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Belt and Road 2013 – 2020: “the roads” of improvements- Lessons for Europe

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Implementing of the BRI in Europe has shown, that the CEE countries, along with the PRC and the EU, should also make an efforts to improve the Sino – European dialogue within initiative. Countries of the Eastern borders of CEE, nevertheless, are also playing an important role in this relation by creating the possible passes through their territories to the logistics of CEE region

Intensification of Dialogue and cooperation

An important starting point for improved coordination of the two policies is greater clarity on the definition of the BRI. The CEE and the EU is not in a position to initiate such studies unilaterally, not least because they would require information from a number of countries along the relevant BRI corridors, as well as from China. However, the EU could encourage their development through the framework of the “Connectivity Platform”. This would require the establishment of an Expert Group to identify key BRI corridors and to collect relevant information from the countries in which they lie.

The analysis of potential future traffic flows suggests that the first study should focus on the New Eurasian Land Bridge Corridor connecting with the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor of the TEN-T. This would require dialogue with other organizations already engaged in the development of rail transport routes in Eurasia, in particular CAREC. It would also require engagement with organizations such as UNIFE, representing manufacturers of rail equipment, with an interest in the promotion and application of EU standards beyond its borders.

Logistics and infrastructure coordination of TEN-T project with Chinese initiative

The analysis of BRI-related traffic flows suggested that the BRI could generate additional rail freight of approximately 3 million TEU (equivalent to 50 – 60 trains per day or 2 – 3 trains per hour each way) between the Far East and the EU by 2040. Subsequently, it was concluded that the most likely TEN-T corridor to be required to accommodate this traffic would be the North SeaBaltic Core Network Corridor.

It is not expected that the BRI changes patterns of shipping traffic materially other than to reduce slightly the volume of freight entering the EU via the North Sea Ports. Any effect might be offset by a growth in the shipment of BRI-generated freight across the North Sea to the UK and Ireland. Nevertheless, it should be noted that maritime trade between China and the EU is already well-established, and that it is not possible to forecast possible changes in related trade patterns as a result of the BRI.

Given these results, and taking account of the uncertainties surrounding the definition and evolution of the BRI, recommendations to address particular constraints or bottlenecks on TEN-T beyond those already highlighted by the corridor studies would be premature. In the absence of greater clarity on the scope and priorities of the BRI, there is a risk that the development of specific investment projects designed to accommodate more traffic on the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor, for example, would prove either inadequate or redundant.

At the same time, the TEN-T Corridor Studies should be reviewed and developed periodically as the work of the “Connectivity Platform” progresses and the BRI is defined more clearly. This would require TEN-T policy to become more outward-looking, with an explicit requirement to take account of major policy initiatives sponsored by countries outside the EU. It could also be facilitated by the development of periodic forecasts of BRI-related traffic, following the model of the European Commission’s Reference Scenario, with forecasts developed under the framework of the “Connectivity Platform” and jointly approved by participating countries.

Improving the SinoEU coordination within EU legislative frameworks

In Europe there is still a number of concerns expressed about the willingness and ability of Chinese investors and contractors to operate within the framework of market rules and standards defined by EU legislation. At the same time, some stakeholders consider that the BRI represents an opportunity to promote EU standards across Eurasia, thereby improving export opportunities for EU-based companies, notably those supplying or constructing transport infrastructure or equipment.

The EC is already alert to these issues, as indicated in the speech given by the President of the Commission in September 2017. This included an outline of European Industrial Policy comprising a number of initiatives of relevance in developing a response to the BRI. In particular:

  • The policy includes an initiative for establishing a modern standardisation system to ensure that the EU remains a global hub for standardisation. This will be particularly important in promoting European Railway Traffic Management System (Hereinafter ERTMS – Auth.) technology, one of the largest beneficiaries of TEN-T funding in the 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020 Multiannual Work Programmes.
  • The policy also includes an initiative to improve the competitiveness of Europe’s export industries and to increase their access to global value chains. This should inform negotiations with China over the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments.

It is recommended that the European Parliament supports the Commission in implementing these initiatives and continue to monitor progress on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. The key issues to consider in the context of the BRI are:

  • the screening of foreign direct investment (FDI);

Thus, the May 2017 EC paper ‘Harmonising Globalisation’confirmed that openness to foreign investment remains a key principle for the EU and a major source of growth. However, it also recognised concerns about foreign investors, notably state-owned enterprises, taking over technology-intensive European companies for strategic reasons, and that EU investors often do not enjoy the same rights to invest in the country from which the investment originates. In September 2017, it issued a draft Regulation (EC 2017/0224 (COD)80) to establish a framework for the Member States, and in certain cases the Commission, to screen FDI in the EU, while allowing Member States to take account of national circumstances.

It is recommended that the European Parliament supports the EC’s proposal, as it would ensure the EU’s ongoing openness to FDI while preventing the capture of key European intellectual property by competitors.

  • the establishment of a level-playing field in public procurement markets;

Underlining the European Commission’s concerns that many foreign public sector procurement markets remain closed, the EC has adopted a proposal for a “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the access of third-country goods and services to the Union”. However, this proposal, which was adopted by the EC in March 2012, did not complete its first reading, although it was discussed by both the European Parliament and the Council.

More recently, the EC has announced its intention to amend the initial proposal and to present new draft legislation as part of its current work programme.

It is recommended that, subject to careful review of the amendments, the European Parliament supports the proposal, in order to establish reciprocity of access to public procurement markets in the EU and China as soon as possible.

  • export credit guidelines.

Also there areconcerns that China is not bound by the OECD’s guidelines on export credit, providing Chinese companies with an unfair advantage in export markets. Of the ten largest economies in the world, only China (the second largest), India (the seventh largest) and Brazil (the ninth largest) do not participate in the OECD Arrangement on Guidelines for Officially Supported Export Credits.

It is suggested that, in monitoring progress towards a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, the European Parliament seeks to ensure that China’s participation in the OECD framework is a key objective of the EU’s negotiating strategy.

Increasing awareness of the initiative in European political and business circles

When analyzing the European media for awareness of the EU political and business elites about the Chinese initiative, it was determined that the level of coverage of the initiative and its main tasks remains unclear. In this regard, an important recommendation is to implement a broader BRI-related information policy of European States.

Improving Trade flows connection

The analysis of the potential effect of the BRI on trade flows conducted for the purpose of this study suggested that a number of changes may take place, at least over the longer term:

  • Some high value goods may transfer to rail, potentially to the benefit of Poland, northern Europe, and landlocked Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria.
  • Some low value goods may transfer from ports in the eastern Mediterranean to ports in the north of the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Seas.

It appears likely that the EU can anticipate and mitigate these changes with existing mechanisms. To anticipate the changes, planning of transport infrastructure, and in particular the TEN-T, should take into account forecasts of trade between EU and China, as discussed further below. To mitigate any material effects on ports or regions which may suffer a loss in economic activity, the EU can make use of existing regional and cohesion policies.

A challenge for the EU will be to ensure that capacity, and commercially viable transit times, remain available through Asia and in rail transit countries including Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. This will require increasing coordination at the operational level between railways across Eurasia, rather than specific legislation.

Finally, bottlenecks may emerge in the EU’s transport networks, including the TEN-T, whether because of steady growth in trade with China and the Far East or, in the case of rail, because of allocation of rail capacity to intra-EU, national, regional or even suburban rail traffic. There may be scope for reviewing planning processes at the EU level, in relation to the TEN-T, and at national, regional and local level (For example, widening of the United Kingdom’s M20 motorway locally around Maidstone, between London and the English Channel, was planned in the mid-1980s. One section was designed and built with five traffic lanes in each direction. The traffic forecasts included an “overlay” of the expected traffic growth associated with Channel Tunnel, which was not yet under construction and which did not open until 1994.), to take explicit account of estimates of trade flows with China and the Far East. The analysis suggests that this may be material not only to rail routes (and in particular those in the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor) but also to ports and the infrastructure supporting them (such as container stacks, warehousing and parking) and connecting them (such as onward road and rail connections).

Pending investment to address rail capacity bottlenecks, it might at first sight appear desirable to have mechanisms to reserve capacity for rail freight traffic between the EU and the Far East. The most effective means of addressing this issue may be for capacity allocators to take into account longer term forecasts of potential demand for infrastructure capacity.

The availability of capacity within the EU would be of limited benefit without sufficient capacity also being available on non-EU transit networks. This suggests that the TEN-T process could be more outward-looking. The TEN-T already provides maps for “neighbouring countries” including Norway, Switzerland, the Balkans and Turkey, as well as Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, but not Russia, which could be included, being a core country of the BRI rail flows. However, studying and sharing information with neighbouring countries will not, in itself, resolve problems of capacity and capacity allocation or prioritisation.

  1. To ensure that Europe remains a global hub for standardisation, EU institutions should foster the establishment of modern standardisation systems, in particular with reference to the ERTMS technology, one of the largest beneficiaries of TEN-T funding in the 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020 multi-annual Programmes.
  2. EU institutions should continue to engage with the Chinese Government to agree possible specific contents of an EU and China Investment Agreement as soon as possible.
  3. The European Parliament and the European Council should support the proposal of the European Commission (EC) to establish a framework for the Member States to screen foreign direct investments in the European Union (EC 2017/0224). This would ensure the EU’s ongoing openness to foreign direct investments while preventing the capture of key European intellectual property by competitors.
  4. The European Parliament and the European Council should support the development of a legislative instrument, based on the European Commission’s COM(2016)34, to guarantee reciprocity of access to public markets in the EU and China by European and Chinese businesses.
  5. Increasing awareness of citizens and media control
  6. Creating a favorable business climate in the CEE countries and the Eastern borders of the region

The CEE countries have relatively recently embarked on a path of independent development and are significantly behind their neighbors in the West. Having passed through a socialist experiment, a series of crises and a systemic transformation in the second half of the twentieth century, the countries of Central – Eastern and South – Eastern Europe came close to solving the problem of creating and improving a social legal state only in the 2000s.

It is worth noting that the CEE region is affected by external factors, such as the economic depression of neighboring regions, inter-ethnic skirmishes and military conflicts. At the same time, the states of the region develop their economies in a special way, sometimes significantly differing from their Western neighbors in their openness.

Before the global financial crisis, this region was one of the most dynamically developing regions in the world. However, at the moment of its height, CEE entered a difficult period, accompanied by many negative consequences – economic downturn, lack of development dynamics, and weakening of the banking sector.

Despite the fact that they managed to overcome the obstacles of the first two crisis decades of the XXI century with varying degrees of success and gained rich, invaluable, and generally significant experience in the struggle for a better future, the business climate and policy for investment flows in the region still remains quite weak.

Thus, the normalization of the business climate in the region , as well as the increasing economic integration of CEE, with an ultimate goal of joining the EU (which seeks the most reforming states), requires adaptation and constructive dialogue between all the partners.

Resolution of conflict situations and disputes in the region

The security of the CEE region deserves special attention. The following conflict zones should be taken into account when resolving inter political tensions in the region.

In almost all countries of CEE, all conflicts have now been resolved. In each case, it is possible to trace a political solution to the conflict (it should be borne in mind that some conflicts may again turn into an armed stage (we are talking not only about the territory of Kosovo, but also about the geopolitical plans of Albania). The conflicts resolution took place either as a result of a military victory by one of the parties and subsequent negotiations, or under pressure from the military forces of NATO, the US and the EU. Thus, only on the territory of Ukraine, which is at the stage of transition to the geopolitical axis of EU democracies, there are clashes that are at the stage of armed confrontation.

The development of the region shows that the crisis due to internal political instability can be resolved through diplomatic channels, but it should be understood that the threats of border conflicts in the Balkans, as well as in the East of Ukraine and terrorism have unpredictable and irreparable consequences. In this regard, the countries of the region should more actively establish inter-state relations through constructive dialogue in order to minimize the occurrence of possible future contradictions.

Strengthening the region’s economic security

The current socio-economic model of the CEE countries, as a result of their long-term adaptation to the EU market conditions, is more focused on external sources of economic growth. Thus, there was a reorientation of industrial production from the domestic market to the external one. The achieved openness of the region’s economies and their involvement in the world economy were primarily due to integration into the production links of European (and partly global) TNCs and subordination to their interests.

The acquisition of Western funds and technologies, on the one hand, led to a general modernization of the economies of these countries, and on the other – made them dependent on supranational capital and associated not only economic, but also political influence.

In the last decade, there has been an increase in the independence of the region –  in the process of economic restructuring and adaptation to EU standards, the countries of the region are beginning to rely more and more on themselves, on their region. In other words, as the share of mutual supplies increases, the region’s reserve independence increases. However, despite significant progress in building economic security in the region, the process of adaptation of CEE economies to EU standards is uneven and requires further strengthening of coordination of energy security, environmental friendliness of production, patenting authorship of technical developments,which will lead them to form a unified policy on an everexpanding range of issues.

Solving the problem of refugees and illegal migration in the CEE region

The problem of refugees has caused the most painful blow to the CEE countries, because in the situation with migrants from Africa and the Middle East, it were the southern border of the EU, in the case of Ukraine – that took on the main flow of labor migrants from the East.

The main recommendations which UNHCR and EC can implement are:

  • to increase quotas for the reception of migrants;
  • to agree on lists of “dangerous” and “safe” states;
  • to establish at all “problematic” EU borders, refugee reception centers that will register migrants;
  • to start an active fight against the criminal structures which are engaged in the transportation of migrants.

Of course, it will be extremely difficult to implement these recommendations in practice, however, their gradual implementation can in the near future eliminate the negative consequences of the crisis and reduce the risk of its inflaming.

Normalization of EUCEERussia relations in the sphere of economic and political relations

Today, the issue of normalization of relations between the countries of the region and Russia is also on the agenda of the European countries. This resolution of this issue is urgent due to, first, to the problems of Russian gas supplies, which have become more complicated after the failure of Russia and Ukraine to reach a consensus on the price of fuel transportation and as a result of the crisis in Russian – Ukrainian relations. All the schemes of the European Union, so-called “diversification”, deprive the region of its former privileged position as the first recipient and further distributor of Russian gas if it is supplied through Ukraine. Attempts by both individual countries and the EU as a whole to block bypasses of Russian supplies increase the uncertainty and concern of these countries about the prospect of providing themselves with a necessary and yet uncontested source of energy, while the leading EU countries themselves in the new conditions benefit from any alignment in resolving the issue of supplies.

The Ukrainian – Russian territorial conflict in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine added to the tension in the EU – CEE – Russian relations in the sphere of economic and political relations, which later served as an extension of the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia.

Thus, it should be understood that cooperation between Russia and Central Europe without finding a solution to the Ukrainian – Russian conflict is doomed to very low rates of development. Therefore, it is necessary to make joint efforts through the policy of “common neighborhood” and “joint Eastern European partnership”.

  • Resolving the issue of how to approach financing, researcher proposed few recommendations.
  • to develop commercially attractive, revenue-generating projects, with a sound financial rationale;
  •  to develop projects of key economic impact with lower financial returns.

Thus, summarizing the approaches of improving the Sino – CEE countries cooperation within BRI, it should be noted that, the geopolitical realities in the region should be considered. Thus, being located on the border of the EU, this region is a geopolitical map of the interests of both Western and Eastern countries. Based on this, it can be concluded that lying along the border of two civilizations, the region, strengthening its economic and infrastructural positions, creates a problem of contact between the geopolitical interests of the EU, the United States, the Russian Federation and, since 2012, the PRC. In order to resolve this conflict of interests, as well as for the peaceful promotion and participation of the region in the BRI initiative, the recommendation to continue pragmatic cooperation with all the subjects of the initiative comes to the fore.

Dr. Maria Smotrytska is a senior research sinologist and International Politics specialist of the Ukrainian Association of Sinologists. She is currently the Research Fellow at International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Department for Strategic Studies on Asia. PhD in International politics, Central China Normal University (Wuhan, Hubei province, PR China) Contact information : officer[at]ifimes.org SmotrM_S[at]mail.ru

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Exporting Religious Hatred to England

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A mob vandalised a Hindu temple in UK's Leicester. Twitter

Not a place hitting the main news channels often, Leicester is a small town of 250,000 inhabitants about a hundred miles north of London and 40 miles east of Birmingham the UK’s second largest city.

But an imported ideology is now the cause of religious violence that has profoundly affected Leicester’s ethnic community of South Asians.  This Hindutva ideology represents a belief in the transcendence of Hinduism and its culture.

Leicester prides itself as a city of tolerance and diversity where different religions and races all live together in relative harmony — a sort of ‘live and let live and mind your own business’ philosophy that had worked until recently.  But under the surface simmering tensions burst forth recently.  The trigger was a South Asia Cup cricket match between Indian and Pakistan held in Dubai and won by India.

Couple Hindutva with India’s win and groups of Hindu young men were keen to demonstrate their might, and did so on isolated young Muslims.  The latter then formed their own groups ready for revenge.

Where were the police one might ask.  Well, a couple of beaten up Asian teenagers did not register as exhibiting anything more than random teenage violence.  They were slow to react and did not discuss the ominous truth of religion as the prime mover behind the violence.

Civic leaders on both sides are now trying to quell the attacks.  But the damage has been done and the seeds of ill-feeling have been sown within the community meaning Hindus vis-a-vis Muslims and vice versa. 

India’s per capita GDP is higher than for Pakistan or Bangladesh, the two countries bordering it, which together constitute the subcontinent.  Thus the three countries are similar culturally.  The next question to ask is why then is India hugging the bottom on the 2020 World Happiness Report, next to ill-fated war-torn places like Yemen.  India is ranked 144 while its rival and neighbor Pakistan, although lower in per capita GDP, ranks a shocking (for India) 66.  Bangladesh also ranks much higher than India at 107, despite its devastating floods and typhoons.

Perhaps the answer lies in the pervasive hate that is the currency of the ruling BJP (Bharatia Janata Party), a currency spent liberally during general elections to the detriment of the Congress Party, which has stood for a secular India since independence.

But hate yields more votes as BJP leaders Norendra Modi and Amit Shah know well.  After all, they came to power via the destruction of the historic nearly five century old Babri Mosque, built on a Hindu holy site in an effort to ally Hindus by an astute Babur, the Mughal whose hold on India, just wrested from the Muslim Pathan kings, was still weak.  It worked for Babur then; its destruction worked for the BJP in the 21st century

Has India become more civilized since? 

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Giorgia Meloni: a return to Mussolini’s Italy?

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Image source: giorgiameloni.it

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of far-right political parties across Europe. They have managed to use the widespread discontent from society with the values and functioning of democracy to establish strong footholds in many countries, including those that were thought to be immune to such radicalisation. The reach of the far right does not recognise boundaries, and it is not a new phenomenon either. It has had a considerable historical role in Latin America, in Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Myanmar, India, South Africa, Germany, Italy, the United States, and more recently in Turkey, Brazil and Hungary which have suffered serious damage to their democratic rules and institutions. It is in this context that the election of Giorgia Meloni in Italy as the possible next Prime Minister.

Italy has a long history with fascism and far-right extremism that has forever characterised Italian politics. Italy’s history after the WWII can largely be blamed for this slow but steady radicalisation of its political landscape. Unlike Germany that went through a serious process of denazification after allied victory, Italy was not cleared of vestiges of fascism. After 1945, and with the emergence of the USSR as a rival power, the allies focused their attention and efforts on fighting Communist USSR. Italy, surprisingly, had a considerable number of communist supporters, therefore fascism was seen as something positive in the fight of USSR ideology expansionism. Fascism was good to fight communism, and allies turned a blind eye to it, and the creation of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) in 1946 did not raise any red flags. The party managed to become the fourth largest in Italy in 20 years.

The woman who will become Italy’s next Prime Minister leads a conservative party that can be traced back to the MSI: The Brothers of Italy, whose logo revives the MSI emblem. Meloni´s victory should be read against the backdrop of recent triumphs for the far right elsewhere in Europe. In France, despite the loss of Le Pen in the presidential election, the share of popular vote shifted the French political centre to the right; in Sweden the Sweden Democrats are expected to play a major role in defining Swedish politics after having won the second largest share of seats at the general election earlier in September; the same in happening in Hungary and Poland.

This revival of far-right extremism is not new. The collapse of the USSR allowed formerly dormant far right movements to flourish. This resurgence should  also be understood as the inability of centre and centre-left parties to connect with voters, and to appear attractive. Italy’s recent economic crisis has made Italians particularly susceptible to anti-establishment ideas. Italy was one of the countries that suffered the most during the pandemic specially fairly early on: Lots of people died, a lot of businesses had to close down, Italy found it hard to get support from the rest of the European Union. Meloni and her coalition capitalised this discontent. Meloni has chosen to fight the same enemies as other populist leaders: the LGBTQ+ community; immigrants, the European Union, Muslims; former Italian leaders and multiculturalism. She echoes Mussolini’s natalist obsession; Volume Mussolini argued that the Western race was in danger of extinction by other races of colour, Meloni has focused on ethnic substitution, defined as the loss of Italian identity as a result of globalisation and uncontrolled mass immigration fostered by the European Union. This has translated into harsh xenophobic policies.

Meloni’s election ironically coincide with the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome in October 1922 that brought Mussolini to power. 100 years later Italians. May have elected its first woman to become a Prime Minister, while this represents a break with the past and it symbolises a good step forward in theory, she also represents one of Italy’s worst chapters in its past: Mussolini’s Fascism. Meloni was a former MSI activist, and she is likely to form a government deeply rooted in populism and fascism, are very dangerous combination for contemporary European politics. We should not also allow to be fooled by her election as a woman. She has followed a similar path to Marie Le Pen called gender washing. She has adopted unknown threatening image as a female politician to mask the force of her extremism. For someone who is not familiar with Italian politics, her victory could be read as the triumph of female empowerment and gender equality. Throughout her campaign, she posed as a defender of women, however, her party has rolled back on women’s rights, especially access to abortion.

Gender washing is particularly predominant among right wing parties, as they do a better job at promoting women. Women like Meloni and Le Pen Are protected by the elite, because they support, the very pillars of male power and privilege, these women very often behave in the same way as the men in power. Meloni’s slogan God, Fatherland, and Family echoes the man-dominated and conservative model dating back to the Italy of Mussolini in the 1920s. Meloni’s politics should become more important than her gender, especially as she does not advance women’s empowerment, on the contrary, her victory means a drawback for women’s rights in Italy. Meloni is simply one more far-right candidate that has made it to power.

This should be worrying for Europe as a whole. There has been a constant failure to address the growing threat of the far-right movement at national and on a European level. In recent years, we have seen a slow and steady shift of European politics to the right, and the normalisation of a less inclusive and more racist and discriminatory discourse. This shift to the right should be seen as a ticking time bomb for the pillars of democracy. The pandemic and the current war in Ukraine have not helped the case for democracy.

There are rising living costs in the continent that are undermining governments and European institutions, and making people feel less satisfied with the way their countries are handling these issues. Crises have always been excellent breeding grounds for extremism, whatever political ideology it is. People are more scared during a crisis, allowing the politics or fear to work, and swing voters towards far-right extremists in particular. People that are more likely to vote for far-right alternatives, favour certainty and stability amidst societal changes. Change is perceived as a threat to conservative voters. Under current conditions, there are enough real or perceived changes for extremist to put the blame on. This is one of the greatest paradoxes and dangers of populism and extremism: it often identifies real problems, but seeks to replace them with something worse, the slow and almost imperceptible destruction of democratic values, institutions, and liberties.

The irony behind this is that although populists are usually extremely bad at running a country, the blame will never be placed on them. Populist leaders consolidate support by creating enemies and dividing the population between “us” and “them”. Failure in public policies, inability to provide viable solutions to crises will never be attributed to their elected officials, but rather to the enemies they have decided to use as scapegoats. In this way, as populist governments are unlikely to solve crises, things will eventually worsen, and more crises are inevitable;  meaning more fear is  also unavoidable. This creates a vicious circle that provides populists and extremists with further opportunities for power.

If there is something to be learnt from the current shift in international politics to the right, is the fact that voting behaviour differs from country to country. All politics is local. Voters are influenced by charismatic leaders, local events, regional issues etc. However, when it comes to the rise of extremism, common ground can be found between countries: the existence of a political, economic, or social crisis. Some far-right narratives have been able to cross borders, namely, anti-immigration and white and male supremacism. The Europe of today may be very dissimilar to the Europe of the near future should far-right movement continue to attain power in most countries. Far-right populist parties are a pan-European concern that should be addressed if we want democracy to survive in the long run.

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What lies ahead for Meloni’s Italy

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Not many would have predicted that 100 years after Benito Mussolini’s Black Shirts marched on Rome, a leader claiming lineage from the same political ideology would ascend to power. Georgia Meloni is on her way to become the first woman Prime Minister of Italy, hailing from a party that emerged out of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI). Her rise to power is as dramatic as that of the fascist dictator. Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, recorded a measly 4.3% of vote in the 2018 elections. In the four years since, the party has gained significant ground and is now set to win 26% of the vote in a coalition with Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s  Forza Italia. With the right wing coalition coming to power, major shifts in Italy’s domestic and foreign policy are expected. But taking command at such a turbulent time will be a task easier said than done. Hence, it will be interesting to see what course Meloni’s coalition might take.

As things stand, Italy is edging towards a major economic crisis. The continued war in Ukraine has terribly affected Italy’s economic growth in the post-pandemic era. The rising prices of energy resources and supplies have held back household consumption, slowing the rate of recovery. The economic growth projection for 2022 stands at 2.5% while 2023 is estimated to see a further fall to a mere 1.2%. Italy’s debt crisis has also severely worsened with rising interest rates in the post-pandemic years. The national debt currently stands at about $2.9 trillion which is estimated to rise steadily, touching $3 trillion i.e. around 150% of the GDP by the end of 2023.

In her election campaign, Meloni has addressed these economic woes with a populist vigour. Meloni advocates for a protectionist stance. Her policies include a business-friendly dispensation, steep tax cuts for all, early retirement and amnesties to settle tax disputes. While the right-wing coalition manifesto pledges ambitious spending plans, Meloni has promised to keep the public finances in check. Key to keeping the economy afloat and achieving these targets will be the new government’s efforts to meet the reforms and targets agreed by the Draghi administration and the European Union to obtain the €750 billion Covid recovery and resilience fund. Meloni has already indicated that she will seek some changes to the agreed plans, making it a priority for her new coalition.

While Meloni will become Italy’s first woman Prime Minister, her case presents an example of weaponising women empowerment to further autocracy. Under her leadership, Brothers of Italy has rolled back women’s rights in the localities it governs. These rollbacks include making abortions harder to access. Her party’s slogan – “God, Fatherland, Family” – is reflective of their intentions of leading a patriarchal setup in the guise of a woman leader. With their coalition coming to power, it is likely that Meloni and her party will continue on the route of further cutting back on women’s rights and freedom.

The right-wing parties have stressed on the importance of Christian conservative familial values in their election campaign. This has resulted in vicious attacks on what Meloni calls “the LGBT lobbies” who have “harmed women and family by destroying gender identity.” Last year, Brothers of Italy and Lega blocked ratification of the Zan bill which sought to categorise violence against the LGBTQ+ community as a hate crime. The two parties opposed the bill, calling it unnecessary and against freedom of expression.

Another part of Meloni’s populist rhetoric are her claims of “ethnic substitution.” She has repeatedly claimed that Italian identity is being erased by the globalists and EU officials, who have “conspired” to unleash “uncontrolled mass immigration.” In the past, she has infamously proposed a naval blockade of the Mediterranean to stop migration to Italy. While the coalition has promised stricter border controls, blocking boat landings and establishing EU centres to evaluate asylum applications; they have also assured to regulate legal migration more smoothly, with initiatives to integrate recent immigrants.

Meloni’s stance on the European Union has been the highlight of her election campaign. While she no longer advocates for a complete withdrawal from the organisation, Meloni is vehemently against its current state of operations. “I want a Europe that does fewer things and does them better, with less centralism, more subsidiarity, less bureaucracy, and more politics,” she said. She has pushed for an ‘Italy first’ approach, countering the regional integration of the EU. Addressing a rally in Milan earlier this month, Meloni said, “In Europe they are a bit worried. The fun is over, Italy will start to defend its national interests, as others do.” Meloni has indicated her support for Poland and Hungary in their current ongoing dispute with the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. She has previously made her admiration of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban clear, calling him a ‘democratic leader’ in the face of stark EU criticism over authoritarian measures.

While Meloni and her coalition have been critical of the European Union, it is unlikely that it will lead to drastic changes in the Italian policy towards EU integration. The economic challenges that the new government finds itself in will largely affect its decision making. To obtain a much needed relief fund from the organisation, it is important for the coalition to agree to certain terms proposed by the EU. Hence, while they can be a bit more assertive in their approach, complete rejection of the EU is not on the cards.

However, Italy’s foreign policy is set to see new developments. Meloni has previously condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine, supporting sanctions against Russia and supplying weapons to Ukraine. “It is the tip of the iceberg,” she said, calling the conflict’s objective as “revision of world order.” Meloni has also been critical of China, condemning the country’s “economic expansion measures.” In 2019, Italy became the first major nation to participate in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a programme to expand Beijing’s economic outreach. Meloni has since criticised the pact as a “big mistake,” indicating that Italy will re-evaluate its stance on the pact under her administration. She has also been vocal about the Taiwan issue, calling it an issue of “essential concern for Italy.” She also described Chinese threats against the island “unacceptable,” calling Taiwan and Italy’s relationship a “sincere friendship.”

Giorgia Meloni is not so different from the Trumps and Bolsonaros of our world. She gained popular support on the back of economic failure under the previous administrations and emerged as the clear winner once Mario Draghi resigned following the economic and political turmoil. Meloni fills the void that the centre-left parties have failed to address so far. She has presented herself as a new alternative against an opposition that now seems much distant from the needs and aspirations of the people. Her populist rhetoric has only helped to further fuel her rise to power. Facing economic catastrophe for the longest time, the Italians now demand security and stability. However, her anti-immigration and anti-EU policies do not present an answer to the problems Italy faces. Her populist rhetoric is highly unfortunate and raises the threat for hate crimes in the future. Her authoritarian stance coupled with the ‘Italy first’ rhetoric will not fare well in the future. In deep economic stress, Italy needs to welcome immigrants who can actively contribute to their economy and stabilise the turbulent waters.

Furthermore, Meloni’s election presents a threat to the democratic system in Italy. The right-wing coalition is in a position to negotiate a constitutional amendment that approves the President to be elected directly by the people. Currently, the President is elected by an electoral college which was setup in 1948 as a measure to prevent the future possibility of a government takeover by the fascist forces. While the Presidency is a figurehead role in the country, Brothers of Italy have advocated for a more robust head of state with a popular mandate. This advocacy for “Presidentialism” may have grave repercussions for Italy’s democratic setup, making the President a politically motivated role which will severely affect the system of checks and balances in the present system.

It is difficult to say whether Meloni’s coalition will be able to weather the storm in the coming years but one thing that is certain is that this election is one for the history books where victors are set to write the fate of Italy, once again.

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