Roberta Metsola in Rome. On Friday, the President of the European Parliament touched down in the Eternal City and met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, as well as the Presidents of the Senate and Lower House, Ignazio La Russa and Lorenzo Fontana.
- While meeting with the Italian Head of State, Ms Metsola “reiterated that Italy will always be a driving and constructive force in Europe. Together we are stronger.”
- The original plan featured a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who had to cancel all of the week’s appointments because she had fallen ill. Nevertheless, Ms Metsola’s visit (and messaging) was about the country’s role within the European Union.
Looking at EU. European citizens will vote for their next Parliament in 2024, which will likely result in a different Commission – impacting the bloc’s political direction. And Ms Metsola, a member of the European People’s Party, might just be the right place to start looking.
- There have long been talks of a growing entente between the leaders of the EPP and the European Conservatives and Reformists, the European party headed by PM Meloni. Some within the EPP are wary of the ECR’s more conservative tilt, but others recognise it as a natural, up-and-coming partner.
- The EPP has been steadily losing power in European capitals, going from 17 affiliated State leaders in 2014 to just 7 in 2021.
- Meanwhile, Ms Meloni’s electoral success in September and consistent approval rating indicate that conservative parties in Italy – and elsewhere in Europe – might regain ground in the 2024 elections.
- A possible Metsola-Meloni axis might work like this: the former gets BoI’s future votes to succeed Ursula Von der Leyen at the helm of the Commission, while the latter gets to strengthen her network of allies in the EU.
Signals and wildcards. On Thursday, speaking of the EU’s plan to phase out internal combustion engine cars in 2035, Business Minister Adolfo Urso noted that Brothers of Italy, the PM’s party, was already preparing at the European level to fight the regulation “with the right alliances.”
- Consider that Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, an EPP member, is a junior partner in Italy’s coalition government – a national alliance that mirrors how the EPP and ECR might work together at the European level.
- There’s a wildcard in the mix: Mr Berlusconi himself, who is being widely criticised (including within the EPP) for his latest pro-Putin tirade. EPP leader Manfred Weber announced the party would cancel an upcoming meeting in Naples as a consequence…
- …but nevertheless announced “full support” for Forza Italia and its political leader, current FM and deputy PM (and former European Parliament President) Antonio Tajani.
Repurposing European funds. On Friday, the Italian government approved a decree that increases the PM’s control over the European funds being distributed to Italy through the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. By meeting all milestones so far, Rome has secured over €85 billion out of the nearly 200 it’s owed by 2026, but it’s increasingly behind schedule – and struggling to use the money.
- Under the new decree, PM Meloni will set up a dedicated unit within her office and entrust it with the implementation of the NRRP, replacing the oversight office set up by her predecessor Mario Draghi.
- Officials told Reuters the move “signals [the PM’s] goal to bring the decision-making process for the plan into the hands of her top aides.”
- Meanwhile, European Minister Raffaele Fitto is working to renegotiate with the European Commission some aspects of the NRRP to take into account the impact of the increased prices of energy and raw materials to build new, greener infrastructure.
- Theoretically, that’s envisioned under the RePowerEU plan – geared at ending Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and accelerating the renewables transition. For instance, repurposed funds could be redirected to building a hydrogen link from Northern Africa to mainland Europe – and Italy is already working on bridging the two.
Meloni’s endgame. The Italian government plans to exchange its greenlight to expand State aid – which the EU needs to match American and Chinese subsidies on cleantech – with more flexibility to use the NRRP funds, as Minister Raffaele Fitto explained.
- All sounds well and good, but the new decree could still become a matter of contention between it and Brussels, as it essentially changes the framework agreement Rome had already agreed upon – and drawn money from.
- Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni recently said that the EU will allow tweaks to specific NRRP projects but won’t permit big overarching revamps. As such, PM Meloni risks running afoul of European institutions – and perhaps eliciting a legal fight.
- Ultimately, how the Italian government manages this touchy issue will either disprove or cement Ms Meloni’s capacity to influence Brussels. Watch this space.