Ursula von der Leyen, Giorgia Meloni, and Marine Le Pen.  Why Europe’s future may depend on them

Ursula von der Leyen, Giorgia Meloni, Marine Le Pen – these women will largely shape the balance of power on the European scene and the direction of EU policy. After the European Parliament elections, it will be clear whether stable leadership will be maintained and to what extent the populist far-right will gain a say. We explain why Europe’s future may depend on these three women.

Ursula von der Leyen is a German politician from the conservative (center-right) Christian Democratic Union party. On the European level, he is in the ranks of the European People’s Party.

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He has been president of the European Commission – the executive body of the European Union – since 2019 and is running for a second term. He is behind the group’s strong collective response to Russia’s unlawful attack on Ukraine. At a crucial moment, she helped deepen European integration, including by pushing for a pioneering program of joint EU debt issuance. It placed the European Commission at the center of decision-making at a time when Franco-German relations were not going well.

Now, in light of the current challenges, the need for strong and unified leadership in the Union is greater than ever.

Ursula von der LeyenBab / EPA / Vasil Dunev

To remain in office, von der Leyen first needs the support of the leaders of the 27 member states. The European Council, which consists of them, submits a proposal for a candidate for the position of President to the European Parliament. Her election must then be approved by a majority of representatives in the European Parliament. The balance of power in the European Parliament is not yet clear, as elections are being held in all member states this week. More than 350 million citizens will be eligible to vote.

In theory, von der Leyen would be able to enjoy the support of conservative, liberal and socialist groups. However, these three sides of the political scene together are expected to win only a small majority of seats, and some of their constituent parties in the European Parliament may change which faction they belong to. Therefore, von der Leyen’s victory this time is not certain at all.

Something for something

This brings us to another woman who could shape Europe’s future. Giorgia Meloni will head the Italian government starting in 2022. He is also the leader of the right-wing Italian Brotherhood party, which has become a strong core of the ruling coalition.

Georgia MeloniPAP/EPA/Riccardo Antimiani

When Meloni took power, far-right parties across Europe welcomed her victory, expecting her to pursue a nationalist agenda and fight Brussels’ bureaucracy.

However, it did not choose to clash with the EU elites and surprised friends and enemies alike. It decided on close cooperation between European countries, in an attempt to bring together the center-right (which constitutes the main trend of European politics) and its conservative camp. It cooperated with the Commission, which played a key role in reaching an agreement on reforming EU asylum rules – after nearly a decade of failed attempts.

Meloni and her squad are expected to win the European Parliament elections. With her support, von der Leyen will have a better chance of winning a majority and retaining her position for another term. Meloni herself has already announced her support. If she actually supports the German politician and wins the race for the presidency of the European Commission, this will give Meloni influence over one of the most important leaders of the European Union. It will also increase her chances of winning an important Italian commissioner portfolio and strengthen her position.

The current Chairman of the Committee congratulates the Italian. – I worked very well with Giorgia Meloni – this is what von der Leyen recently confirmed during one of the debates. She also assessed Meloni as “clearly pro-European”.

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“Urban’s wizard” or his ally?

However, Meloni’s support for von der Leyen also has downsides.

While the ruling coalition in Rome is working to unite various factions of the Italian right-wing, Meloni’s chances of doing the same in the European Parliament appear slim. Von der Leyen and her allies have already announced that they will not cooperate with extremist factions, including Matteo Salvini and the League (the League is represented in the European Parliament and is a member of the government coalition in Italy). The situation is similar with regard to the far-right populist French National Rally party. Its face is former president Marine Le Pen, although the group is currently headed by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella.

Most importantly, this frequency is mutual. Therefore, the Commission President’s endorsement of Meloni and the idea of ​​reaching an agreement with the formation of the Italian Brotherhood angered other parts of the European establishment, including politicians from Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the rebirth of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Many accuse the Italian Prime Minister of her relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and some of her opinions, accusing her of racism. They remind us that she compared the European Union to the Soviet Union.

However, there is something that greatly distinguishes Meloni from people like Le Pen and Salvini, who are closely associated with Vladimir Putin. She has been actively involved in providing ongoing support to Ukraine and has criticized Russia.

Western leaders offer support to Ukraine on second anniversary of Russian invasionReuters archive

She also traveled with von der Leyen to North Africa three times, and signed agreements with Egypt and Tunisia. These documents included provisions aimed at halting the departure of migrants from these countries and helped reduce the number of new foreign arrivals to Italy by 58 percent this year.

A senior EU leader who spoke informally to Reuters said Meloni remained “far-right” but had adopted a pro-European approach because Italy was heavily indebted and could not stand against countries that provide financial security to Rome.

Regardless of her motives, Giorgia Meloni has turned out to be a very important player on the European stage, including: helping to convince Orban to agree to an aid package for Kiev and supporting the migration deal with the European Union. An EU official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that the Commission had communicated with the Hungarian leader mainly through Meloni. Thanks to this, she was given the nickname “Urban’s Witch.”

Moreover, reaching an agreement with him may bring an additional benefit: dividing the populist right between its more moderate and extreme factions.

Here comes Marine Le Pen’s role. The nationalist National Rally party is also expected to win the European elections. For many years, the politician headed the group and formed it after taking over the leadership role from her father. In the fall of 2022, she resigned as president, and was replaced by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella. But she remained the undeniable face of the party and president of the National Rally Club in the French parliament.

Although she tries to portray herself as a mainstream politician, it is difficult to ignore her xenophobic views and weakness toward Russia. In the European Parliament, he wants to create a group of far-right nationalists capable of shifting the European Union’s course to the right significantly. This group could include, for example, the Hungarian Fidesz party. Le Pen hopes that cooperation with Meloni will help build such an extremist front.

Marine Le PenPAP/EPA/Andre Payne

However, had Meloni moved towards the centre, the plan drawn up by Le Pen, among others, would have failed. This could lead to the fragmentation of the far right. The failure of Le Pen’s attempts to gain a strong position may reduce her attractiveness as a candidate in the French presidential elections within three years.

The Economist, BBC, Reuters

Main image source: PAP/EPA

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