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Macron’s global strategy in Africa and in the European Union

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Both Chirac and Sarkozy had five minutes to leave power, while François Hollande could even have five months to do so. In fact, at the time, eight Frenchmen out of ten approved his decision not to run for another term. As you may recall, part of President Hollande’s establishment did not accept automatically to lend a hand to Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister who wanted to join the “two Lefts”, the one resulting from Hamon’s  proposals for the primary election – a so-called gauche de la tradition –  and the one which was being shaped around Macron, with whom Valls had nothing in common at political level.

 Macron put together the moderate Left – the one of the old “American challenge” of Servan-Schreiber’s radicals – with the less archaic part of Socialism. At the beginning of presidential election, nobody knows how many  people will vote and, in particular, nobody knows the voting criteria yet.

 Nevertheless, for Emmanuel Macron – who was finally supported by  centrists, former non-voters and moderate leftists – politics is fully a marketing technique. We must always realize who does things; actions must be seen immediately. Finally we must perceive that a small advantage is directly linked to the leader’s choice.

 A product, not a program, is sold – and this is an eternal rule. The  founder of En Marche has focused his advertisement campaign on six factors  pertaining to his personality and only on three really referring to his political program.

 He is totally different from the political leaders who preceded him. He wants to reduce the number of Parliamentarians by a third. He  knows very well what needs to be done to redress the French economy because he is a technocrat who owes nothing to anyone. He can recognize good ideas regardless of the camp from which they come. He wants to make employment the engine of his country. He never attacks the other candidates and he always tells the truth. He has founded a brand-new movement of 240,000 members and finally France cannot afford to risk a future economic and social disaster.

 This is the paradigm of Macron’s political communication.

 A well-organized mix of messages such as “a technocrat to power”, “a leader setting great store by employment and the national economy”, the saviour of the country. In particular, he shows he is completely different from all his predecessors.

 If we analyse the electoral promises he made during the last French Presidential election, the real question we should ask is the following: can France still afford electoral political bargaining?

  Are there financial and productive margins to implement even a small part of the programs launched by all candidates in 2017?

 Since 2002 France has been experiencing full economic decline. Since 1980 it has had no steel industry (and certainly France is very interested in the outcome of the judicial and political disaster affecting ILVA steel plants in Taranto) nor sectors such as mechanical precision devices, boilers and thermodynamic grids, shipbuilding, agricultural machinery,  household appliances, textiles and ready-to-wear clothing.

 Since 2002 France has lost 865,000 jobs in the manufacturing industry, a quarter of all employees in a sector accounting for over 12% of the total jobs available.

 In 1980 the jobs in the industrial sector were 5.1 million; in late 2012 they dropped to 3 million and currently there are only 2.9 million jobs still available.

 The value currently produced by companies in France is 8%, the lowest rate in the European Union.

 Deindustrialization, but above all lack of productive specialization of the French value chains.

  Export is another sore point because France produces and sells mainly “low-end” products, which now have to face the direct competition of Chinese or, anyway, Asian items.

 34,500 robots have been installed in France since late 2011 – a  quarter of those operating in Germany and two times less than those already operating in Italy and Spain.

 Nevertheless, Macron’s project – which, indeed, cannot much change this economic state of affairs in France – has two other political and strategic factors: Italy’s strategic marginalization and its economic downturn and market shrinkage resulting from its political crisis.

 In 2011 Sarkozy started this beggar-thy-neighbour policy against Italy – at least politically and militarily – finally designed to weaken Italian small and medium-sized enterprises and privatize most of the oil industry and of what was left of the manufacturing industry.

 The operation made in Libya by the French neo-Gaullist leader was the seal on Italy’s strategic and, hence, geo-economic autonomy – and it is worth noting that Italy’s miserable “Second Republic” counts for not even one  tenth of  the First Republic.

Hence France will “steal” the Italian sector of high-end and luxury products, which is not as skilful as Italy in manufacturing.

 Despite how this may appear, Sarkozy’s choice of eliminating Gaddafi was not an irrational choice.

 Apart from the recovery in election polls for the new Franco-Hungarian Napoleon, as well as the fear of having to pay the loans due by him to the Libyan Rais and the ongoing hypothesis of a Libyan Gold Dinar that was to wipe the CFA franc out, the neo-Gaullist President knew the Colonel wanted to leave power quickly.

 Six months at most – with a guaranteed role as “Father of the Nation”, as well as new democratic elections that would make his smart son, Saif al-Islam, rise to power.

 Nevertheless Sarkozy’s “private” and personal oil in Benghazi (where the jihadists’ “democratic revolt” began, since Cyrenaica was the region with the largest share of Afghan Mujahedin in the total Islamic population) and the loans owed to the Rais that it was better not to repay, as well as a  strange assassination, were all factors that made Sarkozy think he could  make it easily.

 Hence Macron knows that – as the members of the Organisation de l’Armée Sécrète (OAS) used to say – France’s geopolitical role can be built only in Africa.

 If this is true, thanks to the structural destabilization of Libya, the strategic project will be to integrate the whole system between Tripoli and Benghazi into the new Françafrique, from which Italy – and maybe even Great Britain – will be excluded.

 Where, in Africa or elsewhere, has Italy its key strategic point? Has no one really thought about it?

 Certainly, in Egypt, we have been fooled and replaced exactly by France – after the badly managed Regeni’s affair; we are virtually irrelevant in Morocco, despite the internal political tensions (King Mohammed VI would need Italy’s help rather than a heavy French favour); we take very limited action in Algeria and we have no say in the matter in the Horn of Africa.

 If, indeed, there is no European geopolitics without an African policy (except for Germany, which is obviously focused on the Slavs), Italy has none.

 Apart from the latest French economic and business acquisitions in Italy, which are still being developed and finalised, currently France controls 185 Italian companies which are worth 50 billion Euro, while Italy owns or controls 97 French companies totalling 7.5 billion Euro.

 7% of the Milan Stock Exchange capitalization is in the hands of French companies, while Italy controls a mere 0.9% of the Paris Stock Exchange.

 Why? One of the reasons is certainly the extreme fragmentation of the Italian production system, as well as Italian politicians’ scarce perception of the phenomena that appear to be “market” ones, but are not at all so.

 Nothing is more pleasing than looking at politicians – staunch supporters of public ownership, if not para-Soviet advocates of State-controlled centralism – who believe that any business transaction between companies has no political and strategic relevance.

 “It is the market …”. Not at all. It is the political and strategic wisdom, which we do not see in action today.

 Both in the case of SXT-Fincantieri and in the other economic negotiations between France and Italy, a serious Italian government would have reacted vigorously and with harsh countermeasures – by also perceiving the inevitable geopolitical aspects and responding credibly, in Africa as elsewhere.

 Another key factor of Macron’s new foreign policy and his specific relationship with Italy – currently regarded by France as a punching ball – is migration.

 Macron stated he would not accept any “economic migrant” coming from the border with Italy, while the State Police authorities are informing us that many migrants already living in France and without documents are forced to cross the Ventimiglia border and get on Italian trains.

 When there is massive migration, both as a result of wars (a few, in today’s Africa) and of consumerist induced psychosis (in many cases), as well as of the youth bulge – as happened throughout Africa precisely thanks to a semblance of economic development – every country chooses the best migrants for itself.

 The large German companies go to the Turkish refugee camps to hoard Syrian physicians, engineers and technicians.

 Italy, mired in an old-style and old-fashioned ideology, is still working on the wrong assumption that we can welcome everybody.

 This means that the cost of useless, sick, unfit-to-work and socially dangerous immigrants will be borne by the countries that have also lost this globalization game – and it will be a heavy drain on the deficit/GDP ratio.

Conversely, the cost of skilful, active, dynamic and well-trained  immigrants will improve the overall productivity of countries that – unlike Italy – have won the globalization fight.

 As is the case with Germany, Macron will choose the best immigrants.

 Furthermore, considering that mass immigration is an indirect strategy technique, the fact of filling a competing country, albeit a EU Member State, with “half-devils and half-children” – as Kipling said – means  blocking it with unproductive spending and draining its share for investment in businesses and new technologies, as well as barbarizing and Africanizing it.

Therefore Emmanuel Macron, who is already a skilful international banker, is the point of arrival for a reconstruction of France arising from a well-defined intellectual background.

 It is the background of Jacques Attali, a banker of Mitterand origin, who is at the forefront of a project that has much to do with the recent American CEO capitalism: to make everything that traditionally has no real economic value productive and economically useful.

 When the production of industrial or material value decreases – and for many years – it must be offset by the creation of symbolic and communicative value.

 In fact, the American CEO capitalism appears to be the universe of free “content” on the Web, but – as the professionals of the sector say – “when you have nothing to buy, it means that you are the one whom has already been bought”.

 Advertising, personal data, business preferences, profiling – even at political level – networking and relations – everything is sold by naïve  users without them even realizing it and – keep in mind – without them having anything to gain.

 This is a lot of money, as is demonstrated by the magnificent budgets of many seemingly “service” companies such as Facebook.

 Hence Attali’s idea points to selling the genetic heritage, even life, so as to turn all that today is not included in the old capitalist paradigm into economy.

 Therefore, reverting to Macron’s new Françafrique project, France will soon expand its traditional area of influence in Central Africa northwards and later to Fezzan, Chad and Niger up to Libya.

 The project is to reunite the new French Africa with Egypt.

 The above-described actions will be supported by a new political-military union with Germany, with which it will even be possible to plan together at least part of their respective Armed Forces.

 That is the reason why General De Villiers left.

 Hence France commanding from the North up to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a region which could provide France with many advanced raw materials and a huge mass of workforce to be used locally, as well as an immense power of negotiating and interfering in global affairs.

 In Macron’s opinion, the agreement between Khalifa Haftar – the leader of the Libyan “Operation Dignity” and strong man of the local regime, not only of  Cyrenaica – and al-Sarraj is the strategic link for doing two things: avoiding, as long as possible, Libya’s partition and fragmentation – which, indeed, France does not fear – and also getting Italy and any other Western player out of the way.

 Trump wanted to take quick action in Libya and found the French President willing to support him.

  Italy should have done it, but there was no way.

Minister Minniti, a serious and brilliant intelligence expert, reached agreements with the sixty primary tribes out of the over one hundred tribes present there – and indirectly with the various internal armed gangs. ENI and our intelligence Services did a good job, but when there is no strategic mastermind, they remain mere disconnected sensory organs.

 It is worth repeating that the agreement between the two Libyan governments, one existing and the other merely surviving thanks to the good will of a “useless entity” – as Francesco Cossiga dismissed the United Nations – is targeted against Italy which, except for Minister Minniti’s abilities, has not shown any idea or reaction in this respect.

 Probably – as already appears – also the agreement brokered by Emmanuel Macron will last l’espace d’un matin since Libya cannot be led and run as a condo board meeting and we shall soon choose a strong and credible leader – as SISMI did, in a hotel of Abano Terme, by selecting Sirte’s young Colonel, Muammar al-Gaddafi.

 Furthermore an agreement needs to be reached between the Berbers and the Tuareg, who can blow up any deal and have the possibility of managing very strong alliances with the other tribes.

 Hence the game is open and we could even get back in it, but no rational solutions are perceived in Italy.

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. “

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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.

From our partner RIAC

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