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Can Italy’s “Government of Change” Change All of Europe?

Elena Alekseenkova

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March 1st marks nine months to the day since the new Italian “government of change” came to power. Few in Europe would have believed that Italy, one of the EU founding states which had been governed by centrist cabinets for over 30 years, would end up with a coalition of right- and left-wing Eurosceptics, who would be calling for a revision of the fundamental principles of European integration. Even fewer believed that this coalition would hold out for more than six months while continuing to enjoy the support of over 60% of Italians. Today, Paris and Berlin refer to the new Italian government as Europe’s new leprosy, and Brussels is bracing for the European Parliament election this coming May, where the “Third International” represented by Eurosceptics, populists, nationalists, and “sovereigntists” from Poland, Hungary, and France, led by Italian agents provocateur, is expected to stage a European revolution. The Italians are undermining European solidarity from within by questioning the rules of financial discipline, the EU’s ability to tackle migration, and the advisability of sanctions against Russia. They are also damaging the EU’s reputation outside the union’s borders by publicly criticizing Brussels’ helpless policy in Africa and France’s “neo-colonialism”, by openly supporting the protest movement within France, by vetoing the EU’s common stance on Venezuela, and by allowing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which are not recognized elsewhere in the EU, to open representative offices in Italy. Now, nine months on, it appears that the EU has its own enfant terrible

Nine months in power: migration stemmed but economy in technical recession

The main election slogan of the “government of change” was that Italy should become more independent in resolving its domestic problems and securing its interests in the international arena. The key domestic issues were economic development and migration. The primary foreign issues were ensuring border security and building economic relations with countries outside the EU based on the interests of Italian business. This agenda was largely dictated by actual public demand. According to research, between 2013 and 2017, the share of Italians who view border security and curbing migration as the key national objectives ballooned from 30% to 66%. By the time the new coalition came to power, a majority of Italians disapproved of the migration policy being pursued by the previous center-left government and perceived a direct link between illegal migration and terrorism. The number of persons deported on suspicion of extremism had skyrocketed, from just two in 2002 to 106 in 2018. Polls conducted in 2017 and early 2018 indicated that 82% of the population did not believe that Italy could have any influence whatsoever on the drafting of a common European policy.

Ever since coming to power, the “government of change” has been persistently trying to influence changes to the EU migration policy. On the eve of the June 28–29 EU summit in 2018, Italy stopped allowing ships carrying rescued migrants to enter its ports and issued an ultimatum to Brussels, which included several specific proposals for creating “joint responsibility” for migration within the EU. The demands included a revision of the Dublin agreement; the maximum responsibility of the country of first entry; setting up EU-run migrant reception centers in coastal countries; and revising the rules of migrant resettlement between EU countries, among other things. After the summit, Giuseppe Conte stated: “Italy is no longer alone!” However, after a while it became obvious that the agreements that had been reached were as far from being implemented in practice as they had been in June 2018.

Then, in the autumn of 2018, the new government began to go it alone. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed Italian ports to non-governmental organizations, accusing the latter of smuggling people into the country. In addition, the so-called law on security (Decreto Sicurezza) was adopted in October, which revised the rules for granting asylum, the reasons for denying refugee status as well as the rules and terms of detention at refugee reception centers. This independent behavior on the part of the Italian authorities caused outrage not only in Brussels, Paris, and Berlin but also in the UN, as the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the Italian security law failed to comply with international law.

Nevertheless, surveys conducted in late 2018 suggested that the new Italian government had achieved its objective: only 16% of the respondents still believed that immigration posed a key threat to the country, even though 43% were still worried about it. Salvini regularly reports decreasing numbers of newly arrived migrants and growing numbers of those deported. The agency Frontex reports that only 150 migrants arrived in Italy in January 2019, down 96% year-on-year, and that the number of persons deported has already exceeded the number of new arrivals.

The Ipsos statistical survey published in January 2019 indicates that one out of every two Italians (51%) supports the government’s hard line on migrants, including the closure of sea ports, and only 19% of the respondents are not opposed to migrants making landfall in Italy. In fact, 60% of those polled believe that the migration policy is the prerogative of the Italian people and not the EU. That said, society remains split as to the safety law, with 43% supporting Salvini and 38% opposing his move. In addition, 55% of the population sees a difference in the approaches to migration of the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s League, with only 25% considering them to be similar. In other words, Italians tend to mainly attribute the resolution of the migration crisis to Salvini, which certainly boosts the popularity of his party. According to surveys published on February 11, 2019, the League’s approval rating stood at 33.8%, whereas the rating of the Five Star Movement was at 23.3% and continuing on a downward trajectory. Salvini has promised to propose a new migration bill this coming spring, this one dealing with migrant labour and seasonal workers.

In the economic sphere, however, the new government cannot yet boast about any breakthroughs. It came to power at a time when the country’s national debt amounted to a record 132% of GDP. The neoliberal course imposed on the country by EU financial institutions, Paris, and Berlin since 2011 had failed to help Italy overcome the 2008 eurozone crisis, which had effectively stripped Greece of its economic sovereignty. The 2016 and 2017 economic indicators are illustrative of why Italians chose a different course in March 2018 by supporting the Five Star Movement and the League. According to ISTAT, 46.1% of Italians could not afford a week’s leave in 2016; 16.5% could not afford heating in their homes; 14.6% could not afford to buy fish or meat every other day; and 32.4% said they were having difficulties making their monthly salary last until the next paycheck. The intra-regional imbalance that is so characteristic of Italy has also refused to go away. In 2007, the difference in per-capita GDP between the southern and northern provinces stood at EUR 14,255; by 2015, it had grown to EUR 14,905. The unemployment disparity also grew, from 20.1 percentage points in 2007 to 22.5 in 2016. In 2015, 42.7% of those residing in the south of the country were living just above the poverty line.

Italy’s national debt dynamics (as a % of GDP)

Italy’s per-capita GDP (in USD)

GDP dynamics

Budget deficit dynamics

Unemployment

Unemployment in 2018

2017 per-capita GDP by region in current prices (EUR)

Source: ISTAT Statistiche report. Anno 2017. Conti economici territorial. 13 Dicembre 2018.

2011–17 per-capita GDP dynamics by region (EUR 1,000)

Source: ISTAT Statistiche report. Anno 2017. Conti economici territorial. 13 Dicembre 2018.

In this situation, the “government of change”, having garnered the support of about 60% of the electorate, began to revise the fiscal austerity measures imposed by Brussels and implement de-facto Keynesian policies primarily focused on social and economic support for the vulnerable strata of the population as well as for small- and medium-sized businesses. It should be noted that their election promises had been much bolder. In particular, while still forming the yellow-green coalition, the proposal for Italy pulling out from the eurozone was taken off the agenda, and Giuseppe Conte has since repeatedly stated that Italy is not considering this move. This is precisely why Paolo Savona, who had described the euro as “a noose around Italy’s neck”, was never appointed economics minister in the new government. Conte has also repeatedly stressed that Italy is not pondering an “Italexit”.

Despite the significant backwards step taken on the euro and Italy’s presence in the EU, the protracted confrontation with Brussels that run from October through December 2018 resulted in the “government of change” adopting a 2019 budget which still fitted the logic of the coalition’s election promises. Even though Brussels did not allow Italy to set the acceptable budget deficit at 2.4% (the EU demanded 2.04%), the government still allocated financial reserves for introducing a guaranteed basic income for citizens, conducting a pension reform (the so-called Quota 100), and revising the taxation system, even in smaller amounts than originally planned.

It is obvious, however, that these measures of economic support for the population will not yield quick results by way of stimulating economic growth. In addition, society is split on whether the steps that have been taken can contribute to economic development. Surveys indicate that only four out of ten Italians are happy with the planned introduction of the basic income, while 55% do not support this measure.

Meanwhile, Italy is now in a technical recession based on the negative GDP dynamics seen for six months in a row (GDP stood at -0.2% for 4Q 2018). EU officials immediately reacted along the lines of “I told you so!”; in February 2019, they issued an even more pessimistic forecast for Italy’s 2019 GDP, predicting growth of no more than 0.2%, the lowest figure among all EU countries. Pierre Moscovici, the EU European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, promised that Brussels would be closely monitoring Italy’s economic dynamics. He added that the country’s economy was not yet demonstrating any signs of recovery, despite the new government’s measures to support domestic demand. Moscovici also noted that the EU had effectively rescued Italy from an even worse-case scenario by prohibiting it to adopt the original budget, which implied a deficit of 2.4%.

The economic measures introduced by the Italian government at the very end of 2018 were not the main cause of the GDP slowdown in the third and fourth quarters of that year. Rather, it was caused by the economic policies that had been pursued by the previous governments. Nevertheless, the protracted conflict with Brussels over the budget plan and the threat of EU sanctions against Italy for its failure to comply with financial discipline rules certainly played a part in international rating agencies downgrading Italy’s ranking as well as in the increased volatility on financial markets in 2018. One thing is clear: if the economic situation in Italy does not begin to improve soon, this will give Brussels additional leverage in its fight not only against the Italian “sovereighnists” but also against Eurosceptic forces in other countries who are calling for a revision of the EU financial discipline regulations. Within Italy, people are seriously concerned about the economic situation: in late 2018, 55% of the population cited the economic crisis as the main threat to the country. A lack of positive economic changes soon could seriously affect the government coalition’s standing both inside and outside the country.

Whatever the case, the EU will still have to rescue the Italian economy. This is understandable: if the UK leaves, Italy will become the EU’s third largest economy, accounting for 15% of the Union’s total GDP. However, Brussels is growing ever more reluctant to save Rome: the EU has built up too much criticism of Italy over the past nine months: not only over the country’s failure to observe financial discipline and its stern migration policy but also because Italy has been discrediting the EU in the international arena.

Italy in the global arena: massive turmoil

During its first nine months in power, the Italian ‘government of change’ caused Brussels numerous headaches with its ‘sovereign’ foreign policy.

Conte became U.S. President Donald Trump’s greatest supporter in Western Europe. Trump’s first visit to Europe began in Italy. In 2018, Conte and Trump met at the G7 and NATO summits. Trump visited Italy in May, and Conte visited the White House in July. The U.S. president described his Italian counterpart as a “really great guy” who “will do a great job,” adding that “the people of Italy got it right”. It is no secret that the two leaders share a common view on migration: Trump has repeatedly expressed his approval for the border security measures taken by the Italian authorities. Conte supported Trump’s calls in the summer of 2018 for Russia to be accepted back into the G7, although none of the other G7 member states supported the idea. Trump also delegated to Italy the authority to manage the Libyan settlement, which understandably annoyed France, Italy’s long-standing rival in that country. It is no secret that Paris, Berlin, and Brussels view the new Italian government and Trump as the same breed of leprosy, which must be fought at any cost.

Italy’s relations with France had been steadily deteriorating under the yellow-green coalition. Things hit a diplomatic rock bottom on February 7, 2019, when Paris recalled its ambassador from Rome, citing months of “groundless attacks” by the Italian authorities. The last time such a thing had happened between the two countries was back in 1940, when Fascist Italy entered World War II against France and the UK on the side of Nazi Germany. This time around, the last straw came in the form of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio meeting with the leaders of the French yellow vest movement, who continue to protest the national authorities’ policies. France accused Italy of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs, but this came after Rome’s repeated allegations to the effect that France was violating Italy’s own national sovereignty. In March 2018, the actions of French police in an Italian refugee camp in Bardonecchia resulted in a major controversy. The countries continue to attack each other over migration issues. Macron described Italy’s refusal in June 2018 to accept refugees from the vessel Aquarius as “cynical and irresponsible”. Italy, for its part, regularly accuses France of deliberately returning migrants to the border with Italy near the town of ​​Ventimiglia. The ongoing squabbling affects bilateral economic cooperation: for example, Italy has been dragging its feet on a project to build a high-speed motorway between Lyon and Turin. Most importantly, the scandal between the two EU founding states threatens pan-European solidarity on the eve of the European Parliament elections and is damaging the international image of the EU. By publicly accusing France of a “neo-colonial policy” in Africa, and by urging Brussels to intervene, Italy is undermining the EU’s authority as an international actor. Now that even the core EU member states prefer public conflicts to compromises, such behavior may soon catch on elsewhere across the Union, and all the differences that have been resolved quietly up to now may become widely known outside the EU. In addition, with the conflict rhetoric escalating within the EU core, the Paris–Berlin tandem is finding it increasingly difficult to promote its model of European integration as a more appealing option to the existing national-level sovereignty ambitions.

At the February 1, 2019 meeting of the EU foreign ministers, Italy once again demonstrated its special position by refusing to support a proposal to recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The proposal was also blocked by Austria, Finland, and Greece. For several days preceding the meeting, Italian politicians and Foreign Ministry representatives had been voicing somewhat differing positions on the recognition of the self-proclaimed Venezuelan president, which reflects the historical complexity of the process involved in formulating a common stance in Italian politics. The final verdict stated that Italy could not recognize someone who had not won a legitimate election as president, but that incumbent President Nicolas Maduro has also lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the Venezuelan people. Therefore, Italy called for holding a runoff election in Venezuela as soon as possible. Thus, Rome once again sabotaged European solidarity in front of the international community.

Brussels perceives Italy’s relations with Russia as another sign of the new government’s deviant behaviour. The new Italian authorities had begun calling for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia even during the election campaign. Then they promised to bring the issue up at the EU summit in June 2018. However, even now, after the December vote to prolong the EU sanctions, Italy has not yet attempted to veto them. This is understandable: both in June and December 2018 Italy had to address much more important issues in terms of the country’s future development than relations with Russia. In the former case it was negotiating with the EU on migration, while in the latter Brussels was deciding on Italy’s 2019 budget. In both instances, Italy could not have possibly used its veto on the sanctions without losing bargaining chips on the other issue. Nevertheless, Conte’s high-profile visit to Moscow on October 24, 2018 resulted in the signing of new agreements on economic cooperation. Prior to Conte’s visit, Salvini had paid a visit to Moscow, where he met with Italian businesspeople operating in Russia. Italy is trying its best to return to the Russian market despite the sanctions, including by actively using the Made with Italy concept, which involves the launching of joint ventures and localization enterprises in Russia. However, these efforts to date have only resulted in mutual trade being restored to half of the pre-sanctions level, and the Italian government is very much annoyed by the fact that France and Germany – consistent supporters of the sanctions – effectively hold a much greater portion of the Russian market. It has been recently reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin will make an official visit to Italy in the first half of 2019 at Conte’s invitation. Should the visit take place prior to the EU parliamentary election, then Russia may well come under criticism for its alleged attempt to once again meddle in the EU’s internal affairs, divide the Union from the inside, and provide support to European pro-sovereignty forces ahead of the polls.

Another topic of extremely high relevance to Rome is energy cooperation with Russia, which supplies 40% of all gas consumed in Italy. Gazprom’s 2018 exports to Italy exceeded the volume supplied to Turkey and ranked only second to deliveries to Germany. The possibility of extending the TurkStream pipeline to Italy via the Balkans will most certainly be discussed in 2019, which could provoke a new confrontation with Brussels, which seeks to reduce dependence on Russian energy while preserving the share of transit via Ukraine.

Italian exports to Russia

Another irritating factor for Brussels is the northern Italian regions’ interaction with the authorities of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (DNR and LNR) as well as visits by northern regional delegations to Crimea and Russia’s Krasnodar region. Back in May 2016, the council of the Italian region Veneto, whose capital city is Venice, recognized Crimea as part of Russia. The DNR’s second Italian representative office opened in Verona on February 9 this year (the first was had opened in Turin in 2016), and another Italian delegation is expected to visit the Krasnodar Territory in the spring of 2019.

What to expect from the enfant terrible

Political turbulence and frequent government changes have become integral features of the Second Italian Republic, with both Europe and the world now accustomed to these factors. Little wonder, therefore, that even before the new “government of change” actually came to power, people both in Italy and in the EU started wondering how soon the yellow-green coalition would collapse, the assumption being that a political coalition cemented by a common aversion to the EU could not possibly form a reliable foundation for any long-standing cooperation between the right- and left-wing populist forces.

The coalition partners have indeed been manifesting differences since coming to power, and the Italian media have repeatedly highlighted these discords as possible reasons for a split. The first nine months have in fact resulted in the parties swapping places in terms of popular support: the Five Stars Movement’s approval rating stood at 32% in May 2018 versus 24% for the League, whereas the current situation is exactly the opposite. The ongoing series of regional elections could result in another conflict: in the recent gubernatorial polls in the Abruzzo and Sardinia regions, the League candidate won by a landslide, leaving the Five Stars rival far behind. The leaders of the ruling parties have reportedly disagreed on such issues as budget planning, the introduction of a basic income, the Lyon–Turin highway, refugees, and the security law. However, each time the two parties would make statements emphasizing the government’s unity and their readiness to negotiate on all key issues. By all appearances, Salvini, Di Maio, and Conte all understand that if the coalition collapses, they will not be able to stand against Brussels on their own, which would convince the EU leadership of the sovereignty supporters’ inconsistency, egoism, and inability to reach an agreement even amongst themselves. The coalition’s collapse would bury the idea of a broader, pan-European coalition of Eurosceptics, whose positions in the European Parliament would be weakened. In the meantime, a survey published on February 14 clearly indicates that the coalition of the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists will not secure a majority in the new European Parliament for the first time in EU history and that the “sovereignists,” or Eurosceptics, stand a good chance of securing a combined total of up to 130 seats. In fact, the Five Stars Movement’s share of the vote could prove decisive in forming the new European People’s Nationalist Party plus “sovereignists.” In this situation, the Italian leaders are much more interested in strengthening their coalition than splitting it. Should they succeed, the yellow-green coalition could truly become a “government of change” for all of Europe…

First published in our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Strong support of president Putin to Serbia

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Serbia was visited on June 3 by the first man of Russian Duma and one of the closest associates of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The arrival of Vyacheslav Volodin in Belgrade just a few days after the brutal intrusion of Albanian special forces in the north of Kosovo and amid strong pressure on Serbia ahead of the announced meetings in Paris in early July, sends a clear message. That message could be heard at a special session of the Serbian National Assembly:

“Brotherly Serbian people, as always, can count on Russia’s help!”

This statement of Vyacheslav Volodin is extremely important because this was a message of Vladimir Putin to the Serbian people. As Vyacheslav Volodin pointed out, Vladimir Putin knew that he would speak in the Serbian parliament, so he personally sent greetings and words of support to Serbian people.

During the visit to Serbia, the Russian official praised Serbia`s economic improvement, adding that success is even greater since it has been achieved in dificult geopolitical circumstances. Vyacheslav Volodin, stated in Belgrade that the “intrusion“ of Kosovo`s special forces into the north of Kosovo was aimed at frightening the Serbs, establishing control there by force, adding that the Serbs could count on Russian help in future.

Also Volodin said that the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 should be respected. He stressed that Russia will not support the moves of the EU and the United States, that would lead to tensions.

“We believe that all parties must respect Resolution 1244, and those who do not, must be responsible. The interests of sovereign Serbia must be respected in accordance with international law,” Volodin said.

„The UN should express its stand. Its authority and also peace in the Balkans depend on its determination and concrete moves,“ Volodin also stated in Serbia`s Parliament. He criticised the European Union and US behaviour and added that „the absence of clear EU reaction to Pristina`s provocations raises doubt the bloc is capable to mediate in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on normalisation of relations. Volodin said that some states adopted a practise of double standards and openly interfere with the internal issues of other states.

“ We think that is unacceptable. It is necessary to confront that if we want to preserve our nation, country, its sovereignty and independence,“ Volodin said, mentioning Libya and Iraq as examples.

Speaking about the relation between the two nations, he said that the Russians, always felt they were obliged to help and protect the Serbs. Later, Volodin had a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and invited him to address Duma, next time when he visit Moscow.

Vucic accepted, saying it would be a great honor for him to talk about the relations between Serbia and Russia in front of Duma members.

Volodin  also announced that  Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Serbia can be signed by the end of the year. Currently, more than 800 companies with Russian capital operate in the territory of Serbia.

The message of Vyacheslav Volodin about Kosovo is in line with the message that President Vladimir Putin has been repeating for years.  The views of the President of Russia on the issue of Kosovo are not changing since the beginning of the crisis:

– February 2008 – The case of Kosovo is a terrible precedent that essentially breaks out the entire system of international relations, which was created not for decades, but for centuries.

– May 2018. – Vucic asked Putin to help Serbia in the UN and other international organizations, on what was answered that Moscow will actively monitor the talks between Belgrade and Pristina and the influence of various parameters on that issue.

–  January 2019 – Moscow is in favor of a mutually acceptable solution of Belgrade and Pristina, but based on UN Resolution 1244.

–  January 2019 – Resolution 1244 does not allow the existence of any armed formations in Kosovo other than the United Nations contingent.

However, despite the clear position of Russia on Kosovo, Serbian President takes a different policy. The goal of Aleksandar Vucic is the “demarcation” between Serbs and Albanians. And for a long time he has been secretly negotiating with the President of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Hashim Thaci. And, so far Vucic’s policy towards Kosovo has been catastrophic and has caused great damage to Serbian national interests.

By signing Brussels agreements, Vucic destroyed the defense of northern Kosovo, giving police and civil protection to Pristina. This denied the right of Serbs to self-defense, and he himself is not able to protect them. Recent events in the north of Kosovo, especially in Zubin Potok, are the direct result of the capitulation of the national and state policy of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic towards Kosovo. Vucic aim is to force the Serbian people to accept an independent Kosovo. After recognition of Kosovo, Serbia would accelerate its full membership in NATO. Already today some associates of Aleksandar Vucic say that Serbia is surrounded by NATO, and that Serbia must adjust its policy according to the situation. If that were to happen it would be another geopolitical blow to Russia, which would be completely cut off from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea. Therefore, NATO could further increase pressure on Russia.

 From our partner International Affairs

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Candidates for European Commission President: Who is who

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Photo: European Parliament

The race for President of the European Commission has got under way. According to the rules which are questioned by many in the European Union but have so far enjoyed majority support in the European Parliament, the new head of the “executive branch” of the European Union will be elected from among the “top candidates” (Spitzenkandidat) – those nominated by European parties which have factions in the European Parliament. A candidate will finally become President of the European Commission after he receives support from EU leaders in the European Council (the Council is currently headed by former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, known for his paranoic attitude towards Russia) – this procedure should be over in June. A formal approval by the European Parliament should come next.

So who has the biggest chances and what are the political platforms of potential winners?

Judging by arithmetics, the leader of the European People’s Party (former Democratic Christians) faction in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, is in the lead. His faction remains the largest, albeit smaller in number than before,  in Parliament – 180 members. A Bavarian,  Weber is 46 years old, and is considered to have been promoted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He seems to be at odds with his patroness Merkel, who supports the Nord Stream – 2 project. Last year he spoke out strongly against this project, which envisages the transportation of Russian gas to Western Europe across the bottom of the Baltic Sea: “I am against this project. It does not meet the interests of the European Union,” –  he said on April 23, 2018, in an interview with the Polska Times newspaper which was quickly picked up by news agencies.

However, analysts do not rule out a certain discrepancy of conduct on the part of Merkel, who continue to support Weber’s candidacy even after the above statement. Apparently, Merkel  has no intention of becoming the one responsible for  “burying” the Nord Stream,  which is so profitable for the German business. However, if this project is ruined by the head of the European Commission nominated by her, she will be able to get out of it safe. She would explain such a result by a “clash of opinions that is natural for democracy”.  Nord Stream-2 is the only project which the United States doesn’t approve but which Merkel supports in words. (Normally, in matters of principle, Angela Merkel does not tolerate any differences of opinion within the ruling team in the Federal Republic of Germany.)

However, as remarked by the EU Observer website, close to the Brussels-based globalist elite, Merkel may refuse to back Weber at the last moment – two Germans will not be allowed to occupy the two key positions in the EU – head of the European Commission and chairman of the European Central Bank. Moreover,  Merkel wants to put Jens Weidman, the current head of the Central Bank of Germany, in charge of the European Central Bank.

The second most likely candidate is Margrethe Vestager of the Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party. The party’s faction, which has 109 members after the elections, is the third most powerful and is known for its anti-Russian position. The leader of the ALDE faction, Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, who is officially the main “spin doctor” of Mrs. Vestager, made a statement unacceptable from the diplomatic point of view on the global Internet resource Project Syndicate before the recent elections to the European Parliament. He accused his colleagues in the European Parliament – representatives of a number of sovereign European countries (Italy, Great Britain, Hungary)  – of being the “fifth column” of Russia in the EU. He said: “Just like the illiberalism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the partnership between the European right and Vladimir Putin has been going on for too long.”

Vestager is the European Commissioner for Competition, who has been dubbed “Tax Lady” by President Trump, for her relentless pursuit of alleged monopolies in Europe. Simultaneously, Vestager calls for the extension of sanctions against Russia and for measures against Russian “energy monopolies” in Europe (what is implied by these words is easy to guess – the long demonized by European mass media Gazprom). For these views, Mrs. Vestager is openly admired by the British magazine The Economist, which came out on May 28, 2019 with the headline: “The Iron Lady of Politics from Denmark should lead the European Commission.”

Nevertheless, even Mrs. Vestager’s admirers admit in this issue of the magazine, as well as in other European media that she is unpopular in her home country, in Denmark. At home, Vestager’s candidacy for the highest post in the European Commission was publicly supported only by the leader of a “related” party – the head of the Danish Liberals Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Even Liberals and Social Democrats acknowledge that the EU was unable to protect Denmark from illegal migration,  so since 2016, Copenhagen has maintained “temporary” control on the border with countries of the Schengen zone. Naturally, a lady representing  the “ineffective” EU is unlikely to be loved at home.

Nevertheless, the structure of the current European Union does not require politicians to be popular at home in order to get a high-powered and financially attractive job in the European Commission. What presents interest in this regard is the opinion of Marlene Vind, a professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen: “The head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, just recently pointed out the need for gender balance in the EU, and this is a strong support for Vestager,” – Wind says. “Besides, you can be 100% sure that not a single Danish prime minister will say no if EU leaders offer a Danish woman such an important position in the EU.”

The third likely candidate with strong chances for success is Dutch Social Democrat, France Timmermans. A representative of the Labor Party of the Netherlands,former foreign minister of the Netherlands, and at present the first vice-president of the European Commission, he is known for his initiatives on sanctions against the Polish “retrogrades” from the “Law and Justice” Party. Timmermans can count on the support of 146 MPs from the Socialists and Democrats. In the early 1990s, he worked at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, disseminating the “light of democracy” in Russia. Afterward he represented the Netherlands during an inquiry into the crash of the MH-17 aircraft over the Donetsk region in 2014.

From a foreign policy point of view, Timmermans represents the most exotic ideological trend in the European Union – he is dreading an “union of Putin and Trump,” which, along with the “rise of nationalist forces in Europe,” could destroy the EU.

In February 2017, already holding the post of European Commissioner Timmermans declared: “We are witnessing a hybrid war, we see it in Ukraine. Will the Baltic countries be next? We bear witness to the return of the threat of a nuclear war. …. And just imagine the Cuban missile crisis played out on Twitter between Presidents Trump and Putin,” – Timmermans said, addressing the Future Force conference. It is unlikely that anyone could have imagined it, but we could attribute it to the speaker’s wild fantasy.

The reverse of Timmermans’paranoic attitude towards Russia is the praise of the European Union, which he glorifies as a kind of unique “ecosystem” of the most civilized and peaceful nations of the planet. Probably, Mr. Timmermans forgot the “civilized” destruction of Yugoslavia by the “peaceful nations” of Europe.

This blend of “green” demagogy and the new “democratic” racism of the forces that won in the last Euro elections (they say Western Europeans are above  other nations thanks to “exclusively” European democratic institutions) is an ideology that is totally hostile to Russia.

The other candidates – Frenchman Michel Barnier, Czech Jan Zahradil and  “green” German Ska Keller – have few chances due to lack of strong factions in the European Parliament.

As it happens, in its relations with the EU Russia should not expect Brussels to change its position in the near future. But, as they say, eternity in politics does not last long. 

From our partner International Affairs

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Tensions in Kosovo: Russia closely monitors the situation

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Police of self proclaimed state of Kosovo launched raids in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the Serbs-majority north of Kosovo, sparking an angry reaction from Serbs.

More than twenty people have been arrested so far. Among those arrested is the chief of police of the village of Zubin Potok. A Kosovo police officer was wounded by a gunshot during the operation, but is not in danger of losing life. Two other officers were also injured, according to doctors in North Mitrovica.

Kosovo Police said that in Zubin Potok(north Kosovo), barricades were set up and tyres set on fire to deter police officers. Kosovo police also stated that the operation was launched to detain suspects who have allegedly been participating in or organizing criminal groups and have been involved in the smuggling of goods, misuse of official positions, bribery and trading in contraband. According to information the operation has nothing to do with the murder of Enver Zymberi, a policeman who was killed in the north of Kosovo eight years ago, nor with the investigation into the death of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, who was murdered in 2018.

The head of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, said on Tuesday morning that the goal was to cause fear and panic.

“This morning, around 6am, special units of the ROSU (Regional Operational Support Unit) stormed in from three directions into the north of Kosovo, into the territory of all four (Serb majority) municipalities, with the aim of intimidating and provoking panic”, Djuric told Tanjug agency. He said that “separatists from Pristina have reached for more terrifying methods to scare Serbs” and want to “create an impossible climate for Serbs in Kosovo”. Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Interior Ministry ordered the Serbian Army to be put on full combat readiness, Tanjug reported. Tanjug also reported that Vucic launched “intensive diplomatic activities” over the raids.

“The president asked Western political authorities to control Pristina and let them know Serbia will not allow ethnic cleansing”, Tanjug said.

A Russian diplomat was also arrested. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia has stated that is unacceptable to arrest a Russia citizen in Kosovo, asking the UN mission in Kosovo for comprehensive information on his arrest and his release.

“The arrest was carried out regardless of the fact that Russian citizen has diplomatic immunity of UN staff. We consider this to be an unacceptable act as another manifestation of the provocation of the Kosovo-Albanian authorities, stated Maria Zakharova, the official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.The Russian diplomat was released after the protest of Russian Government. However, according to unconfirmed information, he was beaten by the Kosovo Police.

The Russian State Duma instructed its Committee on International Affairs to closely monitor the situation in Serbia because of the intensification of the situation in Kosovo . On the occasion of the incidents in Kosovo, the Russian ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin spoke.

“We strongly condemn the incursion of Kosovo Special Forces in Kosovo-Serb-populated areas. This is extremely dangerous and it’s not in line with all existing agreements, “said Chepurin on Twitter.

The Serbian Armed Forces are in fully combat readiness, and according to the information, its movement under full military equipment was also observed. Serbian combat jet Mig 29 flies over an administrative line with Kosovo.

“If there is any threat to order and the life of people in northern Kosovo, our army will protect our people,” stated Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic.

Concluding Thoughts

Russia is monitoring the situation in Kosovo and is ready to provide support to Serbia. The arrest and beating of Russian citizen Mikhail Krasnoshchekov, which is a member of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, is actually a message to Russia by the West. As stated by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, the incursion of special forces is another provocation and the establishment of control over the region by force:

” It is clear that such defiant behavior of Kosovars is a direct consequence of many years indulging from EU and the Uited States”,- stated Maria Zakharova.

However, an important role also has Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic. At yesterday’s session in the Serbian Parliament, the President of Serbia, as the basic message to the Serbian people, said that Serbia should accept independent Kosovo. In other words, Vucic is still fighting for demarcation, after which a small part of Kosovo would be left to Serbia. Otherwise, in his opinion, the Albanians will attack the Serbs in Kosovo. The defeatist attitude of the President of Serbia practically encouraged the Albanian separatists to take such a move which we can see today. It is precisely on the issue of Alexander Vucic’s policy towards Kosovo that Russia should take a stronger position. The Russian Foreign Ministry regularly repeats that for Russia the solution of the Kosovo problem is UN Resolution 1244. And this is the correct policy, which is in line with the Russian and Serbian national interests. However, Aleksandar Vucic, contrary to the will of the citizens of Serbia is pursuing his policy towards Kosovo.

  First published in our partner International Affairs

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