"The exalted and disproportionate reactions from some European politicians to the announcement of my reentering politics offends the freedom of choice of Italians.” Silvio Berlusconi's statements in the European context have often been embarrassing, but it is difficult to prove him wrong this time.

The simple statement of intent by a citizen of the European Union to exert a fundamental democratic right was enough to trigger an avalanche of indignant and apocalyptic comments – especially from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for whom the return of "the Cavaliere” would be a serious threat to the entire Union.

Not everyone in Germany shares this opinion. Writing in Der Speigel, Wolfgang Münchau holds that because of the candidacy of Berlusconi, who described the famous spread (the difference in bond yields from the yields of German bonds) as a ”scam” exploited to justify the austerity imposed by Germany, "the policies of the crisis have landed in the centre of the election campaign in a major European country for the first time. A great political debate is going on in Italy on the advisability of cutting public spending during a recession and continuing to follow the German dictate of austerity. I think this is an excellent thing.”

‘Brussels consensus’

Conclusion aside, this analysis is certainly shared by most European leaders, and therein lies the problem. Until now the “Brussels consensus”, which had been the basis for the response to the euro crisis, had always been held at some remove from the democratic debate. And for obvious reasons. The mere possibility – however remote – that Italy, whose government debt is the fourth-largest in the world, would start to derail Europe's anti-crisis strategy, already rickety, was enough to trigger panic in the markets and threaten the stability of peripheral countries.

The crisis has shown once and for all that the introduction of the euro has stripped budgetary policy away from national governments. Rightly included among the latest proposals in what might be called the European federalist agenda is the creation of a “Ministry of Finance” of the euro zone, which would guarantee convergence. In contrast, political union, which should represent the democratic legitimacy of such a convergence, remains an even more distant and nebulous prospect.

Pending its implementation, we are committed to attend the endless series of “decisive summits” at which the leaders of the strongest countries agree among themselves behind closed doors, like at a perpetual Congress of Vienna – a model that history has already condemned. To continue to enforce decisions taken between two waltzes in Brussels with pressures and threats, more or less veiled, and systematic slapping-on of the label “populist” to anyone who dares disagree – as has been the case for three years in all the elections held in peripheral countries – can only encourage the proliferation of Silvio Berlusconis and Viktor Orbáns.

Commission role

In the debate on the political union, one detail is systematically neglected: the European Union already has an executive and ministers. It's the European Commission and its members, even though we do tend to forget about them. As has been demonstrated by the negotiations on the EU budget, the strengthening of the intergovernmental method – crowned by the redundant institution of the office of President of the European Council – has eclipsed the role of Commission, whose current president was picked, among other reasons, because he was little inclined to contradict his bosses. The problem, however, long predates the presidency of José Manuel Barroso. The fact that the EU executive does not depend on European Parliament but on a throng of rulers is an institutional anomaly that takes the EU closer to the monarchies of the 16th century than to the democracies of today.

The idea of giving the European Parliament – the only EU institution that is directly elected – a competency that appears to return it to its rightful place has recently been relaunched by the Dutch daily Trouw, which writes: “Only when the composition of the Commission is linked to the political orientation of the Parliament will the votes of the citizens be able to determine the direction of the Union” – putting an end at last to the era of technocrats and emergency governments. In the meantime, we must continue to trust and respect national democracies. The Europeans have already shown that they can vote responsibly when it is in their interest: let it be them who judge Silvio Berlusconi and his followers.”