With the election of Joe Biden in the US, moderate and progressive leaders have been winning back space on the world stage. They mark a departure from the Trump-esque brand of leadership and autoreferentiality, impacted by the pandemic reality check.
In a time when global collaboration seems to be the only way out of dire straits, these leaders hold similar views on multilateralism and global cooperation. It’s therefore unsurprising that moderate European politicians have been praising Mr Biden’s calls for a “summit of democracies,” to be called shortly after his inauguration.
As explained by Lionel Barber, former editor-in-chief of the Financial Times, in an interview to the Italian daily la Repubblica, Mr Biden and like-minded democratic leaders “have an enormous job [ahead]: to save liberal democracy from nationalism and populism. Today, this is the duty of progressives, and essentially of all liberals.”
After that, Italian governmental leaders began publishing their own op-eds on la Repubblica in quick succession – and, tellingly, they all struck similar chords with regard to Mr Biden, progressive policies, and what they mean for the future.
“Europe awaits [Mr] Biden on the new progressive avenue,” wrote Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the Democratic Party. He foresaw the possibility of a new Europe, one reinforced by the joint response to the pandemic and a like-minded American ally.
Then came Matteo Renzi, leader of Italia Viva, who spoke of Italy’s need to proactively rise to the challenge of “the new page that President[-elect] Biden’s victory opened for Italy and Europe.”
Finally, foreign minister Luigi Di Maio – former head of the biggest party in government, the Five Star Movement – also sent an open letter to Repubblica, detailing what may well be his most progressive op-ed to date.
This is a far cry from his party’s political history, as well as his own. The 5SM had campaigned against the “global establishment” in the past, when it governed Italy together with the ultranationalist, Eurosceptic League.
Since then, however, the minister’s views have been steadily moving towards a more traditional, multilateralist, and Atlanticist stance. In his own words, it’s time to “overcome the old ideological fences” – and perhaps he was speaking to his own reluctant party.
In his op-ed, Mr Di Maio spoke of multilateralism as “perhaps the only [way] of tackling present and future global challenges.” He mentioned that Italy’s pillars of foreign policy were the EU and NATO, two international organisations and harbingers of stability.
Then Mr Di Maio struck a Biden-like tone, remarking the “moral duty” to “build back better.” He referred to Italy’s role, as upcoming head of the G20, to underscore that the green economy will be the “cornerstone” of the future.
However, there are those in Europe that simply cannot trust the 5SM. “The Five Star, Biden, the EU… I’m sorry, I really cannot find a common thread,” quipped Philippe Lamberts, president of the Green Party at the European Parliament, when interviewed by Formiche.net.
The Belgian politician argued that Mr Di Maio said relatable things, but that as key member of the current Italian government, he didn’t seem to put his money where his mouth was: “why didn’t they invest in the environment? It doesn’t seem to me as if they’ve done much during the past year.”
He also remarked that both the 5SM and the Democratic Party – the second-biggest governing force – had displayed the tendency to make poor use of public funds, which ended up either wasted or blocked by bureaucracy.
Then Mr Lamberts examined what he perceived to be a lack of democracy in the very constitution of the 5SM, and especially the party’s peculiar online platform, which is operated by a private company. This, among other reasons, is why the 5SM is not in a European political group such as the Greens: not for lack of trying, but for incompatibility.
Nonetheless, the leader of the Greens voiced his cautious optimism about the impact of the Biden administration. “The signals that [Mr] Biden launched up to now are encouraging,” he said, mentioning his promise to re-enter the Paris climate agreement. And on foreign policy, “perhaps this is the right occasion for the EU to move as one.”