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Coalition crisis: Germany’s uncertain future

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Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany are facing an uncertain future after talks to form a coalition government – and secure her a fourth term – collapsed. Chancellor Merkel’s party, which lacks a majority in the Bundestag, had spent weeks trying to cobble together a ruling coalition with three other parties.

But the plan fell apart when the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of talks shortly before midnight on Sunday over disagreements on issues ranging from energy policy to migration.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party lacks a clear majority in the Bundestag (parliament). Merkel had hoped to build a coalition consisting of her conservative CDU, its sister party the Christian Social Union, the pro-business FDP, and the Green Party.

FDP negotiators walked out of what they described as “chaotic” talks, with party leader Christian Lindner said it was “better not to govern than govern badly”. All other parties attacked the liberals for deliberately collapsing the talks in a bid to boost its support in any snap election. FDP negotiators walked out of what they described as “chaotic” talks, with party leader Christian Lindner said it was “better not to govern than govern badly”.

The FDP’s walkout came after the four parties had already missed several self-imposed deadline to resolve their differences. But all other parties attacked the liberals for deliberately collapsing the talks in a bid to boost its support in any snap election. 

The AfD hailed the collapse of coalition talks. “We are glad that Jamaica isn’t happening,” said AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland. “Merkel has failed.” His co-leader, Alice Weidel, welcomed the prospect of fresh elections and called on Merkel to resign. Others suggested the walk-out was a high-risk FDP attempt to weaken Dr Merkel and forced fresh elections in which the liberals would pull back protest voters from the AfD. FDP rivals expressed concern that Lindner’s high-risk tactic could result in a further boost in support for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which polled almost 13 per cent in the September 24th election.

Fragile coalition 

Merkel’s position was widely seen as unassailable in the run-up to September’s elections, with many commentators suggesting the outcome was so predictable as to be boring.  Merkel had spent weeks trying to cobble together a ruling coalition with three other parties. But the plan fell apart when the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of talks over disagreements on issues ranging from energy policy to migration. The political analysts suggested the FDP’s move could blow up in its face. There are politicians who are strong with their back to the wall, why should Merkel not be one of those?”

The Chancellor told state broadcaster ZDF that she has not considered resigning. “There was no question that I should face personal consequences,” she said.

Merkel had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties after the ballot left her without a majority.  Voicing regret for the FDP’s decision, Merkel vowed to steer Germany through the crisis. “As chancellor, I will do everything to ensure that this country comes out well through this difficult time,” she said. The Greens’ leaders also deplored the collapse of talks, saying they had believed a deal could be done despite the differences.

A poll by Welt online also found that 61.4 percent of people surveyed said a collapse of talks would mean an end to Merkel as chancellor. Only 31.5 percent thought otherwise.

Germany’s Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel’s two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens. The combination of ideologically disparate parties hadn’t been tried before in a national government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks. Unable to form a coalition with one other party (as is the norm in Germany), Merkel emerged from the election substantially weakened.

Merkel’s liberal refugee policy that let in more than a million asylum-seekers since 2015 had also pushed some voters to the far-right AfD, which in September campaigned on an anti-immigration platform.

The country’s two mainstream parties — Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) — suffered big losses.  Smaller parties, including the FDP and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) — who won 12.6% of the vote and entered parliament for the first time — were the beneficiaries.

While the FDP blamed the CDU/CSU alliance for the breakdown, the Green Party thanked Merkel and the leader of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, for negotiating “hard” but “fair,” and accused the FDP of quitting the talks without good reason. The so-called “Jamaica coalition” — named after the parties’ colors — would have been unprecedented at federal level.

Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP said that the four discussion partners have no common vision for modernization of the country or common basis of trust. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.” He expressed regret that the talks had failed but said that his party would have had to compromise on its core principles. His party returned to parliament in September four years after voters, unimpressed with its performance as the junior partner in Merkel’s 2009-2013 government, ejected it. “It is better not to govern than to govern wrong,” Lindner said.

For Dr Merkel there is only one other possible option of avoiding fresh elections: wooing back the SPD into office for a third grand coalition. But senior SPD figures signaled that eight years as Dr Merkel’s junior partner since 2005 was enough. “We are not Germany’s parliamentary majority reserve,” said Andrea Nahles, SPD Bundestag leader. Merkel could now try to convince the Social Democratic Party, which has been the junior coalition partner in her government since 2013, to return to the fold. But after suffering a humiliating loss at the polls, the party’s top brass has repeatedly said the SDP’s place was now in the opposition. Merkel is set to consult the country’s president and the possibility of new elections looming.

Trust deficit

The country has been plunged into its worst political crisis in years after negotiations to form the next government collapsed overnight, dealing a serious blow to Merkel and raising questions about the future of the longtime Chancellor. Germany could likely be forced to hold new elections. But that is not without peril for Merkel, who would face questions from within her party on whether she is still the best candidate to lead them into a new electoral campaign.

Following more than a month of grueling negotiations, the leader of the pro-business FDP, Christian Lindner, walked out of talks, saying there was no “basis of trust” to forge a government with Merkel’s conservative alliance CDU-CSU and ecologist Greens, adding that the parties did not share “a common vision on modernizing” Germany.

The negotiations, which turned increasingly acrimonious, had stumbled on a series of issues including immigration policy. Key sticking points during the talks were the issues of migration and climate change, on which the Greens and the other parties diverged, but also Free Democrat demands on tax policy. The parties also differed on environmental issues, with the ecologists wanting to phase out dirty coal and combustion-engine cars, while the conservatives and FDP emphasized the need to protect industry and jobs.

Clearly, there is a serious trust deficit among the coalition partners that came to the fore in the negotiations. Party chiefs had initially set a deadline, but that passed without a breakthrough – after already missing a previous target on Thursday. But s the parties dug in their heels on key sticking points.

It’s likely to be a while before the situation is resolved. The only other politically plausible combination with a parliamentary majority is a repeat of Merkel’s outgoing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats — but they have insisted time and again that they will go into opposition after a disastrous election result.

If they stick to that insistence, that leaves a minority government — not previously tried in post-World War II Germany — or new elections as the only options. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will ultimately have to make that decision, since the German constitution doesn’t allow parliament to dissolve itself.

Fresh poll

Two months on, however, that untested alliance has hit the wall meaning Germany and Europe face an extended period of insecurity. When the Bundestag meets for its second sitting, still without a government, acting chancellor Dr Merkel has no legal means to table a motion of no confidence to trigger fresh elections. The parties failed to make progress on a number of policy areas — including the right for family members of refugees in Germany to join them there — and tensions had risen.

Apparently, the end of Markel era is being talked about now as the collation of partners keep moving one by one, though she expressed the hope she would  be successful eventually and would  put in place a new government.

Fresh elections in Germany appeared increasingly likely after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she preferred a new vote over governing without a parliamentary majority. Merkel said her conservatives had left nothing untried to find a solution.  “I will contact the president and we will see how things develop,” said a clearly exhausted Dr Merkel, departing the talks. “It is a day to think long and hard about where things go now . . . and as acting chancellor I will do everything to ensure Germany is led well through these difficult days.”

Merkel, Germany’s leader since 2005 said she would consult President Steinmeier “and then “we will have to see how things develop.” She didn’t say more about her plans, or address whether she would run again if there are new elections.

To get to either destination, Steinmeier would first have to propose a chancellor to parliament, who must win a majority of all lawmakers to be elected. Assuming that fails, parliament has 14 days to elect a candidate of its own choosing by an absolute majority. And if that fails, Steinmeier would then propose a candidate who could be elected by a plurality of lawmakers.

Steinmeier would then have to decide whether to appoint a minority government or dissolve parliament, triggering an election within 60 days. Merkel’s Union bloc is easily the biggest group in parliament, but is 109 seats short of a majority.

To get to either destination, Steinmeier would first have to propose a chancellor to parliament, who must win a majority of all lawmakers to be elected. Assuming that fails, parliament has 14 days to elect a candidate of its own choosing by an absolute majority. And if that fails, Steinmeier would then propose a candidate who could be elected by a plurality of lawmakers.

Merkel said that the “path of minority government” should be considered “very very closely”. “I am very skeptical and I believe that new elections would be the better path,” she said. Merkel also confirmed that she would be ready to lead her party into any new vote. She did not rule out further talks with other parties, however, and acknowledged that the country’s next steps were in the hands of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The four discussion partners have no common vision for modernization of the country or common basis of trust,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.”

Germany

Germany is facing unprecedented situation of coalition crisis. Was Germany’s past also was filled with crises?

Germany is a great power with a strong economy; it has the world’s 4th largest economy by nominal GDP. As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third-largest exporter and importer of goods. It is a developed country with a very high standard of living sustained by a skilled and productive society. It upholds a social security and universal health care system, environmental protection, and a tuition-free university education.

The Federal Republic of Germany was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the European Union in 1993. It is part of the Schengen Area, and became a co-founder of the Eurozone in 1999. Germany is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the G7 (formerly G8 along with Russia), and the OECD. The national military expenditure is the 9th highest in the world. Known for its rich cultural history, Germany has been continuously the home of influential and successful artists, philosophers, musicians, sportspeople, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and inventors.

Germany was declared a republic at the beginning of the German Revolution in November 1918. The worldwide Great Depression hit Germany in 1929. The Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler won the special federal election of 1932. After a series of unsuccessful cabinets, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.[56] After the Reichstag fire, a decree abrogated basic civil rights and within weeks the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau opened. The Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power; subsequently, his government established a centralized totalitarian state, withdrew from the League of Nations following a national referendum, and began military rearmament

In 1935, the regime withdrew from the Treaty of Versailles and introduced the Nuremberg Laws which targeted Jews and other minorities. Germany also reacquired control of the Saar in 1935,[64] remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 with the Munich Agreement and in direct violation of the agreement occupied Czechoslovakia with the proclamation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moraviain March 1939. In August 1939, Hitler’s government negotiated and signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact that divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Following the agreement, on 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II.  In August 1939, Hitler’s government negotiated and signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact that divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Following the agreement, on 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II.

Britain and France declared war on Germany.[68] In the spring of 1940, Germany conquered Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France forcing the French government to sign an armistice after German troops occupied most of the country. The British repelled German air attacks in the Battle of Britain in the same year. In 1941, German troops invaded Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union.

By 1942, Germany and other Axis powers controlled most of continental Europe and North Africa, but following the Soviet Union’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, the allies’ reconquest of North Africa and invasion of Italy in 1943, German forces suffered repeated military defeats. In June 1944, the Western allies landed in France and the Soviets pushed into Eastern Europe. By late 1944, the Western allies had entered Germany despite one final German counter offensive in the Ardennes Forest. Following Hitler’s suicide during the Battle of Berlin, German armed forces surrendered on 8 May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. After World War II, former members of the Nazi regime were tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.

In what later became known as The Holocaust, the German government persecuted minorities and used a network of concentration and death camps across Europe to conduct genocide of what they considered to be inferior peoples. In total, over 10 million civilians of all races were systematically murdered

Nazi policies in the German occupied countries resulted in the deaths of 2.7 million Poles, 1.3 million Ukrainians and an estimated 2.8 million Soviet war prisoners. In addition, the Nazi regime abducted approximately 12 million people from across the German occupied Europe for use as slave labor in the German industry. German military war casualties have been estimated at 5.3 million, and around 900,000 German civilians died; 400,000 from Allied bombing, and 500,000 in the course of the Soviet invasion from the east. Around 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from across Eastern Europe. Germany lost roughly one-quarter of its pre-war territory. Strategic bombing and land warfare destroyed many cities and cultural heritage sites.

After Germany surrendered, the Allies partitioned Berlin and Germany’s remaining territory into four military occupation zones. The western sectors, controlled by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were merged on 23 May 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); on 7 October 1949, the Soviet Zone became the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). They were informally known as West Germany and East Germany. East Germany selected East Berlin as its capital, while West Germany chose Bonn as a provisional capital, to emphasize its stance that the two-state solution was an artificial and temporary status quo.

East Germany was an Eastern Bloc state under political and military control by the USSR via occupation forces and the Warsaw Pact. Although East Germany claimed to be a democracy, political power was exercised solely by leading members (Politbüro) of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party of Germany, supported by the Stasi, an immense secret service controlling many aspects of the society. A Soviet-style command economy was set up and the GDR later became a Comecon state

West Germany was established as a federal parliamentary republic with a “social market economy”. Starting in 1948 West Germany became a major recipient of reconstruction aid under the Marshall Plan and used this to rebuild its industry.  The Federal Republic of Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957.

The Berlin Wall, rapidly built on 13 August 1961 prevented East German citizens from escaping to West Germany, eventually becoming a symbol of the Cold War. Tensions between East and West Germany were reduced in the early 1970s by Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. In summer 1989, Hungary decided to dismantle the Iron Curtain and open the borders, causing the emigration of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Hungary. This had devastating effects on the GDR, where regular mass demonstrations received increasing support. The East German authorities eased the border restrictions, allowing East German citizens to travel to the West, preparing ground for reunion of Germany. The fall of the Wall in 1989 became a symbol of the Fall of Communism, the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, German Reunification

The united Germany is considered to be the enlarged continuation of the Federal Republic of Germany and not a successor state. As such, it retained all of West Germany’s memberships in international organisations. Based on the Berlin/Bonn Act, adopted in 1994, Berlin once again became the capital of the reunified Germany, while Bonn obtained the unique status of a Bundesstadt(federal city) retaining some federal ministries. The relocation of the government was completed in 1999.  Following the 1998 elections, SPD politician Gerhard Schröder became the first Chancellor of a red–green coalition with the Greens party. Among the major projects of the two Schröder legislatures was the Agenda 2010 to reform the labor market to become more flexible and reduce unemployment.

The modernisation and integration of the eastern German economy was a long-term process scheduled to last until the year 2019, with annual transfers from west to east amounting to roughly $80 billion

Since reunification, Germany has taken a more active role in the European Union. Together with its European partners Germany signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, established the Eurozone in 1999, and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. Germany sent a peacekeeping force to secure stability in the Balkans and sent a force of German troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to provide security in that country after the ousting of the Taliban. These deployments were controversial since Germany is bound by domestic law only to deploy troops for defence roles

In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany as the leader of a grand coalition.[43] In 2009 the German government approved a €50 billion economic stimulus plan to protect several sectors from a downturn.[94]

In 2009, a liberal-conservative coalition under Merkel assumed leadership of the country. In 2013, a grand coalition was established in a Third Merkel cabinet. Among the major German political projects of the early 21st century are the advancement of European integration, the energy transition (Energiewende) for a sustainable energy supply, the “Debt Brake” for balanced budgets, measures to increase the fertility rate significantly (pronatalism), and high-tech strategies for the future transition of the German economy, summarized as Industry 4.0.[95]

Germany was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015 as it became the final destination of choice for many asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East entering the EU. The country took in over a million refugees and migrants and developed a quota system which redistributed migrants around its federal states based on their tax income and existing population density

Observation: Options and uncertainly

End of Markel era is being talked about now as the collation of partners keep moving one by one. Short of resolving the impasse with the FDP, Merkel’s options are limited. President Steinmeier would then have to decide whether to appoint a minority government or dissolve parliament, triggering an election within 60 days. Merkel’s Union bloc is easily the biggest group in parliament, but is 109 seats short of a majority.

The article 63 of the post-war Basic Law requires three attempts to elect a new chancellor – a humiliating process for Dr Merkel if, as they signaled, none of the other parties are prepared to back her. The FDP was “deeply traumatized” by its term in office with Dr Merkel which ended in its 2013 election expulsion from the Bundestag. 

The euro fell following the news, although analysts said the longer-term implications for the currency were not yet clear.

Germany as the leader of European Union of Germany has been plunged into its worst political crisis in years after negotiations to form the next government collapsed overnight, dealing a serious blow to Merkel and raising questions about the future of the longtime Chancellor. Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, could also lead a minority government but she had signaled that she was not in favor of such instability. German president warns politicians to solve political crisis.

Not only Germany, but for EU as well the collapse in Germany of ruling coalition would have serious repercussions. Europe’s biggest economy now faces weeks, if not months, of paralysis with a lame-duck government that is unlikely to take bold policy action. And with no other viable coalition in sight, Germany may be forced to hold new elections that risk being as inconclusive as September’s polls.

Angela Merkel is now facing uncertainly as the clash of interests in the u ruling coalition questions reliability of her leadership. Merkel is left battling for political survival after high-stakes talks to form a new government collapsed, plunging the country into a crisis that could trigger fresh elections. She said that she “will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led through these difficult weeks.”  Merkel also vows to fight snap election to retain power. Germany: Angela Merkel runs out of options. That vote was viewed as a slap in the face for the outgoing coalition of Dr Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

The SPD, Merkel’s junior governing partner for the last four years, ruled out a renewal of their so-called “Grand Coalition” on the night of the election and reiterated that position. The SPD is also reluctant to renew the coalition as it would leave the AfD as the largest opposition party, granting it a set of privileges including the right to respond first to the Chancellor and a boost in resources — an outcome none of the other parties want.

Fresh elections are the option after the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out just before midnight on Sunday following four weeks of exploratory talks with Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), her Bavarian (CSU) allies and the Green Party.

Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance could still attempt to form a minority government with either the FDP or the Green Party separately, but this has happened rarely — and never successfully — at the federal level in Germany.  Recent polling puts all parties roughly where they were on election night, meaning a new election could result in similar deadlock.

If all other options fail, Steinmeier, the German President, has the power to set in motion a complex process that could lead to a new vote early next year.

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Europe

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

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Authors: Maxim Sigachev and Elena Elena*

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

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

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

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

Social and political discrepancies in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basic factors of social political crisis in contemporary Italy

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

The North-South Divide

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

Polarization between the Left and the Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New collisions

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

Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists

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

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

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

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

Populists vs. Traditional Political Parties

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

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

Pro-migrants vs. Anti-migrants

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner RIAC

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

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

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

A corrupted country — Introduction

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

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

The wind of change: Popular unrest and institutional trench war

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

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

Political reconfigurations

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

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

Chasing the oligarchs

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

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

The US strike back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Indo-European rapprochement and the competing geopolitics of infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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