It is not just a weird force that wants to smash the EU, or secret agencies and terror groups. It is the proper US that doesn’t like the strong counterpart that has become Europe and the euro. The problems didn’t start with Trump, already under Obama they were spying European governments and its leaders. In wide-ranging interview George Soros shares his concerns about the future of the EU – and the possibility of Italy leaving the bloc. He warns of “numerous” enemies, including China and Russia, which pose a threat to  “ideas of an open society”. But it is the US itself where he lives and makes business that profits from a weak EU.

The virus that makes us feel lost

On the US presidential election, Soros believes that the “confidence trickster”, Donald Trump, will turn out to be “a transitory phenomenon”– and credits the country’s political system of checks and balances for holding the president to account the past four years. In an interview published on his ninetieth birthday, financier and philanthropist George Soros argues that the coronavirus pandemic is “the worst crisis in my lifetime since the Second World War”.  He believes that the crisis is making people “disoriented and scared” which will lead to “them doing things that are bad for them and the world”.

This could include an acceptance of harmful “instruments of surveillance produced by artificial intelligence”, which he argues could become acceptable even in democratic countries because of their use in bringing the virus under control.   However, despite this warning, he sees events as unpredictable.  We are in a “revolutionary moment” where “the range of possibilities is much greater than in normal times”. In the interview, published with La Repubblica and conducted by Italian journalist Mario Platero in New York, Mr Soros, also expresses concerns about the future of the European Union (EU) and its vulnerability to “enemies, both inside and out”.

Merkel is a crisis manager

Though Mr Soros singles out Chancellor Merkel for praise, he argues that she is “up against deeply engrained cultural opposition”.  Germany’s cultural abhorrence of debt is a barrier that is preventing the EU from responding to the scale of events.    “The German word Schuld has a double meaning. It means debt and guilt. Those who incur a debt are guilty. This doesn’t recognize that the creditors can also be guilty.  It is a cultural issue that runs very, very deep in Germany”.

Mr Soros concedes that there is now not enough time for his long-standing proposal that the EU adopt perpetual bonds or “Consols” to be accepted.  These bonds, in which only the annual interest has to ever be repaid, could raise £1 trillion at a low cost “at a time when it is urgently needed” he argues.  However, the opposition of the “Frugal Five” to giving the EU tax-raising powers, means that “the issuing of perpetual bonds in the near future is impossible”.  Unless these countries become “enthusiastic supporters” the issuing of perpetual bonds by the EU: “The European Union may not survive” which would be a “grievous loss not only to Europe but to the whole world”.

Italy and Hungary are threats to the UE

He also warns that Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jaroslaw Kaczyński in Poland, have “captured the government” and, despite being the “largest recipients of EU structural aid”, are “opposed to the values upon which the EU was founded”. However, his “biggest concern is Italy” where public support for remaining a member of the Eurozone is diminishing and politics is shifting towards the “extremist” right, in the form of Giorgia Meloni and her party, Fratelli d’Italia.   “I cannot imagine an EU without Italy” Mr Soros notes:  The big question is whether the EU will be able to provide enough support”.

He concludes that Europe is “much more vulnerable” than the United States, which has a tradition of checks and balances, established rules and “above all, the Constitution”.     “Confidence trickster” Trump will be a “temporary phenomenon” but “remains very dangerous” as he is fighting for his political life and will do anything to stay in power” since, “he has violated the constitution” and “if he loses the presidency will be held accountable”.