The Italian Presidency of the Council of the Eu: A zero sum game

1 Dicembre 2014

On the 1st of July 2014, Italy assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for six months. With the Partito Democratico obtaining almost 41% of the vote at the last European Parliamentary (EP) elections, party leader and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was expected to use his political leverage to set an ambitious agenda. In this respect, the timing of the Italian Presidency seemed very convenient for the country to uphold a set of political economic reforms to strengthen growth and employment. Facing an unemployment rate of 12.6%, Italy aimed at partially overcoming all those strict austerity policies deemed to have blocked southern European way towards economic recovery, by launching a reform of the Stability and Growth Pact. Yet, despite an initial sets of actions, Italy seems far from having delivered concrete results.

The Italian Presidency succeeded in its efforts to reach consensus among member states around the EU budget for 2015. Still, even if the budget, now ready for vote at the EP, will increase total national payments of 3.3%, only 12% of the total resources will be invested in economic growth and jobs. On the other hand, under the Italian Presidency, the European Commission has effectively run the 7th round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations (TTIP) with the USA. In this frame and in response to growing public disappointment towards the European lack of transparency, Italy has obtained the declassification of the TTIP negotiating directives by member states.

Setting aside the economic agenda, Italy has paved the way for a more effective European immigration policy. The new Triton operation, launched on the 1st of November, will allow European member countries to engage in a mutual protection of external borders by embracing the principle of non-refoulement. Yet, Italian attempts to galvanize solidarity towards its Mare Nostrum immigration plan were dropped and Triton has not overcome the limits imposed by the Dublin 3 regulations, which forbid refugees to leave the State that granted them the asylum. Italy has also not secured its affairs with Russia, with which it used to have very close economic synergies and political dialogue. For instance, during the “ASEM-Summit” held in Milan on 16 October, Italy failed to promote reconciliation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result, diplomatic relations between Russia and Europe are now considered to be almost back to the level registered during the Cold War era. 

To date, with only two months of Presidency left, it seems that Italy has not been always successful in addressing Europe’s main economic and political issues nor has it effectively endorsed its own national interests through coherent actions. Yet, the Italian term was not an easy one. With a fragmented European Parliament, divided between europhile and eurosceptic forces and an entirely new Commission taking office, Italy had not only to deal with Europe’s economic recession but also with the Ukrainian crisis, sanctions and counter-sanctions vis à vis Russia, conflicts and slaughters in the Middle East. Moreover, Italian political actions at EU level were not highly publicized at national level. Internal matters have been of dominant concern to the media and news were almost monopolised by the nomination of Federica Mogherini as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Hence, until now, the Italian Presidency’s performance was often hidden from public criticism, resulting in feeble political pressure to deliver more valuable results in a reasonable timeframe.

 See: Tribuna Economica, pp.8

TAG: europa
CAT: Governo

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