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Another anti-establishment government on the horizon in Europe

  • May 2018
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Another anti-establishment government on the horizon in Europe

Will Brussels be bullied into reforms or will it take the lead?

The week passed by and even though it was promised in 24 hours, the new Italian Prime Minister is still unknown. The “yellow-green” alliance formed by the Five Star Movement and The League of Matteo Salvini has worked all week at the so-called “Government Deal”, an actual forty-pages long booklet that will serve as the program base for the future government. There are still key issues to be smooth over and indubitably both electorates will be disappointed by one or more reforms missing or watered down. Nevertheless the two leaders Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio just have to find a Prime Minister candidate and propose the whole deal to the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. This last part of the deal is no trivial matter, as it seems there will be a cross-veto not to have neither Salvini nor Di Maio as premier and, furthermore, that he must not be a “technical” one like Mario Monti but a full-fledged political Prime Minister, which means they will have to find somebody akin to both parties.

In the discussed deal, during the past week, there was a leak of a Monday draft that has kept the EU awake at night. Both parties denied that version as the definitive one and the new deal seem to be slightly more conciliatory towards the EU as it doesn’t mention quitting the Euro, blocking the High-Speed rail EU funded link between Turin and Lyon and the infamous request to waive 250 billions of Italian public debt from the European Central Bank.

The new draft (which is still being modified and refined at the moment), is yes less Eurosceptic but is no less ambitious in its reforms, both internally and internationally. Requests like an overhaul of the pension reform (which was adopted just a few years ago to appease the other member states on the seriousness of the country’s spending review efforts); the proposed universal basic income, the flat-tax system along with many other interventions are poised to strain the already shaky national budget, which the ECB so closely monitors. On top of this, the contract foresees the possibility of re-evaluating the debt/deficit relationship in order to exclude public investments and the quantitative easing debt from the count, the re-discussion of European Treaties, a harder stance on immigration and a lifting of Russian sanctions are poised to disrupt Europe once again.

Having said that, whether or not they will even form a government is a secondary matter here. Europe fourth-biggest economy is not performing well at all, with high unemployment and low growth plaguing the country since the economic crisis (which is ten years now). The past government were mostly compliant with the EU austerity policies and yet, the population has not seen any real improvement. On top of this, the migration crisis has hit Italy particularly hard and the population perceives the European decision-making as an opportunistic sacrifice of the peninsula to accommodate the needs of the other member states, starting from Angela Merkel’s Germany. When it comes to immigration, every country bordering Italy has sealed the border and yet the reform of the Dublin agreement is still nowhere to be found. When it comes to economic and monetary policies, Germany and the northern states are still reluctant to make any decisive move on deeper integration. Every time a news passed in the media saying that sacrifices were to be made and that the “hawks” in the north were not willing to pour any more money into the system, it felt to the vast majority as if the principle of solidarity was only to be applied to them and that sacrifices were only meant one way.

The elections have put in charge two parties that are vehemently against all of this and, even if Europe is not the direct responsible nor the primary target of the Italian’s rage, it will be caught in the storm.

Bearing in mind the mutated political scenario in many of the Member states and the internal difficulties of every establishment parties still in charge as well as the incoming European Elections in 2019, the upcoming months will be key for the future of the Union.

And yet, like the USA-China relationship or the generous pre-Brexit agreement reached by David Cameron with the EU, there’s the possibility that the standing still of the reform pact between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel could be bullied into making the concessions that the previous Italian government was dying to receive.  If that ends up being the case, it would be pretty disheartening to see that instead of moving thanks to a positive influence from the leaders, reforms only move when negative inputs are provided, such as the anti-establishment winds or the threat of Europe’s “friends”.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone

  • May 2018
  • Edo Katanic

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone

Challenges of EU Foreign Policy in 2018

HR/VP Mogherini with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif (Voa News)

 

In these days of smartphones and the overall hyper productivity of media outlets, one cannot help but notice how interesting it is to follow international politics. My phone notifications have in the past couple of weeks basically exploded, and for an average observer of World affairs, it is getting tougher and tougher to catch up with all the information. The latest developments in the Gaza Strip, any kind of foreign affairs action involving US President Donald Trump, and the challenges the European Union is facing in preserving the Iran deal, managing European security and giving a helping hand to the Western Balkans, are the ones getting headlines.

 

Even the diplomatic and moderate European Council President Donald Tusk used the opportunity this week to strongly attack the US President Donald Trump for his constant misbehaviour which is strongly endangering European interests. Donald Tusk stated that Europe, by knowing with whom it is dealing with in the disrupted transatlantic partnership, can now focus on itself in order to fight for its own well-being. One can completely understand Tusk’s dissatisfaction, having in mind the latest policies of US President Trump. As every average follower of politics knows, the loveless affair started already in the US Presidential campaign of 2016, when Donald Trump released a series of criticism towards the EU, praising the UK for Brexit and threatening to pull out of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which Trump did immediately after his inauguration.

 

In the meantime, there were signals coming from the EU side on trying to reason the US President by engaging into dialogue, and the most recent one was the obviously failed charm-offensive of the French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to the US. Unfortunately, a visit which will be more remembered for fashion statements from the First Ladies of US and France than for any concrete material. As it is known, President Trump recently decided to pull out from the Iran deal, a crown jewel of EU foreign policy which High Representative/Vice President of European Commission Federica Mogherini takes with personal pride. The second endangerment came with President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, thus endangering peace between Palestinians and Israelis, as both nations consider Jerusalem to be their capital city.

 

 

FYROM PM Zaev & Greek PM Tsipras (Nezavisen.mk)

 

The third endangerment came some time ago with Trump announcing trade tariffs on steel and aluminium, and from nowadays view, it is just a part of a much bigger problem. Politicians from both sides have raised serious concerns over how will this relationship develop in the near future, having in mind that President Trump is here to stay at least until the beginning of 2021, with a possibility of getting re-elected. Obviously further confrontation is in no one’s interest, besides to some external factors that would profit from this dispute. Too many aspects are dependent on EU – US relations, not only NATO partnership and trade cooperation, but also jobs, research and industries.

 

So what to do when the US President is consistently disrupting multilateralism, the long withstanding transatlantic partnership and all the good things achieved through US and EU cooperation throughout decades? The EU officials are responding proudly and calmly, praising the EU as a champion of progressive values, human rights and free trade. However, it will take more than that.

 

On a final note, I have mentioned the Western Balkans being in the headlines this week. Winston Churchill once said that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume, but nowadays EU officials seem to be looking towards the future. With the Sofia Summit happening these days, a first one dedicated to Western Balkans since the early 2000s, there has been an enthusiasm in bringing the Balkans closer to the EU. Challenges remain and there are plenty of them, ranging from the unresolved Serbia – Kosovo issue, to the economic and political challenges. The EU is here to help, despite certain cynicism and criticism, which is often exaggerated. A good example of help is the current progress between Greece and FYROM on the Macedonia name issue, which is strongly supported by the EU. As with many good things in life, it just takes time. It is important to have patience, which would also be a good advice in dealing with the previously mentioned US President.

Don’t waste a moment!

  • May 2018
  • Ágnes Szűcs

Don’t waste a moment!

In the defense of EU Plastic Strategy

 

Source: Sky Ocean Rescue

 

I went to a breakfast event yesterday morning. I cut my croissant with a plastic knife, ate it from a paper plate and completed the meal with an orange juice from a plastic cup. For lunch, I had a salad near my office. The different mixes of greens were already packed in a plastic bowl, I only had to choose what else to add. Before going home, I felt like having a smoothie. I got it in a plastic cup again. I felt terribly ashamed by the end of the day.

 

According to the European Commission, 167 kg of packaging waste was generated by an average EU citizen in 2015, and around 110 kg out of it was recycled. The national statistics show huge differences, though. The German produced more than 220 kg (and recycled around 150 kg), while the Croatian wasted a bit more than 50 kg and recycled nearly the same proportion, the two-thirds of it.

 

We do especially badly in terms of plastic waste recycling: less than 40 percent of our bottles, cups and bags are recycled in the EU. It’s another average of course, with some outstanding national records, like the one of Germany where more than 90 percent of PET bottles are recycled.

 

I use again and again the word “recycling” on purpose. Because it only means that the waste was selectively collected and something happened to it. It doesn’t imply that the plastic bottles were reused again or transformed into a new bottle. In the case of the eminent Germany, only 40 percent of the PET bottles gain a new life as a bottle again. The rest is either transformed into a different plastic object, or simply burned.

 

These statistics refer only to the world-champion of waste management. In many EU countries, the culture of selective waste management doesn’t exist at all. However, they don’t produce that much waste either. So, this is the point where we get back to my plastic waste production from yesterday. I should have received all of those food and drinks in porcelain and glass containers.

 

The European Commission is supposed to present its Plastic Strategy at the end of this month. According to a draft leaked this week, the Commission proposes to completely ban or considerably reduce the circulation of some single-use plastics, like cutlery, plates, straws and beverage stirrers. While this “directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment” is supposed to be only one piece of a whole strategy, scientists and lobbyists from the concerned sectors have already started to criticize the proposal.

 

Yes, badly functioning collection systems should be improved. Yes, the directive doesn’t precise by which materials the plastic should be substituted. Yes, oxo-biodegradable plastics might cause a lot of harm for the environment. And, yes, it is far beyond my expertise to develop a reasoned and scientific opinion about waste management.

 

But as an old student of European studies and proud pro-European, I must say that the Commission’s normative role in environment protection should always be praised. There is still a lot work to be done, but the EU is still the clearest and the greenest part of the world, due to the long decades of regulatory efforts. Just remember the Brexit campaign: even the fiercest supporters of the leave vote admitted that the sea sides got considerably cleaner due to the EU standards.

 

When I was a child, whatever you bought in a shop, you received it in a plastic bag. Now, due to the EU regulation, the consumers have to pay for it. It has even become fashionable to carry reusable bags.

 

There are many EU environment-protection rules that we don’t recognize by now because they have become part of our culture. If the Commission decided to ban straws or plastic knifes, after some months, we wouldn’t even remember how it was before. The EU’s biggest achievement is that it creates a community of norms and values. This is why the Plastic Strategy is great, no matter how imperfect it is.

Charlemagne’s legacy

  • May 2018
  • Ágnes Szűcs

Charlemagne’s legacy

Towards a genuine multi-speed Europe

 

Source of the photo: hvg.hu

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has delivered again a wonderful speech about the future of Europe after accepting the Charlemagne prize in Aachen. “Let’s not be weak, let’s not be divided, let’s not fear, let’s not wait”, he said, and we started to feel again that our heart is about to melt. Ah, long live the saviour of Europe, the great Charlemagne!

 

A few minutes later he also referred to the “music of nationalism that is resounding everywhere in Europe”, comparing the divisions caused by this phenomenon to “leprosy”. But then came the twist. Instead of swearing to save and unify Europe whatever it takes, he reaffirmed his commitment towards a multi-speed Europe. “I don’t believe in Europe perpetually waiting for 27 countries to agree before moving forward.” Well, thank you the great great-grandson of Charlemagne.

 

Macron has been courting Germany to join him in pursuing his grandiose dreams about a new Europe for more than a year. In every speech, he makes a gesture towards Berlin. Only towards Berlin, to be honest. As if Europe consisted of only Germany and France in his head. Of course, I don’t deny the importance of the Franco-German alliance in shaping the European integration. But maybe the French president shouldn’t hedge his bets only on the friendship with the strongest boy in the class. Because there are 25 others sitting in the room as well, who might not have shoulders as wide or notes as brilliant, but their say still matters.

 

Maybe Macron doesn’t understand the consensus-seeking logic of European politics. Even if he persuaded Chancellor Merkel to say yes to his dreams about a strengthened Eurozone with its own budget, parliament and minister, he would have to ask the others to join this new construction. But apparently, he doesn’t do anything like that. Macron tries to play the French political game and represent only his nations’ interests on the European scene.

 

While Paris has traditionally represented the interests of Southern member states, the new president doesn’t really seem to care about the country’s old allies. His vision about the future of Europe is clearly against the Dutch or and Nordic way of thinking, and he hasn’t shown yet any sign of compromise towards them. There is only one side of Europe left for Macron, but he clearly treats Eastern Europe as a left-over. He has already let them go in his head. Well, having only Germany and France in core-Europe seems to a be a bit too hard core, isn’t it?

 

It is, indeed, because Berlin is not as willing to reform the eurozone as Paris expects it to be. It is not only about the well-known reasoning of the golden rule of fiscal discipline and government’s responsibility towards the German taxpayers. But it’s about the German consensus-building culture, which is represented in its national and European politics as well. I don’t want to over-idealize Berlin’s approach towards Europe, because the German government obviously represents its own interests. But they do care for other countries as well, let it be the indebted Greece or the rogue Hungary. Instead of threatening to leave them behind because they are not good enough for the elite club, Berlin tries to influence them to change.

 

Macron’s enthusiasm is admirable, as Chancellor Merkel has pointed out very well. But it’s not enough. In the days of good old Charlemagne it might have worked to threaten everyone who is not willing to surrender. In the 21st century, the saviour of Europe needs more to offer.

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