The third high-level conference on youth employment that opens today in Milan, following similar events in Berlin and Paris in 2013, risks becoming a dangerous boomerang for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Last year's decision by former Prime Minister Enrico Letta to ensure Italy an equally high profile in the Franco-German employment program was revisited by Italy’s new leader with a more attentive eye to internal political dynamics (see the Jobs Act labor reform) and to the equilibrium of his Democratic Party (PD) then the real needs of the European labor market.
Planned for the start of June and then postponed until October, the conference should represent one of the defining points of Italy's semester at the helm of the EU, which already lost some steam by coinciding with the start of a legislature of a new European Parliament and a new Commission.
Apparently, Renzi's counterparts in Paris and Berlin tried more than once to dissuade him from holding a summit on employment without more clarity on Juncker's €300 billion investment plan.
But it seems that Renzi insisted and obtained a halfhearted “yes” to a summit where most but not all would participate (British Prime Minister Cameron might not attend). Renzi played the card of his massive electoral success in May that, with 41% support, “crowned” him the most voted-for premier in Europe.
An arm-wrestling match that German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not particularly appreciate, and did not hide a certain dissatisfaction that, in the language of diplomacy, translated into a very short stay in Milan today.
Naturally, the Chancellor's press office tried to put out the fire, saying there is “no disagreement with Merkel. The Chancellor will return to Germany at the end of the summit: as usual, when we're done, we like to return home.”
The chancery would, for the sake of harmony, even have agreed to join Renzi's closing press conference along with French President Hollande and other heads of state.
Renzi, with his typical, ostentatious self-assurance, said Italy is working on “the most ambitious (reform) plan that has ever been put in place by a European nation.”
Approval of the Jobs Act at almost the same exact time as the summit is one of those risky gambles that Italy's premier loves.
It's somewhat less beloved in other European capitals and by the markets, which pay more attention to laws that are actually approved. That's why, while the Milan showcase is a unique opportunity to present the Jobs Acts to Europe, it also risks being a dangerous boomerang.
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