Politics & Economics

Who Commands in Europe?

January 2024
By Gianni Pittella

This article is also available in these languages

Who commands in Europe? There is no doubt that in the past, the engine of European integration was the Franco-German axis, often with significant contributions from Italy. In the pantheon of European builders, we find, not by chance, Kohl and Mitterrand, Colombo, Delors, Monnet, and Spinelli, and in more recent times, Merkel, Macron, and Draghi.

But today, the geopolitical landscape of the European Union has profoundly changed. The leaderships of France and Germany are objectively weaker, also due to the internal situations in their respective countries. Chancellor Scholz appears politically weakened by the public’s lack of approval for the coalition he leads.

And Macron recently had to change the prime minister and is besieged by the pitfalls of the left and the Le Pen right. In Italy, it is hard to imagine Premier Meloni rising to a leading role in Europe due to the historically skeptical culture, to use an understatement, because her idea of Europe is at most intergovernmental, not community-based.

Moreover, the Italian Prime Minister is repeatedly threatened by the open anti-Europeanism of Salvini, which she confronts, as occurred with the ESM, occupying the same space, not leaving the League leader the monopoly of anti-Brussels sentiment.

On the other hand, in Spain and Portugal, the two socialist leaders Sanchez and Costa, albeit in different situations and for different reasons, are dealing with significant political difficulties.

And from Eastern Europe come mixed signals: Tusk’s victory in Poland undoubtedly marks a point in favor of pro-European positions, but the block is not united, primarily due to the invasive and aggressive presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, who has even questioned the continuity of European aid to Ukraine.

In this moving framework, the decision of the current President of the European Council, Michel, to run in the next European elections, which would open the door for Orban to take over his role, albeit for a transitional period until the election of the new President, has given a powerful push.

Can this frayed situation of government leaders lead to a further weakening of the EU after the elections? It might! But the reduction of intergovernmental weight and command can also lead to a relaunch of the federal dimension, which essentially means that a European Parliament populated by authoritative and determined energies, a European Commission that strengthens its role in proposing and seeking agreements between Parliament and Council, following the experience of Delors and the positive action of Von Der Leyen, can become the community engines of integration. This is, of course, my hope.