View from Rome: Europe is alive but needs to kick

Bratislava is the perfect opportunity for Europe’s leaders to live up to their responsibilities in delivering concrete responses to Europe's challenges.

The Bratislava summit is attracting a lot of attention and expectations in Italy. There will be several hot topics on the table, from Brexit to climate change, which also took centre stage at the last G20 Summit in China.

But Bratislava will not be just a matter of topics, it will also display two different European visions that now confront each other: flexibility vs rigor, and it will be interesting to see if the preparatory bilateral work bears fruits.

PM Renzi has been particularly pro-active in this preparatory work. He met with Merkel and Hollande in Europe’s cradle, Ventotene, with Merkel again in a recent bilateral in Berlin, and with the leaders of southern Europe in Athens. 

In Ventotene the big three (Renzi, Merkel and Hollande) re-convened in the same format as they did the day after the UK referendum. It looks like the trio has become a sort of caucus ahead of European Council meetings. The message was, again, clear: Brexit is a fact, we need to move ahead and look to the future. For Renzi, Brexit is the result, rather than cause, of Europe’s problems. This outlook stresses the need to reinvent the Europe we want and start serious discussions about job creation (especially for the youth) manufacturing innovation, renewable energy, the digital agenda and migration, with the emphasis on re-creating a positive narrative around the European project. 

With Merkel, the PM discussed the need to find a compromise on austerity vs flexibility, while in Athens, the need for Southern Europe to defend the anti-austerity front and to put the Mediterranean and the Africa-Europe cooperation at the centre of European politics was paramount.

In Bratislava, Renzi will reiterate that Brexit is already part of our reality, but that it is not the end of Europe. Europe is still alive, but it needs to kick and to kick hard on at least four fronts: growth, youth, security and migration. For example, Brexit could be an opportunity for the creation of a Schengen of Defence, focusing on internal and external security, coordination and integration of the national defence industries, and sharing of intelligence. 

Renzi aims to come back from Bratislava with two main outcomes: a constructive discussion on austerity measures and a reallocation scheme for migrants. While the latter is not currently accepted by Eastern European member states, Renzi’s migration compact is still on the table and there is at least some possibility of agreement on some of the proposals contained within it. 

But there is another topic that will be very important in Bratislava, and this is climate change. In Italy, at the governmental level, there is an awareness that Europe, a traditional champion of the environment, cannot lag behind her partners. Brazil, the United States and China(!) have recently announced ratification of the Paris Agreement and Canada will soon follow suit.

The only European MS that has done so is, not surprisingly, France. But Europe cannot remain silent and certainly cannot bear the responsibility for the Agreement not entering into force. If Europe loses her vision of a cleaner, safer, more sustainable future, then it loses the foundation of her values. In this respect Bratislava could be the opportunity to see member states change the procedure and ratify all together. 

Once again, difficulties could open up to opportunities for Europe, and there is a need to move from fears to concrete answers for European citizens. For Renzi, Bratislava is the perfect opportunity for Europe’s leaders to live up to their responsibilities in delivering these answers.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office

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