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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

A New Twist in the Spanish Approach to Politics in Venezuela: Podemos in the Spanish Government

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During the last pseudo-legislature in Spain, the position that had been maintained by the Spanish government towards Venezuela and its government was not too far from the quasi-common position that was established at the European level. After the entry of Podemos, a far-left party, into the Spanish government, the Spanish narrative towards the Latin American country and its leaders has taken a turn that calls into question the position of the Spanish government towards Venezuela.

The Special Relationship of Spain with Venezuela

Since 1845, the year the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed after the independence of the South American country, Spain and Venezuela have maintained bilateral ties and diplomatic relations. In fact, history has only one instance of no diplomatic relations existing between the two countries, specifically from 1945 to 1949. Despite suffering many serious crises during the Chavista period in face of a number of political disagreements that seriously endangered mutual understanding, the special relationship between the two countries has been maintained constantly.

After the Spanish Civil War and between 1969 and 1990, Venezuela, along with Argentina and Mexico, was the main destination for Spanish exiles and emigrants. Beyond migration, the Hispano-Venezuelan ties are transcendental in nature, both historically and socio-economically. Venezuela is home to more than 150,000 Spaniards; the Venezuelan community, in turn, is the fourth largest ethnic group in Spain. In 2017, exports from Spain to Venezuela amounted to 111 million euros and imports from Venezuela to Spain were worth 318 million euros; however, these figures are quite low compared to those of previous years, for example, in 2014, Spanish exports equaled 550 million euros and Venezuelan imports – 1,325 million euros.

Podemos in the Spanish Government

As a well-known Spanish journalist said, “Venezuela has been a thrown weapon since Podemos appeared on the Spanish political scene in 2014”. The relationship with the Latin American country for the political party led by Pablo Iglesias is not only a political issue, but also an ideological link. The core of the party has maintained close ties with the government of Hugo Chavez, including becoming advisers to the then Venezuelan president, and later to Nicolas Maduro; the party also has links with the rest of Bolivarian leaders, such as Evo Morales or Rafael Correa.

After the November 10 general elections in Spain, a coalition government consisting of the historic socialist party PSOE and the far-left party Podemos was created. This coalition marks a period of the greatest political instability in the history of Spanish democracy. The two parties and their leaders devised this joint government to break away from the ungovernability that the country has been facing for almost three years due to the lack of a stable and consolidated government. This is how Pablo Iglesias became the second Vice President of the Spanish government and his current partner Irene Montero – the Minister of Equality.

From “Delcygate” to Guaido

Two recent controversial diplomatic episodes have once again made Venezuela an urgent subject of the Spanish politics. On the one hand, the stopover of the Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez at the Madrid Airport of Barajas, where she held a meeting with the Spanish Head of the Ministry of Transport. The Spanish authorities first denied the meeting and then clarified it with different versions, giving rise to a speculation about the case, cosnidering that the EU imposed individual sanctions that restricted Rodriguez from entering the Schengen Zone.

The second mistake of the Spanish Government, according to its critics, was not to receive Juan Guaido, who is recognized as an interim president by more than fifty countries, including Spain and Germany, at the highest official level on his European tour. Throughout his European tour, Guaido met with several heads of state, including Merkel, Macron, and Johnson. Many people deemed Sanchez’s gesture upon the Venezuelan leader’s arrival in the Spanish capital as a legitimt cause of outrage. In addition, when explaining, the Spanish president called Guaido an “opposition leader.” More and more voices have since accused the current Executive of having changed his position with respect to Venezuela by the influence of Podemos.

Spain Flies Alone

A turn at the helm in Madrid would be more than a national decision. The consequences for Venezuela of such a turn cannot be understated, because historically Europe has seen Latin America through the eyes of Spain, and Madrid has been in charge of relations with Latin America. Undoubtedly, Spain will lose a lot if its relationship with Venezuela continues to deteriorate. The human and socio-cultural ties between the two countries are obviously close, but just as relevant are the Spanish economic interests in this South American state, particularly in its oil companies.

Some European countries, such as Italy, did not recognize Guaido as the president-in-charge at the time – Rome still does not. A more neutral, less pro-Guaido Spain would mean aligning with the Italian position, which does not imply neglect, as the Italian diplomacy continues to work on finding solutions to the Venezuelan question through the Contact Group of European and Latin American countries.

What does this mean for the European approach to the crisis in Venezuela? From the point of view of capabilities, it can be said that Spain does not have as much weight as to change the Community’s foreign policy; however, because Spain is a traditional filter of relations between the European and the Latin American blocks and the Head of European Diplomacy Josep Borrell is Spanish, a possibility that the positions will be killed exists -“cooling,” therefore, cannot be ruled out.

Conclusions

As a victim of its own contradictions, the Spanish government has projected an image of chaos and confusion. It is evident that PSOE and Podemos have disparate positions regarding Venezuela, but it is necessary that the executive government adopt a coherent line of thinking, the continued absence of which deteriorates cohesion within the EU and complicates relationships with its international partners like the USA.

Sanchez defying Guaido is not so much a concession to the former’s Podemos partners in the government, but rather a symbol of the latter’s waning influence. Guaido has become an awkward figure, who failed to achieve his main objective of free elections. This is why Maduro is stronger today than a year ago.

Nonetheless, too much importance is being attached to the role Podemos really plays in the new Spanish government. Though its power is magnified, it has a minimum effect on foreign matters. When Sanchez came to power in alliance with another party that had more votes, that is PSOE, he assumed that he has no choice but to respect their decisions, whether he likes them or not. He has yet to distance himself from such conformism.

Meanwhile, the shadow of the Venezuelan crisis keeps flying over internal politics in Spain, especially over its progressive government, without facing any of the harshest opposition forces in the country’s democratic history. The truth is that a year after half the world placed its hopes in Guaido to find a way out of the humanitarian crisis and the political impasse in Venezuela, the opposition leader is making substantual efforts to prevent the passage of time from opening cracks in his political legitimacy. At this juncture, the whole international community needs to act as a mediator of negotiations between the Venezuelan Government and its opposition to get out of the ongoing stagnation.

From our partner RIAC

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Italy’s Last Unexpected Eurosceptic Friend: Edi Rama and his “Lesson to Europe”

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On March 29, Italian and Albanian media reported the news of the arrival in Italy of a team of 10 physicians and 20 nurses from Tirana to fight the Coronavirus epidemic that has hit the country since the end of February. The medical professionals will work in Italy for one month with their expenses being covered by the Albanian government. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama accompanied the team of experts at the Airport “Nënë Tereza” where he read a speech in Italian that was warmly received by the media and public opinion in the neighbouring country. To many Italians, the words of the Albanian premier sounded as a sincere act of friendship given in return of the assistance provided by Italy to Albania in the last decades and especially in the aftermath of the recent earthquake of last November. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, leader of the opposition Matteo Salvini and chief of the Protezione Civile (Civil defence Corps)Angelo Borrelli expressed their gratitude to Albania through their Social Media and public declarations. The parts of the speech that gained more media attention are those in which he underscores the selfish attitude of the other countries in the Covid-19 crisis:

“(…) It is true that all are closed within their borders and also very rich countries have turned their backs from the others. And maybe it is because we are not rich and [we are not] without memory that we cannot afford not to show Italy that Albanians and Albania will never abandon their friend in a moment of difficulty.”

In the course of last week, the Italian public opinion was strained by Germany’s and Holland’s refusal to share the economic weight of the Coronavirus crisis among EU countries through the emission of the Eurobonds. Some Italian newspapers have defined Edi Rama’s speech as a “lesson” of solidarity that a small country like Albania is giving to rich and big EU countries that cannot put aside individual interests for their collective good. The leading opposition organ Il Giornale which usually promotes anti-immigrant (including anti-Albanian) content, published on March 30th an article by the title “The great lesson of the Albanian premier to the bureaucrats of the UE” in which the author criticizes the attitude of the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen for refusing to back Italy’s demands. The author declared that “the words of Edi Rama are above all a lesson of style to a class of eurocrats that (…) have shown their cynicism and their inadequacy. Italy will certainly not forget the solidarity of Tirana and the egoism of the European Union.” On March 29, the Left-oriented newspaper Open commented the news witha similar heading: “The lesson to the rich Europe from small Albania (…)”. The journalist remarked that the “Albanian premier Edi Rama, with his little big gesture has taught European leaders what it means to be part of Europe”. The same day Il Tempo presented Edi Rama’s speech as a “Lesson from Albania to Europe” stressing that while the EU is trying to find an agreement, Italy applauds Albania. The Italian edition of the Huffington Post in the article “The Albanian Lesson” emphasised the symbolic character of the Albanian assistance to Italy.

Beside the undisputable value that the Albanian medical staff will bring to Italy’s ability to curb the epidemic, the speech pronounced by Edi Rama has above all contributed to bring his and Albania’s popularity to a level that has never been so high in Italy. Edi Rama’s speech momentarily recalibrated the set of ideas through which the majority of Italians are accustomed to look at Albanians. It is hard to imagine that Edi Rama did not foresee the possibility that his words were going to be used in the Italian “internal” debate concerning the attitude of the EU toward their country. Edi Rama’s relation with Brussels has not been so keen after EU’s refusal to open membership negotiations with Albania last October. Put in front of the fact that Albania was not going to access the EU anytime soon, in the last months of 2019 Rama pushed for the constitution of a so-called mini-Schengen with Serbia and Northern Macedonia. On March 24, EU retrieved its decision to keep Albania (and Northern Macedonia) out of membership talks. However, Edi Rama probably did not want to miss the occasion for a little reprisal against the attitude of some EU member states that had damaged his internal and external credibility after turning down Albania from accession talks in October. His words certainly improved his own and Albania’s image in the neighbouring country, but at the same time he endorsed and alimented the endemic anti-EU Italian trends.

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Covid-19: Macron’s conflicting crisis communication

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2020 started in France with a strike from the SNCF national railway workers who were massively protesting against the ongoing reforms of their special pension system. This crisis shortly spread out to an important proportion of the french population, who rallied to this cause and challenged an executive power considered as elitist. Two months later, France is confronted to an unprecedented health crisis of a virus, the covid-19, that originated in china and quickly affected the whole world. Macron is therefore facing a major challenge : bring out of a crisis a country already in crisis, which no longer believes in its president.

First it is to be noted that the government was clearly walking on eggshells since the beginning of the crisis. The 4th march, the government spokesperson, Sibeth Ndiaye , wrongly stated that drastic measures such as closing schools in France was not necessary and that “French citizens should continue to live normally”.  A few days later, Emmanuel Macron went with his wife to the theatre, in order to encourage the French ” to continue to go out despite the coronavirus pandemic”. He even claimed : “Life goes on. There is no reason, except for the vulnerable populations, to change our habits of going out.”

One week later, the 12th march, the Head of State, spoke to the French for the first time since the beginning of the health crisis, in a completely different tone. “France is facing the most serious health crisis in a century”. It is with these words that Emmanuel Macron positioned himself as the leader of a war of another kind. Among other things, he announced the closure of schools (which was in complete contradiction with the most recent government communication). He also praised the welfare state, words that have hardly been heard in his voice since his election. Then the 14th march Edouard Philippe, the Prime Minister, faced with the accelerated spread of the virus and the number of people hospitalized in intensive care units, announced a reinforcement of the barrier measures of “social distancing”, with the  closure  at  midnight  of all places receiving non-essential public: restaurants, cafés, cinemas, nightclubs. The strict travel restriction for at least 15 days was announced by Macron the 16th march. A fortnight postponed by a fortnight, a concept french citizens quickly understood.

In this context, how can the French population not criticize the executive for not having anticipated this crisis? How can one feel safe when the government itself seems to be lost? In fact, quickly the public opinion stressed that public expectations during this period focused more on “masks, tests and post-crisis concerns” than on any need to see a Head of State play “Georges Clemenceau visiting the trenches”. Regarding the masks, the stocks were soon  empty  and  adding  to  the  government’s  mistake,  the French were lied to at the beginning of the crisis by saying that the masks were useless if we were not sick. Another political absurdity, is the fact that the government has allowed the first round of municipal elections, even though it has repeatedly ordered french people to “stay home.” An executive branch weakened by the former Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, who claimed to have warned Édouard Philippe and Emmanuel Macron as early as January of the impossibility of holding municipal elections because of the epidemic.

Today, the Head of State undertook to draw “all the consequences” of the crisis. Consequences that will probably be heavy considering all of the above. A crisis that calls into  question  globalisation,  the  European  Union,  the  welfare  state,  public  services, production chains and much more. It is clear that some things are going to change, that the president is going to have to govern as an economic crisis will severely hit the world.

That being said, if the government will manage to transform a crisis into an opportunity it is probably too early to tell. What’s certain is that he’s going to be held accountable for a faltering communication at a time where the population needs to know precisely what is going on and where are we going.

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