The mini-summit of European Union leaders at Versailles on Monday had all the hallmarks of a French initiative: an imposing setting and grandiose rhetoric aimed at confirming France’s role as a leader, when the fact is that Berlin’s has complete dominance over “united” Europe.
The outcome of the meeting was a decision by the leaders of France, Germany, Spain and Italy to create a “multi-speed Europe,” signaling the shift from a whole to parts that may ultimately lead to the block’s fragmentation.
However, of the four countries mentioned above, only Germany has any real economic clout. Italy’s economic situation is the subject of lament for seasoned analysts the world over, France’s performance in reforms and fiscal adjustment have been limited, and while there have been evident signs of a recovery in Spain, its role is clearly not decisive.
Given that the implementation of such decisions normally requires a lengthy gestation period, the Versailles mini-summit was badly timed. Nevertheless, it served a political purpose for at least one of the four leaders.
The message from the meeting had two parts: the first was a tacit confirmation that united Europe as we know it today has come to an end, and the second that it is now possible to secure faster progress for the most developed countries.
The intended audience of the latter part of the message is obviously the people of France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front is leading in the polls, but also the Germans, who have so far shown a worrying preference for the euroskeptic AfD.
The message is equally important for Italy, where the Five Star Movement and Northern League are animated by anti-European sentiment. The issue does not seem to concern Spain, which is the only country in Europe where the right has remained united and the radical left is no longer a significant threat.
Beyond the interests of political parties in this pre-election period, however, the conclusions at Versailles were mainly a strict warning to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, which, along with Austria, have angered German Chancellor Angela Merkel with their opposition to her policy toward migrants and refugees.
If, moreover, we assume that US President Donald Trump’s stance toward Russia is not about the change anytime soon, then the Visegrad Four may have to adapt to the European rules of political correctness. Maybe this is the big issue to have come out of Versailles.