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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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Marine Le Pen’s Nationalist Ideology and the Rise of Right-Wing Parties in Europe

Mohamad Zreik

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“When you decide to stand against injustice, expect that you will be cursed and then betrayed and then atoned, but do not keep quiet about injustice in order to be told that you are a man of peace.” Marine Le Pen stood in the face of injustice and said the word of truth without hesitation. As the truth hurts, Le Pen has faced much criticism, insults, and opposition campaigns. Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, lost to Emmanuel Macron, a moderate centrist young man who believed in economic and political openness to Europe, and her loss was an expression of democracy and freedom.

What will change in France and Europe after Macron takes office? Had Le Pen come to power, what would have happened? Why was this powerful campaign against Le Pen?

Marine Le Pen is the president of the National Front and the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme right-wing political party in France. Since French society is a mixture of different civilizations, cultures and religions, Le Pen has not won many votes and was not accepted by the society because her project was France first, not Europe first, and the fight against terrorism was one of its priorities, without the support of anyone or the consent of religious and political groups to carry out this process. Le Pen’s experience is not new. When her father ran in the past, he called for the reinstatement of the French franc, the restoration of French identity instead of the European one and the implementation of a French national policy without referring to the European Union.

Many political analysts believe that if Le Pen was able to reach the presidency, Europe would enter a phase of wide change, since Germany and France are the two pillars of the European Union, the departure of France will lead to an imbalance in the European Union and to a weakness in its structure. Le Pen’s proposed program did not impress many advocates of freedom because it negatively affects the rights of refugees and works on a harsh policy with foreigners coming to France. As an Arab citizen and human rights defender, I will not accept Le Pen’s proposals at the beginning, but I meet with her on many things and concerns. The European continent has become a place for the export of large numbers of people who are doing terrorism in the world and the great margin of freedom in Europe has made it a tool for making evil and to strengthen the role of ideologically unclean groups, all due to the issue of human rights and the right of opinion and expression.

The European continent is witnessing a widespread campaign against the EU, the BREXIT in Britain was no accident, as well as the rise of right-wing parties to take power in Denmark and the Netherlands and demand a firmer policy, and it is noticeable that the right-wing European parties are growing in France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Austria. The project demanded by Le Pen has become necessary on the European continent, especially with the financial crises in the European Union and the many terrorist acts that threaten European security.

From the Treaty of Westphalia to the founding of the European Union to the present Europe, the situation has changed a lot. The idea of a civilian state was necessary to end the 30-year war and the founding of the European Union came to unite the European continent after it was divided during the Cold War. Today, in the era of globalization, openness and freedoms, the economic crises that hit the world in general and Europe in particular, and the incidence of terrorist acts are increasing rapidly, and I am afraid that Europe will become a place of terrorist acts and a center for terrorist group. Therefore, the world today needs leaders such as Le Pen to control human insanity and restore stability to the international community.

The success of the experience of democracy in a certain part of the world does not mean that it is the ideal system and that it can easily be applied to the rest of the world. Many peoples of the world are not suited to democratic regimes, and the failure to implement a democratic system does not mean that the regime that will govern this country is oppressive and unfair, but one that suits the form of the state and the needs of the people. Henry Kissinger acknowledged that the idea of the European Union could not last forever because European countries since ancient times were not based on the doctrine of unity and participation.

I still dream of the beautiful Europe of the 1980s, when it was the center of international economy and trade and when the international political decision was linked to Europe. Europe today is a mass of endless economic crises and a center of attraction for terrorist acts that threaten European and international security, without forgetting the US decision, which often affects European sovereignty. Le Pen’s project is to reject American hegemony, return to French roots and adhere to French identity. The idea of a closed door policy and a strict policy with foreign expatriates is an internal French affair.

The situation in France will not be better after the arrival of Macron and terrorism will not stop, Emmanuel Macron is trying to give more economic, social and cultural freedoms and more integration with the European community. Of course, economic and political cooperation will have a positive impact on France and Europe. But in return for this cooperation, what special benefit will France gain, knowing that Macron has put forward the idea of establishing an EU military force, which means that the EU’s role will be not only economic and political but also joint military action.

The series of terrorist operations has not ceased after Macron’s arrival, and is increasing day by day. From France to Britain, Belgium and Germany, the target is Europe, which is the victim of terrorism. Terrorism wants Europe to become unstable and panic and make it a “New Land of Jihad”. Of course, Macron’s European policy plays an important role in strengthening the position of terrorist groups and creating fertile ground for them. Terrorism needs freedom and open borders to turn the impossible into reality.

When Le Pen raised the voice and said that we are French and wanted to rearrange the French house, she knew that France was the target and if it was not immunized, Great France would become just an idea in the “Museum of History”. Le Pen, an ultra-nationalist, does not scare me as an Arab Lebanese. Why would I be afraid of someone who wants to fight terrorism and oppressive ideology? We all love unity and freedom, but on the other hand there are some emergency circumstances that push the political system in a country to take an unusual path. Today, right-wing approach can make a difference, which some describe as extremism and lack of respect for human freedom.

The world today needs leaders like Marine Le Pen in every corner of the globe. The world today is ruled by force, and is afraid of those who say the word “no” to every stranger and outlaw. Le Pen has lost and the French will regret this option sooner or later because the European future does not bode well!

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France: Chaos or a New Social Compact?

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At the end of the parade, a few dozen people release yellow balloons into the sky and distribute leaflets saying “The yellow vests are not dead.” The police disperse them, quickly and firmly. Moments later, hundreds of “Antifa” anarchists arrive, throw security barriers on the roadway to erect barricades, start fires and smash the storefronts of several shops. The police have a rough time mastering the situation, but early in the evening, after a few hours, they restore the calm.

A few hours later, thousands of young Arabs from the suburbs gather near the Arc de Triomphe. They have apparently come to “celebrate” in their own way the victory of an Algerian soccer team. More storefronts are smashed, more shops looted. Algerian flags are everywhere. Slogans are belted out: “Long live Algeria”, “France is ours”, “Death to France”. Signs bearing street names are replaced by signs bearing the name of Abd el Kader, the religious and military leader who fought against the French army at the time of the colonization of Algeria. The police limit themselves to stemming the violence in the hope that it will not spread.

Around midnight, three leaders of the “yellow vest” movement come out of a police station and tell a TV reporter that they were arrested early that morning and imprisoned for the rest of the day. Their lawyer states that they did nothing wrong and were just “preventively” arrested. He emphasizes that a law passed in February 2019 allows the French police to arrest any person suspected of going to a demonstration; no authorization from a judge is necessary and no appeal possible.

On Friday, July 19, the Algerian soccer team wins again. More young Arabs gather near Arc de Triomphe to “celebrate” again. The damage is even greater than eight days before. More police show up; they do almost nothing.

On July 12, two days before Bastille Day, several hundred self-declared African illegal migrants enter the Pantheon, the monument that houses the graves of heroes who played major roles in the history of France. There, the migrants announce the birth of the “Black Vest movement”. They demand the “regularization” of all illegal immigrants on French territory and free housing for each of them. The police show up but decline to intervene. Most of the demonstrators leave peacefully. A few who insult the police are arrested.

France today is a country adrift. Unrest and lawlessness continue to gain ground. Disorder has become part of daily life. Polls show that a large majority reject President Macron. They seem to hate his arrogance and be inclined not to forgive him. They seem to resent his contempt for the poor; the way he crushed the “yellow vest” movement, and for his not having paid even the slightest attention to the protesters’ smallest demands, such as the right to hold a citizen’s referendum like those in Switzerland. Macron can no longer go anywhere in public without risking displays of anger.

The “yellow vests” seem finally to have stopped demonstrating and given up: too many were maimed or hurt. Their discontent, however, is still there. It seems waiting to explode again.

The French police appear ferocious when dealing with peaceful protesters, but barely able to prevent groups such as ‘Antifa’ from causing violence. Therefore, now at the end of each demonstration, “Antifa” show up. The French police seem particularly cautious when having to deal with young Arabs and illegal migrants. The police have been given orders. They know that young Arabs and illegal migrants could create large-scale riots. Three months ago, in Grenoble, the police were pursuing some young Arabs on a stolen motorcycle, who were accused of theft. While fleeing, they had an accident. Five days of mayhem began.

Democracy receding 

President Macron looks like an authoritarian leader when he faces the disgruntled poor. He never says he is sorry for those who have lost an eye or a hand or suffered irreversible brain damage from extreme police brutality. Instead, he asked the French parliament to pass a law that almost completely abolishes the right to protest, the presumption of innocence and that allows the arrest of anyone, anywhere, even without cause. The law was passed.

In June, the French parliament passed another law, severely punishing anyone who says or writes something that might contain “hate speech”. The law is so vague that an American legal scholar, Jonathan Turley, felt compelled to react. “France has now become one of the biggest international threats to freedom of speech”, he wrote.

Macron does not appear authoritarian, however, with violent anarchists. When facing young Arabs and illegal migrants, he looks positively weak. He knows what the former interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said in November 2018, while resigning from government:

“Communities in France are engaging in conflict with one another more and more and it is becoming very violent… today we live side by side, I fear that tomorrow it will be face to face”.

Macron also knows what former President François Hollande said after serving his term as president: “France is on the verge of partition”.

Macron knows that the partition of France already exists. Most Arabs and Africans live in no-go-zones, apart from the rest of the population, where they accept the presence of non-Arabs and non-Africans less and less. They do not define themselves as French, except when they say that France will belong to them. Reports show that most seem filled with a deep rejection of France and Western civilization. An increasing number seem to place their religion above their citizenship; many seem radicalised and ready to fight.

Macron seems not to want to fight. Instead, he has chosen to appease them. He is single-mindedly pursuing his plans to institutionalise Islam in France. Three months ago, the Muslim Association for Islam of France (AMIF) was created. One branch will handle the cultural expansion of Islam and take charge of “the fight against anti-Muslim racism”. Another branch will be responsible for programs that train imams and build mosques. This autumn, a “Council of Imams of France” will be established. The main leaders of the AMIF are (or were until recently) members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — but not in France.

French President is aware of the demographic data. They show that the Muslim population in France will grow significantly in the coming years. (The economist Charles Gave wrote recently that by 2057, France will have a Muslim majority). Macron can see that it will soon be impossible for anyone to be elected President without relying on the Muslim vote, so he acts accordingly.

Macron apparently sees that the discontent that gave birth to the “yellow vest” movement still is there. He appears to think that repression will be enough to prevent any further uprising, and so does nothing to remedy the causes of the discontent.

The “yellow vest” movement was born of a revolt against exorbitantly high taxes on fuel, and harsh government measures against cars and motorists. These measures included reduced speed limits – 90 km/h on most highways — and more speed-detection cameras; a sharp rise in the penalties on tickets, as well as complex and expensive annual motor vehicle controls. French taxes on fuels recently rose again and are now the highest in Europe (70% of the price paid at the pump). Other measures against the use of automobiles and motorists still in force are especially painful for the poor. They were already chased from the suburbs by intolerant newcomers, and now have to live — and drive — even farther from where they work.

Socio-culturally disenfranchised

President has made no decision to remedy the disastrous economic situation in France. When he was elected, taxes, duties and social charges represented almost 50% of GDP. Government spending represented 57% of GDP (the highest among developed countries). The ratio of national debt to GDP was almost 100%.

Taxes, duties, social charges and government spending remain at the same level now as when Macron came in. The debt-to-GDP ratio is 100% and growing. The French economy is not creating jobs. Poverty remains extremely high: 14% of the population earn less than 855 euros ($950) a month.

“How else to explain that the post-WWII come-and-help-our-recovery slogan Gastarbeiter willkommen became an Auslander Raus roar in a matter of only two decades. Suddenly, our national purifiers extensively shout ‘stop über fremdung of EU, we need de-ciganization’ of our societies, as if it historically does not always end up in one and only possible way– self-barbarization. In response, the socially marginalized and ghettoized ‘foreigners’ are calling for the creation of gastarbeiter partie. Indeed, the first political parties of foreigners are already created in Austria, with similar calls in Germany, France and the Netherlands. Their natural coalition partner would never be any of the main political parties. We should know by now, how the diverting of the mounting socio-economic discontent and generational disfranchising through ethno engineering will end up, don’t we?” – warned prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic years ago in his brave and farsighted essay ‘Denazification urgently needed in Europe’.

Consequently, our top executives pay no attention to the growing cultural disaster also seizing the country. The educational system is crumbling. An increasing percentage of students graduate from high school without knowing how to write a sentence free of errors that make incomprehensible anything they write. Christianity is disappearing. Most non-Muslim French no longer define themselves as Christians. The fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was officially an ‘accident’, but it was only one of the many Christian religious buildings in the country that were recently destroyed. Every week, churches are vandalised — to the general indifference of the public. In just the first half of 2019, 22 churches burned down.

The main concern of Macron and the French government seems not to be the risk of riots, the public’s discontent, the disappearance of Christianity, the disastrous economic situation, or Islamization and its consequences. Instead, it is climate change. Although the amount of France’s carbon dioxide emissions is infinitesimal (less than 1% of the global total), combatting “human-induced climate change” appears Macron’s absolute priority.

A Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, age 16, — nevertheless the guru of the “fight for the climate” in Europe — was recently invited to the French National Assembly by members of parliament who support Macron. She delivered a speech, promising that the “irreversible destruction” of the planet will begin very soon. A Baby-revolutionary added that political leaders “are not mature enough” and need lessons from children. MPs who support Macron applauded warmly. She received a Prize of Freedom, just created, which will be given each year to people “fighting for the values ​​of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 to liberate Europe”. It is probably reasonable to assume that not one of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 thought he was fighting to save the climate. Such minor details, however, seem beyond Macron and the parliamentarians who support him.

Macron and the French government also seem unconcerned that Jews — driven by the rise of anti-Semitism, and understandably worried about court decisions infused with the spirit of submission to violent Islam –continue to flee from France.

Kobili Traore, the man who murdered Sarah Halimi in 2017 while chanting suras from the Qur’an and shouting that the Jews are Sheitan (Arabic for “Satan”) was found not guilty. Traore had apparently smoked cannabis before the murder, so the judges decided that he was not responsible for his acts. Traore will soon be released from prison; what happens if he smokes cannabis again?

A few weeks after the murder of Halimi, three members of a Jewish family were assaulted, tortured and held hostage in their home by a group of five men who said that “Jews have money” and “Jews must pay”. The men were arrested; all were Muslim. The judge who indicated them announced that their actions were “not anti-Semitic”.

On July 25, 2019 when the Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa was competing in Strasbourg, the French government limited the number of Israeli supporters in the stadium to 600, not one more. A thousand had bought plane tickets to come to France to attend the match. The French government also banned the waving of Israeli flags at the game or anywhere in the city. Nonetheless, in the name of “free speech”, the French Department of the Interior permitted anti-Israeli demonstrations in front of the stadium, and Palestinian flags and banners saying “Death to Israel” were there. The day before the match, at a restaurant near the stadium, some Israelis were violently attacked. “The demonstrations against Israel are approved in the name of freedom of expression, but the authorities forbid supporters of Maccabi Haifa to raise the Israeli flag, it is unacceptable,” said Aliza Ben Nun, Israel’s ambassador to France.

The other day, a plane full of French Jews leaving France arrived in Israel. More French Jews will soon go. The departure of Jews to Israel entails sacrifices: some French real estate agents take advantage of the wish of many Jewish families to leave, so they buy and sell properties owned by Jews at a price far lower than their market value.

Fighting the ghost

Macron will remain as president until May 2022. Several leaders of the parties of the center-left (such as the Socialist Party) and center-right (The Republicans) joined The Republic on the Move, the party he created two years ago. After that, the Socialist Party and The Republicans electorally collapsed. Macron’s main opponent in 2022 is likely to be the same as in 2017: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the populist National Rally.

Although Macron is widely unpopular and widely hated, he will probably use the same slogans as in 2017: that he is the last bastion of hope against “chaos” and “fascism.” He has a strong chance of being elected again. Anyone who reads the political program of the National Rally can see that Le Pen is not a fascist. Also, anyone who looks at the situation in France may wonder if France has not already begun to sink into chaos.

The sad situation that reigns in France is not all that different from that in many other European countries. A few weeks ago, an African cardinal, Robert Sarah, published a book, Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse (“The evening comes, and already the light darkens”). “At the root of the collapse of the West”, he writes, “there is a cultural and identity crisis. The West no longer knows what it is, because it does not know and does not want to know what shaped it, what constituted it, what it was and what it is. (…) This self-asphyxiation leads naturally to a decadence that opens the way to new barbaric civilizations.”

That is exactly what is happening in France — and Europe.

Earlier version published by the Geterstone Institute under the title France Slowly Sinking into Chaos

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Serbs disappointed with EU

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A top-level meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in September with the participation of President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, the head of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, President of France Emmanuel Macron and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel may well be disrupted, which could lead to a new wave of tension in the Balkans. As the summit draws nearer, the differences between the parties involved show no signs of diminishing, while the Serbian leadership is demonstrating ever more opposition to any agreements with Pristina.

A few days ago Chairman of the Serbian People’s Party and Minister of Innovation and Technological Development of Serbia Nenad Popovic called for walking out of talks with Kosovo leaders under the patronage of the European Union. He said that the 2013 Brussels agreements on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina was “not working”. According to the minister, Serbia ought to “challenge the pseudo-state of Kosovo” at any costs and under any conditions.

“After all the events that took place last week with the participation of Western countries: the simulated summoning of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, to the Hague-based Special Court for interrogation in connection with the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, new accusations against Serbia for committing genocide against Kosovo Albanians, arrests of Serbs – all this adds to the fact that we have nothing to gain from European integration, and that the Brussels agreement is dead,” – Nenad Popovic emphasized. In his words, the political course of Serbia should follow a balance: “What I mean is that Serbia should develop step by step and strengthen political, economic and military cooperation only with countries that build equal relations with it, revering its sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to Kosovo”.

Nenad Popovic is one of the key figures on the Serbian political landscape in the context of relations between Kosovo and the Albanians. In diferent years, he was responsible for building economic relations with the region, and for Belgrade’s policy in the three southern Serb communities of Bujanovac, Medveda and Presevo, adjacent to the Kosovo border. It is these areas that Hashim Thaci proposes to annex to Kosovo in exchange for passing to Belgrade the control over the northern Serb-populated areas as part of a “package agreement” on the exchange of territories. Nenad Popovic used to be one of the closest associates of the former President of Serbia Vojislav Kostunica, who called for more intensive cooperation with Russia, including within the framework of energy and infrastructure projects. It was during his term Russia and Serbia concluded a range of bilateral agreements, which enabled Serbia to become a key partner of Russia in the purchase and processing of energy resources.

The visit to the Hague by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, which triggered so much criticism from Nenad Popovic, does look strange. However, according to reports, all this could involve a more complicated political scenario. On learningthat he was summoned to the Hague court, Ramush Haradinaj immediately announced his resignation from the post of head of the Kosovo government. The former chief of staff of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) explained that he had no intention of jeopardizing the honor of the self-proclaimed state and its institutions. He remarked that his government’s ministers would continue to fulfill their duties and called on the president of the republic to announce early parliamentary elections.

“I was summoned for questioning to the Special Court in the Hague as a suspect. The honor of the prime minister and the state must be preserved,” – he said on his Facebook page.

According to Haradinaj, since he does not want to tarnish the reputation of Kosovo in any way, he will appear before the Hague Court, which was set up to investigate the activitgies of the KLA during the war, as a private person. Simultaneously, he expressed confidence that a new inquiry would not shake his innocence, confirmed by two acquittals of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague. His case was run by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte in person. However, in spite of all her efforts, in 2008 the Tribunal acquitted Ramush Haradinaj of charges of committing crimes against the Serbian population of the region. In 2010, the ruling was cancelled, but in 2012 a new acquittal came into effect.

The unexpected summoning of Ramush Haradinaj to the Hague anew is in fact not connected with a sudden desire of the Western powers to finally punish the Kosovo prime minister for bygone anti-Serb crimes. For Brussels and Washington, his fierce opposition to agreements between Belgrade and Pristina is much more relevant. Over the past few months, this politician has been lashing out at Hashim Thaci for his “compromising” stance and for his intention to concede part of Kosovo’s territory to Serbia. To this end, he regularly organizes mass protests in Pristina. And given the popularity of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, of which he is the leader, there is a real possibility of Ramush Haradinaj assuming the post of Kosovo president, which is de facto could block any mediation efforts on the part of the European Union and which, of course, does not suit the EU leadership.

Such a development is fraught with unpredictable consequences, such as a crisis of European integration plans in Serbia and a reorientation of Belgrade’s policy from Brussels to Moscow and Beijing.

The American Wall Street Journal quotes Dan Coats, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence of the USA, as saying that Russia and China, “these two super-giants of Eurasia, are as close to each other as they were in the 1950s. Both Moscow and Beijing have been seeking to undermine the interests of the West, from Venezuela and Syria to Serbia. In addition, they have been stepping up cooperation in Africa south of the Sahara and have already found ways to lessen their rivalry in Central Asia. ”

Meanwhile, support from top Western powers continues to be a major factor determining Kosovo’s sustainability – both political and economic. Recently, there has appeared a trend towards a gradual rejection of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo by states that previously recognized it. According to the Serbian side, a few days ago the Central African Republic (CAR) recalled its recognition of Kosovo, thus becoming the 14th country that has done so. Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a program broadcast by the radio and television of Serbia that the CAR “cannot assume a position that is at odds with international law” and that it “supports the sovereignty of Serbia and the rule of law”.

Ivica Dacic also said that unlike in 2015, when 92 states voted in favor of Kosovo joining UNESCO, in 2018 the number of such countries dropped to 73. “Undoubtedly, they cannot become members of any international organization, in which they would vote like they do in the UN”, – the head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry pointed out.

Given the situation, a further widening of the gap between Belgrade and Brussels amid the West’s inability to make Kosovo authorities more cooperative will naturally lead to the erosion of the pro-European direction of Serbia’s foreign policy and will strengthen the positions of forces that advocate more ties with Russia and other “centers of power” outside the Euro-Atlantic space. 

From our partner International Affairs

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