An article by: Alessandro Banfi

From June 6 to June 10, 359 million Europeans in 27 countries will vote. What's at stake? The proposals from parties and candidates are often not truly alternative, at least in significant matters. The Three Graces version of The Economist and a candidate in the closet coined by Emmanuel Macron

A comparison of Brussels’s leaders reveals no major differences in foreign and economic policy

The Italian intellectual, philosopher Massimo Cacciari, has noted recently that Italians have a hard time interpreting this European election. The two leaders that the press and the right/left parties would like to confront, namely Prime Minister and leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, and Democratic Secretary Elly Schlein, on two points that seem fundamental – the new economic Stability Pact and foreign policy – are essentially of the same opinion. It is no coincidence that Meloni is not ruling out, after the June 6-10 vote, a new deal with retiring Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen, the same von der Leyen that Democrats have supported for the past five years. And, unfortunately, Italy is not an anomaly. If we focus on the so-called Spitzenkandidat (leading candidates) and their programs, the flavor of a choice that offers no real alternatives becomes continental. The official televised debate, organized in Brussels, brought together Ursula von der Leyen, the European People’s Party candidate seeking the endorsement, Italy’s Sandro Gozi of the Renew Party, the French formation led by Emmanuel Macron, Austria’s Walter Baier of the European Left, Terry Reintke, the German candidate of the European Greens, and Nicolas Schmit of Luxembourg, the candidate from the European socialists.

Two groups that emerged in the Strasbourg parliament representing the right-wing did not present candidates before the vote: the European Conservatives, which under the acronym ECR, unite the parties of Orbán, Meloni, and the Polish conservatives; and the Identity and Democracy group, which unites Matteo Salvini’s Italian League with Marine Le Pen. Germans from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party were recently expelled from this latter group after one of its members declared Nazism. Nonetheless, and this is also an anomaly, it is these two right-wing factions that risk having the greatest impact on the future balance sheet. The winds of the global electorate are blowing in those parts of the world, and everyone knows it. First of all, Ursula von der Leyen and the European People’s Party group, with its president Manfred Weber, are not too secretly preparing to replace the outgoing socialists in future alliances with conservatives led by Giorgia Meloni. This is the cover of the June 1 latest issue of the Economist, which re-publishes “Three Graces of the New Europe,” featuring three profiles: Ursula, Giorgia, and Marine. This decision is presented as a change that Europe needs. Or, rather, as a metabolization of sovereignty that will leave its mark on the elections: the economic and financial elites know that people will vote this way and are preparing to use this consensus to implement the same policies as in other phases. On immigration, the EPP has officially declared its support for asylum requests outside EU borders. This is what experts call the “externalization” of the migrant problem. Socialists and Greens are against it, but Renew is open to it. It is from this perspective that the trips to North Africa by the von der Leyen – Meloni couple should be interpreted. It is the Rwanda model that failed under British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and is being offered again in Albania, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia…

In foreign policy and the eastern expansion of the European Union, there are no notable disagreements between the various parties

Moreover, going back to the debate between the Spitzenkandidat, the distinction between different groups (and different candidates) in the programs is not very noticeable. In foreign policy, there is a general unanimous consensus along the lines of hard confrontation with Russia, alliance with Ukraine, and economic sanctions against Moscow. With different nuances, if not with the opposition, from right-wing groups (who, however, did not support the televised debate). Emmanuel Macron, together with Renew, would even like to increase the weight of foreign policy by creating a new super-European foreign ministry. Even on the issue of EU expansion, there is near unanimity.

Emmanuel Macron

The left, traditionally pacifist, have forgotten this calling, with the exception of the Spanish socialists led by Pedro Sanchez

There has been a very strong debate on the issue of rearmament. The political parties are, in a sense, inverted on this issue: the left, which have always had a pacifist and anti-war tradition, as Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish socialists still demonstrate, is strongly conditioned by Renew, the English Labor Party, the Green Germans who have instead decided to put on their helmets and turn the European Union into a mere continental branch of NATO. The right are more cautious about this, if only because of the sovereign-isolationist reflex.

What have the European left come to in recent years? The poor, the workers, and the rest are forgotten, with only battles for individual rights remaining

An example of this deep division between Europe and its role (historically an institution of peace and dialogue, the nature of which is very different from NATO) resurfaces again in the comments and statements of old leaders, the protagonists of other seasons. In particular, it is in France that this debate is most alive. This is no coincidence, as the Macron line would like to interpret this new phase as both neo-Gollist and “leftist.” In what sense? Having abandoned the social themes of protecting the poor, the poorest, and peace, these “leftists” have been reduced to defending individual rights. This is what Federico Rampini called the Left of Hollywood and which many years ago the philosopher Augusto Del Noce brilliantly defined as the “Mass Radical Party” that replaced the ICP. As proof of this, Macron wanted to enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution, even though the guarantee to women to use this instrument was in no way threatened, which remains a painful failure.

François Hollande fears that Europe will become just a big market with one currency. Nicolas Sarkozy asks: “How can European leadership be restored?”

In a recent interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, former French President François Hollande, who remains the socialist leader, said: “The extreme circles want to disempower Europe so that it remains a big market with one currency and nothing else.” It’s also very interesting what another former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, told the French newspaper Le Figaro a few days ago. Sarkozy stated: “If we wait for one side to kneel to end the war, we must prepare for an explosion with dramatic consequences. The world is dancing on the edge of a volcano. A mistake, an irritation, an ambiguity can set the stage for a catastrophic outbreak. It’s time to start talking seriously. How to create conditions for peaceful relations between Russia and its neighbors? How to restore European leadership? The only ones who really talk are the Chinese and Americans. We can’t think in binary terms. Being strong with Putin means taking the risk of direct and tough negotiations with him, rather than getting into a war spiral with unforeseen consequences. I have serious doubts about sending ground troops. I cannot allow Tolstoy’s country and Balzac’s country to go to war. Have we at least considered the consequences?”

As for the expansion of the European Union itself, Sarkozy is very critical. “This obsession with expansion is primarily American. Because the more Europe expands eastward, the more it weakens its autonomy while strengthening its American orientation. Moreover, Ukraine’s accession to the EU or NATO will in no way solve the country’s current problems with Russia. It is quite possible to ensure Ukraine’s security through very strong international guarantees and commitments without integrating it into NATO. Similarly, the EU can build a strong partnership with Ukraine that does not involve membership. Let’s not make the same mistake with Ukraine that we made with Turkey, promising it EU membership, which, in the end, no one ever believed in.”

Mario Draghi

Emmanuel Macron has a closet candidate: Mario Draghi, ready to enter the battlefield if the right and the people’s axis fails

Emmanuel Macron does have a viable candidate in the closet, as the Americans say. It’s not one of the three leaders of Renew. It is Mario Draghi who has already contributed the last part of the legislative assembly to the Commission headed by von der Leyen with prolonged work on European competitiveness, which, indeed, is almost a manifesto of economic policy. In Italy, while campaigning generously and personally on the list with Emma Bonino, this was often mentioned by Matteo Renzi, another former Italian prime minister who is resuming his Strasbourg activities. If the von der Leyen – Meloni – Le Pen axis for Ursula’s reappointment doesn’t work, Mario Draghi will be the natural candidate for a new socialist-people compromise with the blessing of Macron, the Liberals, and Renzi.

The remarkable fact is that European policy in terms of what matters rather than what is the alternative seems similar and convergent in both Mario Draghi and von der Leyen versions. In a sense, the leaders and the economic and financial elites have already “banished” the popular vote of the 359 million European citizens who will go to the polls in 27 different countries of the Union between June 6 and 10.

“Europe is Burning” is the title of a recent theatrical performance shown in Italy by Angela Dematté, centered on the figure of Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union: never has the title seemed more appropriate to reflect on the unresolved dilemmas of 75 years ago. What kind of Europe have we built if the most widespread are feelings of distrust of the Brussels bureaucracy and a new form of isolationism?

The European Plan of the 1950s was a great impulse to overcome borders, nations, barriers, and customs in the name of peace, as well as cultural, social, and economic cooperation among the peoples of the continent. Today, it is hard to see who else can promote this great concept that our increasingly multipolar world needs.


Alessandro Banfi