EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni: A New Era For Italy?

Paolo Gentiloni's new European Commission post is a European challenge.

L’intervista del Presidente Gentiloni al TG1” by Palazzo Chigi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Paolo Gentiloni’s new European Commission post is a European challenge

It is not a secret that, since Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s new administration has taken up office, many things are going to change as far as the relationship with the European Union is concerned. In fact, while the former government was strongly critical of Brussels due to the League’s eurosceptic approach, on the other hand, the newly-formed Italian Cabinet is a firm supporter of the European institutions.

From such a perspective, it seems logical that the Prime Minister has appointed Paolo Gentiloni as the new Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner in the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen. Owing to his strong support for the European integration process, as well as to his mediation skills (which emerged during the Libyan and the European debt crises while he served as Italy’s Prime Minister from 2016 to 2018), he represented the best candidate for the position.

Gentiloni’s task looks challenging, bearing in mind Italy’s purpose: the Commissioner needs to provide more flexibility in order to kick-start investments. Although eurosceptic supporters may believe that the European bureaucracy “does not understand the Italian situation,” there is a little window at the moment. Von der Leyen has in fact reported a new course of action: unlike the office’s rigidity of her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, she is intended to respect the essential collegiality of the Commission and discover “the social value of the common currency.” This means basically no more unilateral vetoes and a greater flexibility when it comes to the rules.

The newly-elected President’s mission letter looks promising for the Italian needs. On one hand, Gentiloni’s work is going to be simpler than ever, thanks to the new pro-flexibility approach, but, on the other, the Commissioner’s purposes are linked to the slowed down economies in France and Germany.

David Sassoli and the parliamentary ‘battleground’

One of these is David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament and successor to Antonio Tajani. A historical anchorman for the evening edition of the RAI newscast, he joined the Democratic Party after its foundation in 2009, being constantly elected as MP from 2009 to 2019. His acceptance speech launched a strong message for a stronger European integration:

We must recover the spirit of the Founding Fathers, who knew how to put aside the hostilities of war, put an end to the failures of nationalism by giving us a project capable of combining peace, democracy, the rule of law, development and equality.

In recent months, too many have bet on the decline of this project, fueling divisions and conflicts that we thought were a sad reminder of our history. […] We must have the strength to relaunch our integration process, changing our Union to make it able to respond more strongly to the needs of our citizens.

Moreover, President Sassoli has announced that he will focus his office on climate change and on the reform of the Dublin Regulation, which does not allow an equal redistribution of migrants coming to Europe through Italy and Greece.

Federica Mogherini’s weakened leadership

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini holds one of the highest positions among Italian officers currently in the European Union. Between lights and shadows, her five-year term of post is coming to an end. Diplomats and coworkers depict her as a “gentle and cold woman”, quite thorough when working on her dossiers, but unsuccessful in handling the five major crises of the European Union: Brexit, US President Donald Trump’s isolationism towards NATO, migration and the situation in Ukraine.

For these reasons, she was blamed both by European countries and Italy. The former believe that she was too soft against Russia, as sanctions imposed for the illegal annexation of Crimea were considered too mild. In fact, it is believed that she did not want to hurt Italy’s interests, as our country is one of Russia’s most important commercial partners. Surprisingly enough, Italians have a negative opinion about Mogherini, because she wasn’t able to defend their interests in Europe.

It should not be underestimated though that her role is extremely hard, due to the root structure of the European Union: since it is a hybrid between an international organization and a federal state, it is quite difficult to enforce a common external action for 28 member States having different interests and priorities.

In any case, it is worth highlighting that an Europhile policy may lead to positive outcomes. Gentiloni’s post in the European Commission should not be underestimated, as his economical role would be pivotal for a new era of flexibility in Europe. But while Sassoli looks extremely focused on bringing on the foreground the two key points of Conte’s policy, namely migration and environment, Mogherini’s position crashes with an European institution that is not yet ready to have a concrete and common foreign policy.

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