Italian Presidency of the EU: trying hard not to disappoint
During the second half of 2014 Italy will hold the Presidency of the EU. It will do so with a mixture of ambition and realism.
For Italy, the next six months at the helm of the EU will be an opportunity to continue the steady ongoing process of regaining credibility and weight at the EU level. The last Italian Presidency even produced a catastrophic start, with the infamous clash between the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Socialist MEP Martin Schulz in the European Parliament. Prime Minister Renzi has promised that this time Italy will be doing things very seriously. Nothing less is expected from one of the founding states originally behind the European project.
The circumstances in which Italy assumes the EU Presidency are delicate. The EU is trying to regroup after the harsh blow of European elections marked by the surge of Eurosceptic and anti-EU parties. Secondly, while a new European Parliament is ready to resume its crucial role of co-legislator, a number of MEPs will have to find their way in their new job, with time being required for the institution to get up to speed on the dossiers. Additionally, a new European Commission will start to operate effectively only at a late stage in the year. This transitional phase will increase the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the Presidency, while reducing its room for manoeuvre.
The main actions foreseen
The Italian Presidency has made it clear that growth will be at the heart of its term in office. Apart from the linked references to it in a number of key areas (e.g. migration, climate, civil law, the digital agenda) the more flexible implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact and the definition of the framework for the continuation of the Europe 2020 Strategy are to be considered as central priorities for the presidency. In the same broad context one could include the intention to have employment, and in particular youth employment, as the ‘legacy theme’ for Italy’s presidency (hence the rescheduling of the relevant Summit for the end of its term).
Another key element is in the insistence on the need to open a discussion on economic policies, possibly leading to their reorientation (Italy has the situation of SMEs particularly in mind). The Italian Presidency is generally interested in a more stable, integrated and solidarity-oriented economic and monetary union.
First-hand experience of what it means to be on the border of the EU gives Italy the required background to drive the debate on solidarity/burden-sharing as for migration and asylum, as well as on tackling irregular migration. Italy promised to keep cooperation on the matter high on the agenda, although with what results it remains to be seen. The attention devoted to trafficking in human beings is to be appreciated, as is the pledged support for initiatives on mutual recognition of national asylum decisions. Concerning the linked external dimension of EU policies, the Mediterranean has been hinted at as the centre of the focus.
The most stimulating (but also arduous) element is Italy’s stated intention to push for support for the construction of a ‘political union’. The Italian Prime Minister is convinced of the need for institutional reform, claiming that the EU is not working any longer as it is and that it must ‘change’ if it wants to save itself.
The Italian Presidency also aims at achieving ‘substantial progress’ on the ‘Data protection package’, a dossier that will still demand an intense effort. More generally, it will contribute to the implementation of the new Strategic Guidelines on justice and home affairs.
The 2030 climate and energy framework has also been identified as an important element.
Finally, Italy will have a fundamental role in the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now at a rather advanced stage.
Hopes for a positive impulse
The Italian proverbial ‘art of finding a way’ could be an asset at the EU level, where complex and headache-inducing negotiations are the order of the day. This factor, combined with the dynamic approach of Prime Minister Renzi makes the next Presidency one to look forward to.
The transitional period for the EU institutions will take its toll, but the particular credibility with which Italy can speak about issues like migration and employment will boost the premises of the Presidency. The boldness and directness shown on more political and institutional areas is also an indication of the energy Italy will channel into its mission.
One can only hope that achievements on the part of the forthcoming Presidency will contribute to sweeping aside the wind of negativity that is blowing at the moment on the European project, helping EU citizens to rediscover the importance and added-value of the European Union.