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Ursula von der Leyen, Giorgia Meloni and Marine Le Pen. Why the future of Europe may depend on them

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Ursula von der Leyen, Giorgia Meloni and Marine Le Pen – these are women who will largely shape the balance of power in the European arena and the direction of EU policy. After the European Parliament elections, it will be clear whether stable leadership will be maintained and to what extent the populist far-right will gain a say. We explain why Europe's future may depend on these three women.

Ursula von der Leyen is a German politician from the center-right, conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In the European field, he is in the ranks of the European People's Party (EPP).

READ ALSO: Eurosceptics are breathing down their necks and the future is uncertain. We tell you what to pay attention to >>

He has been the head of the European Commission – the EU's executive body – since 2019 and is running for a second term. It is behind the Community's decisive collective response to the unlawful act Russia's attack on Ukraine. At a crucial moment, it helped deepen European integration, including by pushing for a groundbreaking program for issuing common EU debt. It placed the European Commission at the center of the decision-making process at a time when Franco-German relations were not going well.

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Now, given the current challenges, the need for strong, united leadership in the Union has never been greater.

Ursula von der LeyenPAP/EPA/VASSIL DONEV

To remain in office, von der Leyen first needs the support of the 27 leaders of the member states. The European Council, composed of them, submits a proposal for a candidate for president to the European Parliament. Her election must then be approved by a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament. The balance of power in the European Parliament is yet to become clear, as elections are taking place this week in all member states. More than 350 million citizens will be eligible to vote.

Theoretically, von der Leyen will be able to enjoy the support of conservative, liberal and socialist groups. However, these three parties together are expected to win only a small majority of seats, and some of their parties in the European Parliament may change their party. Therefore, this time von der Leyen's victory is not certain at all.

Something for something

This brings us to another woman who could shape the future of Europe. Giorgia Meloni will lead the Italian government from 2022. He is also the leader of the right-wing Bracia party Italianswhich became a strong core of the ruling coalition.

Giorgia MeloniPAP/EPA/Riccardo Antimiani

When Meloni took power, far-right parties across Europe welcomed her victory, expecting her to pursue a nationalist agenda and fight the Brussels bureaucracy.

However, it did not choose to clash with the EU elites and surprised both friends and enemies. She decided on close cooperation between European countries, trying to combine the center-right (which is in the mainstream of European politics) and her own conservative camp. It engaged with the Commission, which played a key role in reaching an agreement on reforming EU asylum rules – after almost a decade of failed attempts.

Meloni and her formation are expected to win the European Parliament elections. And thanks to her support, von der Leyen would have a better chance of winning a majority and retaining office for another term. Meloni herself has already declared her support. If she actually supported the German politician and she won the race for the head of the European Commission, it would give Meloni influence over one of the most important EU leaders. It would also increase her chances of winning an important portfolio for the Italian commissioner and strengthen her position.

The current head of the Commission compliments the Italian. – I worked very well with Giorgia Meloni – von der Leyen recently assured during a debate. She also assessed that Meloni is “clearly pro-European”.


“Orbán's charmer” or his ally?

However, Meloni's support for von der Leyen also has its downsides.

While the ruling coalition in Rome is uniting various factions of the Italian right-wing, Meloni's chances of doing the same in the European Parliament seem slim. Von der Leyen and her allies have already declared that they will not cooperate with extreme factions, including Matteo Salvini and his League (the League is represented in the European Parliament and is a member of the government coalition in Italy). The situation is similar with regard to the populist, far-right French party National Rally. Its face is the previous president Marine Le Penalthough the group is currently led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella.

Importantly, this reluctance is mutual. Therefore, the Commission head's favor towards Meloni and the idea of ​​reaching an agreement with the Italian Brothers formation outraged other parts of the European establishment, including politicians from the ruling Social Democratic Party. German (SPD) and from French President Emmanuel Macron's Rebirth.

Many people accuse the Italian Prime Minister of her relationship with the head of government Hungarian Viktor Orban and some of her views, accusing racism. They remind us that she compared the EU to the Soviet Union.

However, there is something that significantly distinguishes Meloni from people like Le Pen and Salvini, who are closely associated with Vladimir Putin. Actively participated in providing ongoing support Ukraine and criticizes Russia.

Western leaders extend support to Ukraine on the second anniversary of the Russian invasionReuters Archive

She also traveled with von der Leyen to North Africa three times, signing agreements with Egypt and Tunisia. These documents included provisions aimed at stopping migrant departures from these countries and helped reduce the number of new foreign arrivals to Italy by 58 percent this year.

A senior European Union leader, speaking informally to Reuters, said Meloni remained a “radical right-winger” but adopted a pro-European approach because Italy was heavily in debt and could not stand against countries that provided financial security to Rome.

Regardless of her motivation, Giorgia Meloni turned out to be an extremely important player on the European arena, including: helping to convince Orban to agree to an aid package for Kiev and support the EU migration pact. One EU official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Reuters that the Commission communicated with the Hungarian leader mainly through Meloni. Thanks to this, she was nicknamed “Orbán's charmer”.

Moreover, reaching an agreement with it could bring an additional benefit: dividing the populist right between its more moderate and extreme factions.

This is where Marin Le Pen comes in. The nationalist National Rally party is also expected to claim victory in European elections. For many years, this politician headed the group and shaped it after taking over the leadership role from her father. In the fall of 2022, she resigned as president, who was replaced by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella. However, she remained the undeniable face of the party and the head of the National Rally club in the French parliament.

Although she is trying to portray herself as a mainstream politician, it is difficult to ignore her xenophobic views and weakness for Russia. In the European Parliament, he wants to create a group of far-right nationalists that could significantly shift the EU's course to the right. This group could include, for example, the Hungarian Fidesz. Le Pen hopes that establishing cooperation with Meloni will help build such an extreme front.


However, if Meloni had moved towards the center, the plan devised by, among others, Le Pen would have failed. This could lead to the fragmentation of the far right. The failure of Le Pen's attempts to gain a strong position could also reduce her attractiveness as a candidate in the French presidential elections in three years.

The Economist, BBC, Reuters

Main photo source: PAP/EPA

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