Thursday

21st Feb 2019

EUobserved

Renzi - reminding Europe of what it doesn't have

Well that was quite refreshing. In he bounded, the right side of 40, all grins and references to selfies and ancient philosophers, brash and self-confident.

Yes, it was Italian PM Matteo Renzi's first appearance in the European Parliament. Speaking without notes, he told his audience that Europe is moving at half the speed of the rest of the world, that its single-minded focus on financial spreadsheets has eviscerated its soul and that its face was tired and resigned.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He sounded like a man who was about to become president of the EU rather than just have his bureaucracy oversee the EU's law-making bureaucracy for the coming half year.

Riding the back of a strong victory in the EU elections, where a reform platform saw him win 41 percent of the Italian vote, his ebullience begs listeners to look at who he is sharing the EU stage with.

From the heart of the EU institutions there is Jose Manuel Barroso, on his way out as European Commission President. Change-with-the-wind pragmatic and making policy from the backfoot, he is likely to be remembered as presiding over a commission that slid down the institutional hierarchy.

Alongside him, in irascible tandem, is Herman Van Rompuy - an apologetic, haiku-spouting persona more comfortable outside the spotlight than in it. His main job has been to make what Berlin wants palatable for everyone else.

Which brings us to Europe's de facto leader German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Pushed into the limelight by the economic crisis, Merkel has shaped the EU's austerity-filled response to it. As the crisis has worn on, both the chancellor herself as well as everyone else has got oddly inured to the set-up. It's not a healthy situation for anyone (the latest deal whereby Berlin essentially nominated the next EP president as part of her governing coalition's balance of power was a case in point).

Germany's relative power used to be counterbalanced and hidden by France. Now Paris has all but disappeared from the scene. President Francois Hollande has become a side player, hobbled by terrible approval ratings, a stagnant economy and the far-right's win in the EU elections.

Of the other major countries in the EU, Spain's Mariano Rajoy has failed to make an impression while Poland's Donald Tusk, although making a name for himself as the EU's foremost proponent of energy union, is equally undynamic.

Meanwhile, the UK's David Cameron, in thrall to the hardcore eurosceptic element of his Conservative Party, hollers for reform but fails to spell out what "reform" means. The only certain element being that - whatever it is - it won't satisfy his party.

Awaiting us in autumn is Jean-Claude Juncker, who, whatever about his qualifications for the post as EU commission president, simply looks tired after a lifetime in politics.

Renzi is trying to change the narrative. He wants softer fiscal rules. He reminds that there is also a "growth part" to the stability pact. He told his own parliament that the EU is like a "boring old aunt" constantly nagging away.

His power should not be exaggerated. He is just one leader. And his political weight both at home, and especially abroad, lies with how much of his promised reforms he can achieve.

Still he reminds us what is missing from Europe and its leaders - verve, skill and self-confidence.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

News in Brief

  1. Tusk to back pro-EU candidates in Polish EP vote
  2. Germany rejects UK appeal on Saudi arms sales
  3. French senators decry 'dysfunction' on Macron security aide affair
  4. France to ban far-right groups over antisemitism
  5. Swedish climate activist to face Juncker in Brussels
  6. Swedish MEP calls for discussion on Orban in EPP
  7. EU countries back copyright reform
  8. Germany keeps EU commission in dark on Dieselgate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Microsoft warns EU on election hack threat
  2. Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting
  3. Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all
  4. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  5. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  6. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  7. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  8. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us