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The file of the refugee crisis remains open

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The massive influx of migrants – Arab and African refugees to Europe – is unanimously considered to have triggered this summer the most serious refugee crisis after the Second World War.

However, its causes have not been profoundly analyzed or stated and admitted by the important European political decision-makers involved in this crisis. This is the reason why the public opinions and assessments on the real causes that took migration to this level are often opposed. Until now, the official statements, comments and analyses of the crisis have been very numerous, diverse, contradictory and often inflammatory, having increased tensions while the massive groups of migrants were moving towards the center of Europe.

Starting from the information and videos constantly presented by the international media, we can say that the peoples living on the European territory, which have already entered the era of knowledge with the 21st century – a century of information, are currently dealing with an extremely serious and unprecedented state of insecurity following the world wars. The opposing statements, the irrational augmentations of the armament race including the nuclear one and the threat of using these weapons, the great maneuvers USSR vs. US, the troops of the Warsaw Treaty vs. NATO and vice versa, the Soviet military invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968) or the political-military tensions within the international relations have never created such chaos and decisional instability in Europe. As for the crisis in Yugoslavia, it is true that there have been serious military confrontations that caused numerous deaths, but at least they were somehow controlled, being kept within the geographic limits in which they appeared. At the end, due to NATO and the EU’s management, they did not induce a war psychosis that could extend to the entire continent.

At present, the level of the migration is extraordinary – Arab and African refugees form large groups of people including men and women of different ages, including old people and have a heterogeneous structure in ethnicity and in terms of the origin country, social class and profession, possibly even in terms of religion, other than the Islamic one.

The simultaneous and quite immediate mobilization of so many people and the creation of these groups, even the fact that they left their homes and their towns, cannot be considered as being spontaneous decisions. It is true that there has been bombing and war in their towns, as it happened in Syria and Libya, but that could have led to separation and not to the creation of groups. Therefore, their movement in groups of hundreds or thousands of people choosing various routes, optimal to get to the center of Europe, raises a lot of questions about the spontaneous character of this migration. There are currently discussions about the agencies of international tourism as being turned into real “business centers” that offered passports and money. Who is behind all of these and which was the purpose for giving them money? Who do they cooperate with in Europe and in the embarking locations? Conflicts between the rebels had started a long time ago in the migrants’ countries and the high level of insecurity generated this inherent and predictable migration. So the migration that Europe is dealing with at present is not a new phenomenon. It has been known for some time. And even so, it looks like there was nobody to study it in the most profound detail. The intelligence services and the embassies that remained in the region were not aware of how this migration began and developed? While travelling to their destinations, the migrants have had a violent and excessive behavior, especially at border crossings, being determined to achieve the goal they set when embarking in this great adventure. Therefore, there are sufficient reasons for some of them to be looked at with suspicion. In the context of a phenomenon amplified by migrants originating from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq etc, these suspicions indicate that there is a migration mafia operating at present and sending people towards the center of Europe. The assessment can definitely be proved and it is being led be certain hidden interests – geopolitical or demographic ones, including the need for cheap labor, and in my opinion, we cannot rule out the participation of Russia and Germany either from it.

Considering the reactions and administration of this migration by its possible future “hosts”, it seems that its development has surprised the entire Europe, causing chaos and panic in the European countries crossed by the migrants. Confusion existed also at the decisional level of the European countries involved and of the current EU management. It is obvious that the ingravescence of the migrants’ crisis has been accompanied by more intense manipulation, propaganda and informative intoxication. These are the manifestations specific to the informational war initiated by the Russian Federation. Tactically speaking, they were mainly focused on Ukraine and Syria during the last two years. Strategically, as Moscow declared openly and repeatedly they aim at destabilizing the EU and NATO. Within contexts completely different, they have been turned into main targets established in a short-term and medium-term strategy extended in the Eurasian perimeter. Now, the Syrian file, connected to the consequences of the Arab spring file distracts attention from the Russian war on the Ukrainian territory. I am under the impression that the West’s support for Ukraine could not only be “neglected”, but it has already become an important point on the agenda of negotiations with Russia on the fight against the Islamic State and settlement of the situation in Syria.

Premises of instability

All the above-mentioned certainly represent serious premises for instability and insecurity in Europe, favorable to Russia and skillfully used by Kremlin.

In view of the current international geopolitical context, and particularly the European one mentioned above, I am convinced that the current leadership in Kremlin has been constantly practicing an aggressive and blackmailing diplomacy with the US and Western Europe for a long time, using only provocative statements and threats of nuclear attacks on the NATO members as well as direct military operations or hybrid operations.

Correlating Russia’s favorable results in Ukraine, with immediate effects in the explosion of migration towards Europe this summer, we note that Moscow’s strategy has achieved its purpose – the destabilization of the EU. A serious and worrying reality has been created that could affect the future existence of the Union. If until this moment we were talking about it based on gaps in the functioning of the EU or on the unwanted support of skepticism, at present we notice that there is no longer solidarity between its members and the diplomatic and political-military relations have turned to be so tense and serious that even conflicts appeared at the border. The general situation of Europe at present is influenced by the flow of migration, premises have been created that define the maximum state of security threats for a country, which could be compared to what the history of art theory and military strategy calls imminent war.

The management of the migrants’ crisis vs. a new modus operandi

The problem that concerns and worries the entire population of the world refers to the causes that led to this situation of imminent war. In order to do this, I think we should have a clear picture of this phenomenon – the immense flow of migrants towards Europe. To this end, I consider that the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the Borders of the European Union Member States has done its job. Its report – Annual Analysis of Risk – 2015 published in FRONTEX in April 2015 presented centralized data and information about the migrants, information that came from the responsible institutions during the border control operations. At the same time, the report presents an estimation of how the migration could continue on its favorite routes, particularly the ones that converge towards Europe. Thus, there is a special EU structure for migration which presents annual reports on the development of migration in the neighboring regions of the continent with the potential of producing migrants. In this context, it is difficult to understand why the national powers and the high officials leading the EU did not take any preventive measures in order to reduce the tide of migrants to Europe since they had at hand all the necessary details in order to make efficient and appropriate decisions presented in an analysis of risk compared to the previous years.

According to the Report mentioned above, the illegal border-crossing at the EU’s external borders has reached a new record, being registered 280,000 people more than during the previous year. Most of the migrants originated from Syria and they later on asked for asylum in the EU. This significant increase was stimulated by the very high number of legal approvals for entrance in the EU, which led in fact to a new modus operandi. At the same time, the Report informs that since September 2014 the migrants have started to use cargo boats in order to get from Turkey to Italy, near Mersin. This is a multi-million business for the groups of organized crime and it extended in other countries as well. I consider that all this information was known by the intelligence services. An operational communication system might have not functioned between the countries passed through by the migrants’ groups which could have generated opportune and efficient actions for monitoring. However, when the media presented the increasing tendency of deliberate attempts to use commercial ships for the migrants, communication occurred and the International Maritime Organization got directly involved in the maritime transport industry in order to save migrants.

The report also mentions the fact that the record number of illegal migrants imposed the use of important resources for immediate assistance, superior to those used for registration and details regarding the migrants’ origin. Could this be an excuse for the confusion created at the frontiers? The Report also informs that after having been saved, the migrants continued their route to other member countries and “nobody knows where they are within the EU and that is a vulnerability of the EU domestic security”. In my opinion, this is due first of all to the lack of communication with the migrants, both at the borders and during their movement on the territory of the European Union, They should have been identified or their leaders should have been in constant communication with the people authorized to accompany them. The truth – as presented by the international media – indicates a lack of communication between the national structures of the transit countries, responsible and directly involved in the permanent monitoring of the migrant groups. If this communication existed at the lowest level possible, instead of cooperation there were provocations and violent confrontations that could have turned into much more than the so-called “regrettable incidents at the border” as it happened at the border between Hungary and Croatia. The lack of responsible communication appropriate to the modern society was one of the characteristics in the crisis management of the flow of migrants, starting from the location where the groups were created to the movement of the groups at the external border of the EU and on its territory.

Most of the migrants were discovered in the Central Mediterranean region, totaling 170,000 people. In the eastern Mediterranean region were found 50,800 people. It is important to note that the conclusion of the Report regarding the Hungarian leadership according to which at the end of 2014, the number of migrants increased suddenly at the terrestrial border between Hungary and Serbia, which makes the route West Balkan (with 43,357 illegal migrants) become the third most important route for illegal migration towards the EU. Budapest must have known about it at that time, but it did not tell its neighbors about the intention to build the long-disputed fence. Maybe it would have been a solution since the country was the most exposed country, but the situation could have been discussed in advance. The lack of communication cannot be an excuse for the unfriendly tension shown by certain Hungarian officials, going down to the lowest level of behavior and diplomatic decency in relation with the natural demands of the neighbors that expected explanations. Fear could appear in relation to Hungary as well, suspecting that it would deliberately create tense situations with the neighbors. Associated with the distances from the norms and standards of the EU, they must certainly be included in the country’s foreign policy objective of getting close to Moscow. This kind of fear was also induced in our country, emphasized by the famous American historian Larry Watts, who reveals in his works the manner in which the bilateral relations between Hungary and Romania have been established according to coordinates previously set by Moscow. The Russian leaders, regardless of their name and period, have always wanted that relations between our country and Hungary were tense and denigrated in the opinion the West, particularly in the view of Washington. This statement can no longer be argued as long as it is proven with documents, mostly from the archives of the CIA and of the US Department of State. Nevertheless, this is another story that needs to be discussed in detail on another occasion.

The clandestine mechanized migration mentioned in the report published in FRONTEX increased significantly from 599 in 2013 to 3,052 in 2014. Traffic at the Bulgarian border with Turkey increased ten times.                  

In 2014, approximately 9,400 attempts of illegal border-crossing were identified from countries neighboring the EU/Schengen zone. Inter-community movement within the EU indicates an increase from 7,867 in 2013 to 9,968 in 2014 (an increase of 27%). Therefore, for the first time, more illegal documents were discovered during the Schengen-EU travel than during the cross-border control of the people coming from third countries.

The easing of illegal migration remains a significant threat for the foreign borders of the EU. The number of people facilitating migration has increased from 7,252 in 2013 to 10,234 in 2014. The increase was mainly registered in Spain, Italy and Bulgaria. There were approximately 114,000 people banned to enter the EU, which represents an 11% drop as compared to 2013. The drop is a record consequence as compared to 2013, when an important number of Russian citizens were denied entrance because they did not possess a valid visa.  

In 2014 there were 441,780 people found living illegally in the EU, which represents an increase as compared to the previous year. Most of the increase was due to people from Syria and Eritrea which later asked for asylum. A total number of 252,003 people coming from other countries were asked to leave the EU based on an administrative or legal decision, representing a 12% increase as compared to 2013. In 2014 there were 161,309 people who returned to their countries after leaving the EU, a similar figure to 2013.

The perspective of the Report mentions the probability of a high number of illegal border-crossing in the EU as well as the possibility that a high number of immigrants need assistance for search and rescue (as well as international protection) particularly south of the Union’s border on the routes from the East and Central Mediterranean regions. There are also chances that numerous migrants cross the border legally, ask for asylum and be able to continue their travel in the European Union.

Most of the risks come from the use of false documents. The falsification and use of false documents undermines not only border security, but also the domestic security of the European Union.

These risks are common to almost all member countries because they are associated with the flow of people and controls at the border, requesting constantly higher performance in the specialized control expertize. Most of the criminality in this domain implies documents for entrance in the EU and there are indications of using less sophisticated documents such as identity documents or passes.

Generally, any kind of migration, especially the one that got out of control, can be used to organize espionage and terrorism. If we think about the spatial and temporal dimensions of the current flow of migrants towards the heart of Europe, it is clear that there are opportunities for such activities. The temptation is high and must be taken into consideration. If the Report mentions the terrorist threat that could be facilitated by the current migration, it means that the authors have information supporting the statement. The Report mentions the extremists in the Syrian conflict and the radicalization of young Islamists. At the same time, the serious and extended situation in Syria attracted many foreign fighters, including EU citizens that have double citizenship. The criminal actions of ISIL against humanity demand attention according to the level of this threat.

When choosing between xenophobia and humanity, solidarity loses

Europe’s very complex situation with influxes of migrants also evidenced the lack of human solidarity and political will as shown by the different views of the important EU leaders about the integration of the refugees and the inconsistent support of the declared policies. The opinions of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been the informal leader of the EU and initiated the economic exclusive austerity measures, were expected to top the smaller or bigger European opinions referring to the current refugee crisis. Recent history indicates that the personality of this important official did not impose in the decision-making process, as chancellor and leader of an alliance of parties that supports her, but the great German finance and economic interests. This is the only way in which we can explain its inconsistency in the policy for the refugees. Initially, the offer of receiving 800,000 refugees launched the idea that Germany relies on this work force to save its economy. Shortly afterwards, there was strong criticism to this concept and Germany changed its mind. I mention here the opinions of Horst Seehofer, Bavarian State Premier and leader of the Christian-Social Union (CSU). His opinion did not coincide with the position of the governing ally Angela Merkel because he considered this policy “an error”. After this statement, the German newspaper “Bild” said that the Bavarian officials are preparing to “shut down” the border with Austria, which the newspaper called “a significant change of the refugees’ policy”. Indeed, shortly afterwards trains were no longer allowed to travel from Austria to Germany. The German Minister of Internal Affairs, Maiziere, confirmed that Germany will temporarily introduce controls at the border with Austria due to the large number of refugees coming towards Germany.

The magnitude of the migrants’ flow and its unpredictable evolution has brought into discussion the process of assimilation in the European countries. Normally, this assimilation must be in accordance with the capacities of every European country, be it even a member of the European Union. Uncommon for the integrity of the European values that lay at the basis of the Union and later allowed its development was the violent characteristic of discussions which have put forward terms like national quotas, mandatory quotas and volunteer quotas. In my opinion, this view of the migrants annuls from the very start the principle of solidarity and once again negatively influences cohesion within the EU and even its existence. There were serious discussions at all levels and the public comments and statements of the member countries indicate that xenophobic attitudes have reappeared. The determination in accepting or rejecting these unfortunate quotas represents another dark page in Europe’s history, which we could easily call “the Mediterranean drama: assigning national quotas for immigrants”. It would be unwise and even dangerous to say that a European country is xenophobic, particularly in the current context. I will focus only on the quotas, asking one single question to the “inventor” of the operational methodology of this new “mechanism made in the EU” with the purpose of assigning refugees. Therefore, which are the criteria that set the mandatory national quota for every state? I believe it is based on arithmetic as long as the values are thousand or tens of thousand and end with smaller units like 4837. Arithmetical scrupulosity should not make politics look absurd or ridiculous. Even if the software of the computer, be it the most modern one, would round off the quota, our imposed example will be – 4840 (gain of humanism), but the imposed quotas associated with financial sanctions with values probably given by a smart software (values from 0-infinite) bring the whole process close to dictatorship. History proved that the absurd, the incredible and many others belong to dictatorship and not to democracy. Probably the German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel will also reveal the name of the inventor since we are told that “Europe fell into contemp” after the failure of the ministerial reunion in Brussels organized to set the quotas for the refugees in the EU.

Cui (quid) prodest?

After the serious controversies in the EU and following Germany’s decisional instability under the government of Angela Merkel, the other EU members did not hesitate to protect their interests, at any cost. After seeing that “institutional communication of every member country at a domestic level and within the community was locked in the boxes hidden behind armchairs existing at all levels of leadership, including the management of the EU” in the context of the management of the refugees’ crisis, we also note that “the European diplomacy has failed in front of a steel fence” with no exception.             

The unusual statements and the tense situations used by the European diplomacy in international relations setting its entrance into “the era of migration crisis” are arguments that account for my statements above.

According to “NapocaNews”, Laszlo Kover, President of the Hungarian Parliament announced that Hungary refused the request of the United States to accept immigrants in the EU, accusing Washington of being responsible for the conflicts that generated refugees and offered as an example the fence built by the United States at the border with Mexico. The Hungarian official does not understand that his statement according to which “the European crisis is going through a profound intellectual and moral crisis that generates a political crisis” rebounds upon himself after having initiated this uninspired diplomatic dialog with the US. We remind the Hungarian official that the US is a strategic partner for Europe’s security, despite the interests of some nostalgic Germans for the noisy marches on Berlin’s streets that existed in the past. In this context, it is a good idea to republish some information that appeared in “Romania Liberă” quoting AFP, according to which the mayor of Dachau, Florian Hartmann issued a press statement saying that “an add-on of the former Nazi camp in south Germany will be upgraded as shelter for homeless people, including refugees”. The future occupants were described by the mayor as “the weakest members of the society”. According to the Swiss publication “Tribune de Geneve”, “the Dachau project is not unique in Germany”. At the beginning of 2015, the local authorities started a project in order to transform the former add-ons of the camp from Buchenwald (built similarly to the Dachau camp) into shelters for the immigrants.

The “high-level” diplomatic dialogue between Austria – Hungary about the refugees must be mentioned again due to some statements made public by Reuters. In an interview for “Der Spiegel”, the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann criticized in very strong words the manner in which Hungary manages the crisis of the refugees, saying that “the measures adopted by Viktor Orban’s government remind of the Nazi period” and the packing of people in trains hoping that they would be taken someplace else “reminds of the darkest period from our continent”, referring to the Holocaust practiced by the Nazis during the Second World War. His Excellency Werner Faymann referred directly to his Hungarian counterpart and added that “The Hungarian Prime-Minister Viktor Orban acts irresponsibly by calling these refugees immigrants with economic motivation”.                         

In response, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter Szijjarto, made some serious statements about the Austrian officials: “Austria has been carrying out a campaign of lies against Hungary for several weeks…The statements made by Mister Faymann are irresponsible, undignified for a political leader of the 21st century and they impede the identification of solutions to the refugee crisis”.        

Another “small diplomatic calumny” is the confrontation Budapest-Bucharest, generated by the same steel fence that Hungary announced as planned to be built at the Romanian border. The relations France-Hungary, Slovenia-Croatia, Hungary-Croatia, Hungary-Serbia have been characterized by the same violent dialog about the fence. The violent language and the wording used by the official opponents from all sides are much under the representation of their countries. I am one of those who consider that Hungary, like any other EU member country, has the right of establishing its own defensive measures since one of the important travelling routes for the refugees crosses its territory and, fortunately for us, not the Romanian territory. Moreover, I consider that under the strong pressure of the migrants, much more profound than in any other country, Hungary was forced to adopt these measures, since the management of the EU proved to be inexistent. However, the head of the Hungarian diplomacy should have understood that it was not the fence that disturbed, but the lack of communication on this theme with the neighbors of this country.

Diplomacy is an art and the practice of negotiations between the representatives of nations and groups. This definition does not annuls the fact that those involved in this art must be artisans of a quality directly proportionate to the power of the state being represented or compensating what it misses. Any storm in a glass turns into a tsunami. The attitudes and violent statements outside the traditional, common diplomatic framework lead to belligerent positions of the parties. Unfortunately, if it is being manifested in an institutionalized framework accepted by the parts, like the NATO or EU membership, and if it is based on a series of Euro-Atlantic and European values and principles, being often characterized by more or less serious arguments, it proves the deep misunderstanding of the world we are living in and an almost childish reason. The discussion could have another interpretation if the strategic objectives of a party’s foreign policy were directly or indirectly oriented towards another current geopolitical and geostrategic manifestation in Europe. In this context, as the American State Secretary John Kerry said about creating an alliance against ISIL, “Diplomacy becomes crucial”.

 

First published by the INGEPO Consulting’s Geostrategic Pulse    

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Fostering Tolerance in Europe: Issues of Migration and Populism in Italy

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Authors: Maxim Sigachev and Elena Elena*

Tolerance remains a complicated issue in the West and Russia alike. The challenge, though, remains in the need to account for the connection between the notions of tolerance, social security, and the development of the society. The West tends to adopt a broader perspective on tolerance when compared to Russian practices. In Europe, the notions of ‘tolerance’ is informed by ‘active cooperation’ rather than merely ‘patience’, as is the case in Russia.

There are at least four dimensions to this issue in Europe:

  • that of the EU’s regulatory programs;
  • that of local communities;
  • that of European societies at large;
  • that of populism and Euroscepticism, which is believed to be the source of intolerance towards migrants and refugees.

This article is devoted to the problem of the social and political crises in Italy, which have been caused by pan-European problems (i.e., migration, anti-EU attitudes of the public) and strengthened by the national Italian conflicts (the gap between the Northern and the Southern regions, debates between the Left and the Right opposition, the rise of the populist parties etc.).

Social and political discrepancies in Italy

As a part of the EU, Italy has to get through the complex processes of adaptation to a life in a supranational union, which includes profound transformations in socio-economic, cultural, and even religious spheres. If we analyze the election agenda used by the Italian populist parties in the European elections 2019 campaign, we will notice the strong anti-EU discourse and a deep disappointment in the EU politics. Being part of the EU is conceived as a loss of independence. Further, we can notice the increasing deficit of tolerance in many spheres: religious, sociocultural, ethnic, ideological.

Research on the contemporary European political parties notes that Eurosceptical spirit is strong in developing economies and advanced economies (as is the case with Germany and the UK) alike[1]. Thus, Italy’s crises are not necessarily unique but can be found across the Western world as well.

The crisis of Western world order manifests itself on, at least, three levels:

  1. the supranational level: the rise of the Euroscepticism, which is represented in the lack of tolerance and mistrust towards the European Union as an institution.
  2. the national level: the rise of the national populism, which identifies the crisis of multiculturalism in the European nations, zero tolerance to immigrants (the European migrant crisis or refugee crisis of 2015–2018) and refugees as bearers of alien culture, a so-called exclusive nationalism.
  3. the economic level: further strengthening of social populism movements, which signify the end of the European welfare state.

The European societies are characterized by a growing alienation between the rich and the poor, the elites and the people, the establishment and the middle class.

The idea of social and political divisions was first proposed by Stein Rokkan, who studied the existing divisions between political parties that are caused by cleavages between the center and the periphery, the city and the village, etc.

Rokkan’s theory was developed by Paul Lazarsfeld, who studied electoral behavior and stated that “people vote not only for their own social group but also in favor of it”[2].

According to S. Rokkan, the European party system was developed on the foundation of existing social conflicts. Rokkan also formulated the basic lines of conflicts such as “center—periphery”, “state—church”, “employee—employer”, “city—country”. The social discrepancies of the Lipset-Rokkan theory were built on by French political scientist D.-L. Seiler in the work Whether it is possible to apply the clivages of Rokkan to Central Europe?

We can use this theory to explain the stability of the European political systems in the second half of the 20th century and electoral behavior of the Europeans.

Among the notable works on the cleavage theory are R. Rose and D. Urwin Persistence and Change in Western party systems since 1945 [3] S. Wolinetz The Transformation of Western European Party System Revisited [4]M. Abrams, R. Rose and R. Hinden[5], G. Evans and S. Whitefield The Evolution of Left and Right in Post-Soviet Russia [6].

Russian scientists rarely study the Italian political system and electoral behavior in the frameworks of the cleavage theory, as they usually study the different aspects of the political life in their research papers. There are some fundamental works that attempt to analyze facts and knowledge of Italian political thought from the perspective of the communist ideology. Cecilia Kin divided the liberal political thought into purely liberal and catholic in her work Italy at the turn of the century. From the history of social political thought, K.G. Kholodkovsky and I.B. Levin compared the Italian Socialist and Communist parties.[7]

The basic factors of social political crisis in contemporary Italy

The basic factors of the social political crisis in modern Italy can be divided into two groups. The first group includes socio-political divisions of a more historical, traditional character, whereas the second group consists of relatively new, contemporary collisions.

The North-South Divide

The contemporary socio-political crisis in Italy originates from the long-term and unfinished division between the North and the South, which has not been overcome since the Italian Risorgemento (unification) in 1861. Historically less developed Southern Italy has always faced serious difficulties. The process of modernization in Southern Italy is ongoing, the standard of living still pales in comparison to wealthy Northern regions. According to the Soviet-Russian researcher K.G. Kholodkovsky, Italy still suffers from the fact that different parts of the country existed as separate states for centuries. The most important consequence of this Italian historic disunity is economic and cultural gaps between the North and the South[8].

Polarization between the Left and the Right

The ideological conflict between the Right-wing and the Left-wing political forces also has historically contingent roots and goes back to the period of Risorgimento. In 19th century, the two leading political movements—republicans and monarchists—vied for leadership of a newly unified Italy.

One group of politicians led by Giuseppe Mazini tried to establish a Republican Republic, which was supported by the socialist-utopist Carlo Pisacane. Their ideas became the ideological basement for the Italian republicanism. The second group advocated for a monarchy and was led by Camillo Cavour who would later become Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy. Those advocating for monarchy provided a base for conservative right-wing sentiments/ideology.

In the 20th century, there was a divide between fascists and anti-fascists. Those who supported Mussolini espoused conservative views. The anti-fascist coalition united a broad spectrum of political movements including democrats, socialists, and communists.

Today it is impossible to claim that the contemporary Italian Left and Right are descendants of that original opposition, but ideological divides are still a prominent feature of Italian politics.

It would be more correct to divide the Italian parties not only along their preferences of political system but along their attitude toward traditional values as well. Today, political parties on the Right tend to be more nationally oriented and Eurosceptic. They typically advocate for traditional values and greater autonomy from EU Commission directives. They are also staunch opponents of high levels of migration from outside the EU.

The Left is more loyal to the EU and the benefits provided to Italy by its institutions. They also support more progressive economic and family policies. A key difference between left and right in Italy is migration. The left tends to be more tolerant of migrants and refugees and advocate for the integration of migrants into Italian society.

Thus, while the division between the Left and the Right has weakened, it certainly still remains intact. Due to the particularities of the national election law, it is difficult to get the majority of the vote needed and enough seats in the Italian Parliament to form the Cabinet of Ministers. Subsequently, this problem forces the Italian parties to create different coalitions to secure seats in the Parliament. These coalitions are often characterized by the ideology of party members (center-right, right-wing, etc.). This changed in 2013 when a new political party, the 5 Stars Movement, uprooted the traditional political spectrum. Now, there is no pure center-right or center-left coalition. Coalitions have become more volatile as ideological divides become deeper as compared to the situation of ten years ago. For example, the right-wing coalition which included Forza Italia! (S. Berlusconi), Fratelli d’Italia (G. Meloni) and the Northern League (M. Salvini) won the parliamentary elections of 2018. Despite this result, the far-right League abandoned its ideological partners to form a Coalition Cabinet with the Five Stars Movement which cannot be defined as entirely Left or Right-wing.

New collisions

Recently (in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century), new collisions emerged: Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists, populists vs. traditional political parties, the supporters of migrants vs. opponents of mass immigration (as well as the division between migrants and local communities).

Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists

The growth of Euroscepticism in Italy can be attributed to a crisis in relations between the European Union and Italy as well as disappointment from the Italian society in the EU.

Since 1957, Italy has been a strong advocate for greater European integration, however, recently Italy has begun to transform into one of the Euroscepticism centers. According to the sociological data of Eurobarometer, about 50 per cent of the Italian society is disappointed with the European Union.

The question about the relation between Euroscepticism and populism is an intellectual challenge. On the one hand, Eurosceptics are mainly populist movements: not only the anti-immigrant League but also The Five Star Movement. On the other hand, Euroscepticism has been typical for classical Italian communists—the heirs of the Communist party of Italy. Besides, old populism of Berlusconi is more euro-optimistic than the new populism of Salvini.

Particularities of the relations between Italy and the European Union are based on a disagreement in two key issues: immigration policy and the social economic policy.

Populists vs. Traditional Political Parties

One of the results of this political crisis is the growth of social and political populism. Weinstein noted that there are a few approaches to the phenomenon of populism. According to these approaches, a hybrid phenomenon seems to exist in different dimensions: as an ideology, as a specific style of politics, and as a specific form of political organization.[9] The Italian populism started with Silvio Berlusconi coming to power in 1994. Berlusconi is perceived as the founding father of Italian populism, who managed to unite center-right forces. K.G. Kholodkovsky underlines that “populism has in new conditions become a complex of sense and values, uniting many Italians in being connected with the illusion of personalistic overcoming of the gap between authorities and citizens. The breaking of the barriers between the authorities and the people has found its personification in the figure of the uniter of the center-right forces Sylvio Berlusconi”[10] As noted previously, the rise of Berlusconi came against the background of the collapse of Christian Democratic and the Communist parties. This fact reflects an important feature of populism:

  1. Populism is a consequence of the crisis of the traditional party system, the disappointment with classical parties and party leaders.
  2. Populism has overcome the traditional division between the Left and the Right.
  3. Populist parties are often reliant on a strong leader with a distinct character.

Pro-migrants vs. Anti-migrants

The migrant crisis manifested itself most significantly in Southern Italy, since the coast of the Italian South is the closest to the North Africa. From a geographical perspective, this fact has turned the Southern part of Italy (especially the island of Lampedusa) into a gate from Africa to Europe for immigration. The immigration issue is not a new one for Italy. There were several waves of internal migration from the Southern to the more economically developed Northern regions. This process fostered resentment between citizens from different parts of the country. However, the European immigration crises as well as burgeoning crowds transformed this internal cleavage into an external one.

The intensification of the migrant crisis in Italy and in the European Union has been reflected in public opinion. According to Eurobarometer, about half of Italians consider immigration as the most important problem for the European Union, whereas another half of the Italian society cites terrorism as the most important dilemma. This fact also demonstrates that Italians are anxious about the consequences of the immigration crisis, because illegal immigration is one of the factors of the growing terrorist threat. According to the Eurobarometer spring 2016 data, 44% of Italians pointed immigration as the most important problem of the European Union. By autumn 2016, this number rose to 49,1%, by spring 2017—fell to 40%, then in autumn 2017—fell again to 38%, by autumn 2018—rose to 41%.

The growth of anti-immigrant sentiments in the Italian society has led to the emergence of the new nationalism, which is typical not only for the poorer regions but also for the richer ones. The figurehead of new nationalism in Italian politics is the League, formerly the League of the North, which has changed its name to appeal to broader segments of Italian society.

Thus, the migrant crisis has added a new collision between migrants and Italians. The problem of illegal migration became an accelerator of the existing Italian conflicts rather than an entirely new phenomenon. Illegal immigration has essentially accelerated these already-existing Italian conflicts.

Conclusion

Economy and culture are the two principal ingredients of the Italian mindset and are sources of intense socio-political divisions, as economic reasons lead to a rise of new divisions, as well as feeding traditional ones.

Economic crises lead to social and political crises. Nowadays, Italian voters are disillusioned with the existing political order giving way to new and less ideologically driven parties. Yet, these parties’ first years in power have demonstrated their weakness in taking action to overcome the existing crisis.

For example, under Giuseppe Conte’s First Cabinet, known as “yellow-green government of change” (due to the colors of the League and the Five Star Movement), inter-coalition conflict between Salvini and Di Maio led to a significant political crisis, creating a weaker position for the Five Star Movement and the ambitions of the League’s leader Matteo Salvini for domination. On September 5, 2019, Conte’s Second Cabinet was formed, usually referred to as the “yellow-red government”, because it was supported by the “yellow” M5S and the center-left “red” Democratic party.

The internal political situation in Italy remains unstable, which also results in instability of its foreign policy. Irrefutably, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed significantly to the Italian political crisis. On February 13, 2021, the dilemma peaked when Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte stated he would resign from office. Pro-European technocrat Mario Draghi became the newest Prime Minister of Italy in the wake of Conte’s resignation. Draghi leads a unity government consisting of mainstream political parties and populist parties such as the League and M5S. This government only failed to garner support of the far-right Brothers of Italy.

Although Draghi has enjoyed widespread support throughout the coronavirus crisis, in the post-covid world there are long-term prospects for conflict between Italy and the EU and between Italy’s internally divided political system.

*Elena Elena, PhD student at the Institute of Socio-Political Research under the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISPR RAS)

From our partner RIAC

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Europe

American diplomacy’s comeback and Bulgaria’s institutional trench war

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Even though many mainstream media outlets have not noticed it, US diplomacy has staged a gran comeback in the Balkans. The Biden administration chose Bulgaria as the stage on which to reaffirm America’s hold on the region. Putting strong sanctions on Bulgarian oligarch, Washington is signalling not-so subtly to Russia that its reach goes far and wide. But there are sensible implication for the little South-Eastern European country’s future as well. Perhaps, the fight against systemic corruption is finally reaching its apogee. Could this be the end of misgovernance?

A corrupted country — Introduction

Many argue that corruption in Bulgaria and South-Eastern Europe is but a remnant of national Communist Parties’ half-century long rule. Thus, the EU’s threat to metaphorically swap the carrot for the ­­stick should have favoured a thorough clean-up. Instead, it merely yielded some short-term successes for anti-corruption campaigners, activist judges and specialised procurators. Yet, State capture and malpracticesremain endemic for one reason or another amongst post-socialist countries inside and outsidethe Union. More specifically, these efforts were vain and Bulgaria was still ill-equippedwhen it joined the Union on January 1, 2007. Hence, Brussels allowed in a deeply corrupted country where hidden interest behold even those occupying the highest echelons of power.

If not membership in the European Union, at least internal politics could have helped the country fend off endemic maladministration. Yet, the status quo has preserved itself intact despite calls and promises to root out corruption having been getting louder. In a sense, corruption’s pervasiveness is a feature and not a bug embedded in Bulgaria’s imperfect liberal free-market democracy. These conservative – and, in a sense, perverting – forces have found their embodiment in Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his associates. Therefore, governmental agencies, political parties, courts and the entire extant structure of power contribute to prevent any change.

The wind of change: Popular unrest and institutional trench war

That notwithstanding, the proverbial ‘wind of change’ may have begun to lash across Bulgaria in summer 2020. After having taken to the streets against the party of power’s abuses and failures, voters abandoned Borisov in the April 2021 elections. Conversely, new parties and loose coalitions of civil-society organisations, formed shortly before the contest, won a relative majority of preferences. And, as many analysts noticed, these newcomers do not share much besides the desire to “dismantle the Borisov system”.

Nonetheless, these new actors failed to form a governing coalition due to the heterogeneity and inherent negativity of their agendas. Thus, President Rumen Radev scheduled new elections on July 11 and appointed a caretaker government.

Political reconfigurations

Indeed, there is an institutional custom prescribing such cabinets to limit their activities to managing current affairs. Nonetheless, these technocrats – many of whom supported Radev in his feud with Borisov – started an extensive review of past governments. In the process, the cabinet reshuffledbureaucracies, suspended Sofia airport’s concession and halted other public tenders for suspected irregularities. More importantly, the ministry of interior has confirmed prior suspects that Borisov-appointed officers may have illegally wiretapped opposition politicians.

In a word, President Radev’s ministers are endeavouring to tear apart the ‘Borisov system’ before the next elections. However, simply ousting most – or even all – of the previous government’s men in key positions within State apparatuses is uncomplicated. Especially when pushing such an agenda is the President,with the palpable backing of an absolute majority of the population. But the Borisov system has also an economic component. In fact, the party of power has set up a tentacular network of supportive oligarchs funding and favourable media coverage. Putting them out of the game is equally, if not more, important than firing bureaucrats — but also much more difficult.

Chasing the oligarchs

In other words, undoing the Borisov system’s appointments and putting trustworthy officers in those posts in just the first step. But real change requires leaving the wealthy individuals and organisations benefitting from the status quo clawless and teethless. Such a task entails deep economic transformations that would surely evoke immense opposition from powerful pressure groups. Evidently, there is not enough time before Bulgarians vote again and their representatives pick up a new executive. But the caretaker government is powerless in front of Bulgaria ‘s condemnation to persistent corruption no matter what.

On the contrary, the government has endeavoured to chase and derail some of these Borisov-connected oligarch. For instance, the finance minister appointed an Audit Committee with the task of reviewing the Bulgarian Development Bank’s (BBR) activities. As a result, the public discovered that oligarchs had steered the BBR away from its mandate of supporting small companies. In fact, eight large private companies have received more than half of the BRR’s total credits or ca. €473 million. On average, each of them has borrowed almost €60mln — and “this is not a small and medium business. In addition, these companies borrowed against a 2% rate instead of the average 5–7%. Following this leak, the Minister of Finance fired the entire board of the BBR. He also instructed the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) to appoint a new directorate.

The US strike back

Quite surprisingly, the United States has just given Radev and his government a valuable assist. On June 2, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned several “individuals for their extensive roles in corruption”. In first instance, the sanctions target Vasil Bozhkov, a Bulgarian businessman currently hiding in Dubaito escape an arrest warrant for accusation of bribery; Delyan Peevski, prominent figure of and former member of the Parliament for the predominantly Turk Dvizhenie za Prava i Svobodi as well as the owner/controller four of the companies involved in the BBR’s scandal;  and Ilko Zhelyazkov, former appointee to the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices. Secondarily, the US have sanctioned “their networks encompassing 64 entities” with which no transaction in dollars is possible.

The US chose to hit Bulgaria, a NATO ally, with “the single largest action targeting corruption to date”. On the one hand, this falls within the boundaries of the current administration’s effort to restore America’s moral stewardship. More to the point, one may interpret the sanctions as a not-so/veiled message to Russia — which heavily influences Bulgarian politics. Still, those who had been looking at US-Bulgaria bilateral relations should have expected a similar decision. After all, the sanctions came after US ambassador Herro Mustafa’s reiterated criticisms of pervasive corruption in the country. Mustafa has also refused symbolically to meet Chief Public Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who embodies systemic corruption in Bulgaria.

Consequently, the game has scaled up to a whole new quality now. The BNB barred all Bulgarian banks to entertain commercial relationships with people under US sanctions. Moreover, the BNB had already froze some of Peevvski’s, Bozhkov’s and Zhelyazkov’s deposits, means of payment, and assets earlier. However, after the OFAC’s decision, the block extended to their entire network of affiliates and related entities.

Conclusion: The US are reclaiming the Balkans, and it may not be bad for Bulgarians

Officially, corruption’s malign influence on democracy provides the US with a moral justification to sanction any corrupt individua. Namely, the Treasury argues that it

undermines the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; ha[s] devastating impacts on individuals; weaken[s] democratic institutions; degrade[s] the rule of law; perpetuate[s] violent conflicts; facilitate[s] the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  

Surely, the soon-to-come meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also played a role in this decision.

Yet, the sanctions’ timing suggests that there might be other forces at play. Rather, it seems that Washington decided to pick a side in the ongoing institutional trench war between Presidency and Government.

From Bulgaria’s perspective, even though most American media have not noticed it, the impression is quite clear. To quote President Biden: “America is back, diplomacy is back”. Specifically, this resurgence has a special meaning in the Balkans, a region of immense relevance for Europe’s energy security. Concretely, the US is taking the lead in the West’s effort to keep China, Russia, and Turkey out.

True, whether this external support will suffice for Bulgaria to finally eradicate corruption is debatable. Nevertheless, the US’s return may spur a positive competition dynamic in which Washington and Brussels compete for limited normative power. If this was the case, increase international pressures on Bulgaria to limit corruption may reach a breaking point relatively soon. At which point, either a fundamental shift will take place; or Bulgarian elites will entrench further

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Indo-European rapprochement and the competing geopolitics of infrastructure

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Current dynamics suggest that the main focus of geopolitics in the coming years will shift towards the Indo-Pacific region. All eyes are on China and its regional initiatives aimed at establishing global dominance. China’s muscle-flexing behavior in the region has taken the form of direct clashes with India along the Line of Actual Control, where India lost at least 20 soldiers last June; interference in Hong Kong’s affairs; an increased presence in the South China Sea; and economic malevolence towards Australia. With this evolving geopolitical complexity, if the EU seeks to keep and increase its global ‘actorness’, it needs to go beyond the initiatives of France and Germany, and to shape its own agenda. At the same time, India is also paying attention to the fact that in today’s fragmented and multipolar world, the power of any aspiring global actor depends on its diversified relationships. In this context, the EU is a useful partner that India can rely on.

Indo-European rapprochement, which attempts to challenge Chinese global expansion, seeks also to enhance multilateral international institutions and to support a rules-based order. Given the fact that India will hold a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-22 and the G20 presidency in 2022, both parties see an opportunity to move forward on a shared vision of multilateralism. As a normative power, the EU is trying to join forces with New Delhi to promote the rules-based system. Therefore, in order to prevent an ‘all-roads-lead-to-Beijing’ situation and to challenge growing Chinese hegemony, the EU and India need each other.

With this in mind, the EU and India have finally moved towards taking their co-operation to a higher level. Overcoming difficulties in negotiations, which have been suspended since 2013 because of trade-related thorny topics like India’s agricultural protectionism, shows that there is now a different mood in the air.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, had been scheduled to travel to Portugal for  a summit with EU leaders, but the visit cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the European Commission and Portugal – in its presidency of the European Council – offered India to hold the summit in a virtual format on 8 May 2021. The talks between these two economic giants were productive and resulted in the Connectivity Partnership, uniting efforts and attention on energy, digital and transportation sectors, offering new opportunities for investors from both sides. Moreover, this new initiative seeks to build joint infrastructure projects around the world mainly investing in third countries. Although both sides have clarified that the new global partnership isn’t designed to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the joint initiative to build effective projects across Europe, Asia and Africa, will undoubtedly counter Beijing’s agenda.  

The EU and its allies have a common interest in presenting an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, which will contain Chinese investment efforts to dominate various regions. Even though the EU is looking to build up its economic ties with China and signed the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) last December, European sanctions imposed on Beijing in response to discrimination against Uighurs and other human rights violations have complicated relations. Moreover, US President Joe Biden has been pushing the EU to take a tougher stance against China and its worldwide initiatives.

This new Indo-European co-operation project, from the point of view of its initiators, will not impose a heavy debt burden on its partners as the Chinese projects do. However, whilst the EU says that both the public and the private sectors will be involved, it’s not clear where the funds will come from for these projects. The US and the EU have consistently been against the Chinese model of providing infrastructure support for developing nations, by which Beijing offers assistance via expensive projects that the host country ends up not being able to afford. India, Australia, the EU, the US and Japan have already started their own initiatives to counterbalance China’s. This includes ‘The Three Seas Initiative’ in the Central and Eastern European region, aimed at reducing its dependence on Chinese investments and Russian gas. Other successful examples are Japan’s ‘Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ and its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’. One of the joint examples of Indo-Japanese co-operation is the development of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The partners had been scheduled to build Colombo’s East Container Terminal but the Sri Lankans suddenly pulled out just before signing last year. Another competing regional strategy is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), initiated by India, Japan and a few African countries in 2017. This Indo-Japanese collaboration aims to develop infrastructure in Africa, enhanced by digital connectivity, which would make the Indo-Pacific Region free and open. The AAGC gives priority to development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and disaster management. 

Undoubtably, this evolving infrastructure-building competition may solve the problems of many underdeveloped or developing countries if their leaderships act wisely. The newly adopted Indo-European Connectivity Partnership promises new prospects for Eastern Europe and especially for the fragile democracies of Armenia and Georgia.

The statement of the Indian ambassador to Tehran in March of this year, to connect Eastern and Northern Europe via Armenia and Georgia, paves the way for necessary dialogue on this matter. Being sandwiched between Russia and Turkey and at the same time being ideally located between Europe and India, Armenia and Georgia are well-placed to take advantage of the possible opportunities of the Indo-European Partnership. The involvement of Tbilisi and Yerevan in this project can enhance the economic attractiveness of these countries, which will increase their economic security and will make this region less vulnerable vis-à-vis Russo-Turkish interventions. 

The EU and India need to decide if they want to be decision-makers or decision-takers. Strong co-operation would help both become global agenda shapers. In case these two actors fail to find a common roadmap for promoting rules-based architecture and to become competitive infrastructure providers, it would be to the benefit of the US and China, which would impose their priorities on others, including the EU and India.

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