March 2. 2024. 2:32

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The Brief — Will the Franco-German tandem get an Italian twist?

The EU’s leadership couple, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has gone through a rocky phase of relations lately, but an unexpected addition could shape a new power trio in Europe.

Not everyone in Europe was happy about the Franco-German dinner initiative with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Especially for Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the ad-hoc arrangement went too far, with her saying the format was outright “inappropriate” and should have been a ‘dinner for four’.

Rome pointed the finger at Paris, saying it is preventing Europe from having a “united” line on Ukraine, while the government’s critics reminisced about the bygone days when pro-EU technocrat Mario Draghi was in power.

Just shortly before, economy ministers of France and Germany met in Washington to discuss the consequences of the US Inflation Reduction Act – a meeting to which, again, Italy was not invited.

However, a possible shift may be on the cards.

For a while now, Paris has peeked at other potential EU leadership alliances: A brief Franco-Italian honeymoon looked promising but was cut short by Draghi’s fall and the election of far-right nationalist Meloni as the new Italian leader.

The new ‘Western’ constellation, some say, is largely also a result caused by the efforts of Poland and the Baltic states leaping into the political vacuum created in the wake of Russia’s war with Ukraine.

A German-Polish alliance is rather unlikely, especially after Warsaw’s push for World War II reparations and more importantly, given that the two capitals are not seeing eye to eye on speed and extension of military support to Ukraine.

The new Franco-German-Italian fraternity, however, could also be seen taking shape in an unlikely arena earlier this week.

Before Serbia and Kosovo were expected to endorse an EU-brokered agreement text to normalise strained relations at a high-level meeting in Brussels on Monday (27 February), Macron, Scholz – and Meloni – sent a joint letter to both countries to do so.

What was initially seen as an EU proposal, often wrongly described as ‘Franco-German’ (though officially supported by both countries), only recently got an Italian flavour, when Rome’s chief foreign policy advisor joined the latest efforts earlier this year in January.

EU officials, and not only them, were slightly bewildered by the push, with one confirming that Italy “is trying to be more visible” on the matter.

Rome’s influence in the region had for long been weakened by the country relying on an EU enlargement process that did not bring timely results.

It was new Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a veteran of EU politics, who declared that his country wants to be a protagonist in the region, with the term “enlarged Mediterranean” (“Mediterraneo allargato”) having become fashionable among politicians.

Both Meloni’s keen interest in Ukraine, with her recent cordial visit to Kyiv, and Rome’s rediscovered interest in the fate of the Western Balkans are seen as signs of a more strategic goal: breaking apart the Franco-German decision-making monopoly on foreign policy.

And it’s becoming more visible in other policy areas, too.

While Meloni is still struggling to discard her far-right image abroad, it remains to be seen if she will manage to impose herself as a serious Italian politician who can stay in power longer than some of her predecessors.

In this case, the new power triangle may actually survive.

The Roundup

The European Parliament and member states reached an agreement on Tuesday (28 February) to establish requirements for a European green bond standard, to prevent financial greenwashing.

One in three Ukrainian refugees now feel part of their host country’s community, but the same amount also wants to go home, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) ‘Fleeing Ukraine’ report.

Don’t forget to check out our Health Brief for a roundup of weekly news on healthcare across Europe, as well as the Green Brief for all things related to energy and environment.

Look out for…

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Stockholm, meets PM Ulf Kristersson, participates in working dinner with European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).
  • International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen visits Helsinki; meets with PM Sanna Marin.
  • Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis meets US Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen in Washington DC.
  • EU Competitiveness Council meeting.