The friendly feelings that Europeans harbor for one another were well illustrated recently by some remarks by Luigi di Maio, one of the two deputy prime ministers of Italy. He said that European countries that had helped to bring about the flux of migrants from Africa—France most importantly among them—should be penalized. France, he said, was still colonizing and exploiting many African countries, so it was hardly surprising that so many Africans were driven to leave the continent.
Among the ways France exploits certain African states, said di Maio, was by controlling their currency, the CFA Franc. Eight African countries now use the CFA Franc, which was once pegged to the French Franc and is now pegged to the euro, with France guaranteeing the maintenance of the exchange rate. In return, of course, France controls how much the governments of these countries may spend or borrow. Thus, the countries are not truly independent, and while their elites benefit from the scheme, being able because of it to import luxury items from France, the mass of the population suffers as a result.
Behind di Maio’s criticism of France’s control of (or stranglehold on) the economies of many African countries, it was not difficult to espy criticism of Europe’s single currency. The analogies are obvious: the unified currency imposes limitations on the countries that use it, such that they no longer control important aspects of their economic policy—for example, interest rates and the permissible size of the government deficit. And this is so irrespective of the economic wisdom—or otherwise—of the constraints imposed upon them.
In other words, Italy stands in relation to the European Central Bank as Mali, Senegal, and Togo (among others) stand to France. Italy is in effect a colony of the ECB, which is itself largely beholden to Germany—a colony whose elite does very well, true enough, but at the expense of the great mass of the population who are condemned by the currency to being uncompetitive, and therefore unemployed and impoverished. It therefore comes as no surprise that the size of the Italian deficit should be a bone of contention between the ECB and the Italy of di Maio.
The claim that France is to blame for so many African would-be migrants is, however, not only wrong but dangerous. Di Maio said that the source of France’s wealth is the exploitation of Africa: the latter is poor because the former is rich, and the former is rich because the latter is poor. Though this is clearly absurd, it is actually the theory held by a considerable number of development economists—Raúl Prebisch, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein, among them—who influenced thinking on the subject of economic development for a long time, usually to disastrous effect. By giving his imprimatur to this way of thinking, di Miao can only contribute to the flow of migrants, who will come to see their admittance to Europe as restitution for wrong done to them. It will also undermine Europe’s will to resist, for the same reason: it has no right to resist.
Postscript: Since this was written, relations between France and Italy have deteriorated, with Di Maio’s meeting with thr Yellow Vests in France. France has recalled its ambassador from Rome—the first time such a thing has happened since the Second World War.
Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images