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RECP, START and Germany´s Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Cabinet Secretariat / Via Kyodo

There are five interesting events in US-Eurasian relations: First the rejection by the Trump-USA of Putin’s offer to extend the initial START contract by 1 year and Putin’s declaration at the Valdai Club that Russia is now planning a military alliance with China and that he had no worries if China rearms itself and, like the USA and Russia, acquires 1,500 ICBMs. Second, Biden’s election victory, which at first did not result in any obligatory congratulations from Beijing and Moscow, especially since Trump got 8 million more votes than in the last election and is now aiming for a revival of his politics in 2024, with a Republican majority in the Senate and the fundamental opposition of the Republicans, he will try to paralyze and boycott Biden’s politics. The third significant event was the signing of the Pan-Asian Free Trade Area Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RECP), which China is now using to sell itself a a pioneer in matters of reliability, free trade, multilateralism and shared prosperity like the BRI’s New Silk Road.

Despite of all critical consideration of the Chinese motives, it can be said that the other Asians no longer want to wait for the USA despite Biden’s victory and don´t see the USA as a reliable partner anymore. Otherwise, they would have waited until Biden could possibly revert to the old Obama’s plans of two free trade blocs against China, the transatlantic TTIP and the transpacific TPP revived, especially since under the leadership of Japan there was a successive smaller TPP without the USA waiting for the USA to join it again after Trump and hoped for the USA to take a leading role. This apparently is not only because of the Covid crisis, China’s victory over Covid and the reboot of China´s economy, that was essential for the Asians that they joined RECP, but that the USA is still looking for some time internally to cope with the Covid crisis and especially the USA is no longer perceived by most Asians as Europeans as a reliable power in economic policy and beyond, as well as there is domestic political resistance in the USA against TPP and even if a new TPP should come about, this could be terminated with the next election of a new US president in 2024, like the Iran deal or TPP and TTIP under Trump.

That is why the pro-Western Asians, above all Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, regard China as a more reliable partner in terms of economic policy, as a force for trade and multilateralism. Whereby the western allies within RECP, above all Japan, did this to send a signal and clear message to the USA: If you want to be expelled from Asia, if you don’t want to enter into a reliable consensus between Democrats and Republicans on new transpacific free trade that will survive a Trump, you will become economically isolated. We don´t wait forever. So far, NAFTA and now the planned free trade agreement between the EU and the Latin American Mercusor were the largest free trade agreements in the world, but RECP has now completely surpassed these dimensions.

„Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, China and the 10 members of ASEAN signed a regional trade deal on Sunday covering nearly a third of the global economy, wrapping up eight years of negotiations following the withdrawal of India.The 15 signatories to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership reached the agreement, aimed at cutting tariffs and establishing common rules in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property, during a virtual leaders’ summit.RCEP — also including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea — will create Asia’s biggest free trade zone encompassing about a third of the world’s population.

It will be Japan’s first trade deal with both China, its largest trading partner, and South Korea as negotiations for a trilateral pact have yet to be concluded.Speaking to reporters after signing the deal, trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the 15 countries were seeking to wrap up domestic procedures quickly and put the pact into effect “as quickly as possible.”

“Through the tariff removals, I believe there’ll be a major impact on improving Japan’s exports and making the region’s supply chains more efficient,” Kajiyama said. “I strongly believe we are building free and fair economic rules through introducing new rules on data free flows and the banning of demands for technology transfers, as well as the protection of intellectual property.”

Supporters of the trade pact, which covers 2.2 billion people with a combined GDP of $26.2 trillion, said it will bolster pandemic-weakened economies by reducing tariffs, strengthening supply chains with common rules of origin, and codifying new e-commerce rules.

“The completion of negotiations is a strong message affirming ASEAN’s role in supporting the multilateral trade system,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said as he hosted the virtual signing ceremony. The agreement will contribute to “developing supply chains that have been disrupted due to the pandemic as well as supporting economic recovery,” he said.

Negotiators pushed the deal across the finish line after India surprised participants late last year by abandoning the agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he pulled out over concerns about how RCEP would affect the livelihoods of Indians, particularly the most vulnerable. India, though, will be allowed to rejoin the trade pact.“

The big thing at RECP is that India didn´t join it. The fear of Chinese hegemony, the protection of its own industries, especially its dairy farmers, service branch, China´s aggressive assertiveness in the Himalaya region and Ladakh, Modi´s more protectionist ideology prevented this at the moment. India has also not joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) AIIB), one of the backbones of China´s New Silkroad, resists the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and has initiated its own Silkroad by the Asian- African Economic Corridor- in cooperation with Japan and the USA. The fourth interesting aspect in US-Eurasian relations is the upgrading of the Quad. While China had undeniable success in free trade policy with RECP, the military forces against it are also regrouping. While at the economic front there are undeniable contradictions between a Trump- and Biden administration, at the military front the USA is pushing bipartisan ahead-. be it the increase of the defense budget or building of military alliances in Asia, especially the Quad, a forerunner-front for some sort of an Asian NATO. While there won´t be a US-led super command integrating all allied forces, the Quad is already not a loose alliance anymore.

„Malabar exercise that upsets China is a tectonic shift in power balance | Analysis

India has already asked its navy to start prepping to counter the China’s navy and change its orientation from diplomacy to deployment

Warships of four major Indo-Pacific democracies – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – will manoeuvre together in the Malabar naval exercise off the Goa coast on Tuesday, the second round of the war games by the QUAD countries over the last month that marks the evolution of the informal ‘QUAD’ partnership into a potential strategic alliance.

India had invited Australia to this year’s war games for the first time in more than a decade, a move that has angered President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party of China government to an extent that its mouthpiece, China Daily chided the Australian government for “aggressively sending warships to China’s doorsteps” as part of Exercise Malabar. India and Australia, however, stayed firm, a sharp contrast from 2007 when several countries that had participated in the naval exercise eventually backed down in face of China’s protests.(…)

Beijing’s approach in Ladakh has convinced India that it needs to be prepared for similar Chinese aggression in the high seas. People familiar with the matter said the government has already asked the Indian Navy to start prepping to counter the PLA Navy and change its orientation from diplomacy to deployment. The focus should be on the navy developing the capacity to be deployed from the Gulf of Eden to the Malacca Strait, and beyond.

This year’s Malabar exercise – that mirrors the deepening strategic ties within QUAD – is one step. That is why, a national security planner said, the presence of the USS Nimitz strike group and India’s INS Vikramaditya at the exercise reflects the determination of the four countries to draw red lines for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“It is a tectonic shift in the regional power balance,” he said.“

However, if one looks at the present Sino-Indian border conflict and the rising assertiveness and nationalism on both sides, it is hard to imagine, at least for the foreseeable future, a harmonious Eurasian Heartland cooperation between China, Russia and India to exist. Even if Russia tried to mediate and support India’s membership in the permanent UNSC, with China blocking all these efforts, raising doubts about a possible Eurasian world, cooperation remains quite unlikely. And while Russia has also good contacts with India beyond the BRICS and the SCO, it also didn´t like the idea that Modi accepted the invitation to Trump´s anti-Chinese G 11 idea which wanted to split the Eurasianism by the formation of an anti-China bloc including Russian, India, South Korea and Australia. While Putin didn´t react to Trump´s offer, India wanted to see what Trump can offer against China and Pakistan and also intensifies the cooperation within the Quad. While the Trump- USA offered India a G 11 participation, it also seems to propose more formal military ties. In his article “US seeks formal alliance similar to Nato with India, Japan and Australia, State Department official say “published 1 Sep, 2020 in the South Chjina Morning Post Robert Delaney writes:

“Washington’s goal is to get countries in the Indo-Pacific region to work together as a bulwark against ‘a potential challenge from China’, says the US official. He says the four nations are expected to meet in Delhi sometime this autumn.“

As the world is in a transition period to a more multipolar world and a struggle between the weakened USA and the rising China, strategic balancing becomes the new normal as Indian General Asthana once claimed.

Therefore and after the rejection by the Trump-USA for his prolongation of START, Putin now threatens the West and the rest of Asia with a Chinese-Russian military alliance. However, the question would be what Putin could offer China. How should he support China in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, Taiwan? Would he send an aircraft carrier against the USA or some vessels or airforce or threaten the USA with his ICBMs or start a conflict in Europe to overstretch the US military? Or deliver oil and gas if the Malakka Street should be blocked for China´s energy imports? But therefore some new pipelines have to be built and that will take some time. At the moment Putin´s declaration seems more than a pressure instrument than a real plan, even if China and Russia want a multipolar world, but Russia doesn´t want to become a colony of China..

The new and fifth moment is the Indo-Pacific strategy of the German government which shall become the blueprint for a European Indo-Pacific strategy. However, the term Indo-Pacific was first created by the USA and the Trump administration. It replaced the old geographical concept of the Asia-Pacific. Under Trump the Indo- Pacific strategy pronounced an economic decoupling and containment strategy against China. The German Indo-Pacific strategy pronounces that decoupling and containment and confrontation with China was not desirable. Germany had to see that Asia is the new center of world politics and the world economy and that Germany had to realize this.

Germany should reduce its dependence from China, diversify its economic and political relations and focus on the ASEAN which were also the frontrunner for RECP in Asia. But also use the leverage for strengthening a value-based, ecological, multilateral policy and have even an inclusive approach towards China, but not as main centre of all German foreign policy perspective. As an export nation, Germany had also to support the freedom of navigation in the open seas and even militarily support this goal and like-minded allies. In the German version Indo-Pacific doesn´t mean a defined geographical area, but a geopolitical and geoeconomic space. While the French government already had a Indo-Pacific strategy and already send some military ships to this region, , even to the Malaba drills, Great Britain is building a new naval base in Singapur along the already existing US naval base. German defense minister Anngeret Kramp- Karrenbauer already proposed to send German military ships to the Indo- Pacific and to build and support alliances with Indo-Pacific partners, especially Australia.

The German government wants to push its Indo-Pacific strategy within the EU and to integrate it with the French Indo-Pacific strategy to design an EU Indo-Pacific strategy. NATO for the first time declared China as a new challenge for the transatlantic military alliance. It remains to be seen if Germany´s plans for an Indo-Pacific strategy will see a unilateral approach which is unlikely or a European pillar, militarily relying on Frech and German vessels, maybe even with British as it seems unlikely that a Global NATO will appear or NATO extends its reach to the Indo-Pacific. As European ships in the Indo-Pacific are more a symbolic act than real militarily decisive hard power, it remains to be seen if they will join the Quad drills or the Malaba maneuvers and the East Europeans won´t like that idea too much as they perceive this as a distraction from the European NATO front against Russia and have to be convinced by other incentives for NATO. Another big project will be a EU-ASEAN free trade agreement after the EU already signed FTAs with Japan, Singapur and Vietnam and is negotiating with Indonesia at the moment.

Due to Trumpism, in the Biden-USA the old engagement policy is over and will be replaced by congagement, while it is still debated what this term means in reality, how much the elements of engagement and containment will be pronounced. As Madeleine Albright already proposed a Community of Democracies and John Mc Cain wanted a League of Democracies, Biden spoke of an Alliance of Democracies. However, in the past, these mostly were pipe dreams which never materialized and critics think that this value-based approach prevents cooperation of the USA with non-democratic states as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia or Turkey and would narrow the scope of US influence and alliance building.

However, it remains to be seen if the German words and deeds fit together. An article in the Falungong newspaper Epoch Times, one of the most popular Chinese opposition organs which wants to topple the CP China perceives the new German Indo-Pacific strategy not as a real cut and diversification of Germany´s and Europe´s dependence from China but see it more as a continuation of the former appeasement and engagement policy. It asks whether this strategy can be taken seriously while BASF, Daimler, BMW and Siemens are expanding their investments in China and not redirecting it to other regions and countries.

However, the German mainstream newspaper FAZ calls the Indo-Pacific strategy a „warning signal to China“. As the RECP, India´s approachment to the Quad and Putin´s remarks at the Valdai Club , there seem to be more warning signals from all sides in the transition period for a more multipolar world.

From our partner RIAC

Political Scientist (diploma) , Open Source Analyst, Chinese-German translator, based in Munich, Germany

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Geopolitics For Giants And Dwarfs

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PHOTO: Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia / Marko Beljan, NATO

Authors:  Zlatko Hadžidedić and Adnan Idrizbegović

June 2021 was far more than just dynamic in terms of global politics: President Biden’s inaugural foreign visit was organized as a coordinated gathering of the most relevant Western institutions, from G7 to NATO, to which he added the introductory meeting with the leader of the American main  geopolitical adversary, Vladimir Putin. President Biden devoted the first months of his mandate to the healing of wounds inflicted to the American society by the previous Administration of President Donald Trump, and the June campaign was practically his first foreign policy step. Given the fact that the participation of the G7 countries in the world economic output has dramatically shrinked from the 80% to 40% in only a couple of decades, which has eventually led to the decline of cohesion forces amongst the NATO allies, it becomes clear that Biden’s effort was meant to be no less than a rehabilitation of the entire Western enterprise. In the context of the Chinese economic surge and geopolitical expansion, perceived by the US foreign policy establishement as a lethal threat, the G7 and NATO summits were no less than an attempt to forge a new strategy of containment, potentially far more important to the West than the original one against the Soviet Union. At the same time, the meeting with the Russian President served to restore the previous Cold War security settings and reinstate Russia as a global power, so as to stimulate the latter to refrain from active participation in the West’s forthcoming collision with China. In this collision, the boundaries between economic clash and military conflict are becoming blurred and fade away, which suggests that these summits and meetings should be perceived as a single event. And, by its magnitude and strategic importance, this event can be compared only to the historic 1943 Tehran Conference between Roosevelt, Churchhill, and Stalin.

When the traditional policies have become worn out and the revolutionary ones proposed by President Trump have proved to be a failure, and when a decisive reshuffling of long-term strategy is being made, no degree of discord is allowed among those who aspire to remain on the Western side of the world: consensus is the only mode of operation. And, a consensus among the G7 and NATO members is what President Biden came to rebuild, since it had been disrupted by centrifugal geopolitical trends, such as America First, Brexit and Neo-Ottomanism. After Trump’s “America first!“, Biden’s “America is back!“ clearly represents a U-turn and puts the US back at the pedestal as the indispensable leader of the “Free World“. A lack of enthusiasm amongst the European countries for the renewed American leading role was also as transparent as Biden’s intentions: during the Trump era, the Europeans enjoyed in a self-made image of their own importance as a global player, despite the obvious lack of courage and ability to act as an independent factor. Therefore, Biden had to demonstrate the will and power to execute the new American strategy, whatever the Europeans may think of that. Simply, at the moment of new geopolitical positioning, when the “US versus Them“ becomes the only available model again, there is no place for nominal allies to play their own game. Now, it is the West that cannot afford duality or pluralism: monolithic unity is obligatory, as it once upon a time was proclaimed in the East, by the old communist regimes, now with the US as the “avantgarde“ and the European countries as the “satelite states“ within the system of “limited sovereignty“. It is not a surprise that Biden had no choice but to come up with such a vision of the world in this very moment; and it is not a surprise, either, that the Europeans had no choice but to eventually submit to it: having promoted China into a “systemic adversary“, one that successfully exploits the current neoliberal system to its own advantage, the West had no choice but to start changing the rules of the system, and such a gigantic operation could only be performed with absolute unanimity within the Western world. Preferably, with a relatively neutral Russia in between two future economic systems – the Chinese-led neoliberal one and the US-led yet-to-be-defined one.      

So, a new geopolitical and geoeconomic mapping of the world had to be tailored under the condition of unanimity. For that purpose, all G7 and NATO members had to liquidate their mutual disputes, including those countries which were engaged in ‘eternal conflicts’, such as Greece and Turkey. And then, on the stage set for a consensus and closing the ranks, enter Zoran Milanović, president of one of NATO’s latest and least powerful newcomers, Croatia. According to the official website of the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia,  

After the NATO Summit, President Milanović gave press statements, saying that he was satisfied with the meeting, but also worried because of what took place with the closing statement and the paragraph on Bosnia and Herzegovina where – until the intervention by Croatia – the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, better known as the Dayton Agreement, was not mentioned. “We will have to check what is behind that, and how come that some members undermine and overtly obstruct efforts to make mention of the Dayton Accords in the paragraph on Bosnia and Herzegovina, an integral part of the final document, as if that were something toxic,” said President Milanović, adding that he managed to ensure the insertion of this reference at the last moment. “That is a warning sign. Had I failed to do that, we would have had a statement which would look like as if it had been written by an advocate of the so-called civic Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that cause is ostensibly noble but is actually a hoax,” he said.  Asked by reporters whether the Republic of Croatia can be satisfied with the changes in the document, President Milanović reiterated: “We managed to incorporate the need for electoral reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina into the communiqué. It wasn’t there. To exclude this rather manipulative reference to all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which in any other context would sound very noble and well-intentioned, but not in this context, and yes, to finally force them to insert in the text the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And none of that was there until yesterday afternoon,” he said. “Why is it important that the Dayton Agreement is at least mentioned in the statement? Because otherwise there are no Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now we come to the question of whether that is important. It is to me,” said President Milanović. (…) “What interests me in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole and a country with its territorial integrity, which I never bring into question, is the destiny and the fundamental voting rights and citizens’ rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croats, of whom the lion’s share are citizens of Croatia. This is a fact that was politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our accession to these associations. It’s not a hoax. It’s simply a burden or pearls with which we entered these organizations, it depends how one looks at it. That is a political, legal, historical fact – 500,000 citizens of one NATO member, the Republic of Croatia, live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As far as we are concerned, they should stay there, but they are Croats and there is dialogue here and compromise,” said the Croatian President.

Thus Milanović, yes, finally forced NATO to insert in its joint declaration his reference to the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it is important to him. One should bear in mind that Croatia, just like Serbia, signed this Agreement in 1995 as a party which fought the war on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. Having signed the Agreement, whose author, guarantor and enforcer is the United States, both Croatia and Serbia took an obligation to refrain from violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and from interfering with its internal affairs. However, according to his official website, the President of Croatia says that he is particularly interested in “the fundamental voting rights and citizens’ rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croats, of whom the lion’s share are citizens of Croatia“. He also explains that “500.000 citizens of one NATO member, the Republic of Croatia, live in Bosnia and Herzegovina“, and that “this is a fact that was politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our (Croatia’s) accession to these associations“.

A number of questions logically arise from this statement. First, how can citizens of Croatia have the right to vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Do these citizens of Croatia pay taxes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or in Croatia? Do they have the right to vote and be elected in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina? If they vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina, do they – as citizens of Croatia – promote interests and execute the policy of Croatia? If these 500.000 citizens of Croatia occupy the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, do they act as an occupying force of Croatia in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Does the promotion of Croatian citizens’ right to vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina represent a violation of the very Agreement signed in 1995 by Croatia, of non-violation of sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and non-interference in the latter’s internal affairs? Finally, one should ask: what principles does NATO stand for and promote, if it accepts Croatia into its membership, knowing that Croatia’s policy of granting its citizenship to 500.000 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina stands against all the principles of political theory and constitutional and international law upon which all NATO members – other than Croatia – are built? What makes Croatia so special as to be exempted from the basic NATO and EU principles, and what gives Croatia’s President the power to fracture the consensus that was painfully shaped at the NATO Summit in June 2021 and to force NATO to eventually accept his vision of inter-state relations? True, there was an attempt by NATO’s Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, to persuade Milanović in a direct phone conversation to refrain from imposing his own conditions on NATO as a whole; yet, according to Milanović’s website, Stoltenberg failed in that effort.  

If one puts Milanović’s statement into a broader historical context, it should also be noted that his vision of ‘mother-country’s care’ for its ethnic brethren within the borders of other states strongly resembles Hitler’s vision of Germany’s ‘care’ for Germans in the Sudetes and Alsace-Lorraine and Milošević’s vision of Serbia’s ‘care’ for Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Again, the question is to what extent such visions can be compatible with the principle of defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity, upon which NATO was founded? Moreover, Croatia’s policy advocated by Milanović is practically identical with Putin’s policy of granting Russian passports to ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine and live in the Donbas region. Whereas Putin’s policy was quickly proclaimed “a new act of aggression against Ukraine“ by NATO officials, they have patiently ignored Croatia’s long-term policy of granting its passports to citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, even though – as Milanović confirms it – this fact was “politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our (Croatia’s) accession to these associations“.

From a geopolitical perspective, both Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina are countries that aspire to become NATO members. In these efforts, Ukraine is being undermined by Putin’s strategy of making it a permanently fractured state, with one of its parts being directly controlled by Russia through the policy of granting passports to ethnic Russians in Donbas and making them Russia’s Trojan Horse in the Ukrainian territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been put in the same fractured position by Croatia’s permanent undermining of its sovereignty, including the policy of granting Croatia’s passports to ethnic Croats in Herzegovina and using them as Croatia’s Trojan Horse in the Bosnian territory. No doubt, NATO is willing and able to confront Putin in his policy against Ukrainian sovereignty and its accession to NATO. The question is why it is not willing and able to confront Milanović, a president of its member-state, even when he is promoting his policy against Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and accession to NATO through his publicly advertised blackmailing of NATO?

Given the intimate relationship between Russian capital and Croatia’s economy and their business oligarchies, it is not unlikely that Putin has already taken Milanović’s advice in the process of shaping the strategy against Ukraine’s accession to NATO. However, perhaps even Xi Jinping would find it useful to learn from Milanović how one can break NATO’s consensus and impose his will instead.          

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Fostering Tolerance in Europe: Issues of Migration and Populism in Italy

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Authors: Maxim Sigachev and Elena Elena*

Tolerance remains a complicated issue in the West and Russia alike. The challenge, though, remains in the need to account for the connection between the notions of tolerance, social security, and the development of the society. The West tends to adopt a broader perspective on tolerance when compared to Russian practices. In Europe, the notions of ‘tolerance’ is informed by ‘active cooperation’ rather than merely ‘patience’, as is the case in Russia.

There are at least four dimensions to this issue in Europe:

  • that of the EU’s regulatory programs;
  • that of local communities;
  • that of European societies at large;
  • that of populism and Euroscepticism, which is believed to be the source of intolerance towards migrants and refugees.

This article is devoted to the problem of the social and political crises in Italy, which have been caused by pan-European problems (i.e., migration, anti-EU attitudes of the public) and strengthened by the national Italian conflicts (the gap between the Northern and the Southern regions, debates between the Left and the Right opposition, the rise of the populist parties etc.).

Social and political discrepancies in Italy

As a part of the EU, Italy has to get through the complex processes of adaptation to a life in a supranational union, which includes profound transformations in socio-economic, cultural, and even religious spheres. If we analyze the election agenda used by the Italian populist parties in the European elections 2019 campaign, we will notice the strong anti-EU discourse and a deep disappointment in the EU politics. Being part of the EU is conceived as a loss of independence. Further, we can notice the increasing deficit of tolerance in many spheres: religious, sociocultural, ethnic, ideological.

Research on the contemporary European political parties notes that Eurosceptical spirit is strong in developing economies and advanced economies (as is the case with Germany and the UK) alike[1]. Thus, Italy’s crises are not necessarily unique but can be found across the Western world as well.

The crisis of Western world order manifests itself on, at least, three levels:

  1. the supranational level: the rise of the Euroscepticism, which is represented in the lack of tolerance and mistrust towards the European Union as an institution.
  2. the national level: the rise of the national populism, which identifies the crisis of multiculturalism in the European nations, zero tolerance to immigrants (the European migrant crisis or refugee crisis of 2015–2018) and refugees as bearers of alien culture, a so-called exclusive nationalism.
  3. the economic level: further strengthening of social populism movements, which signify the end of the European welfare state.

The European societies are characterized by a growing alienation between the rich and the poor, the elites and the people, the establishment and the middle class.

The idea of social and political divisions was first proposed by Stein Rokkan, who studied the existing divisions between political parties that are caused by cleavages between the center and the periphery, the city and the village, etc.

Rokkan’s theory was developed by Paul Lazarsfeld, who studied electoral behavior and stated that “people vote not only for their own social group but also in favor of it”[2].

According to S. Rokkan, the European party system was developed on the foundation of existing social conflicts. Rokkan also formulated the basic lines of conflicts such as “center—periphery”, “state—church”, “employee—employer”, “city—country”. The social discrepancies of the Lipset-Rokkan theory were built on by French political scientist D.-L. Seiler in the work Whether it is possible to apply the clivages of Rokkan to Central Europe?

We can use this theory to explain the stability of the European political systems in the second half of the 20th century and electoral behavior of the Europeans.

Among the notable works on the cleavage theory are R. Rose and D. Urwin Persistence and Change in Western party systems since 1945 [3] S. Wolinetz The Transformation of Western European Party System Revisited [4]M. Abrams, R. Rose and R. Hinden[5], G. Evans and S. Whitefield The Evolution of Left and Right in Post-Soviet Russia [6].

Russian scientists rarely study the Italian political system and electoral behavior in the frameworks of the cleavage theory, as they usually study the different aspects of the political life in their research papers. There are some fundamental works that attempt to analyze facts and knowledge of Italian political thought from the perspective of the communist ideology. Cecilia Kin divided the liberal political thought into purely liberal and catholic in her work Italy at the turn of the century. From the history of social political thought, K.G. Kholodkovsky and I.B. Levin compared the Italian Socialist and Communist parties.[7]

The basic factors of social political crisis in contemporary Italy

The basic factors of the social political crisis in modern Italy can be divided into two groups. The first group includes socio-political divisions of a more historical, traditional character, whereas the second group consists of relatively new, contemporary collisions.

The North-South Divide

The contemporary socio-political crisis in Italy originates from the long-term and unfinished division between the North and the South, which has not been overcome since the Italian Risorgemento (unification) in 1861. Historically less developed Southern Italy has always faced serious difficulties. The process of modernization in Southern Italy is ongoing, the standard of living still pales in comparison to wealthy Northern regions. According to the Soviet-Russian researcher K.G. Kholodkovsky, Italy still suffers from the fact that different parts of the country existed as separate states for centuries. The most important consequence of this Italian historic disunity is economic and cultural gaps between the North and the South[8].

Polarization between the Left and the Right

The ideological conflict between the Right-wing and the Left-wing political forces also has historically contingent roots and goes back to the period of Risorgimento. In 19th century, the two leading political movements—republicans and monarchists—vied for leadership of a newly unified Italy.

One group of politicians led by Giuseppe Mazini tried to establish a Republican Republic, which was supported by the socialist-utopist Carlo Pisacane. Their ideas became the ideological basement for the Italian republicanism. The second group advocated for a monarchy and was led by Camillo Cavour who would later become Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy. Those advocating for monarchy provided a base for conservative right-wing sentiments/ideology.

In the 20th century, there was a divide between fascists and anti-fascists. Those who supported Mussolini espoused conservative views. The anti-fascist coalition united a broad spectrum of political movements including democrats, socialists, and communists.

Today it is impossible to claim that the contemporary Italian Left and Right are descendants of that original opposition, but ideological divides are still a prominent feature of Italian politics.

It would be more correct to divide the Italian parties not only along their preferences of political system but along their attitude toward traditional values as well. Today, political parties on the Right tend to be more nationally oriented and Eurosceptic. They typically advocate for traditional values and greater autonomy from EU Commission directives. They are also staunch opponents of high levels of migration from outside the EU.

The Left is more loyal to the EU and the benefits provided to Italy by its institutions. They also support more progressive economic and family policies. A key difference between left and right in Italy is migration. The left tends to be more tolerant of migrants and refugees and advocate for the integration of migrants into Italian society.

Thus, while the division between the Left and the Right has weakened, it certainly still remains intact. Due to the particularities of the national election law, it is difficult to get the majority of the vote needed and enough seats in the Italian Parliament to form the Cabinet of Ministers. Subsequently, this problem forces the Italian parties to create different coalitions to secure seats in the Parliament. These coalitions are often characterized by the ideology of party members (center-right, right-wing, etc.). This changed in 2013 when a new political party, the 5 Stars Movement, uprooted the traditional political spectrum. Now, there is no pure center-right or center-left coalition. Coalitions have become more volatile as ideological divides become deeper as compared to the situation of ten years ago. For example, the right-wing coalition which included Forza Italia! (S. Berlusconi), Fratelli d’Italia (G. Meloni) and the Northern League (M. Salvini) won the parliamentary elections of 2018. Despite this result, the far-right League abandoned its ideological partners to form a Coalition Cabinet with the Five Stars Movement which cannot be defined as entirely Left or Right-wing.

New collisions

Recently (in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century), new collisions emerged: Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists, populists vs. traditional political parties, the supporters of migrants vs. opponents of mass immigration (as well as the division between migrants and local communities).

Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists

The growth of Euroscepticism in Italy can be attributed to a crisis in relations between the European Union and Italy as well as disappointment from the Italian society in the EU.

Since 1957, Italy has been a strong advocate for greater European integration, however, recently Italy has begun to transform into one of the Euroscepticism centers. According to the sociological data of Eurobarometer, about 50 per cent of the Italian society is disappointed with the European Union.

The question about the relation between Euroscepticism and populism is an intellectual challenge. On the one hand, Eurosceptics are mainly populist movements: not only the anti-immigrant League but also The Five Star Movement. On the other hand, Euroscepticism has been typical for classical Italian communists—the heirs of the Communist party of Italy. Besides, old populism of Berlusconi is more euro-optimistic than the new populism of Salvini.

Particularities of the relations between Italy and the European Union are based on a disagreement in two key issues: immigration policy and the social economic policy.

Populists vs. Traditional Political Parties

One of the results of this political crisis is the growth of social and political populism. Weinstein noted that there are a few approaches to the phenomenon of populism. According to these approaches, a hybrid phenomenon seems to exist in different dimensions: as an ideology, as a specific style of politics, and as a specific form of political organization.[9] The Italian populism started with Silvio Berlusconi coming to power in 1994. Berlusconi is perceived as the founding father of Italian populism, who managed to unite center-right forces. K.G. Kholodkovsky underlines that “populism has in new conditions become a complex of sense and values, uniting many Italians in being connected with the illusion of personalistic overcoming of the gap between authorities and citizens. The breaking of the barriers between the authorities and the people has found its personification in the figure of the uniter of the center-right forces Sylvio Berlusconi”[10] As noted previously, the rise of Berlusconi came against the background of the collapse of Christian Democratic and the Communist parties. This fact reflects an important feature of populism:

  1. Populism is a consequence of the crisis of the traditional party system, the disappointment with classical parties and party leaders.
  2. Populism has overcome the traditional division between the Left and the Right.
  3. Populist parties are often reliant on a strong leader with a distinct character.

Pro-migrants vs. Anti-migrants

The migrant crisis manifested itself most significantly in Southern Italy, since the coast of the Italian South is the closest to the North Africa. From a geographical perspective, this fact has turned the Southern part of Italy (especially the island of Lampedusa) into a gate from Africa to Europe for immigration. The immigration issue is not a new one for Italy. There were several waves of internal migration from the Southern to the more economically developed Northern regions. This process fostered resentment between citizens from different parts of the country. However, the European immigration crises as well as burgeoning crowds transformed this internal cleavage into an external one.

The intensification of the migrant crisis in Italy and in the European Union has been reflected in public opinion. According to Eurobarometer, about half of Italians consider immigration as the most important problem for the European Union, whereas another half of the Italian society cites terrorism as the most important dilemma. This fact also demonstrates that Italians are anxious about the consequences of the immigration crisis, because illegal immigration is one of the factors of the growing terrorist threat. According to the Eurobarometer spring 2016 data, 44% of Italians pointed immigration as the most important problem of the European Union. By autumn 2016, this number rose to 49,1%, by spring 2017—fell to 40%, then in autumn 2017—fell again to 38%, by autumn 2018—rose to 41%.

The growth of anti-immigrant sentiments in the Italian society has led to the emergence of the new nationalism, which is typical not only for the poorer regions but also for the richer ones. The figurehead of new nationalism in Italian politics is the League, formerly the League of the North, which has changed its name to appeal to broader segments of Italian society.

Thus, the migrant crisis has added a new collision between migrants and Italians. The problem of illegal migration became an accelerator of the existing Italian conflicts rather than an entirely new phenomenon. Illegal immigration has essentially accelerated these already-existing Italian conflicts.

Conclusion

Economy and culture are the two principal ingredients of the Italian mindset and are sources of intense socio-political divisions, as economic reasons lead to a rise of new divisions, as well as feeding traditional ones.

Economic crises lead to social and political crises. Nowadays, Italian voters are disillusioned with the existing political order giving way to new and less ideologically driven parties. Yet, these parties’ first years in power have demonstrated their weakness in taking action to overcome the existing crisis.

For example, under Giuseppe Conte’s First Cabinet, known as “yellow-green government of change” (due to the colors of the League and the Five Star Movement), inter-coalition conflict between Salvini and Di Maio led to a significant political crisis, creating a weaker position for the Five Star Movement and the ambitions of the League’s leader Matteo Salvini for domination. On September 5, 2019, Conte’s Second Cabinet was formed, usually referred to as the “yellow-red government”, because it was supported by the “yellow” M5S and the center-left “red” Democratic party.

The internal political situation in Italy remains unstable, which also results in instability of its foreign policy. Irrefutably, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed significantly to the Italian political crisis. On February 13, 2021, the dilemma peaked when Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte stated he would resign from office. Pro-European technocrat Mario Draghi became the newest Prime Minister of Italy in the wake of Conte’s resignation. Draghi leads a unity government consisting of mainstream political parties and populist parties such as the League and M5S. This government only failed to garner support of the far-right Brothers of Italy.

Although Draghi has enjoyed widespread support throughout the coronavirus crisis, in the post-covid world there are long-term prospects for conflict between Italy and the EU and between Italy’s internally divided political system.

*Elena Elena, PhD student at the Institute of Socio-Political Research under the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISPR RAS)

From our partner RIAC

  1. Kranert M. Populist elements in the election manifestoes of AfD and UKIP, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 67 (3), XXX–XXX. DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2019-0023
  2. Akhremenko A. S. “Social delimitations and structures of the electoral space of Russia” – Social Sciences and the Present, 2007, № 4.
  3. R. Richard, D. Urwin. Persistence and Change in Western party systems since 1945, Po-litical Studies, v. 18 Issue 3, September 1970.
  4. Wolinetz S. The Transformation of Western European Party System Revisited. – West European Politics, 1979, v. 2, №1.
  5. Abrams M, Rose R, Hinden R. Must Labor Lose? Harmondsworth, 1960.
  6. Evans G., Whitefield S. The Evolution of Left and Right in Post=Soviet Russia. – Eu-rope=Asia Studies, 1998, v. 50, № 6, p. 1023-1042.
  7. Kholodkovsky K. G. Labor movement in Italy (1959 – 1963). Moscow, 1969. (In Russ.) / Levin I. B. Labor movement in Italy. 1966-1976 Problems and trends of the strike struggle. Moscow, 1983. (In Russ.)
  8. Kholodkovsky K. G. The changing political image of Italy. – Italy at the beginning of the 21st century (collection of articles following the conference). Moscow, 2015. (In Russ.)
  9. Weinstein G.I. Populism – Identity: Personality, Society, Politics. Encyclopaedic Edition. Moscow, 2017. (In Russ.)
  10. Kholodkovsky K. G. The changing political image of Italy. – Italy at the beginning of the 21st century (collection of articles following the conference). Moscow, 2015. (In Russ.)

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American diplomacy’s comeback and Bulgaria’s institutional trench war

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Even though many mainstream media outlets have not noticed it, US diplomacy has staged a gran comeback in the Balkans. The Biden administration chose Bulgaria as the stage on which to reaffirm America’s hold on the region. Putting strong sanctions on Bulgarian oligarch, Washington is signalling not-so subtly to Russia that its reach goes far and wide. But there are sensible implication for the little South-Eastern European country’s future as well. Perhaps, the fight against systemic corruption is finally reaching its apogee. Could this be the end of misgovernance?

A corrupted country — Introduction

Many argue that corruption in Bulgaria and South-Eastern Europe is but a remnant of national Communist Parties’ half-century long rule. Thus, the EU’s threat to metaphorically swap the carrot for the ­­stick should have favoured a thorough clean-up. Instead, it merely yielded some short-term successes for anti-corruption campaigners, activist judges and specialised procurators. Yet, State capture and malpracticesremain endemic for one reason or another amongst post-socialist countries inside and outsidethe Union. More specifically, these efforts were vain and Bulgaria was still ill-equippedwhen it joined the Union on January 1, 2007. Hence, Brussels allowed in a deeply corrupted country where hidden interest behold even those occupying the highest echelons of power.

If not membership in the European Union, at least internal politics could have helped the country fend off endemic maladministration. Yet, the status quo has preserved itself intact despite calls and promises to root out corruption having been getting louder. In a sense, corruption’s pervasiveness is a feature and not a bug embedded in Bulgaria’s imperfect liberal free-market democracy. These conservative – and, in a sense, perverting – forces have found their embodiment in Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his associates. Therefore, governmental agencies, political parties, courts and the entire extant structure of power contribute to prevent any change.

The wind of change: Popular unrest and institutional trench war

That notwithstanding, the proverbial ‘wind of change’ may have begun to lash across Bulgaria in summer 2020. After having taken to the streets against the party of power’s abuses and failures, voters abandoned Borisov in the April 2021 elections. Conversely, new parties and loose coalitions of civil-society organisations, formed shortly before the contest, won a relative majority of preferences. And, as many analysts noticed, these newcomers do not share much besides the desire to “dismantle the Borisov system”.

Nonetheless, these new actors failed to form a governing coalition due to the heterogeneity and inherent negativity of their agendas. Thus, President Rumen Radev scheduled new elections on July 11 and appointed a caretaker government.

Political reconfigurations

Indeed, there is an institutional custom prescribing such cabinets to limit their activities to managing current affairs. Nonetheless, these technocrats – many of whom supported Radev in his feud with Borisov – started an extensive review of past governments. In the process, the cabinet reshuffledbureaucracies, suspended Sofia airport’s concession and halted other public tenders for suspected irregularities. More importantly, the ministry of interior has confirmed prior suspects that Borisov-appointed officers may have illegally wiretapped opposition politicians.

In a word, President Radev’s ministers are endeavouring to tear apart the ‘Borisov system’ before the next elections. However, simply ousting most – or even all – of the previous government’s men in key positions within State apparatuses is uncomplicated. Especially when pushing such an agenda is the President,with the palpable backing of an absolute majority of the population. But the Borisov system has also an economic component. In fact, the party of power has set up a tentacular network of supportive oligarchs funding and favourable media coverage. Putting them out of the game is equally, if not more, important than firing bureaucrats — but also much more difficult.

Chasing the oligarchs

In other words, undoing the Borisov system’s appointments and putting trustworthy officers in those posts in just the first step. But real change requires leaving the wealthy individuals and organisations benefitting from the status quo clawless and teethless. Such a task entails deep economic transformations that would surely evoke immense opposition from powerful pressure groups. Evidently, there is not enough time before Bulgarians vote again and their representatives pick up a new executive. But the caretaker government is powerless in front of Bulgaria ‘s condemnation to persistent corruption no matter what.

On the contrary, the government has endeavoured to chase and derail some of these Borisov-connected oligarch. For instance, the finance minister appointed an Audit Committee with the task of reviewing the Bulgarian Development Bank’s (BBR) activities. As a result, the public discovered that oligarchs had steered the BBR away from its mandate of supporting small companies. In fact, eight large private companies have received more than half of the BRR’s total credits or ca. €473 million. On average, each of them has borrowed almost €60mln — and “this is not a small and medium business. In addition, these companies borrowed against a 2% rate instead of the average 5–7%. Following this leak, the Minister of Finance fired the entire board of the BBR. He also instructed the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) to appoint a new directorate.

The US strike back

Quite surprisingly, the United States has just given Radev and his government a valuable assist. On June 2, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned several “individuals for their extensive roles in corruption”. In first instance, the sanctions target Vasil Bozhkov, a Bulgarian businessman currently hiding in Dubaito escape an arrest warrant for accusation of bribery; Delyan Peevski, prominent figure of and former member of the Parliament for the predominantly Turk Dvizhenie za Prava i Svobodi as well as the owner/controller four of the companies involved in the BBR’s scandal;  and Ilko Zhelyazkov, former appointee to the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices. Secondarily, the US have sanctioned “their networks encompassing 64 entities” with which no transaction in dollars is possible.

The US chose to hit Bulgaria, a NATO ally, with “the single largest action targeting corruption to date”. On the one hand, this falls within the boundaries of the current administration’s effort to restore America’s moral stewardship. More to the point, one may interpret the sanctions as a not-so/veiled message to Russia — which heavily influences Bulgarian politics. Still, those who had been looking at US-Bulgaria bilateral relations should have expected a similar decision. After all, the sanctions came after US ambassador Herro Mustafa’s reiterated criticisms of pervasive corruption in the country. Mustafa has also refused symbolically to meet Chief Public Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who embodies systemic corruption in Bulgaria.

Consequently, the game has scaled up to a whole new quality now. The BNB barred all Bulgarian banks to entertain commercial relationships with people under US sanctions. Moreover, the BNB had already froze some of Peevvski’s, Bozhkov’s and Zhelyazkov’s deposits, means of payment, and assets earlier. However, after the OFAC’s decision, the block extended to their entire network of affiliates and related entities.

Conclusion: The US are reclaiming the Balkans, and it may not be bad for Bulgarians

Officially, corruption’s malign influence on democracy provides the US with a moral justification to sanction any corrupt individua. Namely, the Treasury argues that it

undermines the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; ha[s] devastating impacts on individuals; weaken[s] democratic institutions; degrade[s] the rule of law; perpetuate[s] violent conflicts; facilitate[s] the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  

Surely, the soon-to-come meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also played a role in this decision.

Yet, the sanctions’ timing suggests that there might be other forces at play. Rather, it seems that Washington decided to pick a side in the ongoing institutional trench war between Presidency and Government.

From Bulgaria’s perspective, even though most American media have not noticed it, the impression is quite clear. To quote President Biden: “America is back, diplomacy is back”. Specifically, this resurgence has a special meaning in the Balkans, a region of immense relevance for Europe’s energy security. Concretely, the US is taking the lead in the West’s effort to keep China, Russia, and Turkey out.

True, whether this external support will suffice for Bulgaria to finally eradicate corruption is debatable. Nevertheless, the US’s return may spur a positive competition dynamic in which Washington and Brussels compete for limited normative power. If this was the case, increase international pressures on Bulgaria to limit corruption may reach a breaking point relatively soon. At which point, either a fundamental shift will take place; or Bulgarian elites will entrench further

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