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Will Rome provoke Brussels by proposing Giorgetti for Commissioner?

In the foreground the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini. Behind him is Giancarlo Giorgetti, the man who Salvini is considering to propose as Italian commissioner [personal archive]

Italy is about to provoke Europe by proposing a Commissioner know as a sceptic with regard to the single currency. Each member state has the right of having a commissioner, and Italy will table its proposal as all other countries. The difference is that the name that is being circulated in the last days is not an easy one to be approved by the European Parliament.

The leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, is considering putting forward Giancarlo Giorgetti for the post. Of course “the captain” is free to propose whoever he wants, but it is first the new Commission chief, and then the EU Parliament to approve or reject the proposals. The problem with Giorgetti is his unclear position regarding the Euro. Since the Plenary will be controlled by the pro-European forces (EPP, S&D, RE and the Greens), a candidate of dubious European commitment would be never backed by a strong pro-European majority.

How are the Commissioners appointed?

According to the EU rules and the EU procedures, commissioners are appointed after having received the green light by the European Parliament. Just like the president of the European Commission, candidates for the remaining Commission portfolios have to go through a tough parliamentary vetting process too.

The Council, in agreement with the Commission President-elect, adopts a list of candidate commissioners, one for each member state. It is up to the national governments to propose suitable people. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently disclosed he had rejected several candidates in 2014, in an effort to achieve a better gender balance. A second level is the European Parliament.

The Commissioners-designate appear before parliamentary committees in their prospective fields of responsibility. Each committee then meets to draw up its evaluation of the candidate’s expertise and performance, which is sent to the President of the Parliament.

The European Parliament has the power of rejecting the selected candidates. The directly elected EU institution has more than a formal role to play. On the contrary, MEPs can veto a proposed candidate and oblige member states to put forward another name.

Towards a new Italian story?

In 2004 Italy was at the heart of a European political accident. At that time, the freshly elected new president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, included the Italian Rocco Buttiglione on his list of nominees for the European Commission, with portfolio Justice, Freedom and Security.

Buttiglione was a prominent figure of the Catholic political party named the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC). This party was in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and together they won the 2004 European elections. Before his hearing in the European Parliament, Buttiglione made remarks on homosexuality, which he defined as “sin”. Such a statement sparked outrage among the MEPs, who voted against the appointment of the Italian.

Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister of that time, decided to withdraw the nomination of Buttiglione. The latter was then replaced by Franco Frattini, who became the Italian Commissioner in the Barroso Commission.

Now, fifteen years later, comes Giorgetti. The two ruling parties, the League and the Five Star Movement (M5S), reached the agreement by which the EU post will be occupied by one of Salvini’s men. The latter made clear that Giorgetti is a worthy candidate.

Is that really so? Giorgetti took in the past very critic positions regarding the single currency. In a public TV debate he said that the introduction of the Euro caused major problems for pensions and public wages. Furthermore, according to him, the single currency didn’t bring any additional economic power to citizens who, on the contrary, became poorer.

Currently serving as Secretary of the Council of Ministers in the government of Giuseppe Conte, Giorgetti, aged 52, doesn’t seem to benefit from a good start. His reputation appears to discredit him outside Italy. Especially in a moment where Italy is asked to provide certainties and clear signs of pro-EU commitment, Giorgetti’s personal past cannot convince the “fab four” (EPP, S&D, RE and the Greens) to endorse him.

Italy has been claiming economic portfolios, but it is hard to imagine that such a request could be positively answered if the country wants to give the EU economic policies in the hands of a person who doesn’t believe in them.

Will Salvini try to play this card? According to the very popular principle in negotiations “nothing is agreed until is agreed”. So, we will see. The risk is a negative vote of the European Parliament, with a political confrontation between Rome and Strasbourg. It would be better to avoid such tensions.

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