Some directions should be identified with a view to defining cooperation in the Mediterranean region. There is the Italian one that reaches Libya, but implies stable relations also with Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the Russian one, based on a geopolitical connection between Crimea and Syria, so as to make the East safe while operating in the East-Mediterranean region.
There is also the French one, stretching from its Southern coasts to the Maghreb line and then reaching Africa’s Western coasts and crossing them.
Obviously Spain puts together its old African presence, between Ceuta and Melilla and the Spanish Sahara, and its current interests: the preferential relationship with Morocco and the Mediterranean stability towards the Atlantic and the horizontal area towards Greece.
What about Italy? As far as I know there is no idea in this regard, except for some foreign policy vis-à-vis Libya, which is not what the Italian politicians think it to be, despite the excellent work carried out there by the Italian intelligence services.
There is nothing else in the Italian strategy in the Mediterranean region. Italy helps its other competitors for free and then believes they appreciate it and will be grateful.
Just think of the gift made years ago, when the Italian government of the time assigned that part of the sea above Sanremo and towards Sardinia without anything in exchange.
We are good, excessively good, with “democratic” countries, but then we suffer the consequences of all the disasters made by the others. The attack on Libya is a case in point.
In Italy there is no foreign policy because we are not linked to the Machiavellian “actual reality”, but to the so-called analyses of the most widespread newspapers.
This is the Italian politicians’ background culture on foreign policy, which is all based on the current and obvious issues.
The geostrategic Mediterranean region, however, is changing its traditional points of reference, while other significant actors have entered the scene. Just think about China and the aforementioned Russia, but also Israel, with its geopolitics always on the sea, while the country was built -manumilitary – on the land.
We are experiencing a phase in which countries such as Great Britain and the United States always have a strong and new presence in the Mediterranean – hence the old “Euromed” format does not hold any longer, while the Sahel-Saharan region will enable the Arab League, the EU and the African Union to cooperate.
Southern Africa will be the hegemonic region of the South African Federation.
And here the Russian and Israeli interests come. Above all, the Israeli ones, because Israel wants to make all its regional sea and the new oil and gas fields safe, as well as to secure a maritime line between its coast and Southern Europe.
Russia intends to be present in the South-Mediterranean region, as an extension of its relations with Iran and Syria, which will be reconstructed by China, and to penetrate the European Great North, especially Greenland, which is very rich in oil and minerals.
Hence how does Italy want to secure its vital trade routes? Does it want to rely only on the good heart of friendly countries or allies? This is the geopolitics of Good Will, which falls within the theological sphere.
Russia is allying with Turkey, with a view to defending the Dardanelles and projecting itself onto the East-Mediterranean region, but it basically aims at regional hegemony.
China wants to reach the same goal. In the future, they will agree on the spoils of the faint-hearted Mediterranean region that Europe has handed over to them.
We are used to thinking about the Mediterranean of the old powers, namely France, Italy, Spain and Egypt, but currently we must consider also Israel, since “the Mediterranean must be seen as a whole”, as Shimon Peres used to say.
Hence we must rethink all our maritime geopolitical parameters.
Here we need to think again about Sicily. The organizers have been right to choose Palermo as the venue of this Conference.
A town epitomizing all Mediterranean stratifications, where the Tomb of Frederick II of Swabia, in the Cathedral, is built like a Shiite shrine and there are stones with Koranic inscriptions on the side.
Palermo and Sicily are not just a strategic base, as dreamt by an old rigid geopolitics full of myths, but the point where all the Mediterranean forces that dialogue with one another must be present.
But not as happened in the recent “Conference on Libya” organized in Palermo by the current government, which looked like a nineteenth-century vaudeville, with all those closed-door meetings to betray a spouse or an ally.
Anyway no result was reached. Obviously because that was the logic of losers, not of winners. Taking al-Sarraj’s Libyan organization as a “national State” seriously, is tantamount to considering valid the State that was founded by an engineer in the 1960s on an oil rig off the coast of Romagna.
No one there is a nation-State, but rather a spectre raised by someone else. Possibly by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has excellent relations with the United States, at least since the times of the first and fatal “Arab Springs”.
In Sicily, and especially on its Western coast, the US soldiers arrived to advance up to reaching Northern Italy.
Was it a “useless war”, as British agent Eric Morris defined it in his book Circles Of Hell: The War in Italy 1943-1945, while the true defeat of the Axis Powers came from the North, from Operation Overlord on Normandy’s beaches? Certainly not, because it is not possible to conquer Europe without conquering the Mediterranean.
Like Venus Anadyomene, the European civilization was born in the Mediterranean and hence there is no Europe without the Mediterranean.
Sicily, however, is really a central area and not only from the merely geographical viewpoint.
Point of arrival of the United States at the end of the Second World War, precisely for its social characteristics it was the best starting point for advancing up to the North of Italy.
As Goethe wrote in his “Italian Journey”, you need to see Sicily -which is the paradigm of the rest of the country – to understand Italy.
Its Mediterranean position, however, is such as to make Sicily the centre of our Mediterranean policies, if any.
Hence Sicily as a point of connection between the United States, which is always and in any case necessary for peace in the Mediterranean, Israel, which is right on the other side of the sea, and China that wants to expand its trade and can rebalance the powers already present.
A Mediterranean of equilibrium, not of old hegemonies, which cost more than they pay back.
Hence a Mediterranean that, in the coming years, will be one of the great development areas -and this explains the internal fights, the jihad on the coasts and the failed operations of regional hegemony.
A new equilibrium and redistribution of regional power will be needed.
Where the coastal jihad disappears, it shall be replaced with the countries that contained it, but certainly protected by someone.
The struggle for hegemony in the Mediterranean is open and, in any case, the European Union – lost in its talk about the notion of politically correct and the female issue only – no longer exists in the Mediterranean.
It no longer exists also in other regions of the world, but here we are focusing on the Mediterranean.
Hence the inevitable presence of the Russian Federation, starting from its ports on the Syrian coast, which are essential in Russia’s geopolitics.
Israel will not fail to protect its shores and its trade routes in the Mediterranean, but certainly in connection with a Power.
The United States shall change their type of Mediterranean hegemony, considering that we are no longer in the Cold War phase, when there was no significant Soviet fleet, but there were anyway Eastern friendly countries on the Mediterranean coasts.
China will be the “race” fleet of the Mediterranean. It will have or create points of reference on the coasts.
Obviously Europe will not see or, even less, understand what really happens.
Israel may collaborate with China, considering the excellent relations between the two countries.
Also the US contribution will be needed. The United States could help Israel not to get entangled in burdensome and costly alliances, which sooner or later may require a price to be paid. Possibly for an unfair and high-handed agreement with the Palestinians.
Italy, more powerless than usual, will be constrained into a new network of alliances and strengths.
If there is no new policy line- as is currently the case -Italy will be everyone’s enemy just to be everyone’s friend.
This does not apply to Sicily, which can play some of its cards. The relations with the Arab world, especially when the jihadist “Thirty Years’ War” is over.
As well as the possible new multinational protection of the Maghreb coasts from Sicily itself.
With specific reference to the Balkans, which are our natural sphere of influence, Italy could create a new “Venice-style” zone of influence on the Croatian coasts, thus cleansing them from the jihadist presence.
Furthermore, this Conference should be seen as the first opportunity – and I hope there will be many more in the future – for a new Geopolitics Centre which, thanks to its specific position, could come up with projects for a new reorganisation of the Mediterranean region.
Who will pay heed to it? Certainly those who work seriously in the Mediterranean region.
Forget about Italy, restricted and slowed down by mediocre and ignorant politicians.
The same applies even more to Europe, which only pays lip service to great principles.
Would it be possible from Sicily to imagine a “Pentagonal Initiative” like the one launched by Gianni De Michelis, the last true Italian Foreign Minister, when the Soviet empire was collapsing even in its peripheral areas which, in the Balkans, also concerned us?
The idea worked well, probably too well not to lead to jealousies and misunderstandings.
Later his successors quashed it. It was the only credible project to secure and expand Italy’s influence in the Northern Balkans.
What about launching a Pentagonal Initiative for the Mediterranean?
With Italy, of course, but also with Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Israel.
It would be a basis for developing realistic projects but, above all, a “Court” in which the Mediterranean commercial or geopolitical disputes could be resolved.
A leaderless ship: The Bulgaria’s political crisis and the storm to come
Internal and international tensions
Politics tends to develop in a complex conundrum in all Balkan countries. Thus, never can observers take their eyes off the ball, investors feel completely safe or international partners express enduring satisfaction. In effect, this is the case also for bits of the region that have joined the European Union in the last decade. Recently, Bulgaria has been the most interesting hearth of, popular outrage, institutional instability and international tensions amongst the latter countries.
Actually, the atmosphere began simmering back in Summer 2020, when thousands of people took to the streets for several weeks. Arguably, the combination of the umpteenth high-echelon corruption scandal involving andthe pandemic-induced recession was only the most immediate cause. Swiftly, dissatisfaction led to vigorous calls for the Prime Minister’s and the Attorney General’s resignation and early election. Even the President of the Republic, Rumen Radev, broke with his supposed non-partisanship and joined the protestors gathering vast support. However, the winter suppressed street protests and Boyko Borisov, the Prime Minister, exploited the pandemic to justify his indifference.
In the meantime, the cabinet embroiled Bulgaria in a dispute which the country had refrained from ever since 1991. The so-called ‘Macedonian question’predates the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s independence, but only then turned into a crisis. Indeed, the hardest-fought issue was that surrounding the use of the name ‘Macedonia’, which Greece opposed until the Prespa Agreement. But the newly named Republic of North Macedonia has failed to acknowledge the deep historical and cultural connection with Bulgaria. Eventually, the former’s lack of real cooperation led Sofia to veto the opening of negotiations on EU membership. Thence, scholars have criticised the country’s government while foreign politicians tried to persuade Borisov to lift his veto.
Against the background of such a delicate, multifaceted domestic and international circumstances Bulgaria celebrated regular election on April 4. The country needed everything but being left leaderless, but this is exactly what happened.
Election results: Who to form a cabinet?
The most recent elections speak volume about the difficulty in understanding Bulgarian politics and understanding what the popular sentiment is. For a start, GERB, Borisov’s party, lost about 300,000 votes falling from 33.65%in 2017, to 26.18% this year. Moreover, the nationalist collation United Patriots, GERB’s reliable allies, split up and failed to clear the 4% threshold. Thus, with his 75 MPs in the 240-seat Parliament Borisov had no more a majority and desperately needed a partner.
At the same time, the elections produced an unusually hostile environment for GERB. In fact, a number of new leaders and formations emerged — all of which declared GERB a “most toxic party”. Still, opposing Borisov’s “model”, as they use to say, was not enough to form a government. Neither the protest party There is such a people (ITN) nor the establishment Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) even tried. Therefore, the two smaller protest parties – Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and Stand Up! Bastards Out (ISMV) – and the Muslim Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) had to accept new elections in July.
In effect, once the elections results became clear, no one nurtured many hopes for a stable government. The BSP had offered it external, conditional support to an ITN cabinet as the DPS and even GERB did. Perhaps, members of DB and ISMV could have joined the project to ensure wider representation. But all attempts failed in front of ITN’s leader, the showman-turned-politician SlaviTrifonov, display of “political fearfulness”. The ultimate result of these developments was the shortest parliamentin Bulgaria’s two-century history.
What the parliament produced
Without a fully-functioning political government and with a lame-duck Parliament, Bulgaria is traversing a difficult period. The legislature has yet to approve the Recovery and sustainability plan towards which the EU has granted €6bln ($7.3bln). Without these funds, it will be harder for the country’s economy to rebound after the last recession. At the same time, no one is in charge of managing the ongoing feud with the Republic of North Macedonia. Hence, Sofia can neither substantiate its claims and pretences vis-à-vis Skopje nor backtrack and let membership negotiations start. Finally, in the last weeks tensions between Bulgaria and Russia have risen with mutual expulsion of several high-ranking diplomats. In fact, Czech authorities have found out about a “Bulgarian connection” in the incidents allegedly blamed on Russian security services.
On the offense: ITN, DB and ISMV against GERB
Yet, the parliament has found not time to address any of these really pressing issues. As it often happens after the elections, foreign policy has disappearedfrom the order of the day. There was no discussion of either the bilateral relations with Russia nor the North Macedonian issue.
Representative from ITN, DB and ISMV wrapped up the Recovery plan into their wider attempt to publicly discredit GERB. Thus, they refused to let the competent executive official introducing the bill and pretended Borisov himself did it.
Meanwhile, the three parties and the BSP also forced a vote on the cabinet’s resignation. Hence, the government is officially in charge only of managing current affairs: it cannot update the budget or adopt new economic measures. The opposition also blocked the automatic renewal of key concession for Sofia’s airport and some highways to Borisov’s closest allies.
So-called ‘Protest parties’ also formed a parliamentary commission to investigate Borisov governments’ misdeed. However, the legislature will soon dissolve, so nothing will come out of it besides some gossipy kompromat. The only real change is a new electoral law,remedying to some of the previous legal framework’s most evident fallacies. The hope is that it will curb the purchase of votes and other instances of fraud.
Wait-and-see: Borisov’s unkind defence
Borisov’s loyalists in the government, in the Parliament and, more importantly, in the media are repelling this frontal assault vehemently.
Figure 1 Acting Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called the Parliament “a show” in a video on his Facebook page.
Acting foreign minister Ekaterina Zakharieva has spoken out against the supposed attempt to make 850,000 GERB voters ‘disappear’. The chair of GERB’s parliamentary group, Desislava Atanasova, accused other parties of having “failed to fulfil society’s interests”. Borisov himself went out for the biggest prey: President Radev.On Facebook he declared
I hope that Radev is not proud [of the result of last year’s protests …]: This parliamentary show costs 19 million [leva, €9.5mln] a day. It is better that they closed it because we would have gone bankrupt.
The opposition motto offers no way forward behind the idea that “What GERB did must be cancelled”. Yet, GERB is not less destructive in its agenda. Currently, Borisov’s clique is challenging both the moratorium of concessionsand the electoral reformin front of the constitutional court. According to many experts, the justices could strike down or rescale at least one of these two measures. Hence, all hopes for a real democratic change will likely evaporate as long as GERB holds the levers of power.
Forecast: A leaderless ship in a stormy sea
Some have been talking about the rebirth of parliamentarism. But partisanship, anger and personal hatred currently dominate Bulgaria’s politics. Thus, a disenchanted observer could only see the dismaying polarisationand personalisation of the mainstream political discourse. At this time, Bulgaria is like a ship whose crew has mutinied, but whose captain refuses to jump off. Fortunately, the peaks of the economic and sanitary crisis seem over — for now. But the international setting conspires against the vessel. A storm is mounting from the East and the West. Winds of reprisal spire from Russia, whereas the EU is increasingly discontent with Bulgaria’s management of the North Macedonian issue. Assuming that the next elections will produce a working government, either the mutineers or the old captain will be just in time to manage the gale. But should this not happen, the country may soon regret the current lull.
Geopolitics of Europe and the Third Wave
With hospitals filling up across the continent, new variants of the virus proliferating and vaccine shortages biting back, Europe can be seen to be under the third wave of the COVID crisis. This wave has been a confused sea across Europe in which some national epidemics are worsening, some are reaching their peak and some are declining. Although lockdowns have eased as vaccine drives make headway, the end of state emergency does not undermine the inevitable long-term consequences of the crisis. COVID has brought to the forefront new geopolitical dynamics and created risks for the foreign policy of the European Union on several fronts. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the impending health calamity, economic, political and geopolitical challenges are also plenty.
The crisis has held up a mirror to the Western countries as their effectiveness in managing the pandemic has been distorted and has brought about de-Westernisation of the world. As globalisation is under strain, the crisis is bound to redraw the borders between the state and the markets in democracies such as the Member States of the EU. Such an environment is likely to emphasise on national initiatives to the detriment of international cooperation. In a post-COVID world, the EU may have to deal with its geopolitical problems with less external credibility as well as internal solidarity among its member states.
The potential geopolitical consequences of the virus can be identified by extrapolating those trends that were taking place before the onset of the virus. Amidst evolving global scenarios, there has been a constant push from the EU to establish itself as a relevant geopolitical actor to realise its global power aspirations. In this context, it becomes important to note the two areas of concern raised by the crisis consist of questions on the internal cohesion of the EU and Europe’s ability to adapt to the increasing rivalry and competition among other global powers.
The EU as a player derives its identity from its supranationalism. However, with COVID wreaking havoc on the already unequal economy of the Northern and Southern Europe, the downslides of globalisation are being highlighted. This is likely to further embolden nationalist narratives, rather than European solutions. This will lead to the fragmentation of the region into its component member-states part, threatening the very identity if the Union. This has been a challenge to the EU as the Union recognizes solidarity as a fundamental principle as per Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. With the EU is facing the increasingly centrifugal ‘member states first’ approach put forward by the European capitals, the European integration project is under threat.
Further, with the pre-existing tensions between US and China, the European Union has been facing heat from both the sides of the Pacific. While the EU has put forward its own Indo-Pacific Strategy in order to constructively engage with the region, it continues to be challenged by America’s confrontational foreign policies and also being apprehensive of China’s refusal to open up their markets at a time of dwindling global economies, China’s assault on Hong Kong’s independence as well as China’s growing support towards the populist parties of Europe. The EU has come to perceive China as a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance with this perception largely being shaped by China’s revisionist challenge and its alarming nationalist narrative.
It is important to understand that coronavirus is not here to kill geopolitics. However, the European Union will have to strengthen their efforts towards ensuring that the pandemic does not kill the EU as a geopolitical force. The European Commission must step up its efforts to broker the Multilateral Financial Framework (MFF) among member states which was long pending even before the pandemic struck the continent. It would enable the Union to act collectively in funding recovery efforts in a post-COVID reconstruction of the economies. Further, the EU should focus on shortening their supply chains pursuing a policy of strategic autonomy such that EU’s external dependencies are diversified. The need of the hour is to rebuild an economically sound healthcare Europe while at the same time working towards a more geopolitical Europe. This will require EU to continue investment as a full-spectrum power in military as well as other security capabilities along with assistance and aid to the neighboring countries to rebuild their resilience in a geopolitically volatile environment.
The EU needs to defend and promote the European model which is struggling to stand amidst the global battle of narratives along with maintaining its strategic autonomy in health, economic and other sectors. At the same time, the Union needs to bolster existing and forge new alliances in order to fill the gap on multilateralism. It needs to locate a strategic edge to resist the external pressures and protect its presence in the global scene and continue being relevant in the changing global order with its extraordinary transcontinental presence of soft power.
How a Democracy Can Be Undermined: Some Lessons
Democracies have an inbuilt flaw when their own processes can be employed to undermine them. It is what has happened in Hungary in the last decade, and Hungary is not alone.
In his youth the current prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, was an ardent dissident leading a youth movement, Fidesz, and in 1989 he was calling for the removal of Soviet troops and free democratic elections. Opposition to single-party socialist rule was eventually successful, and he was elected a Fidesz member of the National Assembly in 1990.
In 1998, his party won a plurality, and he served his first term as prime minister until 2002 when the socialists returned to power. However, a landslide victory in 2010 gave Orban a two-thirds supermajority, and with it the power to amend constitutional laws.
Shortly thereafter in 2011 a new constitution was promulgated which gave the Fidesz control of the judiciary, and administrative commissions responsible for elections, media and the budget. Hence Orban’s ubiquitous presence on billboards around Budapest — a consequence of a law regulating billboards that he passed driving his supporter’s competitors out of business. Opposition flyers may now be found posted on poles and trees … and good luck seeing them at a distance.
With the opposition weakened, Hungary became a democracy backsliding to authoritarianism. In 2020, the parliament passed laws that allow Orban to declare an emergency at will and then rule by decree.
All of which poses a conundrum: Anti-democratic laws passed by an elected government undermine democracy yet at the same time can be considered the will of the people, even if they infringe their rights.
If one believes the U.S. is immune, consider elected politicians gerrymandering districts to remain in power. And if we believe for an instant that all of this is a right-wing phenomenon, we just have to glance at Venezuela and Nicolas Maduro.
Freedom House’s classifications of freedom in 210 countries note that Venezuela is not free. Orban’s Hungary is now only partly free in contrast with, say, the Czech Republic, another former communist East European state which is classified free.
In their book How to Save a Constitutional Democracy, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq argue that forces of democratic decay often accompany the appearance on stage of a charismatic leader holding the populace in thrall. They also note three pillars supporting democracy: free and fair elections, freedom of expression and association, and the bureaucratic rule of law. The latter implies the independent functioning of bodies like the election commission, the Federal Reserve, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Administration and so on. This limits the power of the central executive unlike in Mr. Orban’s case.
Fortunately from the Ginsburg and Huq analysis the U.S. appears to be well insulated and employs freedom of association in particular to great effect. There can be chinks in the armor, however, as is happening in Georgia with new voter suppression laws.
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