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Italy vs France: War of elites over “yellow vests” and Libya

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The disputes, which regularly flare up between the current governments of France and Italy are important for Russia, since the ideological rift between President Emmanuel Macron and the ruling Italian coalition of Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio has, among other things, have direct bearing on this country. However, there is more to these disagreements than just different views about the role played by Moscow, which Paris sees as purely negative, and Rome – as causing sympathy and even inspiring hope.

Paris and Rome disagree also about the “yellow vest” protests as well as about a settlement in Libya, where France and Italy are vying for the role of the main peacemaker in the war-torn North African country. Let us take a closer look at the root causes of these disagreements.

Ever since his election in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron, has represented the European Union’s globalist “mainstream” of today’s European Union, blaming the current failures of the Old World on the suddenly increased influence of “nationally oriented” populists and, last but not least, Russian “schemes.”

During his election campaign, Macron brought up the issue of Russia’s “malicious interference” into European politics, accusing the Russian media of “illegally influencing the elections” with its negative coverage of his person.  Since the start of the politically damaging “yellow vest” protests that flared up at the end of 2018, the Macron administration has been trying hard to  blame them down on “Moscow’s hand” allegedly lurking behind both these protests, and also Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini views Russia’s role as positive and denies having taken “a single ruble” from Putin, despite repeated claims to the contrary by The Financial Times and other European mainstream media outlets.

In January 2019, however, it became clear that there was more than just dissatisfaction with the new “environmental” tax that triggered the “yellow vest” protests. People vented their anger also at the EU’s globalist policy, namely financial austerity, mass immigration to Europe and, above all, the essentially undemocratic nature of the European Union’s present structure, which ignores the “protest” results of elections and referendums (Brexit, the Dutch vote against Ukraine’s association with the EU, the electoral gains achieved by the “anti-system” Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, etc.)

Fully aware of this, the leaders of Italy’s ruling parties openly sided with the “yellow vest” protesters.

“I support honest citizens protesting against a president who governs against his people,” Matteo Salvini, who combines the posts of Deputy Premier and Interior Minister with that of the leader of the Italian League party, said in a statement on January  9, 2019.

In his swipe at President Macron, Salvini was supported by his partner in the ruling coalition, the leader of the Five Stars Movement (M5S), Luigi di Maio, who called on the ”yellow vests” not to “weaken,” and offered French protesters the use of his party’s Rousseau platform to improve organization and “draw up an electoral program.”

“This system (Rousseau) is made for a horizontal and spontaneous movement such as yours and we would be happy if you want to use it,” Di Maio wrote in a post on his party’s blog.

Summing up the conflict simmering behind those provocative statements, the pro-European Commission EU Observer online newspaper wrote: “Macron attacks Salvini as the leader of the EU front, while Salvini acts as the leader of the whole league of forces against the EU. And all this – on the eve of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament.”

The Macron administration sought to present criticism from the “populist” Italian coalition as an unprovoked PR attack by one EU member on another, with European Affairs Minister Natalie Loiseau urging her Italian colleagues to “show respect” for France and emphasizing that France and Italy have always been “neighbors, allies, and friends.”

“France refrains from lecturing Italy. Mr. Salvini and Mr. Di Maio would be better off putting their own house in order,” Loiseau tweeted earlier this month.

“I believe that the main priority for the Italian Cabinet should be the welfare of the Italian people. And I’m not sure that its interest in the yellow vests movement has anything to do with the wellbeing of the Italians,” she added.

Salvini and Di Maio immediately lashed back at these stinging remarks, accusing the French leadership of hypocrisy. And with pretty good reason too, as Macron’s team did tell a lie when it said it had always behaved correctly towards Italy. Most recently, Macron was all too happy to lambaste the Italian “populists’” position on migration issue, while heaping praise on his own political correctness.

As it turned out, however, last summer’s incident with the migrant ship Aquarius, which tried to bring 629 asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East to Italy, was fresh on Matteo Salvini’s mind. When the Italian government denied the Aquarius the right to dock, Emmanuel Macron accused the Italian authorities of irresponsibility and even compared them to “leprosy spreading throughout Europe.” (Notably, the formation by the Five Star Movement and the League of the new Italian coalition government in 2018, shortly before the incident with the Aquarius, caused serious ideological concerns among globalists also because the Italian government’s draft “contract” provided for the immediate lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.)

“Maybe Mrs. Loiseau has forgotten that President Macron once compared us to leprosy when commenting on our government… The French people are asking for change and for recognition,” Matteo Salvini said.

“What hypocrisy!” Luigi Di Maio chimed in, adding that the real leprosy was the policy pursued by the French government, namely its predilection for pursuing a “colonialist” line in Africa, causing an influx of migrants from Africa heading towards Europe and leaving Italy to cope with this problem alone.

All this is adding a new twist to the Franco-Italian conflict that has been dragging on since summer over ways to handle the migrant crisis. While in summer Matteo Salvini accused Emmanuel Macron of hypocrisy over the migration problem, advising him to let in “thousands of migrants, as Italy did” before lecturing Rome on humanism, the sides are now at loggerheads over the entire “European project,” the relations with Russia, the austerity policy, etc. The scale of this conflict is widening now that, according to the EU Observer, Di Maio plans “to bring together left- and rightwing anti-system voters across Europe who are in favor of preserving the union, but are against austerity policies.”

Another important point of contention is primacy in the Libyan settlement. Emmanuel Macron’s May 2018 attempt to bring the leaders of all the main conflicting parties in Libya together in Paris was openly frowned on by Rome, which held an international conference on Libya in Palermo, Sicily that brought together 38 delegations with the list of guests including the Libyan National Army Commander, Khalifa Haftar, the head of the rival government in Tripoli, Faiz Saraj, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. During the conference, the Italians openly tried to shut the French out of important decisions.

The Palermo meeting was a clear diplomatic victory for Rome, which, unlike Macron, who was quick to announce his success and upcoming peace in Libya through highly improbable early elections, the Italians set themselves more pragmatic tasks in Libya than just achieving immaculate democracy and quick prosperity. Matteo Salvini believes that the first thing to do is to end illegal migration and set up a network of independent and non-corrupt migrant identification centers.

Of course, while contemplating all these factors, Russian observers should avoid looking at the situation from the standpoint of whether the French or the Italians are closer to Russia. What is now happening between the French and Italian elites is an ideological dispute, rather than an interstate conflict. It just so happened that Italy’s position in the dispute is more realistic and better attuned to taking into account Russia’s interests – a position that is now being shared by an ever growing number of voters across the European Union.

Therefore, Russia has every right to take this position closer to heart than that of the globalists, which the current French president happens to epitomize. Because accusations by Macron and his globalist friends of “Russian meddling” will come anyway, Moscow can and should make its opinion heard. In our day and age, a desire to “please everyone” and avoid criticism by sitting on the ideological fence is viewed upon as a sign of weakness.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Europe

Will the political face of France change?

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Political and social equations are wrapped up in France! Protests against President Emmanuel Macron continue. Most analysts from European affairs, however, believe that Macron will not have a chance to survive in the presidential race in the next presidential election.

On the other hand, many analysts believe the likelihood of a nationalist presence at the Elysees Palace is high! Le Pen is now trying to remove Macron from power through holding an early election; “It is necessary to implement proportional representation and dissolve the National Assembly in order to hold new proportional elections.”

Simultaneously, she attempts to attract the attention of French citizens to herself as France’s next president. “We believe that the way out of the crisis is essentially political. This decision excludes any use of violence that only adds chaos to adversity,” Le Pen said in a letter published on the party’s website.

Le Pen also emphasized that the political solution to the recent crisis depended on the French officials while uttering that French President Emmanuel Macron “is deprived of sympathy for the people, constrained by arrogance and indifference of the elites.”

As the French National Front can make its way to power, the EU and Euro area equilibrium will change: a matter that many European and French politicians have warned about.

In 2014, the President of the French National Rally political party, Marin Le Pen was able to shine exceptionally well in the European parliamentary elections and overcome other French political parties. In the 2017 general election, Le Pen was able to reach the final round of the presidential competitions for the first time since the establishment of the French National Rally. However, at that time, Le Pen couldn’t act against the broad opposition of the Socialist and Conservative parties. But the equation seems to have changed now!

The French president is not in good shape now! Polls conducted in France suggested a decline in the popularity of Emmanuel Macron as the country’s president. This is while only 21 months have passed since Macron’s presence at Elysee Palace. Under such circumstances, Le Pen and her companions will naturally try to change the French citizen’s mind to the benefit of the French National Rally. This is a very good time indeed, as many of the French citizens no longer trust Macron and his promises for making economic, social reforms in France.

The main question is whether the French National Front will succeed in achieving its goals? It is not clear, however, that Le Pen’s calculations would all come true. The French National Rally President opened a special account on Macron’s former supporters to change their minds, and as a result, their votes to her benefit! This is while some of these votes may turn into silent votes or white votes.

Also, it’s quite possible that France political atmosphere in 2017, would once again repeat in 2022, or during the country’s possible early elections. In this case, to right-wing extremists of French National Rally are going to lose the elections again. Therefore, Le Pen is really cautious about her positions right now, though she believes that Macron’s incapability provided the ground for her political and social success in Paris.

First published in our partner MNA

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Europe has changed its mask

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Face” of peaceful and friendly Europe has changed. Europe even does not try any more to wear a mask of past tolerance. Tensions are constantly increasing. Unrest like wildfire is sweeping across Europe. Though riots caused by different events and decisions, political convulsions make Europeans feel uncomfortable. People are tired of being unheard by the authorities.

Misunderstanding between ordinary people and authorities is more clearly visible, especially in the so-called “old Europe”. Once prosperous countries, France and Italy, actively resist the new world order. Social instability, deterioration of living standards on the background of militarization has led to unprecedented unrest. All attempts to reduce tensions have not brought about results.

Democracy has plaid a dirty trick with all of us. Freedom allows people to go on the streets and introduce their position. On the other hand, delegated powers give the authorities the possibility to “calm” the riots, to suspend the activities, to ban meetings, even using police.

French political movement for economic justice, the so-called “yellow vests”, went beyond the country and caused diplomatic crisis between France and Italy.

German workers also expressed solidarity with “yellow vest” protests in France. Workers in Germany share the same grievances and recognize they also confront policies that favour the rich.

Another irritating thing is militarization of the region, NATO expansion. Many Europeans link the fact of increasing national defence expenditures with deterioration of life. That is why anti-NATO and anti-war campaigns on the Internet gain momentum. Among them are: no-to-nato.network, notonato.org, no2nato2019.org, popularresistance.org/no-to-nato-spring-actions-in-washington-dc. The more so, “Stop Air Base Ramstein” campaign in Germany started October 5th, 2008, gains more popularity and organizes protests in Germany and abroad. It has its representatives in the US, Austria, Australia, Poland, Ireland, France, Japan and the UK. The international network No to War – No to NATO calls for broad actions against NATO in Washington DC and worldwide.

The next occasion for such organizations to become more active is the signing an agreement with Macedonia on February, 6 allowing the country to become the military alliance’s 30th member. This particular step could become the catalyzer for more violent protests and political disobedience. It brings chaos to Europe, raises tensions and leads to the loss of trust in Peace and Democracy.

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Unrest in Bosnia

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For Bosnia and Herzegovina many analysts will say that is artificial creation. That is why there is a saying for Bosnia: ”Where logic ends, Bosnia begins”. Anyway, the latest Bosniak initiative, has surprised many, because it strikes at the very basis of existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), the main Bosniak party in the country, announced that will initiate a legal procedure before the Constitututional Court to challenge the name of Bosnia`s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

”The previous practice of the Republika Srpska institutions showed that the entyty`s name was intensively and efficiently used to discriminate against the other two constituent peoples – Bosniaks and Croats, “ the SDA said. “Linking the name to only one people living in the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina is contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.” The strongest Bosniak national party, further said that the Constitutional Court made an earlier decision on the constituency of the people which stipulated that the entities must ensure full equality of all constituent peoples in their legal systems.

Reacting to calls for the Constitutional Court to review the legality of the name of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, the leader of ruling Republika Srpska party Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and current Chairman of Bosnia’s Tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, strongly condemned the Party for Democratic Action initiative at a press conference the same day and called upon the SDS (second strongest Serb party) to support a decision on the “independence of the Republika Srpska” if the initiative is submitted to the Constitutional Court.

“Our authentic and original constitutional rights is for us to decide on our status. We will do that,” he said, dismissing earlier statements by the High Representative Valentin Inzko, named by the international community to oversee the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement, who said that Republika Srpska can not secede. ”He was put here to conduct repercussions against Republika Srpska. But this is a moment where there will be no calculations,” Dodik said. ”If you wanted to throw us, Republika Srpska, out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are doing best job possible. Finish it. I have nothing against it,” Dodik said, referring to the Party for Democratic Action.

This attack on Republika Srpska showed that Serbian politicians are united in its defense. The move drew condemnation from both the ruling Republika Srpska Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), and Bosnian Serb opposition parties in the entity, such as the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP).

In one of the first reactions to the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action announcement, the Republika Srpska National Assembly Speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic said this was a nothing but a provocation and that it represents an anti-Constitutional act.

”The SDA’s claims are disgusting and laughable at the same time because they are the ones who refuse to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision issued 12 years ago, stipulating that Serbs must be equally represented in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic said. ”Initiating a Constitutional Court discussion on the name of the Republika Srpska would mark the end of the project called Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic noted.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), top international institution overseesing the peace implementation in the country stated that the initiative to dispute the name of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court amid the post-election government formation is “irresponsible and counterproductive.” Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities, the OHR said, and the Peace Implementation Council continuosly expresses its commitment to basic structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an integral, sovereign state that consists of the two entities.

The international community’s High Representative was installed to oversee the civilian part of the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the peace threaty that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Its Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board, which is composed of foreign ambassadors in Bosnia, meets twice a year to assess the progress in the process.

Background

The statement of Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the strongest Bosniak party SDA, who addressed the public saying that he is ready to consider abandoning the initiative to change the name of Republika Srpska, if in the next six months “the SNSD change its behavior”, and accept the further path of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards NATO, clearly shows who is standing behind this initiative. Even “Croatian” member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Željko Komšić – several days before Bakir Izetbegovic- conditioned the appointment of a mandate for the Council of Ministers (which currently belongs to the Serbs) by membership in the NATO. It should be added that this initiative of the Bosniaks comes shortly after the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Serbia, where he met, among other things, with the leadership of Republika Srpska.

An interesting analysis of the events in Bosnia was published on January 13 in National Interest, American bimonthly international affairs magazine, by Sean Maguire and Ryan Scherba, with title: “The Bosnia Boondoggle: This is Why Sarajevo Can’t Join NATO”. In the analysis, among other things, is written: “If the United States is serious about backing NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina, then it has to get serious about the failures of the Dayton Peace Accords and drop its support for them as Bosnia’s governance system. They may have ended Bosnia’s civil war in 1995, but they have become synonymous with stagnation, frustration, despair, poor governance and weak institutions. This not only hinders the joint U.S.-Bosnian aspirations to join NATO, but has stagnated Bosnia overall, enshrining ethnic divisions (and tensions) legally between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats, and Serbs that have left Bosnia divided and ripe for geopolitical goals of Russia. The recent elections in October that delivered a hardline Serb-nationalist who is stridently anti-West and NATO to the Bosnian presidency are evidence of this, while serving as a wake-up call to Washington that it is time to re-engage in Bosnia.” In addition to the National Interest, from Turkey also arrived messages regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina future. During a meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged for the revision of the Dayton Agreement. Turkish President and Croatian President apparently agreed that this document, prepared in haste for only three weeks to stop the war, did not create the conditions for finding a stable solution for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the international community representatives who oversee the implementation of the agreement that ended Bosnia’s war, said they recognize the concerns regarding discrimination of constituent peoples and citizens across the country as legitimate, but that the name “Republika Srpska” is enshrined in the Constitution. The PIC recalled that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes that the country consists of two entites, the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

Challenging the name of the Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court would be counterproductive and irresponsible, the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board stated while it also condemned recent rhetoric and actions that question the territorial integrity of Bosnia.

Russia refused to join the statement that foreign diplomats in Bosnia issued in response to the recent initiative to challenge the name of Republia Srpska before Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, the Russian Ambasador confirmed to journalists.

”Russia did not give consent for the PIC’s (Peace Implementation Council) joint statement because it is too general. It is everyone’s yet no one’s fault,” Petr Ivantsov told media after the meeting of ambassadors. The conclusions his colleagues passed has a broad meaning that speaks of mistakes of all political actors in Bosnia, said Russia’s diplomat, adding that the statement does not focus on current problems. According to Mr. Ivantsov, the SDA’s “threat” to dispute the Republika Srpska’s name at the Constitutional Court is “a serious mistake” and is not in line with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

Conclusion

The Bosniaks would never undertake such a radical move if they did not have the support in the first place of the West, and also Turkey. After undemocratic accession of Montenegro into NATO, and soon Macedonia, NATO directs its attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main opponent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry into NATO is Republika Srpska, whose Assembly passed a resolution on military neutrality.

The West makes it clear that it will not give up until all Balkan states become NATO members. The most important land and riparian transportation corridors between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and between the Baltic and Aegean Seas, run through Serbia. Because of that, the main goal of the West is Serbia’s entry into NATO, which would also leave Russia without a strategic ally in the Balkans. The main obstacle to this is the “second Serbian state in the Balkans”, that is Republika Srpska. This is precisely why the Bosniaks are encouraged to strike on the basis of Dayton.

The structure of Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina plays a major role in the political life of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it consists of three foreign judges, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and two Croats, which means in practice and it has been established so far – that three foreign and two Bosniak judges have majority, and they use it. So arbitrarily impose their decisions on all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If the initiative to abolish the name of Republika Srpska go to Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs must show their determination, which is now announced by the most powerful Serb politician Milorad Dodik. A decision must be made to declare the independence of the Republika Srpska. Such a decision carries a risk of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, Republika Srpska has no other choice.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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