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Macron’s re-election and “good debt” to relaunch European autonomy and economy

“A new era”, announced Emmanuel Macron under the Eiffel Tower, a few minutes after his re-election as President of the French Republic. Victory rhetorics aside, when reiterating his commitment to provide effective answers to issues related to social hardship and environmental crisis, he referred several times to Europe – actually, better: “our Europe”.

Indeed, Macron’s re-appointment at the Élysée Palace has dissipated the threat of the EU really imploding. Although it’s true that the pressure exerted by a right-wing, sovereignist and populist public opinion remains alarming – more than 40% – it’s also true that the path to relaunch the European strategy towards greater and better integration – along the axes of France, Italy, Spain and Germany – can be resumed with renewed energy and a more resolute will. Good news, in a period so heavy with tension and rifts, starkly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war caused by Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

Three action plans can be glimpsed on the horizon: the EU’s strategic autonomy, contingent on defence and energy; the critical reconsideration of the Stability and Growth Pact with a view to further flexibility; a European foreign policy that, even if channelled through a consolidation of the transatlantic alliance, could offer new opportunities for dialogue with other major international – Mediterranean and global – actors. These are complex, difficult, arduous, controversial yet feasible undertakings. Macron’s pro-European France, together with the authoritativeness acquired by Italy under the dual leadership of Mattarella and Draghi, are today the most reliable drivers to achieve these aims.

Debate in Brussels and in other main European capitals is raging, focused on strategic autonomy, and as such on defence and energy themes (including the repercussions, also entrepreneurial, on topics such as environmental and social sustainability and the technological innovation, the twin – green and blue – transition). And the notion of launching, after the EU Next Generation Recovery Plan implemented to deal with the pandemic crisis, a new European fund that, backed by the EU guarantee, would gather resources on the international markets to be invested in non-repayable grants – rather than repayable loans – is gaining momentum. Of course, reservations (from Germany, above all) and opposing views (from the so-called “frugal” countries obsessed with the possibility of Europe further falling into debt) are not lacking, and the debate that we can already sense will be very intense. Yet, lately, Northern European countries are precisely those who are developing a heightened awareness of how vital and urgent a rapid introduction of tools that can safeguard us from Russian pressure has become. Moreover, the recent decision by Sweden and Finland to join the NATO supports this trend towards security. Is the notion of a European army becoming a real possibility? Not just yet, though it’s clear that some steps forward in the achievement of a shared defence strategy are being taken.

A stronger, more autonomous Europe, then, and as such more assertive and open to dialogue.

Further steps forward are also being taken to reconsider the Stability and Growth Pact, which was suspended after the pandemic crisis and which, in any event, many countries – Brussels, France, Italy, Spain and (with some caution) Germany – no longer judge feasible if applied under the same terms, defined just about 30 years ago, by the Maastricht Treaty.

Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, offers some significant cultural and political support: “The Stability and Growth Pact is no longer reasonable for many of the countries that are heavily indebted, such as Italy. In order to increase investments, more flexibility is required.” (a quote from Il prezzo del futuro (The price of the future), by Alan Friedman, published in Italy by La nave di Teseo).

Yellen, indeed, reiterates the need for public investment in infrastructure and innovation, citing as an example the current economic policies implemented by Washington, and makes it clear that “borrowing is justifiable when funds are employed for development and a more productive economy.” This is clearly in tune with the neo-Keynesian distinction between “good debt” (namely, innovation and productivity) and “bad debt” (feeding the current welfarist public spending driven by political patronage and corporations) advocated by Mario Draghi. The path we need to take in order to make Western economies more robust and competitive is clear. And, with regard to major international players (like China, primarily) such competitiveness would also become very valuable in terms of strategic autonomy and security. Basically, everything’s interconnected, and the positive impact on market economy, the international standing of Italian businesses and the authoritativeness of Western democracies are all part of the same discussion – soon to be rekindled and relaunched – on how to achieve new balances and better globalisation governance (a “selective re-globalisation”, to use a term currently recurring in economic debates).

The third theme we referred to at the beginning lies precisely here. We are not witnessing a “decline in globalisation”, but a critique of the bias inherent to globalisation, as well as its radical realignment – through tragic events such as the war in Ukraine and other heavy strains felt in various parts of the world, from the Middle to the Far East – as well as new possibilities for reform. And it’s precisely in these conditions, when fragile and unstable balances could easily and dramatically shatter, that we need to reconsider the political value of dialogue. There are topics – the environment, food, water, health, individual and social rights – that should only be contemplated within a global framework that we need to re-establish. Indeed, the response to the pandemic crisis, involving open scientific, medical, technological collaboration, has provided positive indications on which we need to rebuild – and the EU’s decision to take care of the next generation is a good starting point.

“A new era”, announced Emmanuel Macron under the Eiffel Tower, a few minutes after his re-election as President of the French Republic. Victory rhetorics aside, when reiterating his commitment to provide effective answers to issues related to social hardship and environmental crisis, he referred several times to Europe – actually, better: “our Europe”.

Indeed, Macron’s re-appointment at the Élysée Palace has dissipated the threat of the EU really imploding. Although it’s true that the pressure exerted by a right-wing, sovereignist and populist public opinion remains alarming – more than 40% – it’s also true that the path to relaunch the European strategy towards greater and better integration – along the axes of France, Italy, Spain and Germany – can be resumed with renewed energy and a more resolute will. Good news, in a period so heavy with tension and rifts, starkly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war caused by Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

Three action plans can be glimpsed on the horizon: the EU’s strategic autonomy, contingent on defence and energy; the critical reconsideration of the Stability and Growth Pact with a view to further flexibility; a European foreign policy that, even if channelled through a consolidation of the transatlantic alliance, could offer new opportunities for dialogue with other major international – Mediterranean and global – actors. These are complex, difficult, arduous, controversial yet feasible undertakings. Macron’s pro-European France, together with the authoritativeness acquired by Italy under the dual leadership of Mattarella and Draghi, are today the most reliable drivers to achieve these aims.

Debate in Brussels and in other main European capitals is raging, focused on strategic autonomy, and as such on defence and energy themes (including the repercussions, also entrepreneurial, on topics such as environmental and social sustainability and the technological innovation, the twin – green and blue – transition). And the notion of launching, after the EU Next Generation Recovery Plan implemented to deal with the pandemic crisis, a new European fund that, backed by the EU guarantee, would gather resources on the international markets to be invested in non-repayable grants – rather than repayable loans – is gaining momentum. Of course, reservations (from Germany, above all) and opposing views (from the so-called “frugal” countries obsessed with the possibility of Europe further falling into debt) are not lacking, and the debate that we can already sense will be very intense. Yet, lately, Northern European countries are precisely those who are developing a heightened awareness of how vital and urgent a rapid introduction of tools that can safeguard us from Russian pressure has become. Moreover, the recent decision by Sweden and Finland to join the NATO supports this trend towards security. Is the notion of a European army becoming a real possibility? Not just yet, though it’s clear that some steps forward in the achievement of a shared defence strategy are being taken.

A stronger, more autonomous Europe, then, and as such more assertive and open to dialogue.

Further steps forward are also being taken to reconsider the Stability and Growth Pact, which was suspended after the pandemic crisis and which, in any event, many countries – Brussels, France, Italy, Spain and (with some caution) Germany – no longer judge feasible if applied under the same terms, defined just about 30 years ago, by the Maastricht Treaty.

Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, offers some significant cultural and political support: “The Stability and Growth Pact is no longer reasonable for many of the countries that are heavily indebted, such as Italy. In order to increase investments, more flexibility is required.” (a quote from Il prezzo del futuro (The price of the future), by Alan Friedman, published in Italy by La nave di Teseo).

Yellen, indeed, reiterates the need for public investment in infrastructure and innovation, citing as an example the current economic policies implemented by Washington, and makes it clear that “borrowing is justifiable when funds are employed for development and a more productive economy.” This is clearly in tune with the neo-Keynesian distinction between “good debt” (namely, innovation and productivity) and “bad debt” (feeding the current welfarist public spending driven by political patronage and corporations) advocated by Mario Draghi. The path we need to take in order to make Western economies more robust and competitive is clear. And, with regard to major international players (like China, primarily) such competitiveness would also become very valuable in terms of strategic autonomy and security. Basically, everything’s interconnected, and the positive impact on market economy, the international standing of Italian businesses and the authoritativeness of Western democracies are all part of the same discussion – soon to be rekindled and relaunched – on how to achieve new balances and better globalisation governance (a “selective re-globalisation”, to use a term currently recurring in economic debates).

The third theme we referred to at the beginning lies precisely here. We are not witnessing a “decline in globalisation”, but a critique of the bias inherent to globalisation, as well as its radical realignment – through tragic events such as the war in Ukraine and other heavy strains felt in various parts of the world, from the Middle to the Far East – as well as new possibilities for reform. And it’s precisely in these conditions, when fragile and unstable balances could easily and dramatically shatter, that we need to reconsider the political value of dialogue. There are topics – the environment, food, water, health, individual and social rights – that should only be contemplated within a global framework that we need to re-establish. Indeed, the response to the pandemic crisis, involving open scientific, medical, technological collaboration, has provided positive indications on which we need to rebuild – and the EU’s decision to take care of the next generation is a good starting point.