Political union between a wealthy and developed industrial North and a backward and blighted South is nothing new for Europe; the Risorgimento that united the states of the Italian peninsula into the State of Italy in the nineteenth century is an example that lives today. The conventional story has heroes - Cavour, Garibaldi, Victor-Emmanuel - and its villains - the Papacy, the Austrians, Francis II of Sicily - and a valiant struggle after which Italy emerged against the odds as a proud and confidant State.
Not quite so, it seems. A carrelry of British scholars has for some years been challenging the conventional wisdom. The Mezzogiorno might actually be substantially worse off under an Italian State than it would have been ; the South was always a centre of rebellion against the State, and the fact that 100,000 men, half the Italian army, were needed to put down insurrections in the South in 1864 gives lie to a popular revolution that created the State, that after 1861 fiscal policies and customs duties were designed specifically to subjugate the economy of the south. Sicilian scholars are also contemptuous of the way in which Italian history has been purged, censored and bowdlerised in favour of the 'patriotic uprising' story.
Any in the Mezzogiorno who were foolish enough to believe that the Lire and fiscal union with the powerful and wealthy north would make them better off were rapidly disillusioned. The lessons of history are before us. Simon Jenkins writes in today's Guardian:
Already governments in Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy that sought outside help and austerity in return have been toppled by their electorates. Under the new "treaty" such disciplines will be doubled and trebled, and blamed on one country, Germany. It must be likely that electorates will refuse to submit. Bond markets will seize up, public spending collapse, unemployment and emigration soar and streets descend into chaos. It has already happened in Greece. Pro-treaty Europeans may regard such alarmism as "swivel-eyed". But such passions in European history should never be taken lightly.
Last week's summit saw a panic rush to political union, offering nothing beyond "more discipline" to alleviate the euro's existing straitjacket. This discipline seems certain to mean political crisis in many European capitals, where economic salvation can lie only in managed default and devaluation. Ever closer union has not brought stability to western Europe, any more than it brought stability to eastern Europe under the Soviets. It is quack constitutionalism.He forbears to state the obvious - that both the Risorgimento and the Soviet Union achieved stability only with force of arms - are France and Germany prepared to do likewise?