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Greek foreign policy under the Damocles sword of the economic crisis



This analysis first appeared in the policy paper series KAS katoptron by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Greece.

Europe’s Southern and Eastern neighborhoods have changed considerably during the past few years and the key words describing the regional security environment are fluidity, instability and unpredictability.

In the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the impact of the Arab revolts is being added to other global and regional trends and drivers such as the emergence of non-Western powers and the shifting global balance of power, demographic changes, technological developments, globalization and climate change. In Europe’s East, rather surprisingly, we find ourselves closer to a 20th century-style Cold War between the West and Russia than to a strategic relation- ship better suited in addressing the challenges of the 21st century, as the unfolding crisis in Ukraine is indeed Europe’s most serious post-Cold War security challenge since the Yugoslav civil war.

Security concerns include civil conflicts, a number of arab states (many of them created by the Sykes-Pikot agreement of 1916, such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) crumbling under strain, the possibility of border change (in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and perhaps elsewhere), the role of political Islam, sectarian tensions, Jihadist terrorism, population flows, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as small arms and light weapons, poverty and lack of democracy, existing regional conflicts, the ambitious agendas of regional powers, com- petition for energy resources and energy security concerns for Europe, and a deep, structural European crisis also affecting the EU’s global and regional influence and policies.

Greek foreign policy makers will function for the foreseeable future under the Damocles sword of the country’s economic crisis, which is imposing a number of constraints and limitations. As key organizations such as the EU and NATO are changing in an effort to adapt to new global and regional trends, Greece needs to find its own niche in the distribution of regional roles and influence and convince its partners and allies of its own added value in managing common security challenges. A difficult task, indeed, for a country with limited resources but the alternative is strategic irrelevance and inability to protect its vital national interests.

Even before the current crisis, Greece has consistently been punching below its weight on most foreign and security policy issues, allowing itself to lose some of its regional role in South-eastern Europe and letting its active role inside the European Union atrophy. An inward-looking and passive foreign policy mentality led to very few foreign policy initiatives, no exploitation of opportunities for multilateral initiatives or the establishment of tactical and strategic alliances. Concerns about economic survival overshadowed the importance of foreign policy issues during the past five years. Now Greek foreign policy needs to re-adjust to a changing regional as well as global security and economic environment and make a contribution to the national effort to re-build the economy, and it has to achieve that goal with limited resources and under time pressure.

A preliminary assessment of the impact of the crisis on Greek foreign policy would conclude that the country’s image, prestige and credibility have been dealt a serious blow and its influence both inside the EU as well as in its neighborhood has been negatively affected. The economic means available for conducting foreign policy have been substantially curtailed. The decision has been taken to significantly reduce defence expenditures and, in this context, Greece’s participation in international peacekeeping and other operations (ISAF/Afghanistan, KFOR/Kosovo, Active Endeavour and Operation Ocean Shield [the naval operation to combat piracy in the Red Sea]) have already been trimmed down. However, Greek facilities are still being offered for use in NATO (and U.S.) operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps the only positive foreign policy development in the last few years has been the cultivation of strategic ties with Israel and the realistic prospects for a more visible footprint for Greece in the regional energy map.

A. Greece’s geostrategic value

Greece’s – temporarily – limited foreign policy capabilities and regional role should not be confused with the country’s geostrategic value. On the contrary, it can be argued that Greece remains important for the West’s geo- political interests for five reasons:

I. Stability in the Western Balkans

Either as a party to a dispute, or as balancing actor between Albanian and Slavic populations in the Western Balkans, Greece can still play an important stabilizing role in the region. Key issues include Greece’s dispute with FYROM about the name issue, the recognition of Kosovo and the future role of the so-called “Albanian factor” (i.e. the existence of large ethnic Albanian communities in Kosovo and FYROM, and of smaller communities in Serbia and Montenegro) in South-eastern Europe.

II. Migration and refugee flows

The management of migration and refugee flows from the Middle East, Asia and Africa remains an issue with important external and internal dimensions for several EU countries. However much one tries to de-securitize the migration question, relations between Europe and the Middle East or the West and Islam will also affect domestic stability in European countries with a substantial Muslim community. Greece is located at the EU’s most sensitive external border (in fact, playing the role of a “buffer country” or “first line of defence” for Europe) in the context of immigration. A substantial percentage of irregular migrants entering the EU area each year do so through Greece and are forced to remain there according to the provisions of the Dublin II Agreement (a trend that has been continuing for several years bringing the total number of illegal immigrants in Greece to unbearably high levels). Greece is trying to deal with the problem with a package of measures including a more efficient asylum mechanism, more reception and detention facilities, employment of FRONTEX assets in the Aegean and its land border with Turkey, as well as the construction of a security fence in a 12.5 km-long section of that border. EU support for securing the cooperation of Turkey as well as countries of origin and therefore increasing the numbers of repatriated migrants would be instrumental. Although there is no proof yet of any links between irregular migration and Islamic terrorism, the radicalization of societies in the Muslim world may constitute reasons for future concern.

III. European energy security

The question of European energy security has brought attention to the strategic significance of South-eastern Europe as a transport hub of natural gas and a key region for European energy security. To meet increasing natural gas demand and reduce high levels of energy dependency on Russia, European authorities need to promote the realization of projects contributing to the diversification of natural gas supply. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor can play an important role. As the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – that will be crossing Greece and Albania on its way to Italy – was selected for the transportation of natural gas from Azerbaijan, it will provide a boost for Greece’s economy and regional role, as well as for regional cooperation in the Balkans (through vertical interconnectors) and European energy security. In addition, Greece should be expected to try to enlarge its footprint in the energy map through the exploitation of potential hydrocarbons deposits in various parts of the country, notably in Western Greece and the maritime areas south of Crete. The East Med Gas Corridor, involving Greece, Cyprus, Israel and, perhaps, Lebanon is another interesting idea if additional deposits are being discovered. Even Turkey could be included in the future were it to adopt a more constructive approach on the Cyprus problem.

IV. Relations with non-western powers Following the example of its European partners, Greece is exploring available opportunities for improving economic and political relations with current and emerging (non- western) powers, the so-called BRICS. Especially Russia and China are demonstrating a strong interest in Greece’s energy and trans- port infrastructure sectors. In the latter case, Greece could become an economic gateway for China in South-eastern and Central Europe. It is hoped that Greek-Chinese political relations will continue to develop in a balanced way, without substantial divergence from European policies towards the emerging superpower.

Despite an obvious degree of hyperbole regarding Greece’s relationship with Russia, it would be difficult for any Greek government to ignore the historical ties, but most importantly, the contemporary links between the two countries. Russia supplies 57 percent of Greece’s natural gas, is an important trade partner and potential investor, and provides political support to Cyprus (in the context of the UN Security Council’s involvement in the negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem). Ukraine is also a significant partner for Greece and a diplomatic solution to the crisis is a priority for the Greek government. Greece believes that Russia may be a difficult neighbour for Europe, but it is an essential– even indispensable – element of the European security architecture. Athens perceives sanctions as having a high cost for several European countries, Greece included, and as being ineffective in bringing about a change in Russian policies. A combined policy of deterrence and engagement, with an emphasis on the latter, should be the central element of Europe’s policy vis-à-vis Moscow.

The Greek government appears intent on trying to improve bilateral relations with Russia, honoring of course its other commitments. Speculation that Russia might be an alternative source of funding appears groundless as Russia would be both unwilling and incapable of providing financial assistance at the necessary scale. Furthermore, the likelihood of Greece falling into Russia’s orbit or any other fundamental shift in strategic orientation is virtually nil as long as Greece remains a full member of European and transatlantic institutions. However, a balanced evolution of Greek-Russian relations might allow Greece to become a complementary “bridge” between the West and Russia, contributing quietly to the normalization of relations and the development of a functional strategic partnership between Europe and Russia.

V. The Eastern Mediterranean conundrum The Eastern Mediterranean and its adjoining regions remain an extremely turbulent and unstable neighborhood. In addition to the brutal civil war in Syria, with potentially destructive consequences for the whole region, there is considerable uncertainty about future developments regarding, among other, the emergence of the Islamic State, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the political situation in Egypt, the Palestinian problem, the regional implications of a change in the relationship between Iran and the West, the Cyprus problem, Turkey’s often unpredictable foreign policy and the discovery of potentially substantial hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The understandable reluctance of the U.S. and EU to participate in a military intervention in Syria and the more general trend for an increased U.S. presence (‘pivot’) in the Asia-Pacific region make the need of active regional partners and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean even more crucial. In view of the inherent limitations in the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, also as a result of Turkish own regional ambitions, the U.S. needs additional partners that would also be accept- able interlocutors to the parties involved in various regional conflicts. In addition to its geostrategic location and the offered facilities (especially Souda Bay, arguably the most important – and dependable – Allied military facility in the Eastern Mediterranean), Greece, a traditional U.S. ally, has what could be de- scribed as a privileged relationship – of various degrees – with Israel, the Arab world, Iran and, as already mentioned, Russia and China, and could play, under specific circumstances, the role of a complementary bridge, in addition to being a reliable regional partner for the West. But, of course, this presupposes that Greece would be willing and able to successfully implement a more active and effective foreign policy.

B. The challenges and the possible “tools” for Greek foreign policy

By necessity, the key concept for Greek foreign and security policy in the next few years will be the smart use of its resources with a focus on becoming more active inside the EU (and NATO), enlarging its footprint in the energy map, strengthening relations with emerging powers, enhancing regional partnerships, and regaining its role and influence in South-eastern Europe.

The best option – as it could have a multiplier effect – would be Greece’s active participation to the shaping of the new EU and transatlantic regional policies, without, however, ignoring the need for national initiatives and the further multilateralization of Greece’s foreign policy. Furthermore, to facilitate the achievement of those priority tasks, a number of structural reforms of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the wider foreign policy mechanism will be necessary (with a greater emphasis on economic diplomacy); in addition, a number of important changes in the sphere of national security policy (security sector reform and ”smart defence” to maintain its deterrent capability at lower levels of defence expenditures) will be required.

Energy-related projects can be instrumental in Greece’s effort to repair its image, re-ac- quire a leading regional role, increase its influence, accumulate ‘diplomatic capital’ and in the medium- to long-term ‘fuel’ its economy. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor can play an important role. To facilitate the exploitation of potential hydrocarbons deposits in Western Greece and southeast of Crete, Greece should intensify diplomatic efforts for the delimitation of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and other maritime zones with neighboring countries, according to the provisions of UNCLOS, and, at the same time, proceed at full speed for exploration and exploitation in non-disputed areas.

In the context of the evolving strategic rapprochement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel (but also Egypt), the common link is concern about regional stability. The relation- ship should be nurtured by all sides involved, who should try to build upon common interests, not perceived common adversaries, as the latter would be a rather shaky ground for a strategic relationship. Those four countries are faced with a complex security equation, with a number of known variables but also multiple unknown ones. The regional security matrix involves a number of influential region- al and extra-regional actors, with bilateral and multilateral relationships changing, shifting and evolving on an almost continuous basis, hence the need for sound planning, readiness, flexibility, caution and pragmatism.

Regarding regional initiatives, Greece has maintained good relations with the Palestinians and could offer its services in the context of future Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Perhaps a contact group consisting of France, Egypt and Greece could work together with the US and the EU to revive the talks. If successful, at the next stage, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia should be included in the process. Greece is also trying to raise awareness and interest in the protection of Christian communities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East in general and will try to mobilize the EU to that effect.

Following the example of Nordic or Baltic co- operation inside the EU, Greece should lead an effort for enhanced Balkan cooperation and the creation of a Balkan sub-group with EU and NATO fellow members Bulgaria and Romania, Serbia – an important regional player and traditional ally –,with Albania and FYROM to be added to the group at a later stage. Greece will also need to complete the adaptation process that has begun some time ago on the issue of Kosovo, taking, of course, into account the sensitivities of Serbia, and energetically contributing to their efforts for EU membership at the earliest possible time. On two other issues of high priority for Greek foreign policy:

I. Greek-Turkish relations remain, of course, at the top of the Greek foreign policy agenda. Overall, the two countries are better off today in terms of bilateral relations (including trade and people-to-people contacts) than they were a few years ago [before 1999 to be more precise]. Having said that, neither country has moved from their firm positions regarding ‘high politics’ issues and Greece and Turkey continue to perceive each other through a Hobbesian prism. Al- though the majority of Greek policy-makers have been moving away from “zero-sum game” perceptions regarding Greek-Turkish relations, skepticism and distrust continue to linger. For different reasons neither side appears prepared to make any meaningful concessions in order to resolve their differences, and that will remain the case for the immediate future. Both sides should focus on improving economic relations and avoiding conflict on energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean through respect for the relevant provisions of international law. They could also explore ideas for confidence-building measures regarding overflights, violations and dogfights in the Aegean. Such agreements would greatly help in keeping tensions low, thus preparing the ground for an eventual full normalization of bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey;

II. FYROM and Albania are part of Greece’s immediate economic and political zones of interest, and their political stability and economic development, as well as their eventual membership in the EU, are issues of high importance for Athens. Greece may have failed to effectively communicate its position on the name issue with FYROM and has certainly missed its share of opportunities in the past, but its negotiating position since 2007, on a name that would combine the term Macedonia with a geographic connotation, would prevent all three sides involved (Greece, FYROM and Bulgaria) from monopolizing the Macedonian identity, while at the same time satisfying Skopje’s core objective and allowing them to normalize relations with their two neighbors. Despite domestic constraints, Greece is probably ready to take the last step towards full normalization, but, as always, it ‘takes two to tango’.

C. Greece and the EU

Although Greece bears substantial (albeit not exclusive) responsibility for the shape of its economy, completely ignoring the geopolitical consequences of the Greek crisis has been yet another symptom of the European foreign policy malaise. As many analysts rightly argue, Europe is sliding into strategic insignificance, losing its global role and influence as it is becoming more and more introvert as a result of its own economic and political crisis.

Although a “Grexit”or “Graccident” remains the least likely scenario, Greece retains some of the characteristics of a fragile country and the risk of a social explosion (or some kind of sub-conscious social paralysis that would prevent the timely implementation of the necessary reforms) cannot be completely discounted. Given the extremely unstable and fluid situation in Europe’s periphery, one would be justified to ask whether Europe and the U.S. could afford the creation of a security vacuum and a “black hole” in this critical region by allowing Greece to become another unstable factor and a consumer rather than a producer of security. Even if the EU could live with Greece’s economic collapse (a hypothesis challenged by many experts, due to the highly symbolic, but also quite tangible damage to the Eurozone and the EU’s credibility), one should ask whether the ‘loss’ of Greece would constitute an acceptable outcome for an EU with any ambitions to play a meaningful global and regional role?

Therefore, the Union should be looking for a highly pragmatic policy which would be reasonably effective in achieving Europe’s geopolitical and geo-economic objectives and promoting its interests. What is needed is a policy that goes beyond ‘bean-counting” and tackles the Greek problem in the context of the EU’s regional and global role, not merely its economic policies (however important these may be). In this context, a “new Greece” could certainly be a useful partner for the EU, but also for the US and NATO, in regions of critical importance for European and transatlantic security and interests. Of course, Greece’s political leadership should step up to the challenge and take advantage of opportunities through a foreign policy whose key features will be credibility and reliability at the strategic level and flexibility at the tactical level.



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EU dying silently as it plays in Trump’s court

Mohammad Ghaderi



While the US is explicitly undermining the EU regionalism for an upper hand in the global economic dynamics, the Europe is falling in a trap with secret negotiations.

The paradoxical approaches taken by the European authorities is definitely one of its kind. Over the past months, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has repeatedly emphasized that the EU can no longer rely on the United States to secure its interests.

However, the German Chancellor held secret and hidden negotiations with the US government and Trump to resolve Europe’s economic and security problems and crises.

In other words, there is a significant difference between the speeches and actions of the European authorities regarding the EU’s independence from Washington. Here are some points that need to be taken into consideration:

Firstly, US President Donald Trump is one of the main opponents of the existing structure in Europe. He has come to this conclusion that the collapse of the United Europe will provide the United States with great economic growth among its allies. The White House therefore monitors the simultaneous destruction of the Eurozone and the European Union as essential goals. This is the main reason for Trump’s support for nationalist and anti-EU movements in Europe. Recently, Donald Trump has officially urged French President Emmanuel Macron to pull his country out of the EU to benefit from more US-France ties. Also, the US president has asked Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, to sue the European Union for making barriers in Brexit talks. Trump has gone even further, and warned Theresa May that she should choose between integrating in the European economic structure and having economic relations with the United States. Together, these statements and stances show that Trump is working hard to achieve his main goal in Europe; which is the collapse of the European Union.

Secondly, although some may think that confronting the United Europe is the secret target of the US President, Trump’s behavior suggest that he has no reluctance to declare his opposition to the EU and the Eurozone. Trump believes that the collapse of the European Union will lead to an increase in his power and would intensify his dominance on the European players. Hence, the President of the United States is trying to manage the EU’s collapse from an economic and commercial perspective. It should not be forgotten that during the 2016 presidential campaigns, nationalist and anti-EU movements were Trump’s only supporters in Europe, and other politicians affiliated with the Social Democratic or Conservative movements in Europe (which currently hold the power) wished that the Democrats and Hillary Clinton could win the election.
Europe is now facing a phenomenon called “Trump”. In spite of this, the way European authorities try to deal with the White House is still based on a kind of deterrent idealism. Unlike countries such as China and Canada, which have given a strong response to imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, European authorities have not yet taken a determined decision against the United States and the Trump government. On the other hand, European leaders continue to resolve the differences between themselves and the Trump government on the through negotiation. It is as if the European leaders have not yet realized the deep opposition of Trump with the EU and the Eurozone. They are still trying to reduce the US president’s “conflicts” with the EU to some sort of “superficial disagreement”, which is exactly what the president of the United States and his entourage want.

Undoubtedly, the current retreat of the EU authorities before Trump and their failure to enter the phase of “confrontation with the White House” should be interpreted as “EU’s quiet suicide”. The continuation of this process will lead to further pressures on the European Union, and subsequently, the position of nationalist and anti-EU groups within Europe will be strengthened. Besides, we should take this fact into account that with the advent of more than one hundred far-right representatives to the European Parliament during the 2014 parliamentary elections, the process of “collapse of the United Europe” has actually begun. Right now in countries such as Austria, Italy, Sweden, and even France and Germany, nationalist groups have been able to politically strengthen their position, and even find way to the top of political equations of some of these countries. The most important factor that can save Europe from current crises is to strengthen the Europe’s independence in the international system. The symbol and objective example of the strengthening of such an independence is “standing against the United States”. But that’s exactly what the European authorities have forgotten.

It seems as if European officials hesitate to consider the significant presumption of “Trump’s opposition to the United Europe” in their behavioral and verbal calculations. They are still thinking and deciding in the phase of “interacting with the White House”, and they are even willing to give their NATO Ally some advantages. But if the EU doesn’t enter the phase of “confronting the US” and merely try to control Trump’s decisions and policies, its destiny will be nothing but collapse and destruction. This confrontation calls for putting an end to the Europeans’ play on the US ground; a precondition that has not yet been fulfilled by EU member states. Eventually, the Green Continent is at one of the most critical periods of its political, economic and security life. Indeed, how can we imagine that Europe, by continuing its current submission to the United States, can get out of the existing crises?

First published in our partner MNA

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The meeting between Prime Minister Conte and President Trump

Giancarlo Elia Valori



At least apparently, the meeting between US President Trump and Italy’s Prime Minister Conte – already widely planned and publicized – went well.

With some common and evident pride, they mutually defined each other as the initiators of what, nowadays, is usually called “populism”, consisting in the fight against traditional elites in favour of the “people” that, however, actually appears rather as a fight between two different components of the global elite: the old one that still focuses on globalization and the other that instead gathers around the evident crisis of globalism and wants to build a new multipolar world. Ultimately the opening to the world market has proved to be less effective than expected: the cost for destroying “domestic” jobs has turned out to be greater than the gains resulting from the globalized market.

President Trump, who has clear in mind what is still happening on the US-Mexican border, said that the Italian government’s work on the migrant issue “is formidable”.

Italy’s government work that, however, would be “formidable” both for illegal migrants and for the very few legal ones.

Nevertheless President Trump was particularly sensitive to an issue which is high on prime Minister Conte’s agenda, namely Libya.

Trump and Conte have established a new “strategic dialogue” between the USA and Italy on Libya, while the US President currently recognizes Italy’s hegemony over the Mediterranean and the stabilization of Libya and, later, of Northern Africa.

In more specific terms, President Trump said it would  further diminish the American presence in the Mediterranean and would delegate Italy to manage and reduce tensions in the region. Hence the need for the Italian government to increase defense spending, as we will see later on.

In August 2018 Italy will already send some military ships to Libyan waters, while the United States still has many ships operating in the Mediterranean, which they do not intend to relinquish completely.

The new US-Italian “control room” will operate within the framework between this residual US presence and the increase of Italian operations in the Mediterranean.

Prime Minister Conte’s real project, however, is a great International Conference on Libya, to be held in Rome next autumn, which will see the United States play the role of hegemonic power and will enable the Italian government to definitively position itself as the leader of the whole  Libyan political process.

In fact, Prime Minister Conte is thinking about a joint “control room” between Italy and the United States, especially for Libya and for security in the Mediterranean region.

Nevertheless there is a problem: the difference between the US and Italian war potentials.

There is also the different assessment of the Mediterranean region by the United States, which sees the Mediterranean in connection with the Persian Gulf and Central Asia (hence in contrast with Russian interests), and finally the contact with China’s maritime control area.

Conversely, probably due to a still narrow-minded vision, for Italy the Mediterranean is the region in which the migrants’ market must be controlled and finally be put to an end, by avoiding the interference of France – which is  interested in encouraging the flow of migrants towards  Europe and hence towards Italy – and the jihad, which is spread also through large-scale migration.

All French – and sometimes British – interests are far from Italy’s and often totally diverging with its goals.

Furthermore, Italy has long played all its cards on Fayez al-Sarraj’s government, the “legitimate” one according to the United Nations and hence – according to our experience – the weakest and most unstable and irrelevant government.

There are currently signs of a new relationship with General Haftar, but none of the two Libyan governments fully trusts Italy. Probably it would be a smart strategy for Italy to play all its cards on Fayez al-Sarraj, so as to remain his sole sponsor and later play from a vantage point with General Haftar himself, that now no longer goes beyond the old border with Tripolitania.

How will Italy be in a position to get in touch with the region in the West controlled by General Khalifa Haftar, a leader who reports respectively to Egypt, Russia and France, which has always pretended to support Fayez al-Sarraj but, from the beginning, has made the Service Action of its intelligence services side with the military of the East, of General Haftar’s Cyrenaica?

Clearly the de facto union between the United States and Italy for Libya serves to get France and most of the EU out of play- and, indeed, the EU has scarcely taken care of the issue. The French-EU system is now a structural opponent of Prime Minister Conte’s government, but is also a German ally. Germany is now an enemy of President Trump’s United States and he wants it to reduce its export surplus, which is greater in real terms than China’s.

The “distant friend”, namely America, to be called against the “near enemy”, namely the EU, which is an old and excellent Israeli strategy, but never replaces the direct operations against the opponent that is only a few steps away.

The Italian struggle is against the “Rhenish” Europe, which still wants to split up the “Libyan region” and is not interested in the migration issue, which does not affect France and Germany at all.

Germany has mostly migrants from the Middle East, not so much from the Maghreb region.

In fact, migration in Italy is an operation of “indirect strategy”: the costs for the State increase; the mass of skilled workers decreases; also the innovation potential of companies decreases since they are de facto forced to hire low-skilled migrants when they need manpower;  finally the invisible costs of large-scale migration increase, such as health, prison system, security and initial support to  the migrants themselves.

The aforementioned Italian-US “control room”, however, puts the EU in a difficult position: it is true that President  Trump said that,in the future,Italy would play the role of “facilitator” between the USA and the EU, but Italy is as weak within the European Union as it is strong in the bilateral link with Trump’s “populist” United States.

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the gas pipeline that the USA favours against the gas lines controlled in Northern Europe by Russia and its “friendly” countries, is the “wedding gift” that President Trump asks to Italy.

This pipeline falls within a markedly anti-Russian policy line, but it also affects an Apulian region, namely Salento, that is already very sensitive for the current Italian government from the electoral viewpoint. In fact the Italian government won many votes from the anti-TAP movements, which are very strong in Salento, and are ready to fight to the death.

Will the Five Star Movement decide to lose its face and  Apulia’s voters with a view to strengthening its friendship with the United States, while President Trump asks for government support to the TAP as Italian government’s “proof of love”?

Furthermore will the Italian government’s support for the TAP be useful in relation to the Russian Federation, which should become a supporter of the new “sovereinist” Italy?

I am afraid that if the current government does not choose from the beginning with which of the two powers it wants to side, it will find itself in the same unpleasant and uncomfortable situation as Arlecchino in Goldoni’s play The Servant of Two Masters.

Moreover, in spite of everything, the Russian issue is at the core of the new “contract” between Prime Minister Conte and President Trump.

The EU sanctions against Russia are strongly penalizing for the Italian economy, which has decreased its exports to Russia by 70%, with a loss of over 200,000 jobs and a 25% fall of Russian tourists in Italy.

Prime Minister Conte wants reassurances, and possibly support, to reduce sanctions against the Russian Federation, but Italy may decide to support the TAP – which was designed to counter the North Stream between Russia and Germany –  in exchange for a decrease in US sanctions against Russia.

Hence, if Italy is linked to the anti-Russian front as a result of the Conte-Trump agreement, how will President Putin behave at international level? Certainly his behaviour will  not be favourable and, anyway, capable of doing much selective damage to Italy.

Reverting to Libya, the US-Italian pact to get the Maghreb country out of the political and military chaos envisages ongoing consultations between Italian and US Defence and Foreign Ministers.

Hence is Prime Minister Conte absolutely certain of being able to favour the US trade on the whole European continent? We rather fear that Italy’s EU partners will not look favourably upon Italy’s brokerage and intermediation onto US markets, while possibly Italy’s trade deficit with the United States remains intact and the EU’s one with the USA is  under attack.

As President Trump said, “the Italian companies’ interests will not be hit” – which, inter alia, now seems to be quite credible.

In Trump’s era, the Italian exports to the United States are worth 40.5 billion euros per year.

The total amount of trade between the two countries is worth 55 billion euros, but the Italian imports from the United States currently amount to 15 billion euros.

From 2009 to 2017, the Italian exports to the United States rose by 139%, as against a 58% increase in US exports to Italy over the same period.

The Italian exports to the United States often consist of cars, as well as “luxury and high-end goods”.

If President Trump taxes foreign cars, FCA –  which imports about 50% of the cars it later sells to the USA – could be hit by a 20-25% tax, as the one thought by Trump’s Administration, which would reduce Fiat- Chrysler’s profits within a range from 616 up to 866 million euros.

This applies only to cars. But the US President wants to hit – along with the others -Italy’s trade surplus with the United States, which is approximately 36 billion US dollars.

It is an implicit, but probably involuntary attack on the strategy by Minister Savona, who is collecting the surpluses of Italy’s balance of payments to turn them into assets vis-à-vis the EU.

Moreover, there is also the issue of military spending that the US President wants to increase up to a yearly 2% level for all NATO European States.

However, if we spend the expected 2%, it is more than likely that Italy will ipso facto exceed the deficit / GDP ratio set by the EU that former Prime Minister Prodi once dismissed  as “stupid”.

Hence how could Italy be the sole and effective broker and mediator between the EU and North America?

Therefore there are many lights and shadows on the new preferential relationship between the United States and Italy. We hope that everything will go well.

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Mesut Ozil’s retirement and the dark face of identity politics in Germany

Sisir Devkota



Distinguished commentators are pondering upon a particular question in common. What was Ozil supposed to do when Recep Tayyip Erdogan-the President of Turkey had invited him for a compassionate meeting in a hotel room? The answer is obvious. He could not have ignored. Except for breakouts inside the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) and the anti-immigration AfD (Alternative for Germany), Mesut Ozil has substantial approval from all corners. More than football, the issue is deeply rooted in the Christian roots of political parties in Germany.

Rienhard Grindel-a former politician hailing from CDP, manufactured a fuss about how Ozil should not have met with Erdogan in front of a packed press before flying to Russia for the World Cup. Former footballer and Germany’s team manager, Olivier Bierhoff struck a controversial statement too. He regretted not leaving Manchester City’s prolific Ilkay Gundogan and Ozil out of the aeroplane to Russia. When the animosity became public, Germany was out in the Russian summer, preparing for a doomed destiny of failing to qualify from the group stages. Ozil kept quiet until it was over but for outsiders and in Turkey, there was a serious accusation to tackle. Erdogan was advertised as a leader practicing anti-democratic values and arguments like Ozil’s meeting with the Turkish president was against the values of Germany baffled all neutrals. How could a country’s democracy diminish by a footballer’s honourable act? Slowly and subsequently, Rienhard was reminded of his statement in 2004. “Multiculturalism is a myth”, he had declared. Renowned journalist, Matt Pearson pierced him in public and questioned his ability to lead a team full of second and third generation Germans. Read Ozil’s statement carefully. He has cultivated feelings of justifying his citizenship every time he is on the pitch. “When we lose, I’m not German”, Ozil wrote in his long address. The problem is about identity. It is a fight of political values, lost in transition.

Germany’s chancellor-Angela Merkel is with Ozil. Her colleague Grindel was a former CDP man until elected as the association’s president in 2016. Defectors from CDP formed the Alternative for Germany. Ozil’s retirement has underlined the problem of clashing political franchises in Germany. Merkel has often been accused of straying away from the values of CDP, which in its inception, was assembled by World War survivors to protect the Christian character of the German nation. The AfD was born in the same light to correct the frailties of the existing CDP. Ozil’s case of mistreatment is only the result of the clashing politics, deeply rooted with the values of religious identity. Unlike modern societies, it is not the case of Islam being politicised. Instead, it is a contest of Christian quality. An attempt to correct the founding values of German political structure. The AfD are making dangerous strides and to put it in their own words, they are seeking to become the true guardian of Christian identity in Europe. Influential pastors and bishops are supporting the AfD agendas to incorporate Christian values in schools. Ozil is right about the nature of his German society. It is in a skirmish. In a civil war of values tied with Christianity.

France is a good comparison to make. Officials from the French National team were angered by social media statements of how Africa had won the world cup; not France. A fellow French footballer of an African descent replied with twenty-three French flags; the total number of his teammates who won the cup in Russia. Ozil expressed the same emotion; unlike in Germany, he would have still been a French-when he lost matches. Rightly, the 2010 Bambi award winner has questioned his treatment by the German Football Association (DFB). However, recurring racial attacks in the past have often disparaged the good impression of a German society. Be it rejections of Indian students by a professor in Leipzig (2015) or the murder of an Egyptian national in 2009; it is a society expanding in turmoil.

Turkey, his ancestral land has commended his courage to speak up against the system. Erdogan reportedly telephoned him in sympathy and support. For many, it has come as a political agenda in the midst of elections but Mesut Ozil’s cause deserves widespread endorsement. When Rienhard Grindel was just a treasurer for the DFB, Ozil won the world cup for Germany in 2014.

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