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The Brexit issue

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The issue of Brexit, namely Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, regards the age-old issue of what really drives the electorate: myths, real or imaginary identities, or short-term material interests? For the great political science and philosophical school of Italian elitism, ranging from Pareto to Gaetano Mosca, the political mechanism is substantially identity-based.

As the Genoese sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto maintained, there exist six classes of residues that he positivistically listed as follows: the instinct for combinations; the persistence of aggregates or group persistences (regarded as the old ideals and political myths); the need for expressing sentiments by external acts (activity, self-expression); the residues connected with sociality; the integrity of the individual and last – at that time but not today, with the full obsession of primary instincts and urges – the sex residue.  

With specific reference to derivations, the actions are not logically connected to the result, but they are always so in the conscience of those who take action. Regardless of the political form of the State, democracy, oligarchy, totalitarianism, communism, both residues and derivations provide a logic to the pseudo-rational instincts and symbols which drive to action.

Hence, again for Pareto, the Brexit choice regards two myths: the myth of economic growth for those who still want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union or the identity myth of the old British Empire, or the de facto UK extraneousness to European politics and economics, in short, to the myths which created the European Union.

These myths regard the end of the long European civil war, as, from the French Revolution (or from 1914) to the Second World War, historians such as Ernst Nolte or, from another political perspective, Enzo Traverso called it.

The myth of peace in Europe through the expansion of trade and domestic revenue, as well as the creation of another myth, namely the myth of Europe as new homeland. Two geopolitical and economic myths in danger. Income growth is not recorded and will not be recorded for a long period of time. The European homeland entails the creation of rituals and symbols replacing the national ones, which has not happened yet.

But Great Britain is de facto alien to the logic of the European civil war: it certainly fought the two world wars, but with mindset, interests and heroism connected rather to its founding myths as autonomous Imperium. Only to yield its global empire to the United States, so as to repay the credits granted for the war, namely to a country which had backed the war effort and participated in it significantly and, with the Cold War, had to keep the dual global confrontation with the USSR. A translatio Imperii which, probably, has not been digested yet by British voters, at Pareto’s “residues” level.

In Gaetano Mosca’s opinion, the ruling class is the whole of hierarchies that materially or morally run a society. Today, in a context of universal globalization, of Pareto’s residues and derivations which are all defined and expressed in the same symbolic languages, where are Mosca’s ruling classes within nations? Can these ruling classes and “moral and material” hierarchies support the inevitably different needs, interests, myths of the various peoples, not yet united in a global large liquid mass?

In each EU Member State globalization has created asymmetric shocks which, managed by mediocre ruling classes, have been magnified in the individual nations, thus creating real transfers of sovereignty. Needless to say, this is Italy’s case, while it is not the case of Great Britain which, during the years of Thatcherism, had followed a crash diet to participate in the defilé of globalization before it began. This is also a central theme to understand Brexit from the philosophical and political viewpoint.

Hence is it currently possible to have cultural globalization applied to the development of political myths and their para-rational connection to interests? Is a unified political myth otherwise possible – a myth which, for irrelevant details, is defined and expressed in the symbolic language of every country? Yes, it is possible with specific reference to the myths of consumption, sexualized and reduced to instinctual images from the mass-media, but certainly not as regards the myths and modes of production, which cannot yet be universalized.

Suffice to consider the differences existing between the made in Italy craftsmanship and the Manchester-style factory. In this regard, Geminello Alvi spoke of the standardizing and impersonal “Chinese ideal” of “capitalism”. This is what I would currently call “Gaetano Mosca’s dilemma”. Are today the ruling classes truly such and are they able to put myths and interests together? The issue lies in establishing whether globalization entails a specific political mythology and its Mosca-style ruling class or not.

Let us revert, however, to Brexit in a strictly economic and financial sense.

Considering that foreign trade is the driver of all contemporary economies, Britain is no exception to the rule: exports, including financial products, account for about 30% of the British GDP. The EU, however, accounts for over 50% of all British exports.

On the other hand, over 50% of UK imports come from the European Union, with over half of these imports coming from Europe which serves as “intermediate asset,” namely useful to produce other made in England goods and services.

About 10% of the total EU exports go to Britain, with a share of goods and services which is about 36% (for services) compared to 64% for manufactured goods. Hence, in bilateral trade between the UK and the EU, trade issues are proportionately more important for Great Britain than for the rest (the rest?) of Europe. Furthermore, within the EU, Great Britain is the largest user of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with about 50% of FDI coming from Europe and 30% from the United States.

Moreover, it is well known that, since the end of the British rule in Hong Kong – which Margaret Thatcher accepted in 1997, with the last Governor, Chris Patten, who burst into tears – the real financial boom of the London Stock Exchange has started.

The London Stock Exchange is the one which regulates (or owns) most of European financial markets. A record achieved in spite of the EU and certainly not thanks to it. British industrialists point to collapse scenarios, should Brexit be voted by the UK electorate. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) maintains that UK’s leaving the EU would lead to zero economic growth as early as 2017 and the following year.

Without a free trade agreement following Brexit within 2020, the British GDP might fall by 5% while, according to other scenarios defined by the City investment banks, the GDP would anyway decrease by 3% even with a new trade agreement with the former European partners.

The number and quality of British jobs would be particularly affected, with unemployment which would rise from the current 5.1% by additional three percentage points. Over 80% of the companies associated with CBI believe that Brexit would be a disaster for the British economy, with an estimated cost of 100 billion pounds. In many ways and to many extents, the opinions against UK’s stay in the EU are not less rational.

Obviously the UK exit from the EU would lead to the use of tariff barriers for British goods and services in the European single market, not to mention the difficulty in renegotiating the trade flows with the United States and China, after becoming an economy without the EU size, mass and volume. Obviously the Brexit advocates know this and do not deny the data reported by those who support the British presence within the European Union.

There are the British contributions to the European budget, which are remarkable – and we can still hear the Thatcherite cry “we want our money back!” at the EU meeting of 1980, as well as the speech delivered by the British Prime Minister in Bruges in 1988, when she thundered against “the European super-State exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. The UK contributions to the EU are certainly substantial: for 2015, they amount to as many as 10.4 billion pounds, with an increase equal to 1.3 billion pounds compared to forecasts. However, they account for 0.5% of the UK GDP.

Hence, first and foremost, the UK would save on contributions, but the Brexit advocates think that the difficult action of reconciling the interests of 28 different countries could never foster the British economic interest in global trade negotiations. Furthermore, the Brexit partisans believe that the UK exit from the EU would even foster the economy, since it would enable the British industry to avoid the EU countless laws and regulations. Hence the UK would lose part of the EU-28 market but, by capitalizing on its ties within the Commonwealth, it could enter the new market-world, without the fetters and constraints, reins and restraints of EU regulations.

The Brexit advocates also say that if the large European market is designed – as maintained – to reduce prices, optimize competition and stimulate trade and economic competitiveness, this holds true only if all EU countries are economically identical and work to their full potential. Otherwise for some EU Member States there may be – and, in fact, there are – forms of protectionism hidden in so many regulations which seem to benefit everyone. In fact, considering data, Great Britain’s new growth has the same shape and the same pace as the United States, and not as Germany or the rest of the European Union.

As the Brexit partisans say: “It is Europe that needs us, not the opposite”.

And here the rationality of Pareto’s derivations meets the old mental residues of the Rule Britannia and the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries united by many interests and separated by a common language. Here Great Britain’s traditional geopolitical obsession, namely Germany, comes back again. For the Brexit advocates the EU real problem is not Britain, but precisely Germany. Greece has very quickly turned into an export country through the collapse of imports. And this is what Germany wants, because it has to manage its booming exports and it uses the EU as its domestic market, without anyone requiring Germany to reduce its trade surplus.

Hence, for the Brexit partisans, there is a geoconomic problem, namely Germany; a purely free-trade matter, namely the impossibility of really serving the interests of all 28 EU Member States; and, ultimately, the fiscal union – a subject matter never denied before – which never works to promote underdeveloped areas, as is easily demonstrated in the European context.

The British observers who support Brexit view the Union as a giant floundering in an irreversible crisis: in 1973, when Britain adhered to the EU, and many countries were not yet members, the European GDP accounted for 37% of the global GDP. According to the most favourable estimates, in 2025 the EU will only account for 22% of the global GDP. The countries which currently dominate the market-world are the United States and China; even the Commonwealth, as a whole, is larger and performs better than the EU.

In 2020, the workers/pensioners ratio will be 3 to 1 and in 2050 it will be 2 to 1 – namely impossible to sustain – due to technological backwardness, but above all to the generalized aging of the European population.

For the Brexit advocates, the mass of regulations and restrictions for goods made in the UK is hard to swallow and digest: since 2010 the EU has adopted 3,500 new laws which somehow relate to UK companies and their interests. For Great Britain alone, the cost of bureaucracy amounts to approximately 4-5 billion pounds – and this cost is not comparable to the national contribution to the European Union. Dysfunctional bureaucracy, always looking for a sort of “preferential clause” for some Member States, which generates an indirect cost of trade rules for Great Britain equal to 7.6 billion pounds per year.

And since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December 2009, the cost of regulations for British companies has amounted to 12.2 billions in terms of extraordinary standards. Furthermore, the Brexit advocates argue that Great Britain’s weight within the EU has dropped sharply: in 1973, when the UK adhered to the European Union, it had 20% of votes, while currently the British government can rely only on 9.5 votes.

Again at financial level, the Brexit partisans do not want the financial transaction tax, the FTT based on the old Tobin Tax model, a tax enshrined in the EU regulations last January. All the analysts who are in favour of Brexit, however, agree on a geopolitical factor: Europe’s irrelevance for Great Britain. This geopolitical factor is connected to the opinion that the British strategic ideal is a balanced Europe, without a leading country, in which the role of power brokers, mediators and strategic leaders can be played.

On the other hand, the advocates of UK stay within the EU maintain that Brexit would diminish the role played by the London Stock Exchange on the rest of European financial markets, attracted by the Stock Exchange of Frankfurt or Paris. Moreover, Ireland would pay a very high price for Brexit, considering it supplies 35% of British agricultural and food products, and it will also be affected by the British natural gas imports after Brexit. Furthermore, Brexit impact on the pound could strengthen the Euro against the British currency, as is already happening.

In short, if Brexit occurs, the EU will lose a large economic market, the second of the European Union, over and above the euro area. It will become increasingly irrelevant at geopolitical level and, above all, it will point the way out to all dissatisfied EU countries, thus creating a likely domino effect which could lead to the end of the European Union or to its economic and political irrelevance.

But there is more: will Brexit – the full recovery of British sovereignty – favour the creation of a single European State to better manage strategic and economic emergencies, in addition to huge immigration flows?

Or will the union rely on a “United States of Europe” model and perspective so as to avoid the EU collapse, but at what pace and for which purposes?

Great Britain is an independent military power; it retains a seat in the UN Permanent Council and, regardless of Brexit, it has no evident interest in adapting to European strategic unification processes.

We could even think of an exchange, with which Great Britain avoids every discrimination against the City, in exchange for UK’s greater involvement in Europe’s collective security. Not to mention the new tensions which would emerge within NATO after Great Britain’s exit from the EU. If identity wins – which, as we have seen, is also based on rational grounds and arguments – we will have Brexit. Conversely if, in the forthcoming referendum, we have an at least apparently “rational” vote, Great Britain’s exit from the EU will be avoided. At least for now.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Europe

Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country

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The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.

Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government

Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.

Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.

In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.

Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy

The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.

The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.

At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.

In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.

Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum

Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.

Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.

The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.

In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.

Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.

The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy

Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.

First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.

Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.

In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.

Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid

In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.

Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.

At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.

Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.

Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.

Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power

The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.

P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.

Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.

From our partner RIAC

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Is British Democracy in Danger?

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On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.

Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.

To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.

While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.

Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.

One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.

Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.

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The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security

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2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.

In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.

On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.

Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.

Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.

In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.

The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.

A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?

As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.

Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.

The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.

Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.

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