ROME – Although non-Europeans may not be paying attention – and, for that matter, a fairly wide swath of the European population itself isn’t exactly riveted either – but elections for the European Parliament loom June 6-9, when voters will select 720 representatives who will chart a course for the EU for the next five years.

The balloting may not be a pop culture phenomenon – last time, in 2019, about 200 million Europeans cast ballots, around half of all those eligible, and roughly the same number who tuned in a month later to watch Manchester City beat Inter Milan 1-0 in the Champions League final.

However, it’s a good bet that attention levels in at least one European setting will be unusually high: Within Vatican City, where Pope Francis and his team have a clear incentive to want to see a strengthened EU emerge from the vote.

That reason? Because if Donald Trump returns to power in the U.S., as polls presently suggest he very well might, then Francis (and, presumably, whomever he might hope succeeds him) would desperately want a more assertive and consequential EU to become their primary partner on the global stage.

The main threat to that ambition would seem to be the prospect of far-right, Eurosceptic parties posting significant gains in 2024, with polls currently showing such forces in first or second place in several countries, including France, Germany and Austria.

In that context, the Vatican’s aim would seem to be to strengthen centrist forces that want to hold the EU together, instead of giving it a death by a thousand cuts.

This is not simply idle speculation.

It was very much the spirit of a letter released this past Thursday from Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, and Bishop Mariano Crociata of Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno, who is the elected president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), bringing together all the conferences of the 27 EU member states.

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Even before coming to the substance of the latter, two points about it are striking.

The first is that it was signed by Zuppi, who doesn’t hold any COMECE office. Ahead of the elections in 2019, a similar letter was issued by the organization and signed by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, who was then president of COMECE, along with a representative sampling of other EU bishops.

This time, it obviously wasn’t considered enough that Crociata, a mere diocesan ordinary, would be the primary signatory, despite the fact that he’s Hollerich’s successor at COMECE. Clearly, a cardinal’s imprint was desired, and not just any cardinal, but the key prelate tapped by Francis as his diplomatic troubleshooter on the Ukraine war and a man widely seen as a leading candidate for the papacy himself whenever the time comes.

In other words, having Zuppi’s signature on the letter is a clear way of saying that it comes with Francis’s imprint, an impression reinforced by the numerous citations of the pontiff along the way.

The second interesting bit of prologue is really clear only in the Italian version of the letter, but since it was signed by two Italian prelates, that’s fair enough: Zuppi and Crociata address the EU as if it’s a person, using the informal tu form of “you,” which Italians employ among friends and family. In other words, it’s a deliberately affectionate verbal choice.

“Dear European Union, using tu is unusual, but it comes naturally to us because we’ve grown up with you,” Zuppi and Crociata write in the letter’s opening line.

The reference is to the fact that their adult lives coincide with the birth and growth of a unified post-war Europe: Crociata was born in 1953, three years after the “Schuman Declaration” launched a coal union between France and West Germany that would become the basis for the EU, and Zuppi was born in 1955.

(Ironically, the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, May 9, is now celebrated as “Europe Day,” falling on the same date as Russia’s celebration of “Victory Day,” recalling the defeat of the Nazis in WWII, which Putin has turned into an annual assertion of Russian power against the West.)

The overall thrust of Zuppi and Crociata’s letter is to suggest that the Catholic Church – and, by extension, the Vatican – feels a special kinship with the EU.

In terms of content, the sprawling letter touches on multiple subjects, ranging from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, migration and the defense of human life – an especially apt topic given the recent vote in the European Parliament to add abortion to the list of fundamental rights guaranteed in the EU charter. The vote was basically symbolic, as it would require the unanimous approval of all 27 member states and Poland and Malta have already vowed to veto it, but it still raised alarms.

Nevertheless, the clearly dominant concern in the letter was to reject what Zuppi and Crociata referred to as the “nationalistic temptation,” meaning the appeal of Eurosceptic forces such as Italy’s own Lega Party, whose campaign slogan is Piu Italia, Meno Europa – “More Italy, Less Europe.”

“Dearest Europe, it is time for a new robust relaunch of your path as a Union towards an ever fuller integration,” Zuppi and Crociata write.

The two prelates call for “an as fair as possible European taxation system, an assertive foreign policy, a common defense implying your active international responsibility, an enlargement to the countries that are not yet part of you, a guarantee of a strength that is increasingly proportionate to the unity that you gather and express.”

In other words, more Europe, not less. Most notable is the call for an “assertive foreign policy,” which, in context, can only mean one not subservient to the United States.

Historically, the Vatican over the centuries has employed a “great power” approach to global diplomacy, seeking one of the great powers of the day as its natural interlocutor and ally, from the Holy Roman Empire to the major Catholic monarchies. In the post-World War II world, that great power, almost by default, has been the United States, seen as the most reliable partner in a largely bipolar world.

In the Francis era, that tendency to look to the US has already been mutating in the direction of a more multipolar approach, in which the Vatican’s substantive positions are often closer to those of the BRICS coalition – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, now amplified with six new members – than with the White House or NATO.

Nonetheless, the US remains an indispensable player in global affairs, and despite tensions between Francis and President Joe Biden on matters such as arming Ukraine or supporting Israel (although Biden’s stance there is evolving), on most other social justice concerns, from migration policy to climate change, there’s basic sympathy between the two.

Such would be much less the case in a new Trump administration, meaning the Vatican would be on the market for a new “great power” to amplify its concerns.

Recently, noted analysts Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations made the argument that a winning strategy for centrists in the looming elections would be to bill a strengthened EU as an offset to Trump’s possible comeback, noting that polls in every EU state other than Hungary show that a majority of voters in every major party, both conservative and liberal, would be disappointed in a Trump victory.

“The prospect of a second Trump presidency could wake European voters up to the importance of preserving a pro-European direction for the next European Parliament,” Krastev and Leonard write.

“When Trump throws the stability of the US security guarantee into question, Europeans should realize the importance of being able to rely on their fellow EU members and on EU structures. Contrary to the previous European Parliament election, in which several anti-European parties hoped to benefit from Trump’s electoral victory, this time Trump could mobilize pro-Europeans even before the result of the US election.”

Without quite saying it that bluntly, such would appear to be the hope of Zuppi and Crociata too – and, presumably, of their boss. By sometime on June 10, we should know how well the strategy has paid off.