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Britain teeters closer to the brink of Brexit

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No one can foresee the political developments in the UK that will determine whether it stays in the EU or leaves. Anthony Giddens assesses the factors in play.

A flurry of articles and books suggest that Britain is on course to go it alone and desert the European Union – Brexit. Yet matters are nowhere near as clear-cut. ‘Brexit’ is a clumsy neologism, and it leads me to coin an equally awkward one of my own – ‘Bremain’, in which the UK stays in the EU and even contributes positively towards its evolution.

No one can say which of these is the more likely, as the backdrop in the UK, the EU and indeed the wider world is too volatile. The UK is heading towards a May 7 general election that is the least predictable in recent history. Neither the Tories nor the Labour Party has the support of more than a third or so of voters, while the country is itself in the throes of an identity crisis. Last September’s Scottish referendum on independence was supposed to settle the question of separation ‘for a generation’, but has instead stirred greater nationalist passions. Members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) could be in the UK’s House of Commons in substantial numbers after May, and may even hold the balance of power. All this has resulted in the emergence of identity politics elsewhere, with regional devolution rising on the agenda along with renewed stirrings of English nationalism.

“The eurosceptics are very clear about what they oppose, but not what they want instead. They must be pressed in debate to make explicit what they are for and what kind of Britain they envisage”

If Labour come to be in government, it would almost certainly be in a coalition. The party has ruled out a referendum on EU membership unless treaty change is involved, and its likely main coalition partners – the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens – would doubtless endorse this. There is talk of a ‘progressive coalition’ between these parties, of which an important plank would be active support for EU membership. Labour’s backing for the European project has, in recent months, become much more open and positive.

It is equally possible that May’s election result is so inconclusive that any government formed will lack legitimacy and be short-lived. That might provoke even more rhetoric around Britain’s membership of the EU, but no in-out referendum could be introduced until after fresh elections. If the governability issue became unmanageable, there is an outside chance of a grand coalition between the Tories and Labour, such as in some continental countries. In that case, a referendum would be very unlikely.

There remains a possibility that the Tories are re-elected, probably needing support once again from one or more of the smaller parties. David Cameron would remain Prime Minister, but dependent perhaps on the support of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). That would mean great pressure for an early referendum. Yet UKIP’s own support is highly dependent on the appeal of its leader, Nigel Farage, so it is intrinsically fragile and might very well drain away come election time. It is just conceivable that in spite of all the political vagaries, the status quo is maintained with the Tories back in power in coalition with their current partners, the Liberal Democrats. In that case, an EU referendum would certainly become problematic as the Liberal Democrats are strongly pro-European.

“The eurosceptics have been far more assertive in putting their case forward than have supporters of Britain’s continued membership, and it’s a bias that has to be corrected”

Most discussions of Brexit start from the point in which the Tories are back in power, with a clear mandate for a referendum. Although this may very well happen, it is far from a foregone conclusion. But if it turns out to be the case, what is likely to ensue? David Cameron’s commitment to an EU referendum doesn’t seem in the least bit driven by conviction. It is, on the contrary, almost wholly pragmatic. He came to power in 2010 determined to stop the Tories from, as he put it, ‘banging on about Europe’. He was unsuccessful, in part because once the euro crisis took hold he found himself subject to increasing pressure from the eurosceptics in his party.

In January 2013, he was driven by the need to appease them, and in effect offered a deal embracing his Tory eurosceptics on the one hand, and his European partners on the other. To appease the former, he held out the prospect of a referendum by 2017 and, although vague on the details, coupled this to reforms in the EU. To try and get other European leaders on board, he promised to campaign for continued British membership, but in return demanded that they would accept at least part of his reform agenda.

“There is much talk in UK media and elsewhere of ‘whether we should stay in the EU’, but it’s not clear who ‘we’ is. Euroscepticism is more an English phenomenon than a British one, and varies regionally within England”

He succeeded in neither. Rather than gaining support from the rest of Europe, he took an assertive, bullying approach that had the opposite effect. Although he hedged his ‘deal’ with reservations and qualifications, it was still too pro-European for his party’s right-wingers, whose anti-EU agitation if anything increased.

For all these reasons, Cameron’s position shifted once again for political considerations rather than anything to do with principle. Driven by the increasing success of UKIP and coupled with growing disquiet among some sectors of the public, immigration rose sharply up the UK’s political agenda. So much so that it became almost the sole basis of Cameron’s attempts at renegotiation with EU partners.

That’s where matters now stand, with no clear resolution in sight. Other European leaders have made it clear that the principle of freedom of movement for EU citizens is inviolable. And there are unlikely to be any concessions that would demand treaty changes, so if there were to be a deal it would have to be limited in scope, and perhaps even confined to welfare benefits, not least because most aspects of welfare in fact remain in the hands of the member states. What David Cameron has not made clear, meanwhile, is whether in the event that he doesn’t get what he saw as a satisfactory offer he would actively campaign for leaving the EU.

“The outcome of a referendum would plainly be affected by events in the UK and beyond. Perhaps crucially, what happens in the rest of Europe could have a major impact”

Should there be a referendum, the outcome is as difficult to call as the results of May’s general election. Most observers see it depending mainly on the deal he and his fellow European heads of government might come up with. But I myself don’t think so. Matters are likely to be far more complex than that because of the diversity of the factors in play. Cameron is likely to remain caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Whatever deal is reached it will not be enough to assuage the passions of Tory eurosceptics; he has to be seen to ‘talk tough’ to his European partners, yet progress with those partners depends on conciliation and dialogue.

There is much talk in UK media and elsewhere of ‘whether we should stay in the EU’, but it’s not clear who ‘we’ is. Euroscepticism is more an English phenomenon than a British one, and varies regionally within England – it is not the majority view in London, where most surveys place Britain’s relationship with the EU quite low down among voters’ concerns, even if a majority also believe that a referendum on membership would be desirable at some point.

The outcome of a referendum would plainly be affected by events in the UK and beyond. Perhaps crucially, what happens in the rest of Europe could have a major impact. The UK has returned to growth, even if its rewards are hardly being equally shared and no one can say whether it will last. Elsewhere in the EU, a few states are performing well, but overall the risk of stagnation looms large. Will the interventionist policies now being put in place bear fruit? A return to a healthier overall economic environment across Europe would almost certainly have a positive impact on an unfolding referendum debate in Britain, but the reverse also applies.

Referendums are, on the face of it, among the most effective forms of democratic decision-making. In some senses that’s true, yet experience from around the world also shows they are far from free of problems and uncertainties. The outcome of a referendum can be strongly influenced by transient events of the moment, while much depends on the precise wording of the question being asked.

The Scottish referendum result seemed all the closer because the question was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ rather than ‘Should Scotland remain part of the UK?’ Those who favoured change somewhat perversely became the ‘Yes’ campaign, which normally carries an advantage because of its positive overtones. There was little debate in Scotland about the issue of wording, but that’s highly unlikely to be the case with an in-out EU referendum. There could be an almighty battle about the wording, and also about whether a minimum turnout should be set for the result to stand. It seems unlikely that turnout will get anywhere near the stratospheric 80%-plus in Scotland. There is also the question of who would get to vote; UKIP has said that only British citizens should take part.

I am myself a pro-European. I want Britain to remain in the EU and to play a positive part in shaping its future. That’s the outcome that is plainly in the interests of the Union as a whole. Britain may have long been among the more awkward so far as the rest of the EU is concerned, but if it were to leave that would greatly diminish the Union’s standing economically and geopolitically.

Let us suppose that there’s going to be an in-out referendum in the UK. How, in that case, should pro-Europeans seek to influence the debate? The implications of leaving the EU must be brought home to the public. Brexit would be a huge leap into the unknown, very different from the eurosceptics’ rosy portrayal of a nation set free. Britain would be out of the EU, but still within its orbit. Its destiny will remain irretrievably European, the same being true of Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Most of Britain’s trade would continue to be with the EU, but not under conditions that it could directly influence. The notion that the UK could turn to the Commonwealth, or suddenly spread its trading net far and wide, is a whimsical fantasy. There are, after all, no real barriers to doing so at the moment, and it has not happened. Germany now has a proportionately higher level of trade with India than does Britain.

A Britain outside the EU would not magically regain its sovereignty, for the term is meaningless if it can’t be defined as a nation’s real control over its own affairs, not simply paper rights. In today’s increasingly interdependent world, Britain has more influence as a member of the EU than it would otherwise, even when in some cases it is acting alone. The United States would clearly start to bypass Britain if it were outside the EU, and so too would other major states around the world.

To prosper, the country would have to be almost the diametric opposite of the image portrayed by UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage – a nation turning back to the 1950s. It would have to be more outward-looking and cosmopolitan, and of course be more open to immigration. The possibility that it is Scottish and Welsh votes that might keep Britain in the EU if there is a referendum is very real. If, though, Britain as a whole voted to quit, the Scots would this time probably decide to break away and seek to join up with the European Union.

Eurosceptics make a great play of the “burden” of bureaucracy imposed by EU membership. Yet viewed dispassionately, membership almost certainly reduces rules and regulations rather than multiplying them. And from trade right across to security, a country outside the Union would have to negotiate separate deals with countries inside and outside Europe, as well as with Brussels. Switzerland and Norway are in precisely this situation, and whatever advantages they might get, freedom from bureaucratic entanglement is not one of them.

If it turns out there is a UK referendum, there’s a range of possible Brexit and Bremain scenarios. First, there’s the ‘sleepwalking scenario’. Either because it is a rushed affair, or because the public remains largely indifferent, Britain leaves the EU without most citizens having understood what is at stake. Then there is the ‘wide awake’ scenario in which after a full and informed debate with a high turnout, the country nevertheless exits the EU. Scenarios for remaining in the Union range from ‘somnolent acceptance’ in which the majority of voters remain largely disengaged, but nevertheless vote to stay in, to the ‘positive endorsement’ one that sees a full and informed public debate, a high turnout and a clear vote to stay in. The last is obviously the best-case Bremain scenario in which citizens are more fully informed than before and are persuaded of the positive benefits of EU membership.

Some of the more vocal eurosceptics might be happy with the sleepwalking scenario, but by any token it is contrary to the public interest. It could only be justified by minimising the level of risk and readjustment that Brexit would involve, and by ignoring acceptable democratic process. Pro-Europeans might be satisfied with the ‘somnolent acceptance’ scenario, but again that would hardly be in the country’s best interests. Should the ‘wide awake’ scenario unfold, pro-Europeans obviously could not contest it, even though – because of the Scotland factor – the country that leaves may no longer be the UK. The key question for those who want Britain to stay in the EU is, therefore, if and how something close to the ‘positive endorsement’ scenario can be achieved.

“There are a good many pro-European groups across the country. They should suspend their differences and get together to shape the membership debate”

Right now, nobody can say whether Britain will stay in the EU; there are too many contingencies in play. What pro-Europeans can and should do is start preparing now for a possible referendum. To do so, a lot of innovations are needed. There are a good many pro-European groups across the country, of various persuasions in terms of what they see as the best models for the future evolution of the EU. They should suspend their differences and get together to shape the membership debate. The eurosceptics have been far more assertive in putting their case forward than have supporters of Britain’s continued membership, and it’s a bias that has to be corrected. Also, many of Britain’s leading europhiles are ageing, so up and coming younger figures must be found who can command attention in the public debate – and as far as possible they should span the political spectrum.

The eurosceptics are very clear about what they oppose, but not what they want instead. They must be pressed in debate to make explicit what they are for, what kind of Britain they envisage and how the country would, on its own, resolve the cluster of problems it would face. Exactly the same applies to pro-Europeans, as the Bremain campaign would have to be about far more than just a vote to stay in. It would have to be coupled to positive ideas about reform of the EU and Britain’s contribution to shaping those reforms. The question of British exceptionalism would also have to be faced up to, since unlike almost all other EU states the UK is not even formally on track to join the eurozone.

In pre-referendum campaigns, the role of the BBC would be crucial in promoting a full and fair debate. It is likely to come under enormous pressure from all sides, and if a referendum were to be held early on in the life of the next government, it could coincide with the renewal of the BBC’s Charter, itself a highly contentious and partisan issue. Strong leadership would then be needed from within the broadcasting organisation to ensure its impartiality. Britain is unlikely to be polarised in the way Scotland was during its referendum struggle, but there are nevertheless quite fundamental differences of outlook in play. It would certainly be far removed from the muted, low-key affair of the 1975 referendum that confirmed Britain’s membership. If it takes place, it will play out against a backdrop of increasingly fractious divisions within the EU, and of the national and regional fractures that now mark the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Europe’s World. Reposted per author’s permission.

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U.S. Demands Europe to Join Its War Against Russia

Eric Zuesse

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On December 16th, the Russian Senator, Konstantin Kosachev, who heads that body’s foreign-affairs committee, went public accusing the U.S. Government of coercing German corporations to abandon their investments in the key Russia-EU gas-pipeline project, which is now nearing completion. It’s a joint project of Russia and of corporations in some EU countries. He called this U.S. pressure against European corporations an affront to the national sovereignty of both the German and the Russian Governments, and, more broadly, an affront against the sovereignty of the entire EU, which, he pointed out, is not like America’s NATO alliance with Europe is, an instrumentality of war, but is supposed to be, instead, an economic and political union — an instrumentality of peaceful international cooperation, not of any sort of international coercion.

Here is the historical context and background to this:

In recent decades, the U.S. Constitution’s clause that requires a congressional declaration of war before invading any country, has been ignored. Furthermore, ever since 2012 and the passage by Congress of the Magnitsky Act sanctions against Russia, economic sanctions by the U.S. Government have been imposed against any company that fails to comply with a U.S.-imposed economic sanction; a company can even be fined over a billion dollars for violating a U.S. economic sanction. And, so, sanctions are now the way that the U.S. Congress actually does authorize a war — the new way, no longer the way that’s described in the U.S. Constitution. However, in the economic-sanctions phase of a war — this initial phase — the war is being imposed directly against any company that violates a U.S.-ordered economic sanction, against Russia, Iran, or whatever target-country the U.S. Congress has, by means of such sanctions, actually authorized a war by the U.S. to exist — a ‘state of war’ to exist. For the U.S. Congress, the passage of economic sanctions against a country thus effectively serves now as an authorization for the U.S. President to order the U.S. military to invade that country, if and when the President decides to do so. No further congressional authorization is necessary (except under the U.S. Constitution). This initial phase of a war penalizes only those other nations’ violating companies directly — not the target-country. Though the U.S. Government punishes the violating corporation, the actual target is the targeted (sanctioned) country. Sanctions are being used to strangle that target. The fined companies are mere ‘collateral damage’, in this phase of America’s new warfare. In this phase, which is now the standard first phase of the U.S. Government’s going-to-war, the U.S. Government is coercing corporations to join America’s economic war, against the given targeted country — in this case, it’s a war against Russia; Russia is the country that the U.S. Government wants to strangle, in this particular instance.

On Tuesday, 11 December, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously (no member objected), by voice vote — unrecorded so that nobody can subsequently be blamed for anything — that President Donald Trump should impose penalties, which could amount to billions of dollars, against any EU-based corporation that participates with Russia in Russia’s Nord Stream II Pipeline to supply gas to Europe. This “Resolution,” H.Res.1035, is titled “Expressing opposition to the completion of Nord Stream II, and for other purposes,” and it closes by asserting that the U.S. House of Representatives “supports the imposition of sanctions with respect to Nord Stream II under section 232 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” With no member objecting, the U.S. House thereby warns corporations to cease doing business with Russia, because the U.S. Government is determined that any such business will be terminated and will maybe also be fined. The U.S. Government imposes its will as if it were the dictator to the entire world, and without even needing to use its military, but just economic coercion.

The U.S. Senate doesn’t yet have a similar bill, but the unanimous passage of this one in the House constitutes a strong warning to Europe’s corporations, that unless they obey the U.S. sanctions, huge financial penalties will be imposed upon them. There are not many issues on which the U.S. Congress is even nearly 100% united in agreement, but during this phase, the introductory phase, of America’s war against Russia, the war against Russia is certainly among those few instances — entirely bipartisan.

According to Russian Television, on December 12th, headlining “US lawmakers want to put a cork in Russia’s gas pipeline to Europe”: “On Monday, Austria’s OMV energy group CEO Rayner Zele stated that the company is set to continue financing the pipeline next year. OMV has already invested some 531 million euros ($607 million) into the project, Zele told Ria Novosti. In early December, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said that Berlin’s abandoning the project would not make sense as Russia will still go on with it. Germany earlier rebuked Trump’s criticism of the project after the US leader accused Berlin of being a ‘captive’ of Moscow citing Germany’s alleged dependency on natural gas from Russia.”

If the U.S. Government fails to strangulate the economies in the countries such as Russia and Iran against which it has imposed sanctions, then the next step, of course, would be some type of armed invasion of the given targeted country. Before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, America’s economic sanctions killed from 100,000 to 500,000 Iraqi children, but then the U.S. invaded and destroyed the country vastly more than just that.

Economic sanctions are an attempt to coerce a targeted courntry’s — in effect — surrender, but without needing to use a military invasion as the coercive means. Any sanctioned country is therefore in America’s bomb-sights, and will be conquered in one way or another, unless the U.S. Government backs down, at some point.

According to the most extensive study that was ever done of U.S. military bases worldwide, there are over a thousand such bases, and this is a huge multiple of all non-U.S. military bases put together. That study was published in 1995. Many new U.S. military bases have been built and manned since 1995, such as several dozen in just one country, Syria, where the sovereign Government has never invited them in and many times has ordered them to leave, but they refuse to leave. Currently, the U.S. Government spends more than half of all monies that are being spent worldwide on the military.

Regarding the Nord Stream II Pipeline, the beneficiaries if that Pipeline is never completed and placed into service, will be American LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) producers, and also America’s allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. World War III could actually start as a result of the U.S. Government’s serving America’s (and its allies’) fossil-fuels producers above all other concerns regarding not only global warming, but even world peace itself. Those are the interests that are, in effect, at war against the entire world. This is not a statement of opinion: it is established and well-demonstrated fact. It is the overwhelmingly documented reality.

Here, translated by me and slightly abbreviated, is the December 16th statement that was made by Russia’s Senator Kosachev, the Chairman of the International Affairs Committee:

A categorical statement by the United States on Nord Stream 2, calling for Germany to abandon it, and for the European Union to rally the ranks “against Russian aggression” is a clear and unceremonious interference into the affairs of sovereign nations, to which the United States has no right to have any official opinion. …

Washington’s attempts to dominate and interfere in the affairs of other states are extremely dangerous for the whole world and destructive for international cooperation. This line directly contradicts the interests of any countries that are not US satellites. And it obviously contradicts the interests of Russia.

And if Russia followed solely its own egoistic interests, we should just as unceremoniously intervene in, say, the trade disputes of Washington and Beijing on the side of our Chinese ally, in the NAFTA crisis, in order to impose upon the US additional problems regarding its relations with both Canada and Mexico, or the fates of the Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific partnerships, where the United States is again working hard. To do that would be proceeding from the American principle, “the worse it is for our competitor, the better it is for us”.

We do not do that. Firstly, because Russia respects the sovereignty of other nations and never interferes in their internal affairs. Secondly, because, in principle, it is not proper for a world power to behave in such a way. …

What especially disappoints me in this situation [is] … Germany’s silence. The United Statyes is actually encroaching on Germany’s rights. That silence is disappointing, as is the EU’s passivity, which doesn’t respond to the intrusion of Americans into their sovereign affairs. The European Union is not NATO. …

Author’s note: first published in strategic-culture.org

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The sad fate of Europe’s leading figure

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According to a new poll conducted by IFOP, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s popularity ratings hit new lows as the “yellow vest” protests are getting more and more serious.

The poll’s results which were published on Tuesday, indicated that Macron’s approval rating fell to 23 percent, down six percentage points on the previous month, while Philippe’s fell to 26 percent.

It’s to be noted that the “yellow vest” demonstrations were initially held on Nov. 17 in protest to fuel-tax rises. But then it took an anti-Macron color and became a broad movement.

The poll also shows that France 40-year-old president’s score now matches the low charted by his socialist predecessor François Hollande in late 2013. Hollande was then widely considered to be the least popular head of state in modern French history.

Protesters condemn Macron of closing his eyes on the rising cost of living in France. During the recent rallies, four people have died and dozens were wounded.

The protests raised at a time when some analysts were speaking of Macron’s role in leading Europe! Not long ago, there were talks of Macron becoming Europe’s new Angela Merkel, and that he’s slowly assuming her role as Europe’s leading figure. As Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) fared badly in the September general elections, her status as Europe’s leading figure has taken a hit. On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious from the French presidential elections, defeating France’s far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and entered the Elysee Palace.

From that time on, Macron had several meetings with European authorities on migration, fixing the euro currency, Europe’s defense, taxing digital companies and other issues. This was while his authority was flagging at home.

Attending in Germany’s National Remembrance Day for the victims of war and dictatorship, Macron said that the French-German alliance “is invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos, and to accompany it on the road of peace.”

The picture which the French President was trying to draw at that time is way different from the reality which flaunts in Paris streets. Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Now Macron-haters have seized upon the protests in Paris and are shouting that the French president stands revealed as a massively flawed leader — remote, arrogant and pushing an outdated neoliberal agenda.

Before this, the theory was that if Macron could demonstrate his ability to change France, he would also take decisive steps towards a genuine European economic government, and then a reformed, strengthened EU had the power to push back against the extremists and far-right movements which gathered lots of support over last years. But this theory has failed! Macron’s domestic agenda ran into trouble, and as a result his international agenda is failing. This is the story of France’s young president.

In the face of recent protests, Macron had no way but to withdraw from his order to increase fuel taxes. It also seems that he should take more appeasing actions to satisfy the demonstrators. Under such circumstances, other reforms that were to be implemented by Macron’s government in near future now look much less likely to happen. It will, in turn, prevent the realization of developments that Macron has promised the French citizens, which will subsequently lead to more anger inside the French society.

Now it seems that things are getting a lot worse. Protests and street violence are likely to go on for months, turning the mire even more frightening for both French citizens and their president. The outcome of the existing chaos can be the raise of a far-right or far-left president in France next elections.

Now Macron’s dreams to be known as Europe’s leading figure are all gone. Indeed, he’d be lucky if an early election doesn’t terminate his presence in the Elysee Palace. The “yellow vests” are currently his most terrible nightmare. Macron, who came to power with the slogan of economic development in France and the economic and political leadership of the European Union, has definitely failed to become a strong leader in Europe. Today he’s considered a defeated figure in the French economy and politics, rather than Europe’s leading figure.

First published in our partner MNA

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Italy steps up political activities in the Mediterranean

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The Mediterranean serves as a platform for Rome’s geopolitical efforts in the region which are aimed at creating a powerful configuration of strength that would leave the three main vectors of Italy’s foreign policy – the southern (directed at North Africa), the western (directed at the Atlantic) and the eastern (directed at the Balkans) – open and easy of access.

The Gibraltar, the Bosporus, the Suez Canal, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait – the world’s busiest transport arteries –  acquire a particular strategic importance for Italy as a Mediterranean power.

The so-called geopolitical theory of “extended Mediterranean” was devised recently to justify Italy’s right to secure its presence in these regions . This theory is designed to put an end to the narrow perception of the Mediterranean Region as a space bounded by access to the sea and, accordingly, with a limited role of Italy.

Rome has conceptually “expanded” the Mediterranean at the expense of the adjacent Atlantic and land areas, having included the Sahel, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Thereby, Italy has assumed a “greater” geopolitical role in the region as a country whose economic stability depends on the stability of the territories adjacent to the Mediterranean region.

First of all, this refers to troubled countries, such as Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, which supply Italy with gas. Italy’s intention to politically establish itself in the Sahel as part of the “expanded Mediterranean” was dictated by the desire to create a controlled space in the rear of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria to prevent their further destabilization.

Italy is among the top six EU countries with highly developed sea trade. According to Eurostat, in 2016 this figure was 61% (of which 66.6% were imports and 55.9% were exports). By this indicator, Italy loses to Portugal (81%), Cyprus (80%), Greece (77%), Spain (74%) and Malta (67%). None of Italian ports is included in the ten busiest EU trade harbors. The Italian authorities intend to change this situation.

Under the EU parameters, maritime trade accounts for 51% of overall trade, of which 53% is export and 48% is import. 19% of the global sea traffic and 30% of oil haulage pass through the Mediterranean Sea (an increase of 120% over the past 16 years). 65% of all energy resources are delivered to Europe by the Mediterranean. As these indicators tend to show an upward trend, Italy is set on  ensuring a more pronounced economic and political presence in the Mediterranean .

Given the situation, the Italian diplomacy face the following agenda in the region:

– to promote an equal distribution of power among top players in the Mediterranean in order to avoid any imbalance, be it in favor of countries that have no binding agreements or strategic cooperation agreements with Rome, or in favor of states whose political, military and economic potential is equal to that of Italy (France, Spain), or exceeds it (Germany);

– strengthen the political and economic presence of Italy in areas designated as the “extended Mediterranean”, thereby ensuring the participation of the Italian fleet in international anti-piracy missions;

to promote the peaceful settlement of current conflicts in the region (Syria, Iran, the Cyprus problem) with a view to prevent a buildup of other countries’ military presence within Italy’s strategic interest zone;

– to promote the diversification of energy supplies with due regard for Italy’s 77% dependence on external supplies, to initiate the development of gas and oil fields in Libya, Algeria, Egypt (Rome plans to invest € 175 billion in the development of the energy sector and related environmental projects by 2030.)

– to contribute to the transformation of Italy, located at the junction of sea routes from North Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, into a leading transport and distribution hub of oil and gas exports and imports for the EU ;

– to prevent the weakening of Italy’s positions in the EU in case of the strengthening of the Berlin-Paris axis, which will not be easy to achieve amid the emerging conflict between Brussels and Rome over the Italian budget.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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