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Modern Migration as a Challenge to European Identity

Elena Kubantseva

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Simultaneously an issue about European identity has aroused along with European Union formation. It is said in the preamble “European Identity Declaration” 1973 that members of the Community decided to elaborate this document in order to reach more precise determination of their relations with other countries and further interaction on formation of unitary Europe.

Appreciation of that is like European identity is concentrated around ideal concept of unitary Europe formation basing on a certain “imagined community”. Identity of the type “we are Europeans” puts in a basis of existence of “European values”: human rights, human freedom, liberal economic, democracy, multiculturalism, Eurocentrism. Cultural space of Europe is represented by a diversity of nationalities, languages, religions. The concept of Christianity may not serve as a measure of European identity, as far as EU is less considered as “Christian area” even in those countries like Germany and France. However, new all-European identity acts as an integral factor of legality attribution to governmental institutes. Authority growth of European Union governmental bodies is supported at the international arena due to common identity as well as serving in the capacity of the representative and guarantor of its citizens’ interests before the interests of other nations.

Traditional views about the Europe’s borders from the moment of EU formation have an impact upon consciousness of European identity. There are different levels of identity: supranational, national and regional – they exist concurrently supplementing each other. Highest-level leaders tend to raise “European identity” over national identity. Historical borders of some regions in Europe do not coincide with ones of the national states, similar division makes difficulties in national state functioning and European nationality formation.

Over recent years Europe has become a centre of international cosmopolitanism. Identity under the terms of globalization experiences transformation, both national and supranational as well. There is a destruction of community’s social borders in the base of transformation process by means of integration and informational exchange. Integration processes in Europe lead to impact strengthening of regional identity and as a consequence to smearing EU interior borders and reinforcement of exterior ones. Several processes proceed in European integration directed upon strengthening of European self-consciousness and thinking. Under such circumstances it is rather complicated to identify differences between the countries of Europe as to their belonging to true European countries. All countries will characterized by certain cultural-social distinctions, like language and culture, however, territorial location of these countries will be a unifier.

Geographical borders of the influencing territory of European civilization are to be an essential element in creation of common space. European civilization is often characterized as Western civilization possessing nowadays more political shade. This civilization has more extended geography than physical border of Europe as continent and part of Eurasia. Certain aspects of western civilization as elements of soft power actively disseminated during the Cold War as a counterbalance to the communist Soviet Union, EU expansion to the East in 2004, apart from political and economic contradictions, emerged discussions about ideological backbones of European integration. EU expansion at the official level was performed under the slogan “return to Europe”, in this context Europe spiting during bipolar world looked like a short period in long-term history of Europe defacing actual position of the western European countries. Grave differences cause possibility of Turkey entry to the European Union. Geographically, only 3% of Turkish territory is in Europe. The leaders of EU member states vacillate in association with the countries from former USSR located in Transcaucasia. Along with the accession to the EU former USSR Republics took a hard anti-Russian stand, thus Europa turned out to be before the choice of its concern in Russia.

By EU extension a revival process is observes as to national self-consciousness, understanding regional languages and cultures significance. It is a defence reaction to the processes of integration globalization, and ethnic diversity of Europe is already the established fact influencing upon internal and social policy of the Union.

European multicultural society is a multicoloured palette of nations, ethoses and small nations residing within the EU territory. Local topos of multiculturalism is a designated area populated individually in a foreign for it social-political and communal environment, diaspora, small ethnic group united by commonality of language, mental, cultural, ethnic and faith traditions. Special feature of multiculturalism is a compromise reaching between traditional and alien migration cultural communities possessing its cultural patterns. However, another question arises regarding exactly what kind of values – cultural-historical, Christian-religious or liberal – shall become basic in formation of European identity and how to combine with their cultural and religious diversity of Europe.

In 2003 investigation was conducted “Solidarity and Religion in European Union: comparative sociological perspective”, where Europe is shown in the section of valuable settings of population. While inhabitants of Northern and eastern Europe are inclined to individualism and post-materialism having their civil rights in priority, and in the countries of Southern and Western Europe religion possesses the first place, however, concurrently, they rather highly appreciate material values. When evaluating population it is essential to consider not only geographical and material state and also history and confession. Low level of religiosity in the countries of Northern Europe, Germany and France is explained by the level of economic development and national policy.

In spite of the in people’s consciousness religion continues to play an important role in the Europeans’ life. Official representatives of Catholic Church strongly pushed for the issues on search and approval of European identity. During the period of discussion and drawing up European Constitution and Lisbon Treaty the church strongly pushed for provision inclusion about Christianity recognition as one of the sources of European integrity under support of the government of some European countries, especially Germany. However, the official edition of Lisbon Treaty included statements about the sources of democratic values, namely freedom, democracy, human rights, equality as well as cultural, religious and humanistic ancestry of Europe were admitted. However, the provision on Christianity was not included into the Treaty, but it was exactly clear what religion under concern. The subject of religion in the issues of European identity remains a relevant topic for discussion. On the part of more religious countries of Europe opinions are declared that Europe shall more precisely define its religious identity in order to uphold its interests in migration issues against the backdrop of globalization.

Many conservative parties state their position in recognition Christianity as a unified religion for EU, the radical parties are also committed for Christianity recognition but from more “Eurocynical” positions considering it to be an element of national identity. Dispute around religion role in Europe arises not only in the issues of European identity and also in the problems of migration and acceptance of new members by EU, for example Turkey. The majority of politicians are sure that general cultural heritage being inextricably connected with Christianity lies in the EU base, upon which Union’s borders shall pass. If not considering all economic and social differences of Turkey and EU, entry of Muslim Turkey to EU is able to introduce imbalance into the attempts to form European identity and reinforce social and cultural-religious diversities.

Outstanding speech of Pontiff Benedict XVI addressed on September 12, 2006 in the Regensburg University called Europe to respect and appreciate its European roots and traditions in order to oppose challenges of the outside world, to which he added Islam as well. This appearance of the Catholic church’s head caused a mass of protests on the part of Muslim people worldwide.

Nationalistic and “Eurocynical” tendencies are growing in strength as to a series of different reasons, where culture, religion, economy and policy are interlinked. Problem of migration and smearing of long-standing identity elements serve as a catalytic agent in creation of more active solutions and actions to maintain European identity. Since 2010 leaders of Great Britain, Germany and France suggested in public about collapse of multiculturalism policy, these statements got a multitude of expert assessments and opions about Europe’s failure to cope with perform actions of “melting pot”, however, these statement did not mean a final reject from the policy of multiculturalism.

After the Second World War the Europeans attempted to weaken the growth of nationalism and gradually to make up general European nationality by means of creating non-governmental institutes. Western-European countries are under a great pressure, they also have to deal with the migration flows from less developed European countries and at the same time to seek refugees assimilation, which arrive from all corners of the world. They have to face with a growth of anti-migration parties within the country (from “National Front” in France to British “United Kingdom Independence Party”) in terms of increased terrorist danger. Some provisions of Schengen Agreement are discredited on different levels of state and regional government with regard to the border control between EU countries; agreement is criticised for insufficient control over the borders inside the Union which facilitates the movement not only the illegal migrants, and increases terrorist hazard.

Issues of migration interaction between the countries are on the agenda with envious regularity. Border control introduction is left in doubt by putting one of European Union’ pillar, however, the facts itself as to this idea emergence points out a publication of questions on national European identity at the opening pages. In 2009 debates broke out in France regarding the national consciousness, however, all turned towards the situation with Muslims in the country. A series of European countries also face speeches of nationalist parties. Certainly, there is a general European tendency, but it includes regional peculiarities. The countries of central and northern Europe are mostly subjected to the nationalist insistences, it is a little bit aside in the Mediterranean world. As to political weight Italian “League of France” and Greek “Chrisi Auge” (“Golden Sunrise”) – they do not pale in comparison with Austrian “Party of Freedom” or French “National Front”.

Accession of ultra-rightists to power at the election campaign in Austria in 2016 fits into common interest of ultra-right ideas throughout Europe. Anti-Islamic dispositions prevailing before only in ultra-right political alliances take a form of popular discontent, which promotes popularity of nationalists organizations throughout EU as well as level criticism on open door policy. Anti-migrants moods are propelled by the movement “Pegida” in Germany. French «National Front» headed by Marine Le Pen in December 2015 won at the regional elections in the north of France and in departments located along the Cote d’-Azur. But now, Marine Le Pen and her party are optimistically disposed to presidential elections.

Apart from attempts to regulate several levels of identity within the frames of European Union, the questions on migrants’ identity arise. Migrants in EU may be divided into two main categories: internal and external. Internal migrants are persons committing movement inside EU borders. Exterior migrants are persons arriving from the third countries in the search of improvement of their material states or seeking out asylum. The biggest threat is represented by the migrants arriving from the countries differencing much from Europe on the type of culture. Their presence poses a threat not only for European identity and also to senses of national consciousness. This threat is displayed in the acts of vandalism, developing crime situations in the countries visited, appearance of illegal networks and groupings.

The questions arise regarding interests representation of people contributing to economic, social and cultural spheres of the country, which do not have in-country citizenship. It may be more likely reported that the image of world, environment apprehension, religion and traditions of migrants differ from generally accepted European rules. Sweden with its Muslim population may be exemplified, where government encourages the work of neo-political communities and unions by consensual discontent of ethnic Swedes. The supporters of integration policy consider that namely negative attitude to creation of political base of interaction with Muslim minorities is to be a main reason of the crisis in the process of integration. Migrants voice protests, including by means of messes as they do not see any legitimate possibility to change something. However, Swedish government attempting to protect ultra-modern secularizing democratic-individualistic Sweden as much as possible against the capture by outdated and inhumane fundamentalists, has chosen its, not much democratic, but plain way: it tries not to admit Islam to political field of its country at all.

On the other part Germany continues accepting migrants involving non-government organizations to this issue. In 2012 “National Plan of Actions” was adopted at the Fifth National Summit, in which tasks and goals were formed and set considering immigrants’ integration, program of arrangement and participants were defined, responsible for conduct, including NGO. About 400 various events were realized (specially-oriented for the youth and other age groups of immigrants) with the participation of funds, public associations of Germans, immigrant organizations, land and municipal authorities. The expenditures of the government for all events performance comprised more than 20 mln Euro. More attention is paid to Muslim communities among different groups of migrants, which German government endeavours to bring under control. The Foundation “Mercator” initiated the opening of graduate schools on Islam theology in the universities in order to solve problems on imams’ lack in Germany. The objective of this program is to train academic staff of high qualification on Islam theology to develop Islam higher education in the country. This program will allow to train its imams being loyal to Germany and German society, who had arrived before mainly from Turkey bringing its traditions being not corresponding to German culture.

European Union demonstrates its ability to integration as a new philosophy of international relations, where Europe’s unity and simultaneously its diversity of national peculiarities interlink. The President of the European Commission Romano Prodi in his address to the European Parliament made the following statement – “Process of European integration and contemporary history serve as recognition of factors converging us as well as those separating us. Extension will be characterised by the first attempt to form a new type of citizenship within the continent. It will bring along unprecedented extension of citizens’ rights and strengthening of the state. The heads of governments constantly seek the ways to reach the greatest solidarity in issues of unity build up with cultural and religious diversity of population.

Agreement on EU establishment is a contract between independent countries agreeing to donate the part of their sovereignty for peace, security, democracy, freedom, human rights and justice. Union’s institutes develop in accordance with needs of society and new goals. EU itself may be considered as an unprecedented pattern on building piece and level of integration, thus, it is vitally important to form a general European nationality. EU government provides state support of symbols creation on European belonging in order to maintain and develop ideas of general identity: passport of European patter, anthem, flag, driver’s licence, introduction of general currency. Due to Schengen Agreement and cancellation of passport control, the citizens of Europe feel their belonging to an integrated geographical space. Political integration of the European countries increases confidence level and mutual understanding between all participants of integration process guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of EU citizen in all Union member-states.

Thus, listed aspects influencing upon the European identity formation as well as close cooperation in the field of policy and economy between EU countries have created a special system, where the states maintained its identity being paid great attention, retaining strong relations and mutual respect. Apart from national identity, the citizens feel belonging to a huge unification – European Union. This kind of identity is a base for integration process strengthening and relations development within the Union.

Integrated Europe has become an attraction object for many migrants, nowadays a problem on the agenda is to build up a new identity in terms of smearing of all-European cultural-religious values due to a great migration flow, and modern European Union – it is 28 independent states having its own identity and which are engaged in one direction to develop general European identity.

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The European Union and the East Wind

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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One characteristic trait of modern life is that the key global actors are much more focused on their own domestic problems than on international issues. This propensity for political introspection (some may even call it political autism syndrome) is present, to some extent, in the U.S., Russia, China, and India. However, it is particularly characteristic of the European Union, which currently has to simultaneously deal with Brexit, prepare for the upcoming European Parliament elections, restore financial discipline in the eurozone, and reconcile differing views on migration issues along with many other urgent and extremely important domestic issues. It is clear that Brussels is running out of time to come up with a common pan-European foreign policy.

However, the EU by its very nature is much more dependent on the surrounding world than the U.S., China, or Russia. In this sense, Brussels cannot really afford any manifestations of even selective isolationism. If the EU is not prepared to deal with external forces, then these external forces are quite prepared to deal with the EU. One good example here is China’s increased interest in Europe. In late 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Madrid and Lisbon; rumour has it that he is going to visit Rome and Paris in the near future, and he is speeding up preparations for two multilateral summits in 2019: with the EU as a whole and in the 16+1 format (China plus 16 countries of Central Europe and the Balkans).

“The east wind prevails over the west wind,” Mao Zedong said at a meeting of communist and labour parties in Moscow in November 1957. Sixty years ago, this formula was perceived in Europe as poetic hyperbole. Today, Europe cannot afford to neglect the east wind, which is gaining more strength each year, penetrating all the windows and crevices in the European building, swaying the unstable European structures, slamming doors in the Brussels corridors of power, and forcing European leaders to shiver in the draught and seek reliable shelter.

Experts and politicians in the EU are currently discussing ways to protect Europe from yet another Chinese advance. It is believed that China is going to use the EU’s soft “Mediterranean underbelly” in order to disrupt the already fragile European unity. Beijing apparently is seeking to gain control over European transport and energy infrastructure as well as establish control over the most promising European technology companies. There are fears that China will begin interfering more actively with political processes in European countries.

How justified are these fears? Is Brussels doomed to negotiate with Beijing from a position of weakness? After all, China needs Europe no less than Europe needs China. The EU with its five hundred million consumers remains the world’s largest market. Europe is the ultimate geographic target of China’s flagship Belt and Road project. Europe is the most important source of investment, management models, and social practices for China. Moreover, as Chinese-U.S. trade, economic, and political relations are worsening, the EU has taken on increased importance for China.

China is certainly a difficult and uncompromising partner. Its tactics include the ability to delay negotiations endlessly, return again and again to discussing general provisions, minimise its obligations, leave room for different interpretations of agreements already reached, and so on. The U.S., especially under the current administration, prefers twisting its partners’ arms in a rough and unequivocal manner, whereas China aims to outsit its partners and possibly avoid any unpleasant confrontation. One good example of China’s tactics is the Chinese-EU talks on mutual investments, which have not been particularly successful so far.

Nevertheless, in the current situation Beijing and Brussels are equally interested in attaining a new level of cooperation. Common sense suggests that the parties should demonstrate maximum flexibility, understand each other’s priorities, take into account the partner’s red lines, and be willing to make mutual concessions.

Both parties must resist obvious temptations. China is tempted to take advantage of the EU’s current problems and weaknesses in order to achieve tactical advantages in its relations with Brussels. Europe is tempted to demonstrate, once again, its unfailing loyalty to Washington by mechanistically replicating the U.S. position in trade and economic negotiations with Beijing.

Of course, it is unlikely that all tension in EU-Chinese relations will be eliminated in the coming months or even years. However, even symbolic positive changes would send an important signal to everyone.

This would be a signal to the Donald Trump administration, which needs to realise that it can no longer dictate the rules of the game in the global economy to the rest of the world.

It would also be a signal to Russian leaders, who need to understand that the idea of the contemporary world as an inevitable confrontation between the “aggregate West” and the “aggregate non-West” is not consistent with reality.

This would also be a signal to the entire international community, which very much needs to receive confirmation that the current fragmenting of the world economy and the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism are not a long-term path for development but merely a temporary, and by no means universal, deviation from the irreversible process of globalisation.

Most importantly, successful negotiations with China would send a very important signal to Europe at a time when such a signal is particularly needed: on the eve of the historic European Parliament elections, when the pressure being applied by Eurosceptics and right-wing populists to mainstream parties is growing every day.

The growing east wind means a new challenge for the European project, but it is not the end of the world. As Mao noted, “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills”.

First published in our partner RIAC

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The Problems With Brexit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Does anyone remember Nigel Farage?  He led the UK Independence Party and the ‘leave’ EU vote — along with his last minute ally Boris Johnson who hoped to push himself up to prime minister.  Farage is still around as a Member of the European Parliament representing south-east England, a job soon to be redundant when Britain leaves the EU.  Boris is still in parliament … and still unlikely to be prime minister.

In the meantime, there is no clear majority for any deal in the British parliament.  A major sticking point is Northern Ireland, an integral part of the UK.  Leaving the European customs union would mean a border in Ireland separating the north from the rest.  This is anathema to the Irish who have become used to living with an open border.  The Northern Island MPs in Westminster will vote as a block against any deal that does not maintain it. 

But the majority of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives want out of the EU customs union.  Hence the deal she came up with, which was to make the Irish Sea a border.  It meant leaving Northern Ireland in the customs union (i.e. an open border) and the rest of Britain outside.  Unfortunately for her, a parliamentary majority including the opposition Labor party were against such a customs division within the UK that might also in the future bring Northern Ireland closer to Europe.

One of the principal motivators for Farage’s UKIP and its allies is seldom discussed.  It has much in common with the reason for Donald Trump’s wall, and it was the reason the first British politician meeting the newly minted. President Trump was Nigel Farage.  Trump had in mind his prospective wall, and after winning the ‘leave’ vote Farage had the English Channel; both barriers for the unwanted:  Escapees from the chaos (often US caused as in Honduras) in Central America in one case; southern and eastern European migrants in the other after the EU embraced these new countries. 

The desperation of many of these migrants forced to remain on the Mexico side of the US border was poignantly evident in a documentary broadcast on March 12 by the Public Television network on its evening PBS Newshour program.  The processing slowdown engineered by this administration, blamed on lack of staff, has caused waiting times in months.  Little children have to beg during the day and single mothers sell themselves at night for families to have food to eat.

After losing the vote on the deal she had negotiated, Ms. May brought forward a vote on a no-deal exit.  Amended to a no-deal ever, the motion was defeated, as was a subsequent one on a simple no-deal; this time by an even larger majority.  The day following, she actually won a vote:  the government won a motion to ask the EU for a Brexit extension from March 29 to June 30, if the May deal passes next week.  Otherwise they will have to request a longer delay.

How fractious the issue is, was evident.  Half of Mrs. May’s Conservative Party voted against her including eight ministers; a Labor Party amendment for a second Brexit referendum was voted down 85 to 334 after many labor members including some shadow ministers voted against, tendering their resignations as a result.  Parliament and the country are split on the issue.

Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the EU Council, announced he is in favor of a long extension and will ask EU leaders to consider it.  Also Germany is in favor of a soft Brexit.  Perhaps the one million Poles now in Britain and Germany’s exports have something to do with it.

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Italy and the Belt & Road Initiative

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There has been a growing scepticism with regard to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in many quarters, due to the lack of transparency with regards to terms and conditions as well as the economic implications for countries which are part of the project. A report published by the Center for Global Development (CGD) Washington in April 2018 flagged 8 countries (including Pakistan, Maldives, Laos and Djibouti where the level of debts are unsustainable.

Apart from red flag raised by a number of researchers, the removal of Pro-China leadership in countries like Malaysia, Maldives and Sri Lanka has also resulted in the problems of the BRI project, and China’s economic dealings (which are clearly skewed in favour of Beijing) with other countries drawing more attention.

The most vocal critic of China’s economic links has been by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. During a visit to China in August 2018, Mahathir not known to mince his words while alluding to China’s trade relations with poorer countries could lead to ‘a new version of colonialism’. Mahathir later on denied that his statement was targeted at China or the BRI. The fact is that the Malaysian Prime Minister did scrap projects estimated at well over 20 Billion USD (which includes a rail project, East Coast Link as well as two gas pipelines).

Top officials in the Trump Administration, including US Vice President Mike Pence, have also been critical of the BRI project for a variety of reasons. The major criticism from US policy makers has been the economic ‘unsustainability’ of the project as well as the point that the project is skewed in favour of China.

Italy to join BRI

As the debate carries on with regard to the BRI,no body can ignore the fact, that Italy (the world’s 8th largest economy) is likely to become the only G7 country to join the BRI.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy, later this month (March 22-24) a Memorandum of Understanding MOU, and could be signed. Senior officials in the government have been cautious, and have emphasised on the fact, that the MOU would be ‘non-binding’. Commenting on the status of the MOU, Undersecretary in Italy’s economic development ministry, Michele Geraci stated:

 ‘…it is possible that it will be concluded in time for [Xi’s] visit.”

Geraci a Sinophile, who has spent a fair amount of time in China, is said to be driving the ruling coalition’s policy (The Five Star Movement (M5S) and right leaning Lega joined hands to form a government in June 2018) towards China.

Italian PM, Giueseppe Conte while addressing a seminar, in Genoa, made the point, that while joining BRI would open new opportunities and horizons for Italy, Rome was likely to be cautious, and would not do anything in haste.

Current state of Italy-China relations

If one were to look at the state of China-Italy bilateral relations. China-Italy bilateral trade reached nearly 50 Billion USD in 2017. China is Italy’s largest trading partner in Asia. It would be pertinent to point out that ties between both countries are not restricted to the economic sphere.  There has also been a rise in Chinese tourists visiting Italy (over 1.5 million annually). Even in the sphere of education, linkages between both countries are rising. As of 2017, there were over 6,000 students Italian students in China and nearly 20,000 Chinese students in Italy.

The current government has given immense attention to China, and there have been 3 high level visits ever since the ruling coalition took over the reigns last June (senior officials who visited include – Italy’s Finance Minister Giovanni Tria, Geraci, and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio — who also holds the charge of economic development minister). The Italian PM is also likely to attend the second Belt and Road Forum to be held in Beijing in April 2019.

The clear objective of becoming part of BRI, according to senior officials, is to get access for its goods and to also leverage its geo-political location within Europe.  During his visit to China in September 2018, the Italian Deputy PM had spoken in favour of Italy joining the project. The Deputy PM who had gone to attend the 17th Western China International Fair had made the point that Italy was identifying the possible avenues for participation in the project, and that the G7 country could benefit immensely, if it successfully harnessed it’s own economic and geographical strengths.

In  2018,the inaugural meeting of Italy’s China Task Force was held in Rome (this is headed by Michele Geraci). The key objectives of this task force are; to give an impetus to bilateral economic cooperation (to give a boost to Chinese investments in Italy, giving a push to Italian exports to China, cooperation in Research and Development) and also to explore how Italian companies could seek financing under the BRI initiative.  Italy has also been seeking to expand cooperation with China in Africa (the argument is that African growth will help in putting a check on immigration to Italy). Interestingly, former PM Paolo Gentiloni had urged EU and US to invest more in Africa, and to counter China’s growing influence.

Scepticism with regard to Italy-China economic relations

While the government has unequivocally spoken out in favour of this decision. Many argue, that Italy will need to develop it’s own infrastructure – especially the rail system, if it needs to benefit significantly from BRI. Given Italy’s current fiscal situation, too much investment into infrastructure seems highly unlikely. With China having invested in Piraeus (Greece) it is important that the Venice Port becomes more competitive. This will require not just economic investments, but strategic thinking.

There are those who also argue, that the current Italian government has given too much attention to Beijing, at the cost of relations with other countries. The China policy, it is argued will also have an adverse impact on EU’s common China policy

Unlike other Western countries, Italy has not given a very strong reaction on the Huawei controversy

Italian Deputy Prime Minister was quick to state that “We are in no way tilting the geopolitical axis,”

Italian PM also made it clear, that while Italy will join the BRI, it will ensure that this benefits both, and that EU norms and values are not forgotten.

It is argued, that by reaching out to Euro skeptics in EU, Beijing is trying to create divisions within the bloc. Countries like Hungary and Greece, which are being increasingly dependent upon China, have taken a different stance from other EU countries on issues such as The South China Sea and Human Rights violations.

The EU has been critical of the BRI..

It has even come up with its own version of BRI. In September 2018, EU’s strategy for connecting Europe and Asia. Senior EU officials including High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini made it clear, that EU’s strategy was to enhance connect between Europe and Asia, and to ensure it was beneficial for both. The project would also take into account financial and environmental sustainability.

US reaction to Italy joining BRI

US also took note of Italy joining BRI. As expected, the US was critical of Italy’s decision to join the BRI. A White House National Security Council spokesperson, Garrett Marquis in a media interview stated:

“We view BRI as a ‘made by China, for China’ initiative,”

As mentioned earlier, senior members of the Trump Administration too have flagged the shortcomings of the BRI project and how the dependence of certain countries in Asia and Africa is rising.

Conclusion

It is important for countries within the EU as well as other countries sceptical of the BRI to adopt a more pragmatic stance towards Italy’s decision. One must also keep in mind the fact, that while speaking about signing an MOU with China it has left room for manouevre. It is also important for countries vary of increasing Chinese influence to themselves stand up for liberal values, and greater economic integration. One of the reasons for Beijing’s increasing economic clout, is increasing the inward looking economic policies being adopted by a number of countries – not just the US. At the January 2017, World Economic Forum (WEF) Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned against the increasing scepticism with regard to globalisation. Said the Chinese President:

‘Some people blame economic globalization for the chaos in our world. Economic globalization was once viewed as the treasure cave found by Ali Baba in the Arabian nights, but now it has become the Pandora’s Box.’

Very few leaders have spoken up on this issue forcefully enough. Similarly, if the US has flagged problems of the BRI it should be willing to invest in an alternative narrative. So far even if one were to look about the narrative of a ‘Free and Fair’ Indo-Pacific, Washington has not made significant financial commitment (In July 2018, the Trump administration did make a commitment of 113 Million USD for areas like energy, digital economy and infrastructure). While it is believed that the US IDFC (International Development Finance Corporation) created through BUILD (Better Utilisation of Investment leading to development act)  may be able to give the much required boost to some important connectivity projects, but it’s total budget estimated at 60 Billion USD pales in comparison to China’s budget.

The only country which has attempted to put up a cohesive alternative to BRI is Japan’s ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ (PQI). Japan along with Asian Development Bank will be providing over 100 Billion USD (50 Billion from Japan and 50 Billion from ADB) for infrastructure in Asia. Japan’s economic presence in Africa is also steadily rising, though it is assisting Africa in a number of other areas like health, education through Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) ( which is co-hosted by the Government of Japan, The World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union Commission and the United Nations).

While it is true, that globalization may not be perfect and some scholars went overboard, but there is also no denying the point that populist policies which have favoured economic isolationism may have helped in achieving political successes, but their limitations are beginning to show in the economic sphere. It is for this reason, that even leaders like Mahathir who are critical of Chinese projects have stated, that if he were to chose between China and an ‘unpredictable US’ he would choose the latter.  Italy on its part must be cautious and should astutely balance its own interests and not allow Beijing to have a free run. Differences with the EU, should not lead to Italy and other countries becoming excessively dependent upon China.

There is no denying the fact, that Italy’s acceptance of the BRI has important implications which go well beyond EU.

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