Troika the key to EU integration
Both Brexit and protectionism have strengthened the bloc, experts say
MILAN — France, Germany and Italy have roles to play in weaving a stronger and more tight-knit European Union in the wake of divisions over Brexit, the economic crisis, and migration, experts said at a roundtable organized by the Institute for International Political Studies, a Milanbased think tank.
The three countries were founding members of the EU in the aftermath of World War II, along with Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. While France and Germany differ in their selfperception and in their ways of wielding power, they are both exercising leadership within the EU, and Italy risks being marginalized if its coming government fails to engage in the dialogue, the experts said at the forum held in Milan on Monday.
ISPI Director Paolo Magri said that the worst of the divisive economic and migration crises is over, while paradoxically Brexit, US President Donald Trump’s protectionism, and other international pressures have brought the EU closer together.
“Thanks to Trump’s threats we have seen a dynamic EU going around the world making trade agreements with the Mercosur (South American trade bloc), Canada, and Japan,” Magri said.
“This is the time for a jump forward — for a return to a logic of cohesion after so many divisions,” he said. “And it is a fact that very little happens in the EU in terms of progress if France and Germany aren’t on board.”
Beda Romano, the Brussels correspondent for Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, agreed that both Brexit and Trump have strengthened the EU.
“In one way or another, the UK has always been an obstacle to European integration, especially on defense and security,” Romano said. “The Brexit could free up a greater desire for integration in the rest of the Union.”
Also paradoxically, the advent of the “unpredictable, isolationist and protectionist” Trump presidency has been good for the EU, Romano said. “American policy is a source of concern in Brussels, and it is coagulating the EU-27 on trade and more,” the journalist said. “American isolationism has reawakened Europe’s desire to stick together.”
However, the journalist was pessimistic on the prospects for further European integration because “the weakness of some countries is a serious problem”.
He pointed to Germany’s “politically weak” brand-new coalition government, to Spain’s battle with its independence-minded Catalonia region, and to Italy, which still lacks a government and where the last election delivered relative victory to two euroskeptic parties.
Lucio Caracciolo, editor of influential Italian geopolitics journal Limes (meaning “border” in Latin), said that Germany and France are too different from one another for a cohesive vision of Europe to emerge from their partnership.
A world power
While Germany remains the central European power in terms of the size of its economy and its population, France is a world power, and more importantly, sees itself as such.
“France has a capacity to project strength and will to power that Germany and Italy don’t have,” said Caracciolo.
“French will probably become the second most-spoken language on the planet in the second half of the century thanks to rapidly growing francophone populations in Africa,” Caracciolo said.
Also unlike Germany and Italy, France does not have a demographic problem because its population is relatively young and growing. Caracciolo said he doubts that French President Emmanuel Macron’s outspoken vision of a sovereign and federalist Europe with an integrated fiscal system run by an EU finance minister will get past Germany, which has “let it be known” that it does not look favorably on altering current EU monetary and fiscal policies.
However, Michele Valensise, a former Italian ambassador to Germany and ex-Foreign Ministry undersecretary, saw grounds for a strong FrancoGerman entente capable of driving European integration to the next level. It is true, he said, that France and Germany see themselves very differently.