Troika the key to EU in­te­gra­tion

Both Brexit and pro­tec­tion­ism have strength­ened the bloc, ex­perts say

China Daily - - WORLD -

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.

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