When countries join the European Union, they promise to abide by laws passed by the European insititutions. For such countries to want to join the Union in the first place and for there to be any meaning to this promise, there must be solidarity between the member states, and an understanding that all must obey those rules, and that unhappy consequences will follow in the event of failure.

But countries continue to flaunt rules that contravene EU principles and legislation. They make a mockery of the EU system and they go unpunished. How is the EU to function if countries cannot be certain of its power? Obedient member states are effectively penalised for their good behaviour when other states are allowed to reap all the benefits of EU membership without having to respect less advantageoous conditions of joining the club.

Commentators have recently called for Mario Monti’s government to take urgent action against Italy’s discrimination against foreign lecturers.

The Italian laws on working conditions of foreign lecturers have been found illegal by the European Court of Justice six times. This alone must surely spell out the fact that there is a problem. As with any conglomeration of states, the EU is of course a volatile political cocktail, precariously balancing the interests of all. No country wants to step on the toes of another too much. But the EU must be effective if it is to deserve any respect and be taken seriously.

Flagrant disobedience of the type Italy showcases must not be allowed to continue, the EU institutions must assert themselves and honour the promises the EU has made to its members if it expects its members to do the same.