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.
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.
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
Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country
The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.
Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government
Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.
Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.
In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.
Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy
The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.
The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.
At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.
In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.
Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum
Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.
Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.
The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.
In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.
Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.
The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy
Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.
First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.
Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.
In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.
Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid
In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.
Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.
At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.
Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.
Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.
Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power
The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.
P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.
Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.
From our partner RIAC
Is British Democracy in Danger?
On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.
Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.
To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.
While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.
Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.
One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.
Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.
The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security
2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.
Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.
In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.
On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.
Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.
Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.
In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.
The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.
A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?
As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.
Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.
The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.
Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.
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