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EU Summit: a flying meeting. EU 28 leaders’ agenda and the role of Italy

The heads of Government or State will convene on June 20-21 to define the strategic Agenda for the period 2019-2024 and take decisions on the appointment of the new heads of EU institutions. Will few hours be enough to relaunch the EU amidst mounting nationalisms? Which proposals will be put on the summit’s table by Italy’s PM Conte?

Less than a day. To be precise, 23.5 hours is the scheduled timeframe of the European Council meeting of 20-21 June according to the official program. EU 28 heads of Government and State will convene in Brussels to address – according to the registered agenda – a wide range of issues critical to the future of the EU integration. Even if the Summit lasted all night there would hardly be any time for reflection, discussion and decisions. There is a strong need for in-depth debates and farsighted resolve.

Work programmes. The website of the European Council states: “EU leaders will meet in Brussels to take the relevant decisions on appointments for the next institutional cycle and to adopt the EU’s strategic agenda for 2019-2024.” This “Strategic Agenda” (there is no shortage of pretentious language) “will be used to plan the work of the European Council, and will provide the basis for the work programmes of the other EU institutions.” Furthermore, EU leaders “will also revert to the issue of the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF)”, they will discuss “climate change ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019.” Furthermore, “in the context of the European semester, the European Council will also discuss the country-specific recommendations”, including an infringement procedure against Italy for excessive debt. In addition,  “the leaders will take note of a report on disinformation and elections.” Finally, on Friday, after the European Council,  “EU27 leaders will meet for a Euro Summit.”

Across the board. But there is more going on behind the scenes, where it’s clear for everyone that the summit cannot ignore the growing rifts on the nominations for EU “top jobs” i.e. the new heads of EU institutions (President of EU Council, Commission, Parliament, ECB, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs). The heads of Government and State will also have to take stock of the fact that a Member Country – the United Kingdom – is deadlocked re EU membership/exit. They cannot ignore the fact that the “strategy” for the future must concretely involve a multiannual budget commensurate with the challenges facing Europe. Indeed,  the budget reflects the course of action and the ability to deliver the results that 500 million citizens expect from the EU and its Member States. These results concern several areas including security and defence policy, migration management, economic competitiveness and employment, competition rules, banking union and the strengthening of the euro currency, the energy sector and climate change, public health and consumer protection, the creation of the planned “social pillar”, the problem of disinformation threatening European democracy, EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, the Union’s presence on the world stage, with a special focus on Africa and the Middle East.

Affinities and alliances. The leaders of acceding countries should seriously address these issues (and keep absent-minded public opinions alert), in terms of a rediscovered collaboration, in order to “team up” and jointly address these and other challenges Europe is faced with in the present historical phase. Yet clearly such a tight schedule will only allow enough time for the Council to draw a few superficial considerations and take an even small number of decisions, adjourning the most important ones. Perhaps the first thought of Presidents and PMs arriving in Brussels will be to share the cake of EU institutions leadership, forming alliances based on political affinities and concrete interests. In this respect Italy’s role is yet to be ascertained.

What are Italy’s future prospects? Clearly, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte is unlikely to be given a red carpet welcome. The pending infraction procedure for excessive deficit; the polemics against Community rules repeatedly sparked off by the two deputy-Prime Ministers; the outcome of the May 26 elections that identify Italy – whether or not corresponding to the truth – as “the most Eurosceptic country in Europe” risk cornering Italy at the negotiating table of EU28 leaders, where it’s (almost) sure to lose the leading positions the Country had obtained also thanks to the previous governments, namely, the President of the European Parliament, President of the Central Bank, High Representative. Italy’s new role in Europe depends on this weekend’s summit and on the daily life of politics that ensure that the Country remains (without isolating it) within the group of “European powers”.

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