Twice appointed as a European commissioner, initially for the internal market and later for competition, Mario Monti is one of the main specialists — and defenders — of the European single market. In 2010, Commission President José Manuel Barroso asked him to write a report on A New Strategy for the Single Market. Presseurop met with him in Florence, on the occasion of the Festival d'Europa.

In answer to the question: do you believe that initiatives which seek to water down the principles of the single market, including freedom of movement, have been prompted by the current crisis, or is there a deeper reason? Mario Monti argues that "current economic difficulties have certainly been a contributory factor," but at the same time complains of a "tendency to make do with a lesser level of acceptance and enthusiasm" than at the outset of the single market.

The President of Milan’s Bocconi University is concerned about what he terms "a weariness with integration," which was evident in the French and Dutch referenda of 2005, and a "weariness with the market in its current form." In the light of the financial crisis, "many people wondered: Is a market economy the right solution?" For the former commissioner: "It is obviously the only solution," although its functioning and supervision should be improved.

Like Europe’s political and legislative processes, the single market has a complexity that often contributes to disinterest or even euroscepticism on the part of its citizens. "It is hard to explain the benefits, which are real though often not readily apparent, of the single market," points out Mario Monti. For this reason, he argues that we should "adopt a targeted approach to change certain single market policies," and, as the author of the New Strategy for the Single Market, he is pleased that many of his “suggestions have been taken up by specific Commission proposals."

These will still have to obtain the support of member states and their leaders, who are often under pressure from national elections and economic difficulties. Under no illusions about the necessity of their participation, Mario Monti believes that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy should devote a council session to the single market, "so that the highest echelons of our governments are seen to assume their responsibility." When this has been done, the former Commissioner argues that "they will not find it so easy to stay out of the picture" when called on to take part in the shared drive to create growth and jobs, and to safeguard the long-term solidity of the euro."

In the wake of the announcement of the Portuguese bailout package, and at a time when Greece continues to prompt concerns and rumours about the fate of the single currency, should Europeans expect a worsening of the crisis?

"I hope the worst of it is behind us," says Mario Monti, who points that "regardless of what happens, Europe will be in a much better situation to deal with it." The EU has been "very quick to make up up for lost time" and today it has a governance "that is much more effective," remarks the former commissioner.