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The geopolitics of Brexit

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Brexit – sanctioned and endorsed by a mass vote for Boris Johnson’s Tories – will be the great geopolitical turning point for Europe, obtorto collo, and for the United Kingdom itself.

In fact, the decision taken by Prime Minister Cameron in June 2016 to hold a referendum already showed what would happen.

Cameron thought the referendum would silence the Tories’ Brexit wing with a stunning defeat, but – as is well-known – this has not happened.

The British Tory Prime Minister, in fact, did not achieve his goals with the negotiations in Brussels that year. As already said, David Cameron clearly thought he could give a sop and keep the Brexit- friendly Tory minority happy, but truth will out.

Let us put aside the traditional explanations about the reasons for the UK-EU break: it is not a matter of maintaining the supremacy of old Anglia over the British territories, such as Scotland, Cornwall or Wales.

This assumption is often reiterated by refined parlour geopoliticians, but it clashes with the results in Wales, where the votes in favour of leaving the EU are 52.5%, while in Northern Ireland, but especially in Scotland, the leave votes reach only 44.2% and 38%, respectively.

If anything, the pro-Europeanism of the island peripheries shows that Brexit cannot be used to “keep” Scotland and Ireland, not the other way around.

Great Britain has always renounced the European criterion of even closer union.

“We want our money back!” This is what Margaret Thatcher said at the European Council in Dublin in September 1979.

Boris Johnson’s “policy line” is exactly the same as Thatcher’s tradition.

Margaret Thatcher saw Jean Monnet-style dirigisme typical of the EU  as  a  huge  obstacle  to  her liberal  and  free-trade  project to modernise and revitalise the British economy.

Not even De Gaulle, however, wanted Great Britain within the EU. “Take your dreams of independent power and stick them up your Eiffel Tower”, as a London popular song went, after the French veto on Britain’s entry into the EU in 1963.

The fact is that France, Great Britain and Germany have all thought of the EU as a tool for their own national geoeconomic and strategic projects, unlike Italy, which has always been frantically looking for international organizations, treaties and groups to replace a national sovereignty that the Italians – after World War II – did not want and for which they were not prepared.

Moreover, what Leo Longanesi called “the waiter’s psychology” has always led our ruling classes to think that the international agreements into which Italy entered were a “gift”, a “favour”, possibly a “tip”.

It should be recalled that Great Britain did not want to be one of the Six countries which founded the European Community.

Even the pro-Europeans, like Harold Macmillan, wanted a “functional” and day-by-day approach compared to the European one, considered dangerously “federal” and basically authoritarian.

Hence, for the current Brexit voters the European Union is a real “usurper” that has too much power, despite the strong lack of democratic and electoral legitimacy.

It should be recalled that the EU was an American idea to make the economies of NATO’s European countries grow, thus maintaining national social and political stability.

Nothing more, nothing less. We will see what will happen to the EU with the US slow loss of interest in the Atlantic Alliance.

Moreover the EU has become the myth of a “third power” between the United States and the Warsaw Pact, with the creation of a single currency that has made the British financiers laugh and has outraged the United States, that find this Euro in their way, which is not a real currency, since it is not a lender of last resort, but rather mimics real currencies. Furthermore, it is also a rigid currency and hence it releases – on the factors of production – the market tensions that would otherwise affect exchange rates, as has always happened.

There were two other EU aspects that the British ruling class never liked from the beginning: the overwhelming power of the European Commission and the Court of Justice, of course, but above all the overwhelming power of France and Germany in the main decisions and on the integration progress itself.

The British obstruction to EU policies, which began in the 1980s,- a typical case of “negative leadership” – were for decades the only way for Great Britain to oppose a process that seemed inertial and, in any case, led by naturaliter anti-British powers such as France and Germany.

It is not a reflection of old gunboat geopolitics. It is a strategic assessment that is still completely exact and topical for Great Britain.

Indeed, the EU always acts as if geopolitics and the primary strategic interests of a country did not exist, covered by the roar of Beethoven’s Ninth Ode to Joy.

“All creatures drink of joy/At nature’s breasts/All the Just, all the Evil/Follow her trail of roses”.

Archetypal images, universal brotherhood, justice based on freedom of thought, concord based on Reason… a typically Masonic Ode, for the Schillerian Finale of the Ninth Symphony.

But times are now very different from Joy for the Germans defeated by Napoleon, the “world spirit on horseback”, as Hegel once described him.

Geopolitical interests, however, are either national or they are not, and the various countries’ forgetfulness of the global strategy – with the EU – was huge and very dangerous.

Also in Great Britain the visible outbreak of the rebellion against the European Union, which materialized with Brexit, was the issue of uncontrolled immigration.

For Great Britain, the mass of arrivals consists of economic migrants coming mainly from Eastern Europe, a situation that has led the British governments to restrict freedom of movement and has put the welfare system – already shrinking after Thatcher’s reforms – in great difficulty.

The 1982 Howe plan, inspired by the Iron Lady, already assumed a mandatory private health insurance, a share of contributions for State schools and a network of private clinics that would slowly replace the National Health Service (NHS).

We do not think it is reasonable to dismantle the Welfare State, but it will certainly be necessary to rethink a system that gives everything to everyone, even to the rich people, and gives everything to all newcomers, thus inevitably reducing the possibility of providing care for the poor or the now proletarianized middle class.

Instead of singing Ode to Joy, or possibly even the International, it would be better to study new systems to ensure dignity, health and good education to the poor people, but also to fund them with ad hoc taxes and fees paid by the rich people.

In our Western ideologies, we are still at the “Four Olds” against whom the ferocious and callow Maoist Red Guards polemicized: “Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas”.

Therefore, Brexit can have the effect of rethinking also the EU “old” classifications.

An EU thinking about the East only to “bring democracy” with bombs or to destabilize the whole area, believing – as happens to all fools – to do good, or possibly to pedantically follow the North American strategic interests, which are not those of Europe.

As a man of great intellectual calibre, namely Alain Finkielkraut, said, “if Angela Merkel had not let one million immigrants into Germany in 2015, there would have been no Brexit”.

Hence Britain’s mass perception of an EU destabilising the nation States that are part of Europe, probably to weaken the national political regimes, possibly in search of a supranational sovereignty that is sometimes shown in some mediocre products of mainstream culture.

Pending  Brexit,  the  EU  has  also  been  negotiating  with  Great

Britain, using its negotiating superiority to maximise its potential.

Besides maintaining the principle of the four freedoms (freedom of goods, people, services and capital), the EU wanted above all to ensure that Ireland, including Northern Ireland, remained in the EU’s trade system.

Certainly, Theresa May’s soft Brexit created great tensions within her government, thus leading to the resignation of Ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis. However, the geopolitical essence of the issue is that the hard Brexit wanted by Johnson – who triumphed in elections – is a structural rapprochement to the United States, while both Britain’s stay in the EU and soft Brexit make the country remain within the French and German strategic area.

Hence the recent electoral choice made by Great Britain implies a clear defeat for France and Germany.

President Macron had also threatened Great Britain to make it “take backseat” and trail behind if hard Brexit materialized. Hence there would be a British blockade of French fishing vessels in British waters.

The soft Brexit agreement was certainly unfavourable for Great Britain: it would no longer be free to make bilateral trade agreements and treaties with any country, without the EU authorization, with EU goods and services freely entering the UK, but not the other way round. We can imagine what would have happened to Britain’s balance of payments.

Moreover, British financial services would have had a limited chance of entering EU markets.

A slipknot.

What will the hard Brexit produce? In the meantime a sharp deterioration in the already severe economic situation in Europe.

Brexit is above all a trade war, nothing else. Probably, the “hard” Brexit will produce recession and stagnation in many European nations.

Probably the British scenario will stimulate the strong no-Euro and no-EU minorities in the Euro countries to strengthen and demand not intermediate goals, but “everything”, i.e. exit from the EU.

At least for some time, it will stop the tendency to transfer national powers to the EU and, above all, it will quickly undermine the power of the European Court of Justice vis-à-vis individual States.

The French-German project was to strengthen the traditional trade freedoms for the whole EU but, at the same time, to protect their “national champions” – and now Brexit is stopping this great operation.

Moreover, both Germany and France have always tried to “export” their labour market and welfare solutions to the rest of the EU, including to EU countries with much less tax revenue and much higher public debt, thus “damaging” possible European competitors and making their mergers & acquisitions operations in Southern Europe easier.

Currently this French-German project is over – and this is certainly not a bad thing.

Therefore, Brexit will favour a further separation between the Northern EU and the less developed Southern Euro area, not to mention the increasing separation between Central and Western Europe in terms of migration policy.

Germany can now use its differential with France to seek the support of smaller EU nations.

We will also have a medium-term scenario, which is very likely: the EU is losing much of its military potential and is no longer the second largest economy in the world, which would explain the much smaller EU budget – after Brexit – and the mounting of tension and contrast between the EU and the United States.

Furthermore, if Britain leaves the EU – as it will certainly do in the near future – it will increase Europe’s tendency to reach trade, energy and industrial agreements with the Russian Federation.

Following Brexit, the EU countries will be ever less able to make quick and effective strategic choices.

Hence Brexit is Britain’s acceptance of the fact that it wants and can play its own interests around the world, since the EU is not – if ever – a big player in the global geoeconomy.

If anything, it is a big protected market – and this is its essence, not some backup singers of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Considering that Great Britain has skilful ruling classes and brave people, it does not want to deal every step with the EU. It does not want to tie itself to a geopolitical project that it believes to have failed – and it is certainly not wrong. Finally, it does not want someone else in Brussels to prevent or favour its choices.

The EU is an assembly of accountants who believe they are a War Cabinet. The new Tory government is convinced that the faster Boris Johnson’s Brexit the more the EU will give in shamefully.

Certainly, Britain’s power projection that will materialize soon, with trade and financial agreements with the whole Commonwealth, Japan, South Korea and China will usher in a new phase of economic development in the country that, however, will be ever worse distributed.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Europe

NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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