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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > A #Monnet moment? Different times require different tools #NextGenerationEU #crises #war #energy #democracy

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Published on 2022-04-17 15:20:00 | words: 4847

yes, I shared exactly one month ago an article about the "Monnet Method" and crises.

Let me be bold: the aim of this article is to share few concept about why I think that, in the XXI century, if the European Union wants to carve its geopolitical role, we need to look for something else.

In the end, each method and approach is derived from the consensus of the times, i.e. a cultural contextualization.

And we are living in different times- but more hints about that in the last section of this article.

Well, on Monday I had planned, after my weekly ECB update, to do something else- but as over the last week-end was gearing up to refresh something I learned a while ago, the unintended consequence is that other temporarily set aside ideas came up to mind.

I shared over the week-end a commentary on my birthplace and, indirectly, Italy.

This article is going to be a sampling of concepts than the usual essay, concepts that will be developed elsewhere.

Whenever I meet with somebody who did not work with me before, I always end up having a feed-back in array of options: too political to be either business or "technical".

That is probably a good reason why, except for my first job in 1986, all the others, in Italy as in other countries, where via direct or indirect contacts with former customers, managers, colleagues.

But also: when the "political" element is ignored, too business-oriented for "technical" roles, too "technical" as background for business-oriented roles.

No, it is not a complaint: I think that, whenever the quest is for a "vertical" orientation, all those previous assessments are correct.

If you are curious to know about that, have a look at this "personal digression" on my largest social media community online.

Anyway, I will split this article into even smaller bits, by adding here and there some boldface lines (a little bit of Tristram Shandy on a much, much, much lower degree of quality and scale, I am afraid):
_Thomas Payne
_what this is about
_resilience needs cultural contamination
_the (swarming) whole is always greater than the sum of its components
_the temptation of crises and... the show must go on
_fair weather friendships
_think before you act- the context of further European integration
_think before you act- the bigger picture
_the way ahead
_force-feeding structural change
_the real way ahead

Thomas Payne

Not just in Italy, these times are worth of a Thomas Payne ("These are the times...")- but neither I am one, nor, frankly, I see that many around.

I see many theorist who do not put their money where their mouth is- notably they fail to align the timeframe of the commitments implied in their advice for our societies with their risk appetite (and associated resources prioritization).

Just to avoid any misunderstanding: no, I am not talking about Europe's defence posture vis-à-vis the current security crisis following the invasion of Ukraine, or even about the potential of a relaunch of potential of integration of European armies under the shared mantle of the European Union.

About those two subjects, already shared few ideas- and will share more in the future, as will about European Union and Italy (or Turin).

My online scribblings since the early 2000s were always sharing perceptions based on a blend of multi-domain experiences and observations, including the social and political component.

Not my choice (I left active, structured politics in 1983), but after spending a couple of decades to by an "accidental analyst" of both, would be a waste of resources not to.

What this is about

So, the Monnet moment of this article is not about the post-COVID NextGenerationEU, or even its potential shifting in mindset for future European Commission disbursements&monitoring.

And not even about a future European integrated defense.

And not even about digital transformation or the green transition.

It is about something more basic.

You can easily see on my CV that I worked across multiple industries and multiple customers, but I started really political activities inspired by economics/banking backgrounds (well, the organization was sponsored by the research branch of a local bank, and included professors in political science and surrounding domains).

Then, was in the Army for my compulsory service before officially starting to work first in automotive and then in banking, followed by other industries.

So, I am used since inception to "compartmentalize" information, albeit each experience, no matter how small and no matter how apparently far far away from the previous one, eventually did benefit from what I had done before.

I know, it is a little bit cryptic- have a look here for examples.

It is something that most do not understand in Italy, a country where people still look forward to one-job lives, but then complain that innovation never scales up, never is "systemic".

Resilience needs cultural contamination

In our complex societies, also without globalization and just looking at technology, you need contamination of cultures, experiences, and, yes, industries.

Reason: if you keep a "tunnel vision" to overspecialize, it is doubtful that you will consider potential contributions from other domains.

Quite curious the control-freak attitude so common in Italy when, in the end, are reusing what is coming from everywhere.

Up to the point that, for example, when the current CEO of Renault let his Italian job, in Turin I was told outside business (as I wrote previously, Turin is a giant watercooler, often) that he was not such a loss to the local automotive industry, as he was barely a marketing man with limited industry knowledge.

Well, it seems that that gossip was not really that precise, considering where he ended up.

But I heard similar stories in the past: what is lost was not worth that much- a curious way to try to retain talent.

Personally, I prefer to consider that if you cannot retain talent, you can wish good look- "we shall meet again", as the song said.

The (swarming) whole is always greater than the sum of its components

As I wrote in my previous article, if you want to get commitment toward a shared long-term goal, a goal that will be reached when most of those involved in the first step will not be anymore around...

...you need also to provide some shared purpose on a shorter timeframe.

And shared no matter what are your "tribal boundaries"- has to be a systemic goal that requires a wider consensus.

Anyway, way too often we seem to be structuring the other way around, i.e. providing quantity of disconnected elements and then pretend to have a coherent whole.

Reason? Because this way each contribution to the whole can be weighted and acknowledged.

What I identify with the collective name "technicalities", has only marginally to do with either information technology or business processes and their associated organizational structures.

Instead, it covers, as I wrote in various articles and books, the "techné" element, i.e. any structured "savoir faire"- including professional politics or professional social sciences, and even professional performing arts or culture industry operatives.

Unfortunately, it seems that whenever there is a crisis, instead of looking at the "political" (not just "political bureaucrat") side, we end up having a collection of specialists pushing this or that.

Each one of the them taking the lead in proposing yet another piling up of disconnected items that then it is up to politicians to somehow connect into something that they can bend into an apparently coherent view.

Net result: often, not the best contribution, but the contribution presented by the ablest "pied piper" carries the day.

And sways the masses, including when, being senior decision-makers, should know better- but, in the end, also kings are humans and open to manipulation by a Jago, as I wrote in an article while I was still living in Brussels (of course- I refer to Othello).

The temptation of crises and... the show must go on

As you probably noticed,despite the crises, and the temptation for some to use them as an excuse to procrastinate democratic choices (as some suggested in Italy not too long ago), the life goes on- and France is having the first round of its presidential elections.

I did expect something similar to what happened in the first round, despite many who said that President Macron would not even be a viable candidate.

Still, the spread between the first few leading candidates was interesting.

Even more so, if you consider, from an Italian perspective, the potential evolutions of the "Quirinale Treaty".

Yes, I know- I wrote long ago that was going to share an analysis from an organizational development perspective, almost as if it were a convergence toward a merger, but the turn of the tide of events in 2022, even before the invasion of Ukraine, changed the perspective.

I think that few weeks more will further alter the framework of reference of any further initiative that were to be set up by the European Union.

More than "who wins" in France, it is "what does (s)he win for": it will be the composition and balance of elements that will concur to the election that will help define the direction of the next term of the French President- and influence also the continuation of the term of the recently re-elected Italian President and his partnership with the Italian President of the Council of Ministers, to say nothing about the further evolution of the much older Treaty between France and Germany.

So, I will wait for the final results of the elections in France and analysis of voting flows, before updating and sharing my analysis from a cultural and organizational change perspective.

Fair weather friendships

So, if in my latest article talked about Turin and Italy, the same "perfect storm" approach applies to a wider context, a context that already includes various elements of potential instability.

Let's be frank: the European Union, as I wrote already almost 15 years ago in Brussels, way too often is too close to a "fair weather friendship".

Too many of those talking about potential evolutions still sound as if they were thinking about the almost pre-industrial balance of powers between States and Federal from the XVIII/XIX century United States.

But currently it is not just a technological possibility to adopt a different, more structural approach that transcends physical geography, it is also the result of over half a century of cultural integration.

Far from perfect, still with more than a hint of XIX century nationalism, but, be it due to the shared legal framework, be it due shared interests, at least in some quarters we consider shared interests, not shared locations.

Any step further in integration worth of the XXI century would need to consider that different contexts require different solutions.

Think before you act- the context of further European integration

What is the European context, temporarily ignoring the ongoing conflict and associated reshuffling of energy and logistics relationships?

_ We are old and getting older
_ We have over a couple of thousands of years of shared history
_ We still have separate cultures but increasingly common legal frameworks
_ We have aggregate human capital and intellectual property (also in the form of higher education institutions) that could attract and develop talent.

More advanced in some countries (e.g. the Fraunhofer in Germany), less in others, we also have networks of research institutions that are a kind of galaxy, instead of having single command-and-control, top-down structures.

And, despite what we think, we have a decent infrastructure more or less integrated across the continent- across multiple domains (banking, energy, ecc).

What do we lack?

At least the following (starting from those where we have lower degrees of freedom):
_ Natural resources on the level needed to sustain our industrialized societies
_ A shared operational perspective on where EU27 is heading to (i.e. a roadmap, not just principles)
_ Pooled resources that are jointly managed (and I am not talking just about financial resources)
_ A shared foreign affairs posture that does not require continuous bartering to decide our position
_ ... your pick of others were we could make (joint) choices.

Think before you act- the bigger picture

Within the European Union, we do the same that it a typical Italian habit: we negotiate continuously and intensively between our own tribes, so much that we end up assuming that this is what matters for the world at large.

Then, wake up and discover that really matters... to ourselves.

Moreover, we discover that, while we were overnegotiating on minutiae, and maybe even re-negotiating, finally achieving what to us seemed a perfect balance, worth broadcasting about...

...our supposed audience moved away from the position chosen/discussed when we started our self-centered convergence of our own interests.

Restructuring decision-making patterns implies accepting that our potential influence is decided not by ourselves, but by interactions.

As in a swarm, it is the aggregate that sets the direction, not a single "Lord of the Flies".

In Europe, when relating with friend or foe, we are still assuming that the world will stand still while we "tune" our approach: too many lawyers, too many economists, both used to finess a degree of certainty (from "forecasting the past", to "finetuning the future before it happens"), and too few politicians, able to deal with uncertainty and timing according to needs, not to procedure.

It would be already difficult (as shown by Italy) with a single government in a country where, in the end, most of the decision-making that matters is still done centrally.

Imagine when you have multiple institutions answering to different constituencies (Commission, Parliament, Council, why not also COR), across 27 countries, with no single unifying final decision maker (and not even "marker", as each time each party broadcasts a different perspective of "success")?


... this is nothing really new, as also Nye almost 20 years ago in "Soft power" was already outlining that profile of Europe.

The way ahead

It is not just more structural integration: a decade before the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, in my first travels for political activities in Europe, what I saw was that we were still a continent sharing a common history, but not yet really a common perception of shared reality.

And across the next few decades, while both working and living abroad in few European countries (including the German side of Switzerland- not EU, but, as Norway, more integrated and compliant than many Member States), saw continuously that, while our regulatory integration increased, we still lack street-level integration.

Or: we look as one of those Escher buildings with impossible geometries, staircases going everywhere, but no rooms and no shared lives.

The paradox is that both Italy, where I am based since 2012, and Turin, my birthplace where I am working and living now temporarily, show what happens when you do the other way around, i.e. aggregate and integrate but without a structural integration.

As I wrote to a long time friend early morning few days ago, you end up with a country of conspirators and agent provocateurs, partitioned in tribes, constantly vying to reassert the boundaries.

Well, in Turin, over the last few years I have been asked more than once to pay taxes due to my neighbour, and other amenities.

In Italy decades ago was common to use the judicial way to attack enemies or perceived enemies, so much that, whenever there is a series of bureaucratic SNAFUs concentrated in few years in a single location as I had since 2015, my fellow Italians ask "on whose feet did you step on" ("a chi hai pestato i piedi").

It was an interesting set of observations, from a cultural and organizational change perspective.

It was so before the COVID and ensuing measures, and therefore already shared some of them in a book.

It is even more relevant in the times of NextGenerationEU and PNRR, as highlights cultural elements worth considering (and re-assessing/amending), to improve chances of success.

Now that on top of that we added the need to have a quick reshuffling of our energy consumption and energy provisioning, something that could impact heavily manufacturing in a country with few natural resources and plenty of "transformation" industries, rethinking our "normal" way of doing and acting is even more critical (and urgent).

I got some backbiting locally for daring to report, but it is an acceptable price to help support my concept of "common good": i.e. if you experience something that might be avoided by others, share it, so that they can make their own informed choice; maybe what did not work for you worked for them, or maybe will work after they will factor in the information that you shared.

The "common good" as still meant way too often in Italy now? Well, the "Hot Fuzz" concept of "common good"- conniving into the past, not projecting into the future.

Personally, as I wrote long ago, not belonging to any tribe, last year decided that, as a second-class citizen (as to be first class, if you have something to share, you have to belong to a tribe), stopped voting: I am just an accidental observer reporting on Turin and Italy.

As my focus since the 1980s is two parallel tracks, business cultural/organizational change and data-based technology, since 2012 increasingly blended both into my public scribblings, as this serves a dual purpose: retaining and developing experience-based skills, and sharing with a wider audience that might find it all at least mildly useful.

Initially in both Italian and English, but, since late 2018 switched to English, after I confirmed that you have to be "tribal" or otherwise you just get offers to work for free to support tribes, while doing something else (in their view, so that eventually you can be coopted in a tribe).

In my view, as an hybrid political/business/technological practictioner, and an hybrid apolid/European/Italian (as I think that we humans share more than just country boundaries), the "common good" should be about projecting into the future, not protecting the present.

The current NextGenerationEU and its Italian component PNRR (national recovery and resilience plan- also the other Member States prepared their own) still, in my view, are weak into the "projecting into the future" side.

We are still too much focused on structural changes, but, frankly, as I said to my customers since 1990 when "selling" cultural and organizational change, or services on information technology that spanned across multiple business domains: any change, including any technological change, has a cultural impact, and has some cultural elements "embedded".

Or: if you introduce a new process (such as the approval&disbursement approach embedded in NextGenerationEU), that process includes a "cultural perspective".

Force-feeding structural change

You can force-feed it through "deliverables", i.e. by asking to do something that implies doing something else in a specific way.

I was told in the early 1990s an example, by a customer, while working on a new proposal for HR-related legal records digitalization and centralization.

The customer told me that, while the national requirement for HR record retention was X years, they were one day asked from the National Agency managing those data (for pension benefits, etc) a report that required to go much further into the past.

Being Italians, and Italy a country where routinely we had (and still have) de facto retroactive laws and regulations, they told me that actually...

...they retained records for as long as they had space.

I too once was fined for something that was altered after I had delivered the information as per the existing regulation, regulation altered before the reporting period expire, but after the reporting period started: so, I understood why Italians always wait the last minute before reporting.

So, what happened to the customer?

When they sent in the report, the Agency replied asking: as you were able to provide this report, could you kindly provide us the data? We lost them (it was a time of tapes, not Internet).

Therefore, a simple report request embedded something more (I have plenty of other similar stories from Italy and Italian laws).

The issue? If you build a consensus on the cultural side that then results in convergence on a shared practice, it is closer to a ringisho approach to decision-making.

As a Japanese friend reminded me, it is a slooooow approach, but the idea is that you build convergence all across, so that, when the decision is made, execution is fast.

Anyway, no matter how slow, when you have 27 independent parties (the Member States of the EU) that converge in different clusters across different themes, for structural changes it is worth the effort.

Otherwise, force-feeding might apparently work, but only insofar there are external constraints (e.g. recovery from COVID, redirecting energy flows due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, etc).

Unfortunately, both in the public and private sector, I often saw the perception bias enter the picture, a kind of distortion of logic.

It goes this way: we force-feed the change, it is complied with, we see the results, hence the change is now part of the new normal.

Ignoring the "contextual" element that makes that new "normal equilibrium" shaky at best.

It is, obviously, a common issue of layers of complexity interacting with layers of complexity: swarming complexity where convergence is always to be considered a temporary issue, not a steady state.

The real way ahead

As in many recent and not so recent reforms within the European Union (will skip about Italy, wrote in the past and it would be too large a digression), then those force-feeding change get upset when, as soon as the external challenge is removed, bickering starts.

Frankly, even before the European Union expanded to former COMECON and USSR states, we already had more than once this issue.

But moving from 12 to 28 and then 27 brought the game to a different plane of reality and level of complexity.

So, it might well be true that for some country "resistance is futile" in times of NextGenerationEU and Recovery and Resilience Facility, but do not count that to introduce a sustainable structural change.

We should not forget that the founders of the European Institutions in the 1950s were (mainly) sons of the XIX century who had experienced in their lifetimes two "total wars" started within the European boundaries, and sons of those who had lived a third ("Napoleon cedant Seda ceda ses dents"), and probably great-grandsons of those who had lived through the Napoleonic wars.

Or: they were coming from a century of wars that were no more just a choreographic minuetto with weapons on the battlefield: few centuries ago, believe or not, there were also pic-nics to look at battles.

Instead, those XIX and XX century "modern" wars (Napoleon imported the lessons of logistics involved in artillery) involved mass migrations.

As had been in Ancient Rome and for few centuries after the Fall of the (Western) Roman Empire, e.g. also the Huns "pushed" populations to the West and within the boundaries of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Therefore, that background "framed" the concept of democracy of European Institutions founders post-WWII, and made acceptable "shortcuts" that were workable in times were access to resources and information might be controlled by States (well, and also just few multinational agents).

Shortcuts to greatness are often just that: shortcuts, and generate what others called a "Potemkin Village" (for my readers in Turin: so you know what I was referring to yesterday on Facebook).

It is a kind of urban legend (but if you have books supporting that, I am willing to read), containing a concept.

When you are the monarch going around and are told that everything is fine, and that the population is happy and well-fed, eventually you might want to see it with your own eyes.

Hence, the story goes, fake villages were set up- akin to when Western tourists visiting USSR were carried around by tourist guides that gave them a selective glimpse of reality.

We are now living in times with high mobility, instant communication, and informal financial flows that are not so easy to "coordinate".

Within the European Union, we are at a point when either we jump forward, or risk crumbling into a maze of paper that states that everything is fine, the future is set, but then... reality begs to differ.

When I was living in Brussels, I shared also the concept that either we go ahead together, or we better we consider a future European Union with "circles of integration", i.e. more structural for those willing, then down to federation or even confederation or "sphere of influence and exchange" for others.

But we cannot let the latter set the tone for the others, as otherwise we will keep having shouting contests while the World keeps moving and ignoring us.

And the old joke from I think Kissinger about who answers the phone when he calls Europe will still hold true.

In our times, Europe is sitting on massive wealth- unless we leverage on that to reposition, and rethink, we just risk ending up as decaying aristocrats living high on past resources, resources that eventually will fade away- as I see almost on a daily basis in Italy since I was made to return to live and work here in 2012.

Or: your assets, for lack of local management and investment capabilities that transcend the "tribal" confines, end up being taken over by those who have enough to seize the assets, but would not have had enough to create the assets.

And, as Italy, Europe too could end up being just a pawn in somebody else's games, as was blatant in this latest crisis.

The Monnet method was fine when we were inward looking, but we need a different level of cohesion to converge on a shared repositioning.

Have a nice Easter week-end!