„I ask myself: how do national political systems respond to the need to produce collective goods (growth, inclusion, security)? Looking at the experience of two countries that are comparable to us (France and Germany), the answer is as follows: through the formation of a political centre that is favourable to the integration project.“

Let’s start with France. Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the recent presidential elections was made possible by the activation of a political centre in favour of the “European France“. It was a narrow centre because, in that country, anti-European positions proved strong on both the right and the left (in the first round, Marine Le Pen got 23.15% and Jean-Luc Mélenchon 21.95% of the vote).

Faced with a challenge supported by almost half of the electorate, the pro-European political area had to go beyond the old divisions between centre-right and centre-left to unite in Emmanuel Macron’s centrist movement. His La République En Marche (LREM) is not a party but a coalition of social groups, economic interests, local political notabilities, and pieces of traditional parties. In France, the preeminent political division is not between left and right, but concerns the relationship with the European Union (EU). The programmes of Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are the expression of two ideologically opposed poles, yet both want to satisfy domestic social needs independently of the logic of European interdependence. They say, ‚French first‘, but what would happen if each country said ‚my citizens first‘? The result would be the dissolution of the single market (which works as long as there are supranational rules accepted by all the countries that are part of it), as well as the end of the monetary union (which requires a common co-responsibility among the various countries of the Eurozone to guarantee its stability). The pro-European centre has also responded to the needs of national voters, but has placed their satisfaction in the context of European interdependence. A given policy (e.g. on pensions) is not right or wrong in itself, but is so in relation to its feasibility in the context of that interdependence. Here, it is not a question of exiting a European policy regime in order to fulfil a national need, but of reforming that European policy regime to make it compatible with all national needs.

Let us turn to Germany. In this country, since the population that disavows the unity of the integration project is a minority, the pro-European centre is wider, thus allowing for greater programmatic differentiation within it. According to a recent Politico poll, the sovereignist right wing of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) represents just over 10% and the sovereignist left wing of Die Linke just under 4% of the electorate. If this is the case at the next elections (2025), Germany will be able to return to a competition, within the pro-European centre, between centre-right and centre-left coalitions, with programmes that will come to terms with the effects of the pandemic and Russian revanchism. This will be possible because, in Germany, the pro-European centre is broad, not narrow as in France. From Freie Demokraten (Christian Lindner) to Die Grünen (Annalena Baerbock), all parties are aware of the importance, for their country, of the coherence of the single market, the stability of the common currency, the necessity of the Atlantic alliance.

Democrazie sotto stress Europa Italia America (Paolo Gentiloni)
Sergio Fabbrini is author of several books about European policy.

If we consider the Italian context, it looks more like the French rather than the German one. Since a considerable part of the Italian electorate harbours anti-European sentiments (the sovereignty of the right and left, plus that of the Five Star movement, has a consensus equivalent to or greater than that of France), it is likely that the defence of „European Italy“ will lead to the formation of a centre made up of a coalition of centre-left and centre-right parties (or parts of them), representing economic and social interests that could not grow outside the single market and in the absence of monetary stability. However, a country split in half, between pro-Europeans and sovereignists, is not good news. A sovereignist victory would be seen as a leap in the dark (a leap we were about to take after the 2018 elections), not unlike how a communist victory was seen in the past. Above all, that division would freeze the political competition that Italy would need to bring fresh air into government and society. Such competition will only be possible if the sovereignists rework their strategy, accepting the unity of the integration project, thus preserving the single market and monetary union (as well as the supremacy of European law, albeit in specific fields). On this basis, much can be revised, starting with the competences to be assigned to member states and Brussels.

In short, if we look at the political system, its ability to produce collective goods depends on the characteristics of the centre that supports or accepts the EU. The wider that centre is, the more open the competition within it will be. Although close to Paris, it would be desirable for Italian politics to move in the direction of Berlin.

Sergio Fabbrini (born 21 February 1949) is an Italian political scientist. He is Dean of the Department of Political Science and Professor of Political science and International relations at Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli in Rome, where he holds the Intesa Sanpaolo Chair on European Governance. He has also the Pierre Keller Visiting Professorship Chair at the Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government (2019/2020). He is the co-founder and former Director of the LUISS School of Government. He is also recurrent professor of Comparative Politics at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

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