To vote for or not to vote for her? That is the question for the Italian sovereignist and anti-system members of the European Parliament. On Tuesday 16 July the hemicycle will have to express its verdict on Ursula von der Leyen, the president-designated of the next European Commission, as proposed by the head of state and government after a long summit that ended on 21 June.
According to the treaties regulating the functioning of the EU, the European Council (head of State and government) propose the name of the new European Commission’s chief, and the European Parliament must vote the proposal. Never a candidate for the top job of the EU executive has been rejected. The guarantee has been the political agreement reached among the different parties before the vote in the Plenary.
This time the political agreement found by the leaders pose an embarrassing problem for the two Italian ruling parties and their MEPs. The Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte decided to approve Von der Leyen, at the summit. Logic would suggest that Italian MEPs from the ruling coalition respect his decision, but the situation is not that simple.
The biggest problem is for the League
Matteo Salvini’s the League never had a pro-European approach. The right-wing party was and still is EU-critic, eurosckeptic, and basically hostile to the Union. Some who believe that the League wants to destroy the EU, while politicians from the League claim they want to build a different Europe. In this sense, Von der Leyen is considered as the defender of the “status quo”. Nevertheless Conte gave his green light, and this is why there are problems. To vote against Von der Leyen would mean showing that Conte has no power over the ruling parties. This would add to Conte’s already poor credibility at home.
Last February Guy Verhofstad, then the leader of the European Liberals, labeled Conte “a puppet” in front of the Plenary. Apart from being an offence, these remarks showed that the Italian prime minister is not credible also in Europe.
On the other hand, a positive vote is also a problem for the League. The problem is purely domestic. The League promised Italians to change Europe, and Italians massively supported Salvini’s party. If the League votes in favour of Von der Leyen, what could they explain to voters? How to tell them that despite the big noise and the many slogans, MEPs from the League backed a leader who is not a real game changer?
There is another element to make the situation more complicated. The League was victim of the “cordon sanitaire” built by the pro-EU forces against the eurosceptics and sovereignists. MEPs from the League were prevented to occupy presidencies and vice-presidencies of the parliamentary committees. MEPs from the League denounced the anti-sovereignist move. Can they now vote for an EPP designated candidate when the EPP was among the political group to set up the ‘cordon sanitaire’? In case, the problem would be once again to provide explanation to voters. The League is considering the possibility of taking its “revenge” by not voting for von der Leyen.
No problems for 5 Stars
For the Five Star Movement (M5S) the situation appears to be less problematic. The vice-president of the European Parliament, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, together with the head of the M5S delegation, Tiziana Beghin, made positive remarks. In particular, they commended Von der Leyen’s commitment for a European minimum wage. They considered this commitment as “important”, and in fact it is. The idea of European minimum wage matches perfectly with the Italian measure of a new citizenship income, promoted by the Five Stars. Now the Movement can claim to have set a good practice for the rest of the EU.
When it comes to M5S, it must be recalled that Castaldo’s re-election at the post of vice-president of the European Parliament was possible thanks to the support of the major political groups. It means that Christian-democrats (EPP), the socialdemocrats (S&D) and the liberals (RE) voted for him. It is thus possible to imagine that the Five Star will give something in return for that.
Last but not least, Giuseppe Conte is closer to M5S than to the League. It is then licit to suppose that MEPs from the Movement don’t want to disavow their prime minister by voting against Von der Leyen.
The situation is not easy for the two Italian ruling parties. Our guess is that both the Movement and the League will support Von der Leyen, in the end. After all Italians have short memory, they use to forget about everything. And when in a near future things might turn bad, the sovereignists and the anti-system will resume the blame game against Europe.