The upcoming European elections will determine the next European Parliament, but the real competition for the EU’s economic future lies in the debate between two competing visions, writes Stefano Feltri. One vision, represented by Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi, calls for a radical departure from the EU’s traditional approach to prioritize strategic autonomy and industrial policy, while the other, championed by Enrico Letta, argues for strengthening the single market and addressing its shortcomings to shape globalization and ensure security through fair competition.

Editor’s note: We would like to foster a debate here in ProMarket about the future of competition policy in Europe in advance of the upcoming EU parliamentary election in June. Readers are invited to contribute to this debate. Pitches may be sent to

The European elections that will take place on June 8 and 9, 2024, will define the composition of the next European Parliament. However, the real competition for the economic future of the European Union happens in a different realm that excludes EU voters. 

EU citizens will have to choose among parties with different ideas on anything from the Ukrainian war to the fiscal discipline of Member States. EU political leaders face a dilemma between an incremental approach that adapts traditional EU tools and institutions to a more fragmented and hostile geopolitical context and a radical departure from the path that EU institutions and leaders have followed in the last thirty years. 

If we want to personalize the two different strategies, French president Emmanuel Macron and former ECB president Mario Draghi embody the first approach, while former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta and the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pursue the “more of the same” approach. 

Seven years after his first speech at the Sorbonne University, on April 24 President Macron presented his view on the future of the EU: as he still has three years in power, Macron has already started to focus on managing his legacy rather than on delivering what he promised at the beginning of his second mandate. 

With no stable majority in the Parliament and challenged by the increasingly popular Rassemblement National far-right, Macron is forced to downplay his ambitions at home. However, at the EU level, the French president has proved to be the only leader with the ambition to shape the evolution of the European project. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is too busy to survive the domestic political and economic quagmire to pretend to play a significant role in Bruxelles, as his predecessor Angela Merkel has done for almost 15 years. 

On the one hand, Macron’s ideas on the future of Europe follow the French tradition that started with General Charles De Gaulle in the 1950s: European integration should prioritize the creation of continental industrial champions, with the ambition to compete at the same level as their United States — and now Chinese — counterparts. The defense industry should be the core of this EU industrial policy, as long as French corporations and institutions lead the consolidation process.

On the other hand, Macron departs from the traditional discourse on EU integration because of his radical pessimism on the evolution of the geopolitical context in which the EU has to navigate: 

“For a long time, Europe was the main asset of our growth in an ordoliberal model of competition and free trade, and at a time when the rules were very different, raw materials did not seem to be limited, there was no geopolitics of critical materials, climate change was ignored, trade was free, and everyone respected the rules. That was the world we lived in until recently. In just a few years, everything has changed.” 

The view of globalization that Macron presents is not that different from Donald Trump’s confrontational approach to international trade: globalization has failed to provide prosperity and security; both China and the U.S. have leveraged the so-called “rules-based international order” to pursue their interest at the expense of other players who have stuck to their commitments. 

The result is the notion that “Europe is falling behind” because of its cooperative approach in a non-cooperative world where beggar-thy-neighbor strategies have prevailed, in the form of subsidies, non-tariff barriers, intellectual prosperity rules violations, weaponization of energy dependency, and carbon leakage.

A stronger Europe, in Macron’s 2017 Sorbonne speech, is a continent that builds a “strategic autonomy” that is declined — in the 2024 updated version — in a less cooperative and more predatory approach to international relations.  

Since the EU is not strategically autonomous in any meaningful way, the least it can do is to stop cooperating where it has an alternative, such as on climate regulation: “We want to address the climate emergency with decarbonized energy, as I was saying, but we are the only region that has taken the necessary steps to achieve this. Others are not moving at the same pace”, Marcon argued in his 2024 speech at La Sorbonne. 

During the 2019-2024, French Industry Commissioner Michel Barnier has embodied Macron’s request for a more ambitious EU Industrial policy which France intends as more room for maneuver for national governments to support companies and industries that they classify as strategic for political reasons.  

For the next five years, Macron places his hopes for a Europe suited to the new geopolitical context in Mario Draghi, who might become his candidate both for the presidency of the EU Commission or, more likely, for the EU Council, which is the increasingly powerful permanent coordination of Member States’ governments. 

Until a few months ago, Draghi appeared as an unlikely ambassador for Macron’s pessimistic views. During his 2011-2019 mandate as the President of the ECB, Draghi always championed the traditional view of “one market, one currency”, which means a consistent path that leads European countries to integrate first energy resources, then goods and services markets, and ultimately their currencies. The missing part is a stronger coordination of fiscal policies. 

In his farewell remarks as ECB President, on October 28, 2019, Draghi praised the single market as the successful approach that the EU has developed to a “managed globalization” that could combine economic prosperity, social protection, and security. 

Since then, Draghi’s ideas on the future of the EU have moved closer to Macron’s pessimism. After the June European elections, Draghi is expected to deliver a report on EU competitiveness he has been working on for a year upon the request of the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. 

On April 18, 2024, Draghi anticipated the “philosophy” of his report, which is the request for a “radical change” to achieve “transformation across the European economy”. The “radical change” that Draghi advocates for is consistent with Macron’s pessimism: the EU should favor consolidation in all the strategic industries where it needs continental champions, starting with the defense industry. 

Also, the telecommunication industry is too competitive, according to Draghi, and consolidation could increase prices and margins so that companies could close the investment gap with U.S. or Chinese competitors. 

Mario Draghi’s “radical change” sounds like an abrupt departure from both traditional and more recent EU’s signature policies, including the Green Deal that Von der Leyen’s Commission has put forward with great costs in terms of political capital. 

“We want to address the climate emergency with decarbonized energy, as I was saying, but we are the only region that has taken the necessary steps to achieve this. Others are not moving at the same pace”, Mario Draghi argued in his speech. This is usually the premise for less, not more, commitment to green policies.

Those who find Macron’s and Draghi’s approach disturbing can find a more comfortable alternative in the 147-page report that Enrico Letta delivered a few hours before Draghi’s speech. 

Letta is a former Italian prime minister, like Mario Draghi, and a former leader of the center-left Italian Democratic party who resigned after losing the 2022 general elections against Giorgia Meloni’s far-right coalition. 

The EU Commission asked Draghi to draft a report on EU competitiveness, the mandate that Enrico Letta received from the EU Council in September 2023 was narrower: the future of the EU single market. 

However, the title Letta chose for his report – “Much more than a market” – hints that the single market is at the core of the EU project: fragmentation and lack of commitment to complete the single market undermine the European Union as a whole. 

In Letta’s view, what critics perceive as undesired consequences of the single market are, in effect, the result of persisting barriers at the national level. As Mario Draghi did in his speech, Letta complains about the fragmentation in the telecommunication market. However, he does not advocate for political support for a top-down consolidation, that could harm consumers and competition. 

On the contrary, he proposes to remove regulatory barriers at the Member States level that reduce incentives for cross-border integration and preserve national oligopolies that harm consumers and discourage innovation. 

In Draghi’s and Macron’s view, the single market is a potential weakness for the EU, the legacy of the recent past when the EU could look at globalization with a cooperative and optimistic attitude. 

According to Letta, the Single Market is still the most effective tool that the EU has to shape globalization and its most valuable asset that EU institutions must protect from internal and external threats: “No company can be allowed to grow undermining fair competition, which underpins consumer protection and economic progress. At the same time, the implementation of the principle of fair competition should not result in European markets being dominated by large foreign companies benefitting from favorable rules in their domestic markets”, Letta argues in the report. 

Draghi and Macron see a trade-off between security and competition, Letta argues that security is a byproduct of fair competition, while subsidies and unchecked consolidation harm the EU’s geopolitical role and ultimately its security. 

As extreme as those two approaches might seem, it is worth noticing that they have co-existed in the second part of the 2019-2024 European legislature. The traditional, pro-market approach remained the intellectual framework for aggressive Antitrust action against Big Tech companies such as Apple or Spotify, twenty years after EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti successfully struggled with Microsoft. 

Also, with the recent regulation of digital markets — the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) — the EU Commission has gained the power to enforce pre-emptive action to protect competition, rather than ex-post intervention to sanction abuse of market dominance or anti-competitive behavior. 

However, geopolitical concerns have led the EU Member States’ governments and the Commission to accept more subsidies at the national level and to support strategic industries at the EU level, with no remarkable effects so far. 

The EU Chips Act, the Critical Raw Materials Act, and the investigation of allegedly illegitimate State subsidies to Chinese electric cars are the product of the widespread idea of a trade-off between security and economic integration. 

Since the 2022 Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, traditional pro-market integration ideals and the geopolitically driven pursuit of European strategic autonomy have coexisted, even with rising tensions between the two approaches. 

After the European elections, one of the two attitudes is expected to prevail if the next Commission and Parliament want to have a consistent strategy in the incoming five-year legislature. 

Unfortunately, governments in closed-door meetings — and not European voters at the ballot box — will make the most consequential decisions. 

Articles represent the opinions of their writers, not necessarily those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty.