The Brief — A Europe without leaders

The Brief — A Europe without leaders |

Sunday’s election in Italy marks the rise of the far-right – in itself a worrying development – but also the decline of leadership in Europe, with all three of its biggest economies now unable or unwilling to lead the continent through its most fundamental crisis of the decade.

It is hard to imagine today that less than half a year ago, everything pointed in another direction. A renewed push for European integration and reform by France, Germany and Italy – which many analysts already called the new triangle of European leadership.

After Emmanuel Macron won the presidential election in France, it seemed that for the first time in decades, the three biggest member states were rowing in the same direction and pushing for EU reform – or even a European Federation.

Today, things are seemingly reversed. Macron lost his majority in the French assembly only a month after his reelection, making him dependent on the goodwill of the far-right or the far-left – neither exactly fond of the EU and its institutions – to push forward, or torpedo, his initiatives.

Germany, on the other hand, is busy dealing with its own problems. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has triggered a profound identity crisis in Europe’s largest economy. While Germany’s self-perception in international relations has been driven by pacifist ideas since the Second World War, this has completely changed due to the war.

The Zeitenwende that Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in February does not only mark a shift in military spending – with Germany earmarking €100 billion for its military in the coming years – but also at a strategic level.

With Berlin busy redefining its role on the international level, it hardly has the capacity to take the lead in the EU.

In Italy, the shift has been the most obvious and dramatic.

While former prime minister Mario Draghi was considered the most pro-European prime minister in decades, his likely successor – the right-wing radical Giorgia Meloni – has pledged to shift power back to the nation-states.

With Italy becoming more critical of the EU, France increasingly dependent on the opposition, and Germany unwilling or unable to take the leadership role, the question remains: Who will benefit from this vacuum?

One possible outcome – the European institutions – sounds counterintuitive, but they could in the end benefit from the indecisiveness of the biggest members.

However, the European Commission in particular would only be able to fill this void as long as the next Italian government does not push too hard against its initiatives and takes an approach of verbal, rather than actual, opposition to its policies.

Also likely to profit are the eastern European member states.

They were the ones sounding the alarm about Russia’s geopolitical ambitions long before the onset of war and are now advocating the hardest to curtail Russian imperialism by any means possible, which puts them in a good position to push forward their own agenda.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recognised their importance in her state of the union speech, when she emphasised that the EU should have listened more to its Eastern members on how to deal with Russia.

However, there is, of course, a third, more pessimistic scenario: One of stagnation, lack of overall leadership and political disarray.

Should the next Italian government fraternise itself with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán and start pushing hard against any form of joint action on the EU level, Europe could be in trouble.

“Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises,” Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers, once said.

The next couple of months will be crucial to see what these solutions will entail.

Today’s edition is powered by the European Commission’s Employment and Social Rights Forum

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Register now >> The Roundup X France will work with the future Italian government while monitoring respect for European values, says French Secretary of State for Europe Laurence Boone.

MEPs criticised European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde for the bank’s role in the fight against inflation, which some lawmakers called misguided and “behind the curve”.

Romanian grain producers warn an influx of Ukrainian grain via the EU’s so-called ‘solidarity lanes’ is pushing them to bankruptcy, but the Commission insists it has no negative impact on the single market.

Europe was racing on Tuesday to investigate possible sabotage behind sudden and unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Sanctioned Belrusian oligarch Mikalai Varabei (Nikolay Vorobey) continues to be linked to multiple properties in Austria, according to a new investigation published on Tuesday.

EU financial support for Palestinian NGOs and intergovernmental organisations operating in the field has emerged as a sticking point for relations between Brussels and Tel Aviv, with EU-funded organisations complaining of obstacles to their operations.

Finally, don’t forget to check out the latest Transport Brief: The tragedy behind road safety statistics.

Look out for…

  • The College of Commissioners presents its recommendation on a minimum income.
  • Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski launch Biomethane Industrial Partnership.
  • International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Renaud-Basso sign Financial Framework Partnership Agreement between Commission and EBRD.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]


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