Monday, June 24, 2024

Europe’s Voters (Especially Italians) Endorse Ukraine’s Friends

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Europe’s electors have backed Italy’s premier and other pro-Ukrainian parties and showed little affection for Russia’s friends within the European Union.

If Vladimir Putin hoped the European Parliament elections from June 6-9 would produce a victory for Kremlin-cuddling populist parties, he would have been disappointed.

While France has delivered a severe blow to President Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected European Parliament boasts a strong majority supporting Ukraine. The coalition backing Ursula von der Leyen’s leadership is now potentially stronger, especially given the success of Giorgia Meloni in Italy.

Indeed, Italy has probably confounded Russia’s expectations more than any other country. The Kremlin had heavily invested in disinformation campaigns in Italy, aiming to undermine Prime Minister Meloni’s credibility and bolster those favoring an imposed peace deal and opposing military aid to Ukraine.

The Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League were supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of this manipulative communication campaign. The former lost a third of its electorate, while the latter maintained its previous election results and fell far short of its impressive 2019 European election performance of over 30%. Both parties won less than a 10% share. In contrast, it was Prime Minister Meloni’s party that emerged victorious. Her undeniable success is complemented by the strong showing of Forza Italia, the Italian party aligned with the European People’s Party (EPP) and advocating pro-Europe and pro-Western policies.

Von der Leyen, in the immediate aftermath of the electoral results, expressed her satisfaction with the victory and her intention to lead a coalition with political forces that support Europe, the rule of law, and aid for Ukraine.

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Meloni could be a key player in this new political landscape. The Italian Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission have already demonstrated a willingness to collaborate extensively in recent months. During the election campaign, Socialists and Greens warned the EPP against an alliance with the Conservatives and Reformists led by Meloni. However, with the elections over, the focus must now shift to strengthening the European project.

The new Parliament will elect the head of the European Commission, a vote expected in September. Von der Leyen or her successor must first secure a majority and will then need to formulate policies that foster European growth and competitiveness. Expanding the majority group to include the Italian Prime Minister’s moderate right can help develop economic policies that are less skewed toward green demands and more focused on sustainable economic development.

The new Europe will need to manage its relationship with China firmly. Italy’s effective withdrawal from China’s Belt and Road Initiative last year was an eloquent example of political strength and determination. Similarly, von der Leyen needs Meloni’s mediation to maintain communication channels with Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. She played a key role in helping the latter find a face-saving path away from his maximalist demands on the $55bn aid package to Ukraine in February.

More broadly, Macron’s heavy defeats in France, chancellor Olaf Scholz’s embarrassment in Germany, and Pedro Sanchez’s poor outcome in Spain present another opportunity for Meloni.

Her challenge is to become a new leading and balancing force in Europe, much as Chancellor Merkel once was. The Italian government’s stability and pro-Western policies could be the most valuable insurance policy for the new European institutions; they certainly present a sharp rejection of Putin’s efforts to have Italy as a friend inside the EU. 

Paolo Messa is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. He was the chairman of the board of directors of Leonardo US Corporation, Inc. and executive vice president for geostrategic relations.

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe’s Edge

CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.


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