Connect with us

Europe

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

Published

on

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. “

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

Taking For Granted … Be Wary

Published

on

The title of these comments is inspired by my personal experience in important areas of public policy both as a politician beginning in the 1970s and more recently as Secretary General of the OECD from 1996 until 2006. That was a very important decade as it ushered in the period which some day we thought would be known as the beginning of globalization on a grand scale.

When I took up my responsibilities in Paris at the end of May 1996 it was a time brimming with  optimism about the great future ahead for our children and generations to follow! We were about to say goodbye to one of the most brutal and bloody centuries in human history. Physical human suffering was compounded by poverty and misery of hundreds of millions, especially in the developing world.

Many of us involved at the international level in public policy saw major opportunities to address challenges which had eluded us in the past. Indeed we took a great deal for granted and I must confess that I certainly did. Why? Here are a few examples and the reasons for taking so much for granted.

  1. We had just witnessed major geopolitical restructuring in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had collapsed and we assumed that the threat of nuclear war had disappeared with it;
  2. With the replacement of the GATT the ( WTO) we took for granted the exciting prospect of global free trade and investment, which would bring economic growth and rising prosperity everywhere, but especially to the developing world. We expected “trade” not “aid” to be the route out of third world poverty;
  3.  The expansion of the proven Marshall Plan formula to regions fractured by division and conflict. We took for granted that such approaches could bring peace to the war torn Balkans and perhaps even to the Middle East and  the Arab World;
  4. We took for granted that with the publication  of the Brundtland Report “ Our Common Future” on Sustainable Development  followed by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, followed by the commitments in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the decades long stalemate of slowing green house gas emissions (GHGs) (and therefore global warming) had been broken  and that multilateral international commitments would ensure the protection of the biosphere and its natural capital;
  5. We took for granted that improvements to the stunning success of healthy capitalism through universal principles of good corporate governance, supported by an Anti Bribery Convention, would control the greed inherent in the undue exploitation of unfettered capitalism.  We took for granted that the wealth and wage disparities would narrow, especially in the United States;
  6. We witnessed the remarkable rise of the European Union (EU) uniting former enemies. We took its expansion and global role for granted. Regarding the EU,  I often quote a paragraph from the preface of A History of Europe by H. A. L Fisher, a warden at Oxford University in the 1930s. He wrote: “[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife“;
  7. We also took for granted the gradual spread of democracy and democratic institutions into the former countries of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in central Europe, South America and Asia;
  8. Early misgivings about the ideological bent of  Recep Erdogan as the Prime Minister, and then President of Turkey, were dispelled as he initially seemed supportive of good governance, freedom of the fourth estate, free speech  and democratic principles. We believed him and took for granted that the remarkable reforms introduced by Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, would ensure the survival of a secular democratic Turkey;
  9. We took for granted the United States as a lone global superpower, magnanimous and fair, the first true united nation with people drawn from all corners of the planet to its robust democracy and unlimited opportunities.

As we look back over the past 25 years it is obvious that much too much was taken for granted. Given that so few of the opportunities we assumed would bring the world to a much better place were seized by my generation, what do you perceive as a better way forward? When we open that discussion in a few minutes, I hope I have convinced you to take little for granted. Be wary, if not skeptical, about those who foresee only a prosperous and peaceful future for this wonderful planet.

We need to remind ourselves of the following and address the questions I raise in our general discussion.

1. We failed to engage Russia with the West and as a result are now strengthening NATO in an effort to contain Putin’s aggressive behaviour. History may show this to be the most egregious of all Western public policy failures in the post-Soviet Union period because of its impact on other areas of global concern where Russia should have been a partner. Is it too late to recover from a failure to engage Russia despite the Russian adventures in Crimea and the Ukraine?

2. The EU is increasingly fragile, with concern about the future of the euro common currency and the EU’s capacity to deal with massive immigration from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Do the weaknesses of the EU reflect a too rapid expansion without strengthening institutions which would move it toward a more federalist structure promoted by the Spinelli group?

3. Tensions have grown between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes, convincing the United States to pivot from its European focus and increase its military presence in Asia. Does this refocussing plus a strengthening alliance between China and Russia herald the reigniting of another Cold War like the one my generation grew up with?

4.Now many more nations( and possibly terrorist groups) have access to nuclear weapons. Does that greatly increase the possibility of a 21st century nuclear war?

5.The global free trade agenda is in the doldrums with the failure of the Doha Round and the concomitant rise of protectionist rhetoric, especially in the United States ,at the highest political levels. Does this mean that global free trade is now beyond reach?

 6. Is the prospect of eliminating poverty in the developing world through trade and investment  dying?

7.Reductions in GHG emissions, especially CO2, but also methane, continueto elude us after decades of effort, showing how ineffectual the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has been and will be. The widely heralded but unenforceable Paris Agreement in the context of a history of failures is even dangerous because much of the public thinks our leaders have come to grips with this challenge (as we all did after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997). Do they do not realize that even if the agreed upon targets are achieved they are not sufficient to keep global temperatures below the level that the scientific community tells us is necessary to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change?Is there resistance to developing a Plan B as a last resort to prevent unacceptable global warming? Solar radiation management , a form of geo engineering, seems to be broadly under consideration. Is that good or of concern? As areas of the world may become uninhabitable, will there be mass migration from areas of the developing word to more temperate climates?

8. For those who believe in democracy and perceived it as beginning to take root after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union do subsequent developments undermine the confidence that many democratic governments may be in retreat?  In some countries, such as Thailand, there has been a return to a military dictatorship. In others, such as Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, there is only a pretense of democracy with rigged elections, as in Belarus. There also appears to be backsliding in Turkey, a very important global player and a bridge between Asia and its historic Western allies. The situation in Turkey, which held such promise only a decade ago, is very worrisome. President Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Failure of this democracy could be a sad, even tragic, development. Turkey is a major regional and global power, and through the influence of Atatürk it became an emerging secular democracy with a majority Sunni population straddling Europe and Asia. Atatürk showed the world what individual leadership supported by ethical standards could accomplish in a short period of time.

9. Is the world faced with a growing number of autocratic strongmen who would prefer to destroy the important international infrastructure if it constrains their personal ambitions? It would appear that when one combines the far east, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Thailand etc, more than 50% of humanity is or will soon be governed by “strong men“. With few exceptions such as Ataturk, history shows that such people have only one interest “me”.

President Trump gives every indication that he is anxious to join the ranks of these strongmen, initially by withdrawing the United States from the central role it had played through visionary leadership by building and helping to maintain the post war international and institutional architecture. His slogan “America First” should be interpreted for what it really is, namely, “Donald Trump First”.

There is a disquieting commentary in the New York Times of 16 December 2016 entitled “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy” by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University. Here is an excerpt:

“Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? … Past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival … Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. “

Mr. Trump tests positive on all counts. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters and pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton;

He haspage213image41232512page213image41225792page213image41222912threatened legal action against unfriendly media, and continues to suggest that he might not accept the election results saying the election will be rigged. If he loses will he in some way resist leaving office?

Since his 2016 election he has not changed his attitude on any of these issues.

David Frum, a Conservative and traditional Republican and a senior editor at the Atlantic published a book two years ago “Trumpocacy- The Corruption of the American Republic”. It has recently been released in paperback with a new preface by Frum which reviews the appalling record of this individual to whom Americans have entrusted the leadership of the most powerful nation in history.

In a concluding paragraph of the book he writes….” President Trump is cruel, vengeful, ignorant, lazy, avaricious and treacherous…”

Later he adds: “We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can be your finest hour as a citizen and as an American”

Today I cast Frum’s challenge to each of you in a global perspective rather than just American.

Yes, democracy can be fragile everywhere.

 We who live in well-established democracies must never be complacent or smug about the success of our societies. The comments of the Harvard professors above echo that concern.

Our democratic societies and their political systems must adapt to a rapidly evolving world. We are increasingly in that global village through forces of globalization amplified by communication and transportation technologies.

In line with the work of Charles Darwin, it has been said that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same could be said of democratic governments and even empires.

What happens next to global free government is up to your generation of leadership. It is a humungous challenge, especially in countries where the seeds of democracy have never been planted or where they have enjoyed short life spans, Thailand and especially Turkey come to mind.

The future of democracy across the globe could be destroyed if the autocratic motives and moves of Donald Trump succeed, as they well might if I read the current political climate in the United States correctly. Despite shortcomings which need correction such as the unfortunate influence on elections through Super Pacs, the United States has been perceived for years as a remarkable democracy which others attempt to emulate. This may be about to change as it is increasingly viewed as government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, and Trump does not appear to feel constrained by the institutional checks and balances of the constitution. He could put American democracy on the terrible path to an autocratic state which he seems to admire, especially in the Russia and Turkey of today.

In summary, what looked to be a promising future in all the major areas of concern in the 1990s has evolved into what could best be described as an economic, social, and geopolitical mess. But as bad as that story is, we have succeeded in making the future even more problematic with the arrival of global terrorism.

My generation must recognize the extraordinary failures of the past decades. Your generation must do better.

It seems that efforts to create consensus on major issues amongst many sovereign nations does not work. Is there not a better way forward in global governance? This is the last question I leave you with.

Have 190 counties not offered proof  of the impossibility of finalizing an international and binding free trade agreement known as the Doha Round, or as almost 200 countries have done in their efforts to find consensus on concrete solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Neither set of efforts, the first initiated through the WTO process and the second through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, has delivered the results sought and it is unlikely they ever will.

Is starting small and gradually broadening an international consensus a better option? The EU successfully evolved from a small base but has it expanded too rapidly to consolidate and build upon its remarkable and successful beginnings? Even the G20 may be ineffectual because of size and economic and social diversity.

Does the difficulty of building broad consensus on these issues suggests that a structure more resembling the UN Security Council would be more effective? Could the Security Council itself with a limited membership of powerful countries become a global steering group and replace the G-7 process?

Whether we like it or not, each major power has spheres of influence over smaller regional powers through shared history, culture (sometimes language), and trade and investment.

When we compare human and societal evolution to a relay race one generation must pass the baton on to the next. In a small way that is what I am saying to you today. I hope our discussion will touch upon a number of these important and often controversial issues.

We have fallen behind in many respects in the early years of this 21st century, perhaps even forfeiting many of the hard-earned benefits of good capitalism and democracy to an ever increasing number of corrupt strong men and autocratic regimes.

Is that the future?

Remember the words Shakespeare attributed to Brutus:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

I am persuaded that the latter may be our fate. We did not take the flood of opportunities at hand in the 1990s. Is it too late to recover through hard work, sacrifice and creativity in restructuring global governance for a better world.

What should we do? What can you do?

It will depend to a large extent on your personal values which I hope have not been irreversibly warped by admiration for the material success of greed and visible wealth of the famous 1% who dominate power and politics in the USA and increasingly elsewhere.

I have described the state of the world today as analogous to the fireplace at my country home. It is usually fully loaded with tinder, kindling and dry wood. All it awaits is a match. Unfortunately, in the world today there are many matches waiting to be lit and spread their deadly destruction to regions, if not the planet as a whole.

*This text is exclusively made as supplementary for a university lecture held on 28 OCT 2020. It is a part of the so-called ‘Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics’, concepted and considered by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic for the Swiss University in Geneva.

Continue Reading

Europe

Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

Published

on

In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.

Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).

 EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

 Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.

Continue Reading

Europe

Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Published

on

By

The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.

The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.

Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.

The ASEAN Context

In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy  guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.

As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.

Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.

Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.

All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Russia56 mins ago

The 2000 Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and Russia

On October 3, 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Vladimir Putin cemented India-Russia bilateral ties with the signing...

EU Politics3 hours ago

Advancing the EU social market economy: adequate minimum wages for workers

The Commission today proposes an EU Directive to ensure that the workers in the Union are protected by adequate minimum...

Tourism5 hours ago

International Tourism Down 70% as Travel Restrictions Impact All Regions

Restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hit global tourism hard, with the latest data...

Africa Today7 hours ago

Somalia Scales up Social Protection Measures as COVID-19 Constrains Economic Growth

Somalia’s economic growth is forecast to contract significantly due to the negative impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the locust infestation and...

Southeast Asia9 hours ago

Crisis and Future of the Regime Stability in Southeast Asian Countries

The world has encountered a crisis several times. In facing a crisis, every nation’s leader will need to strive to...

EU Politics11 hours ago

Commission proposes new ‘Single Window’ to modernise and streamline customs controls

The European Commission has today proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods...

Southeast Asia13 hours ago

Quad, Quad Plus, and the Indo-Pacific: The Core and Periphery

Indo-Pacific has been seen as one construct which identifies US strategy and brings in subscribers to the concept; thereby adding...

Trending