in 2022, France will head to the polls. This gives us an overall picture of the impending change in the major countries of the Union, which turns the spotlight onto Italy. We have an opportunity to express more than leadership, a strong coordination in the implementation of transition projects, especially the Next Generation EU. And more broadly, in the rethinking of the European production system and of the social, political and economic rules that accompany such a transformation. Italy can do a lot, but this must not be identified with the survival of the Draghi government. It is Italy, with its network of political institutions, that can have an impact; undoubtedly Mario Draghi’s international reputation, his ability to work and to exercise leadership in a Union he knows and has mastered, clearly represents an added value.


Who would you like to read this book?

The hedonistic temptation to see the book in the hands of Angela Merkel or Mario Draghi is really strong. But if I had to imagine my readers, I would like two categories: the student interested in understanding both Europe and the fundamental guidelines that enable us to vote in an informed way. The other recipient is someone involved in public policies. But the book, thanks to the other two authors, also offers ideas concerning the spheres of economics and communication.


And what kind of student was Federico Niglia?

I was a nerd, but I had a lot of fun. Luiss gave me the opportunity to study a lot, which was my passion, but also to create a group of friends from which I took full advantage. For me, the University was truly an ecosystem.


And would Federico have read this book at that time …?

Without a doubt, he would have devoured it in 2 days!


Federico Niglia, Ph.D. Department of Political Science, Luiss Guido Carli


Virginia Gullotta, CEO Pezzilli & Company S.r.l.