The EU Chooses Its Leaders While Italy Abstains

Spotlight on the European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels, which opened to decide on the appointments of the highest European offices for the next five years. The package proposed by the majority that emerged victorious from the European elections was approved for a second term of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission. Also confirmed were the appointments of former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa as President of the European Council and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. While the appointments of Costa and Kallas are final, von der Leyen will need to be approved again by the European Parliament, where the majority controls a narrower number of seats (about 400 out of 720) compared to the outgoing Parliament.

The process, however, was not without discussions, primarily involving Italy. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which includes FdI, was largely sidelined in the negotiations over the EU’s Top Jobs, not being effectively consulted in the talks. Meloni decided not to support the agreement, abstaining from voting on von der Leyen’s appointment and voting against Costa and Kallas. “The proposal formulated by the Populars, Socialists, and Liberals for the new European leaders is wrong both in method and substance. I decided not to support it out of respect for the citizens and the indications that came from those citizens through the elections. We continue to work to finally give Italy the weight it deserves in Europe,” said Prime Minister Meloni. However, several international media outlets reported Ursula von der Leyen’s intention to negotiate directly with Meloni for the future majority, not as the leader of the EU Conservatives but as the Italian Prime Minister, to discuss the portfolio reserved for Italy in the next European Commission.

On the international scene, eyes are also on two other noteworthy events, geographically distant but equally important. On Thursday, the first highly anticipated televised debate between the two main candidates for the U.S. presidency, incumbent President Joe Biden of the Democratic Party and former President Donald Trump of the Republican Party, took place. The debate, organized by CNN and lasting about 90 minutes, was commented on by all U.S. and international newspapers as very disappointing for Biden, who is now at a significant disadvantage compared to the Republican opponent. Biden needed to demonstrate that he is sharp, capable of leading, serious, and presidential, but he had a hoarse voice and lost track of his thoughts multiple times, appearing overall hesitant and uncertain. Conversely, Trump appeared much more responsive and aggressive toward Biden, capable of articulating his discourse, although he confirmed – as the media noted – his tendency to spread false or highly questionable news. The second debate between the two is scheduled for September 10, but the American President’s performance in this confrontation has opened – or perhaps made explicit – a discussion within the Democrats about the possibility of replacing Biden with a candidate to be chosen by party delegates during the summer convention. However, even if they wanted to proceed in this direction, Biden would need to choose to withdraw, a possibility he has so far refused to consider.

Also on Friday, Iranian presidential elections are taking place following the sudden death of President Raisi in a plane crash. The vote is happening against the backdrop of growing internal discontent, deep voter disinterest, and strong regional turbulence. For years, voters have expressed their disillusionment with the system and leadership by abstaining from the polls. Not surprisingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for strong voter turnout, while various figures like activist Narges Mohammadi (Nobel Peace Prize in 2023) have called for a “boycott” of the vote. Voter turnout will be an important factor to consider as a measure of internal legitimacy and regional balance.