The internal war in Europe between Giuseppe Conte and Mark Rutte seems to have reached a turning point. The European Council on the Recovery Fund, one of the toughest that the recent history of the EU remembers, could reach the notorious turning point shortly, with Angela Merkel who for the first time said she was optimistic about the possible solution. But the diplomatic boxing match that took place between Rutte and Conte was also the symbol of another theme that was only touched on by European politics: the very survival of the Franco-German-led Union. A real problem, covered by the singular challenge between Italy and the Netherlands, but which is actually the stage on which this great show that took place in Brussels is played. The real issue is not the Recovery Fund, but what is really important for keeping a project alive on which France and Germany have invested everything.
Only by answering this question can we understand why no one has been able to take the Dutch claims head on or accept the Italian requests. A deafening silence that has its roots in a terror, that of a new “exit”, which for some time has hovered like a ghost between the Elysée and the Bundeskanzleramt and was about to manifest itself precisely in those Netherlands which now represent the thorn in the side of Europe.
To understand this silence swollen with fear, we have to go back in time, when Rutte won the elections by cornering Geert Wilders, the nationalist bogeyman of Holland. After the “populist” wave represented by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Rutte’s ability to curb the rise of Wilders by imposing a liberal majority caused a sigh of relief to rise in half of Europe. The chancelleries of the continent, in particular Berlin and Paris, understood that for a few years the life of Brussels would return to being slightly less complicated, especially in view of the very difficult negotiations on Brexit. And although Rutte has always said of not wanting to be too adherent to the Franco-German plan, for Berlin and Paris it has always been worth an idea: better than Wilders, at any cost.
The problem is that this “Whatever the cost” now it is represented by a political quagmire that risks collapsing the spell conceived by the Franco-German axis itself. Rutte made Merkel and Macron nervous, as they face a deal they wanted to close as soon as possible. And they see that Europe is breaking apart before their eyes just when this is happening Next Generation Eu it was to be the flagship of the post-pandemic crisis management coordinated by France and Germany. A real danger for the Aachen axis, which however confronts an even greater threat to the EU, the risk that Wilders will load his weapons and hit the Netherlands of Rutte a few months before the elections. Everyone knows that the Prime Minister of the Netherlands is doing all he can to get Wilders out of favor, blowing on the fire of the most Eurosceptic electorate in Holland and to the right of the Prime Minister’s party. But to ensure that the nightmare does not come true, they must grant a victory to the Dutch hawk by being able to return him to the Hague in triumph with a more than satisfactory result for his country.
The risk at this point passes entirely into the hands of Italy, which in an imaginary return of Rutte to his homeland would represent the enemy in chains to be dragged under the triumphal arch. And Conte, in this sense, would become the hunting trophy of the frugal block.
A real gamble for Franco-German Europe: to disavow Rutte by rewarding the pure loyal Count or to accept Dutch requests by handing over the Italian prime minister to a political “firing squad” that would risk dropping the pro-EU born government on the ashes of the yellow-green government? A disturbing crossroads. But the fact that a real condemnation of Rutte (not publicly) has not arisen from the two EU leaders while clear warnings have come to Conte can be a clear enough signal to which side the Franco-German decision. And the reason is that while Rutte is currently the only brake to a possible Dutch nationalist turn, Conte is not the real “emergency” brake to the Italian populist drifts.
It is true that Rutte has not given much support to the European Union, quite the contrary. But on the other hand, Conte is a premier of a weak majority who no longer enjoys the extreme trust that Merkel or even the French hierarchy had granted him. The reforms that do not come, the Mes tailored to Italy’s yellow and red color and not accepted, and the political wave on the guarantee nothing in Berlin except a political and ideological loyalty to the EU dream. Too little for a Germany that wants the facts (its facts) and that for now wants to close at all costs an agreement that would represent Merkel’s victory in her six-monthly EU presidency. And in any case, Rutte who wins against Wilders, who makes the EU survive also bothering the Italian “cicadas” and that “helps” the German electorate to accept Recovery, after all it is a far lesser evil than a Netherlands in the grip of Eurosceptic logic. Conte has promised to do his homework, but apparently it may not be enough for a Merkel who, like Cronus, devours her children. And Michel’s draft, which will serve to ensure that Conte’s image is not destroyed to avoid the collapse of the Italian front, will serve above all to make Rutte happy. Which has already won, in any case, the image war as leader of a new post-Brexit Europe in which The Hague stands as new London.