Connect with us

Europe

Greeks say ‘NO’ to an open laboratory for violation of human rights

Published

on

The Greek debt crisis saga continues with no resolution in sight. As expected, the European leaders rejected a last-minute proposal by Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, requesting an extension of the bailout program that expired on 30th June and seeking a new €29.1 billion bailout package that could have covered country’s debt obligations over the next two years.

The rejection led the country to default on its €1.6 billion loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund. Greece is the first developed country to default to the IMF. Even though the IMF does not use the term default, it will now classify Greece as being “in arrears” and the country will only receive funds in future once the arrears are cleared.

After several rounds of protracted negotiations in Brussels, Greece had rejected the anti-austerity conditions contained in the bailout package prepared by the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). The troika demanded substantial cuts in pension and wages besides overhauling value-added tax as a precondition for releasing the remaining funds from the bailout package which expired on 30th June. Disappointed over the rigid stand taken by troika, on 27th June, Mr. Tsipras announced a referendum to decide whether or not Greece should accept the bailout conditions. The referendum will take place on 5th July.

By announcing a referendum, the Greek government has put the ball in people’s court. It is hard to predict the outcome of forthcoming referendum. It is likely that a No vote would strengthen the bargaining power of the current government which came to power on anti-austerity platform in January 2015. While a Yes vote would make the government’s position untenable and probably lead to general elections.

Capital Controls

On 28th June, the Greek government imposed capital controls and other regulatory measures to maintain liquidity and stability in the banking system. These include:

  • All banks in the country will remain closed for a week (June 29- July 6, 2015).
  • An individual can withdraw up to €60 per card a day from ATM.
  • The foreign bank cards are exempted from this daily limit.
  • The transfer of money to outside Greece will require approval from the official authorities.
  • A specialized agency will deal with urgent payments that cannot be met through cash withdrawals or electronic transactions.

The Accumulation of Public Debt

No discussion on Greek debt crisis would be complete without analyzing how the country’s public debt got accumulated over the years. In 2004, the country’s public debt was €183.2 billion. By 2009, it reached as high as €299.5 billion, or 127 percent of country’s GDP.

Currently, Greece’s public debt stands at €323 billion, nearly 175 percent of country’s gross domestic product. Both the critics and supporters of Greek’s government admit that such a high debt-GDP ratio is unsustainable. The current government is seeking substantial write-off of country’s debt so as to put the country back on a growth trajectory. While seeking debt relief for Greece, several economists and legal experts have referred to London Agreement in 1953 which gave generous debt relief to West Germany by writing off its 50 percent of debt, accumulated after world wars. This debt relief was one of the key factors which enabled the reemergence of Germany as a world economic power in the post-war period.

In 2015, the Greek Parliament set up a Truth Committee about the Public Debt to investigate how country’s foreign debt got accumulated from 1980 to 2014. The Committee has recently released a preliminary report which states that Greek public debt is largely illegitimate and odious. I would earnestly request readers to read this report as it confronts several popular myths associated with the Greek public debt. According to the report, the increase in debt before 2010 was not due to excessive public spending but rather due to the payment of extremely high rates of interest to creditors and loss of tax revenues due to illicit capital outflows. Excessive military spending also took place before 2010.

More importantly, the report reveals how the first loan agreement of 2010 was used to rescue the Greek and other European (especially German and French) private banks. The loan agreements of 2010 (and 2012) helped private banks and creditors to offload their risky bonds issued by the Greek government. In simple words, the debt of the private banks was transformed into public sector debt via bail-outs. As pointed out by Tim Jones of Jubilee Debt Campaign, it is not the people of Greece who have benefitted from bailout loans from the troika but the European and Greek banks which recklessly lent money to the Greek government in the first place.

Out of €254 billion lent to the Greek government by troika since 2010, only 11 percent have been spent to meet government’s current expenditure. Of course, previous governments of Greece are equally responsible for spending beyond its means and falsifying its public accounts.

Who owns Greece’s public debt? Currently, close to 80 percent of Greece’s public debt is owned by public institutions — primarily from the EU (member-states, ECB and EFSF) and the IMF (see chart below) The rest is owned by private creditors.

Austerity Caused a Humanitarian Crisis

The social and economic consequences of austerity measures imposed by troika on Greece have been devastating. Since 2010, Greece’s GDP has fallen by 25 percent and unemployment rate is 26 percent. The youth unemployment rates are at an alarmingly high level. Currently, over 56 percent of young people in Greece are without a job and there are more than 450,000 families with no working members. After five years of fiscal adjustment and economic hardship under the austerity program, Greece’s major indicators (including GDP, employment and incomes levels) are still far below the pre-crisis levels.

The welfare spending cuts proved to be counter-productive. As pointed out by Ozlem Onaran of University of Greenwich: “The wage and pension cuts and fiscal consolidation led to lower GDP, tax losses, and higher public debt. Our estimates show that the fall in the wage share alone has led to a loss in GDP by 4.5%, and a 7.80% point increase in the public debt/GDP ratio. The fall in wages alone explains more than a quarter (27%) of the rise in the public debt/GDP ratio in this period. The conditionalities of the memoranda have not only been counterproductive in terms of its aims regarding debt sustainability, but also engineered a humanitarian crisis.”

Many legal experts argue that the harsh austerity program imposed by troika could potentially pose a violation of human rights. According to Ilias Bantekas, Professor of International Law at Brunel University Law School, “The measures imposed against the Greek people were wholly antithetical to fundamental human rights as these stem from customary international law, multilateral treaties and the Greek constitution. Consequently, these ‘loans’ were held to be odious, illegal or illegitimate.”

It is pertinent to note that not just in Greece, the austerity programs also failed to yield positive results in Cyprus, Spain and Ireland.

Grexit: Pain and Gain

What would happen if Greece abandons or is forced to exit the euro? In the short-term, it would certainly entail greater uncertainty and economic hardship. A massive capital flight by the elites along with collapse of banks and businesses which have borrowed in euros cannot be ruled out. The payments of salaries and pensions could also be delayed for months.

The social and economic consequences could be disastrous for Greek economy and its people if the transition from the euro to a new national currency (possibly drachma – its old currency) is badly managed. Hence, the transition should be well-planned and properly implemented with popular support.

There is a growing consensus that a massive devaluation of drachma would help in increasing domestic demand and improving the prospects of economic recovery. A weak drachma would make Greek exports more competitive and its tourism more attractive and therefore would open up new opportunities to enhance exports and encourage more tourism over the long-term. Exports account for nearly 30 percent of its GDP. Because of a weak new drachma, the demand for domestic goods would increase as imports will become more expensive thereby boosting the domestic demand which, in turn, would also encourage greater domestic production and create more jobs for Greek people.

In addition, Greece will also regain its independent monetary policy and fiscal space to set policies in tune with its own economic needs instead of those of Eurozone economies. Needless to say, a small country like Greece (representing less than 2 percent of EU’s GDP) should never have joined the flawed monetary union in the first place.

Wider Ramifications for Europe

Greece leaving the euro will have serious economic ramifications for the rest of Europe. If Greece leaves the Eurozone, the threat of financial contagion to other weak Eurozone economies (such as Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy) looms large and subsequently these economies may as well exit the euro. Not only such a move would weaken the Eurozone but, more importantly, it would spell the end of the single currency experiment and the larger European project towards greater economic integration.

Besides, one cannot ignore the fact that the euro may face massive devaluation if international investors liquidates their European assets and investments en masse.

Furthermore, there are human and geo-political ramifications which are not sufficiently understood by European leaders. How will the EU cope with the influx of migrants from North Africa who enter Europe (via Mediterranean route) without the active cooperation of Greek government?

Technically speaking, an exit from euro does not mean an exit from the EU. A Greek veto on extending sanctions against Russia over Ukraine would further weaken the European strategy to isolate Russia.

The observation made by many commentators that Grexit would isolate the country from the world economy is highly misplaced. Greece can explore new economic partnerships and build strategic alliances with Russia, China and other developing world. Given its favourable geo-economic location in Southern Europe, Greece can emerge as an important regional energy distribution hub. Greece has already launched discussions with Russia to build a gas pipeline to Greece via Turkey and then to Europe. This pipeline could bring immense benefits to Greece’s economy in terms of new investments and jobs. Greece is currently considering joining the New Development Bank (NDB) which was set up in 2014 by BRICS. Becoming a member of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is another possibility.

Needless to say, the European leaders need to act more like statesmen as the European Union is founded on the values of respect for democracy, equality, human rights and solidarity.

The Broader Meanings of ‘No’ Vote

Finally, the Greek citizens have delivered a resounding ‘No’ to bailout conditions demanded by creditors in a referendum held on 5th July. The referendum was announced by Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, on 27th June after bailout talks with the creditors failed. The referendum asked voters to decide “whether to accept the outline of the agreement submitted by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup of 25/06/15.”

The government-backed ‘No’ side won with 61.31 percent of votes, while ‘Yes’ got the remaining 38.69 percent. Further, not a single electoral district of Greece voted for ‘Yes’. No one in Greece had predicted such a massive victory for ‘No’ vote. Most opinion polls had predicted a tight contest with ‘No’ side winning by a slim margin.

Does a ‘No’ victory mean Greece leaving the euro and the EU? Not exactly. As pointed out by PM Tsipras, “This is not a mandate of rupture with Europe, but a mandate that bolsters our negotiating strength to achieve a viable deal.”

Undoubtedly, the landslide victory in the referendum has greatly strengthened the bargaining power of the current government with creditors. The impacts of the austerity measures imposed by the international creditors have been catastrophic. The Syriza-led government, which came into power on an anti-austerity platform in January 2015, has resisted pressure to implement harsh austerity programs that affect the elderly and the poor.

Another positive outcome of the referendum is that the opposition parties have also given support to the Syriza-led government to negotiate a new deal with creditors. In many important ways, the decisive referendum has brought political stability in Greece which has witnessed four elections in five years.

A New Deal for Greece

In the current circumstances, a new deal is challenging but still feasible. Both sides need to realize the sense of urgency to pursue a realistic agenda. The negotiations between Athens and Brussels should resume immediately in order to avoid a major financial meltdown.

On their part, the leaders of Eurozone should accept a compromised deal to end the impasse. They should not insist that any special privileges to Greece would encourage other potential rule-breaking eurozone countries. The costs of a Grexit are high not only for Greece but also the entire Europe in terms of wider economic and geo-political implications.

It is important to note that the IMF in its preliminary draft debt sustainability analysis (dated June 26, 2015) has sought substantial debt reduction along with extended concessional financing for Greece. This IMF analysis specifically points out that Greece needs “a significant haircut of debt, for instance, full write-off of the stock outstanding in the GLF facility (€53.1 billion) or any other similar operation.” The Greek Loan Facility (GLF) consists of bilateral loans pooled by the European Commission.

A new deal is feasible if the European leaders realize the true importance of ‘No’ vote. The message of Greek referendum is loud and clear: harsh austerity measures imposed by the EU lack democratic legitimacy. And the debt relief should not be treated as a taboo.

Hence, keeping the wider interests of the European project in mind, its political leadership should adopt a more flexible approach towards Greece based on the principles of democracy, human rights, cooperation and solidarity. After all, the financial rules are meant to serve the people, not the other way around.

In return, Greece should also undertake policy measures to check massive tax evasion by oligarchs and streamline its public finances. Needless to say, the Greek government should be given a fair chance to put its house in order. This entails patience on the part of official creditors.

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

Is the EU risking geopolitical irrelevance in its own backyard? Lessons from Covid-19

Ioannis Alexandris

Published

on

Covid-19 and the global landscape

Undoubtedly, it is hard to make complete sense of the impact of such an unprecedented – at least in our modern times- global crisis and it would be premature to make any definite assessment. However, from a geopolitical perspective, it would be safe to assume that it has reinforced existing tendencies that were already underway over the last decade: On the one hand, a retreat to the nation-state. On the other hand, it has led to an acceleration of re-regionalisation, mainly due to the decoupling of global supply chains. These two apparently opposite trends are in fact two sides of the same coin, signalling a departure from hyper-globalisation.

Multilateralism has suffered a serious blow in the aftermath of the pandemic. President Trump’s decision for the withdrawal of the US from the WHO is indicative. The escalating US-Chinese trade war has now been coupled with a war of narratives, with each side blaming the other for ineffective response to the pandemic.

Caught between this new wave of competition, the image of EU has also suffered a blow, due to the late response of the majority of member states to the pandemic, and more significantly, due to the early lack of solidarity between its very own members.

Amid this current unpredictable landscape, with eroding post-WWII international institutions, Washington’s self-isolation, a rising China and an assertive and regionally present/emerging Russia, the need for greater strategic autonomy is evident. EU has the opportunity but also the responsibility to step up as a champion of multilateralism. Hence, on FP level, a more strategic EU could finally justify von der Leyen’s characterisation of her Commission as a ‘’geopolitical’’ one.

However, in order to do so, the EU should begin with its own backyard, the seriously-affected and volatile Western Balkans.

EU and the WB, the enlargement’s state of play

It was in October 2019, when a much-anticipated green light for the start of the negotiating process for Albania and North Macedonia was denied by France, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands, on the grounds that the entire framework of the membership process should first be revised.

Sympathisers perceived it as an honest questioning of the effectiveness of the existing framework. Critics attributed this decision either to president Macron’s need to bolster his leadership image at the European level or the need to satisfy the French public’s increasingly sceptical attitude towards EU enlargement. Regardless of the rationale of this decision, it was still another indication of intergovernmentalism’s privacy in its FP setting, threatening to impel the progress achieved over the last years in the Western Balkans and an additional blow to its credibility vis-a-vis its neighbours.

Even though this (myopic) veto was revoked in April 2020, following the promise of a revised enlargement methodology, accession negotiations are expected to last several years.  The EU needs to step up in support in multiple ways in order to secure its credibility towards the WB states, while preventing further democratic backsliding in the region.

Impact of Covid-19 on WB

Covid-19 hit WB at a particularly peculiar period, with Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro having their elections in 2020, whereas Kosovo’s fragile governmental coalition under former PM Kurti was overthrown in late March.

Even though the average number of Covid-19 cases per capita stayed significantly lower than the majority of European states, the WB were particularly affected due to their weak health systems and vulnerable economies. The political effects of the pandemic are also significant, having resulted to rising populism and centralisation of power. Some leaders even attempted to politicise the pandemic, treating it as a political issue instead of a severe public health crisis. Susceptible to their long-tradition of playing their ‘’nationalist card’’ at times of crises, the leaders of the WB have also increased their anti-EU rhetoric during the pandemic. Moreover, the instrumentalisation of the pandemic as a legitimising tool for additional authoritarian measures has exacerbated phenomena of state capture, especially in Serbia.

Foreign actors – disinformation campaigns on WB

Apart from risking a prolonged democratic setback, the pandemic’s effect in the region has also a geopolitical dimension in an area characterised by geopolitical pluralism:

Since 2013, China has increased its (geo)economic presence through the ‘’Belt and Road’’ project and the ‘’16+1’’ format with questionable practices and no conditionality strings attached for the local political leaderships. The EU’s late response to the crisis paved the way for greater Chinese involvement in the area. Beijing, attempting to switch the narrative of its own early inertness in dealing with the virus in its territory, launched a ‘’mask diplomacy’’ campaign, providing with masks and essential medical equipment countries in need, including candidate states such as Serbia but even EU member states like Italy.The Serbian leadership seized this opportunity to blast criticism towards the EU, thanking China and ‘’brother Xi’’ (in his own words) personally

Russia is frequently engaging in covert operations and disinformation campaigns, especially in Serbia and in one of Bosnia’s entities, Republika Srpska. Kremlin also attempted to undermine the Prespa agreement between Greece and North Macedonia and is openly against the recognition of Kosovo. It also uses energy as a bargaining chip for political gains; In this case, sticking to its usual ‘’divide and rule’’ strategy Kremlin has supported disinformation campaigns ran by state-owned media. The majority of them emphasise on EU’s lack of solidarity and weaknesses, portraying Russia and other authoritarian models of governance like China as the ones that can guarantee efficiency/effectiveness and decisiveness in managing an imminent crisis.

Turkey, a candidate for membership itself, exercises its own influence through soft power (culture and religion), mainly in Muslim-populated Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, but also in Serbia and North Macedonia, through economic means, adding to the region’s complexity of overlapping and contrasting foreign interests.

These actors pose no threat to EU’s prominence in the region (indicatively enjoying 75% share of the total trade) but could significantly sabotage democratisation. The more distant the European perspective will look, the less constrained the leadership of states like Serbia will feel to conduct business with them. Albania is one of the two (together with Montenegro) candidate states with full alignment to the EU foreign and security policy. Yet its candidacy status has stalled.

EU’s economic presence in the region is disanalogous to its visibility and soft power, especially compared to the aforementioned foreign actors, partially due to their disinformation campaigns. Thus, in the dawn of the outbreak pandemic a similar pattern was repeated: EU was originally criticised for placing export restrictions on protective equipment during the virus’ outbreak in Europe.  Even though the restrictions were lifted quickly, as the European Commission first pledged €38 million for the immediate healthcare needs of the WB states in March, followed by a lucrative support package of €3,3 billion that was announced on 29 April, the reputational damage was already done.

Instead, rather than affecting EU’s position vis-a-vis its Balkan partners, the current crisis should pave the way for a ‘’positive instrumentalisation’’ of the crisis in order to avoid risking its geopolitical (ir)relevance.

Thus, the current crisis could be the start for greater, deeper and wider EU engagement in the region for the following reasons:

Increasing need for supply diversification in Europe and WB

As Mark Leonard recently noted ‘’the current pandemic could mark a paradigm shift in EU-China relationship. Thus, the pandemic’s spill-over effect on supply chains will lead to a re-regionalisation process in an attempt to a partial decoupling of economic ties with China. This could give EU an advantage, consolidating its geographic proximity and economic primacy in the region and halting Chinese geo-economic overextension. China’s ‘’Health silk road’’ can generate asymmetries and the debt-trap phenomena in several states across its silk road map (Sri Lanka etc.) should be a point of concern among WB states.

US decline as a global hegemon and the eroding trust of its allies

The current US leadership is too inward-oriented, strongly committed to its ‘’America first’’ doctrine. The President’s counterproductive obsession in insisting on the Chinese origin of the virus and his decision to leave the WHO were just two recent examples that added to Washington’s unwillingness to continue its post-WWII role as the provider of global public goods. Domestically, the political landscape is deeply polarised and divided before the upcoming elections. This overall decline is also reflected on the eroding trust of EU citizens and citizens of other traditional allies towards Washington.

Indeed, Beijing has managed to boost its leadership credentials globally, amid an increasingly introvert and isolationist US leadership. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency and credibility, two essential elements of hegemonic/stability theory/global leadership, coupled with the authoritarian character of its regime render China ill-suited for leading an increasingly ‘’headless’’, also known as’’G-Zero’’ world.

To capitalise of the current situation while staying in line with its own set of values, the EU will have to:

Apply greater scrutiny using updated screening mechanisms on foreign investments, including Chinese ones, pushing sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) criteria. EU can lead the path towards greater sustainability in trade and investments, boosting its geo-economic credentials as a global regulatory power. EU should explore ways to include the WB in the European Green Deal and its ambitious economic goals for climate neutrality by 2050 for the avoidance of price disparities in energy. The EU could assist by sharing best practices and by outlining a clear ‘’green agenda’’ for the Western Balkans, unlocking their significant potential in renewable energy, especially in hydro-energy. Overall, this crisis has been a reminder that supply chains in critical sectors should be reviewed.

Regardless the outcome of the global efforts for an effective vaccine and a return to normality, the economic recovery in the region will not be easy, according to World Bank report. Therefore, the full inclusion of the WB is a dire need for any post-reconstruction plan on behalf of the EU, regardless of the accession status stage/level. In other words, new carrots will have to be invented, complementary to the one of accession, as the accession carrot is losing ground in the near future due to low prospects and/or slow progress.  Of course, economic support should go hand in hand with strings attached.  The EIB as primary funding instruments, should outline clear conditionality criteria related to green economic goals, justifying its recent self-branding as the ‘’European Climate Bank’’.

On a diplomatic level, other possible moves on behalf of the EU with constructive orientation could be finally granting visa liberalisation for the citizens of Kosovo.  Finally, EU will have to keep demonstrating active support for the continuation of dialogue and the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, bypassing US involvement. Finally, upon approval of the negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia by the European Council, the EU should not let go of the momentum and carry on with the first intergovernmental conferences that will mark the formal start of the accession negotiations. This will be another strong sign of support to the progressive, pro-EU forces in the two countries.

In order to counter false narratives and improve EU’s visibility in the region, an increase in the efforts to pushback disinformation campaigns of Russia and China both in the Western Balkans but also in its own territory and members, securing its own coherence and its external positive outlook. The new initiative in fighting disinformation is a step towards the right direction and the Western Balkans should be prioritised as a focal point. It has been proven that economic assistance per se is not enough to win hearts and minds.

Of course, internal coherence is a precondition. It was tested once again, bringing into the surface the traditional division between North and South, however, the capping stone of the negotiations led to a compromise, indicative of the Union’s resilience.  Greater internal coherence will result to greater credibility abroad, especially in the candidate Balkan states. For example, the EU member states have yet to reach an agreement on the migration pact. Also, it is hard to capitalise on its strong record of human right and RoL when still showing an ambiguous attitude vis-a-vis serious violation by the governments of Hungary and Poland. Emphasising on its strengths (social state, transparency) and capitalising on its recent economic agreement will send the right message to the WB states.

Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, in an early Covid-19 essay warned that international institutions are becoming arenas of competition. The EU, with its 27 member states and diversity of voices, has been an arena of conflicting interests in its own. Paradoxically, it could be argued that its own tedious, yet successful – experience with multilateralism and fair compromises puts the EU in a better position to contribute to efforts of repairing multilateralism. However, it should start being taken more seriously by its very own people and why not, by the people that aspire to join it one day. This goal cannot be reached unless its first achieved in its very own backyard, the WB, through an increase of its credibility-visibility and active/practical role on multiple levels.

Continue Reading

Europe

From Prince to Duce: An in depth study about Machiavellianism in the Fascist Doctrine

Nikita Triandafillidis

Published

on

Although both philosophies of Machiavellianism and Fascism are almost 400 years apart, there is no doubt that the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism and power can be found in the theories of Giovanni Gentile. How much of an influence was Niccoló Machiavelli for the father of fascism, Giovanni Gentile and was Mussolini the actual prince that Machiavelli was dreaming of? Why does Machiavelli have a special place at the pantheon of fascism and how relative are those theories in the 21st century?

Political profiles of Machiavelli and Gentile

Nicolló Machiavelli was born in 1469, in Florence of Italy. He was the son of a wealthy lawyer and he studied at the University of Florence. He was mostly known after 1498 where he first served as a government official in the government of the Republic of Florence.

Apart from a government official, Machiavelli was a well-known diplomat, philosopher, and writer. Some of his key works are The Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1519-1521) but the most notable of them is The Prince (1513). Based on Machiavelli’s works and theories, the modern term Machiavellian was born which is mostly connected with acts of political deceit.

On the other hand, Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily in 1875. At a young age after finishing high school, he studied philosophy focusing on the idealist tradition in Italy and Neo-Hegelian idealism. His works such as The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) and The Philosophy of Fascism (1928), were essential foundations for what would be known as the Fascist movement.

In that respect, Giovanni Gentile is considered to be the father of fascism, who gave birth to the iconic figure of the Duce, Benito Mussolini. He served under Mussolini’s regime as the Minister of Education and later as the president of the Academy of Italy. In 1944 he was captured and executed by Italian partisans.

Understanding the realist approach in Machiavelli’s works

To completely understand how Machiavelli influenced one of the most successful ideologies of the 20th century, there has to be in-depth research regarding the theories of Machiavelli. One of his most remarkable works was with no doubt The Prince.

Written in 1513, his work is focused and addressed to young princes that are willing to become successful rulers. Machiavelli is trying to imply the concept of realism by directly implying the truth rather than imagining it. Unlike other political thinkers, he does not see the state as a mechanism to nurture the morality of its citizens but as an ensuring concept that will protect their wellbeing. To have a strong state, you need to have a strong leader that will be able to ensure the wellbeing of his subjects by using any means possible, even deception or intrigue.

“In judging policies, we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed”

Machiavelli considered the idea of the end justifies the means as the only way to ensure stability and prosperity for the state. The success of a prince should be judged by the consequences of his actions and never by his morality or ideology. This idea is perfectly described in The Prince.

“ In the actions of all men, especially princes, where there is no resource to justice, the end is all that counts. A prince should only be concerned with conquering or maintaining a state, for the means will always be judged to be honorable and praiseworthy by each and every person because the masses always follow appearances and the outcomes of affairs, and the world is nothing other than the masses”

Regarding his views about religion and the state, although he was a devoted catholic, he did oppose the interference of church to political life. According to one of his books, the Discourses on Livy, the vision that he has for the perfect form of government is modeled on the Roman Republic, with a mixed constitution and participation by its citizens. However, he stresses out that for such a republic to exist, it needs a strong leader that will allow specific laws about the social organization that will allow this ideal republic to be born.

Gentile’s idea of the fascist state

Similar to Machiavelli’s ideas about the ideal leader and republic were the theories of Giovanni Gentile. As the father of fascism, Gentile was essential to establish the foundations and the pillars to promote Benito Mussolini and the Duce of the people that will lead them to the resurrection of the Roman Republic.

Gentile’s ideas are perfectly described in one of his early works, The Philosophy of Fascism which was written in 1928. Based on his book, we can get a clear understanding of his constructive ideas. To get the support of the masses, Gentile focused on more nationalistic elements combined with a more radical form of social organization that will be based around the fascist state.

The philosophy that he wanted to impose was one of unity through collectivism. In this idea, he promotes the fascist conception of the state as an attitude towards life in which individuals are bound together by a higher law and will, the law and will of the nation. However, to fully understand the principles behind fascism, one has to follow the guidelines that he mentions in The Doctrine of Fascism which he co-wrote with Benito Mussolini.

Written in 1932, The Doctrine of Fascism, focuses on the ideas that can be promoted to achieve the goal of the fascist state. Gentile rejected the idea of individualism and thought that the answer to the needs of people for security and prosperity was in the idea of collectivism.

Although it might sound very familiar with what Karl Marx was advocating, Gentile did not agree with him on the idea of a divided society into social classes and a historical struggle between classes. He also was against any form of democracy that indicated the majority rule, which sees the will of the nation underneath the will of the majority.

Above all, the idea of fascism sets in three major ideas. That the law and will of the nation must take precedence over the individual will and that all human values lie within the state. Moreover, all individual actions serve to preserve and expand the state.

In addition to his philosophy, it needs to be mentioned his ideas regarding other forms of political theory or even the aspect of peace. For Gentile, any form of economic or political liberalism would only result in an unstable political system that is bound to fail.

His views about the failure of liberalism came right after the end of WWI, where Italy ended up in a state of social and political unrest.

Politicians that were promoting these ideas were not able to provide sustainable answers to Italy’s increasing unemployment rate and social unrest.

Gentile also believed that the aspiration of permanent peace could not be implemented because of the conflicting interests of all the nations that in the end made conflict completely inevitable.

A comparative study of both philosophies

After carefully reviewing both theories, it is safe to say that there are quite a few similarities that can be found. Firstly,  there is a clear sense of contempt for the idea of moral progress.

In terms of politics, both Machiavelli and Gentile’s ideal leader, Benito Mussolini always considered themselves realists that were willing to sacrifice anything for their nation.

Mussolini himself even claimed that Niccoló Machiavelli and his realist approach were an inspiration to him and that his book The Prince had an influence on him since he aspired of being the great leader for Italy that would restore the glory of the Roman Empire.

Secondly the idea of the state’s wellbeing being above any form of individualism. In that sense, the famous quote of Machiavelli “the end justifies the means”, can be found in the fascist doctrine.

The belief that the end justifies the means, as a pure struggle for power is the defining characteristics of fascism.

Finally, both of the theories can be traced down to the single concept of the sheepdog and the sheep.

An effective leader can and will harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way, a sheepdog can manipulate to his will a herd of sheep. Not to mention that both Machiavelli and Mussolini thought that the idea of ensuring the wellbeing of a state and its citizens can be effectively achieved by using deceit, treachery, and secrecy whenever it is necessary.

Was Benito Mussolini a real Machiavellian Prince?

With all these similarities, wouldn’t all the scholars agree that through Gentile’s intellectual foundations to the fascist movement, Benito Mussolini can be considered the ideal prince according to Machiavelli?

However, he might be far from being the ideal leader. Machiavelli himself would have found the idea of Mussolini being a prince obscure.

Firstly, the radical ideas that Mussolini had and the way he imposed them on the people through a dictatorship did not comply with the concept of virtues that Machiavelli suggested.

Secondly, Machiavelli specifically said and made it very clear that this is only a matter of expediency and not a model for social behavior, something that Mussolini tried to impose through his blackshirts movement. The aspect of totalitarian regimes was not what Machiavelli had in his mind.

Mussolini also failed to protect and ensure the wellbeing of his citizens and the state. His radical views and clear lack of understanding of what was happening around him made him more of a joker rather than a prince.

An excellent example is his will to enter WWII with the Axis, something that completely crippled the Italian people.

Machiavelli was not an advocate of war and he believed that being ruthless should only last until peace and prosperity are achieved, not to mention that his ideal ruler will establish the ideal republic where there will be a mixed constitution and participation by the citizens.

In that sense, Mussolini was not willing to let his people have any sort of power. In the end for many historians and political thinkers. Mussolini was not in power for the benefit of his people but for the benefit of his ego and his idea that he was the chosen one to restore the glory of ancient Rome.

Implementing the political philosophies in the 21st century

In conclusion, can these two theories be implemented in today’s society? Certainly, fascism has left a bitter taste in Europe and around the world and no government in the world wants to hold the title of a fascist state.

However, fascism has not disappeared rather it has silently moved towards right-wing groups that promote the idea of nationalism.

On the other hand, the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism can be found around the world and some may argue that leaders like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are the modern princes that put the interests of the state above individualism. With that being said, it would be impossible to compare any world leader to the ideal prince of Machiavelli, simply because it is hard to understand the notion of a paternalistic society that Machiavelli wanted to be created through the perfect leader. Instead in this day and age authoritarian regimes have replaced this notion and most of the time they leave a negative global opinion.

Today it is important for everyone to remember our world’s history in order not to allow ourselves to fall for the same mistakes of our past. The mistakes that brought misery for the whole world with catastrophic wars and misleading ideologies that pretend to be closer to the citizens but in reality they serve their own authoritarian goals. All in all, when we approach such theories we have to remember the words of the revolutionary Leon Trotsky:

“If the end justifies the means, what justifies the end?”

Continue Reading

Europe

An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme

Tereza Neuwirthova

Published

on

WIIW Director Holzner addressing the Conference

The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.

The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.

On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE  and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.

WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.

Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.

Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.

From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).

The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.

As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending