Posts Tagged ‘Luigi Di Maio’

Macron invites Italian president to Paris

February 16, 2019
French President Emmanuel Macron invited his Italian counterpart to Paris, his office said Friday, in a conciliatory gesture as France’s ambassador returned to Rome after he was recalled for a week in a diplomatic spat between the neighbours.

Macron, who spoke by telephone to Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday to “reaffirm the importance” of bilateral ties, asked the French ambassador to deliver the invitation at a meeting Friday evening, the Elysee Palace said.

Image result for Sergio Mattarella, emmanuel Macron, pictures

French President Emmanuel Macron and  Italian President Sergio Mattarella

Mattarella, a centre-left politician, is an elder statesman whose job as president carries limited political powers.

France had announced on February 7 that it was recalling its ambassador, Christian Masset, to protest “unfounded attacks and outlandish claims” by Italy’s populist coalition government — led by deputy prime ministers Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini.

“I am very happy that the ambassador is on his way back to Italy,” Luigi Di Maio, who is deputy prime minister, told reporters in Rome. “I shall meet him, I want to ask him for a meeting.”

Relations between the two countries have fractured due to repeated clashes between Di Maio and Salvini’s populist coalition government and France’s centrist Macron.

Paris was incensed when Di Maio made a surprise visit to France on February 5 to meet a group of radical “yellow vest” protesters who have led demonstrations against Macron.

“The wind of change has crossed the Alps,” Di Maio wrote afterwards of the three months of protests against Macron, adding that he was preparing a common front ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a “line was crossed” with the visit, which was organised without French authorities being informed. The last time Paris recalled its ambassador to Rome was during the World War II when Italy under leader Benito Mussolini invaded France in 1940.

Tunnel tensions

The current icy ties between two founding members of the European Union has many analysts wondering about the consequences for the bloc, given that French-Italian ties have been a generally stable axis.

It risks complicating a major infrastructure project between the countries that would result in a tunnel being bored under the Alps to link the important regional cities of Lyon and Turin.

Work on the 57.5-kilometre (36-mile) tunnel, set to cost an estimated 8.6 billion euros (9.7 billion dollars), is suspended pending a green light from the Italian government.

Di Maio’s party, the Five Star Movement, is opposed to the project, while its coalition partner the far-right League party, headed by Salvini, who is also interior minister, is in favour.

“France clearly respects the time that our Italian partners wanted to take. But today we are saying clearly to the Italians that this decision needs to come,” French Transport Minister Elizabeth Borne told the Public Senat channel on Friday.

Election pressure

Analysts and diplomats say that relations have been affected by the fundamentally different outlooks of Macron, a pro-European centrist, and the eurosceptic government in Rome.

There are also deep-running economic tensions, competition for influence in Libya, and a sense in Italy that France has done little to help its neighbour cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years.

Posturing ahead of the elections for the European parliament have exacerbated these tensions, observers say.

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Di Maio and Salvini’s recent criticism of Macron and France was driven by competition between the two men.

“Di Maio and Salvini are in competition against each other. Their vision is that at some point there will be only one of them,” the diplomat said, adding that the European elections in May would be vital.



Rescuing the eurozone budget

February 11, 2019

The blueprint is already far more advanced than anything that’s emerged from stuttering negotiations in Brussels

By Mehreen Khan in Brussels

Grand bargains concocted by EU leaders after marathon late night negotiations have a habit of disappearing almost as soon as they’re agreed.

Remember “disembarkation platforms” for migrants?

These holding centres for refugees in non-EU countries was the fruit of eight hours of pained talks between leaders that concluded at 4am last June. The plan has since been quietly shelved after no country wanted to house the centres.

A similar fate could await the eurozone’s “budgetary instrument”.

Finance ministers last December worked overnight to agree on tortured language committing them to create a spending pot for the eurozone inside the EU’s common budget. The size, function, and sources of cash were left unresolved.  The ambiguity was initially celebrated by Emmanuel Macron as a chance for Paris to keep demanding a “stabilising” role for the budget. Hawkish capitals led by the Dutch are insistent it can do no such thing. Early talks to work out the details haven’t made much progress.

Image result for Emmanuel Macron, bbc, photos

Even the European Commission is torn between its budget wing and its economic unit about how to design a tool for the 19 eurozone economies that has to be signed off by the 27.  Finance ministers will grasp the nettle again on Monday at a eurogroup meeting where December’s divisions will be laid bare again. One senior official anticipates a “tough” debate. To help them out, researchers at the Jacques Delors Institute Berlin have a timely new paper on how the eurogroup should fill in the blanks before a June deadline.

Unlike previous interventions, like the IMF’s “rainy-day” fund proposal, the authors have the luxury of knowing the political limits of what can be achieved. First, what should the money do? The budget is meant to foster “convergence and competitiveness” — language designed to appease German concerns over it acting as a channel for transfers from rich to poor economies. The Delors Institute report is more concrete. It recommends policymakers focus on two badly needed areas: boosting productivity and helping synchronise business cycles across the bloc’s 19 economies.

In practice, this means things like funding structural reforms to labour markets or using the money to co-finance national investments. Crucially it avoids any “stabilisation” and will not duplicate functions already covered by the main EU budget.  Perhaps the most innovative suggestion is how the budget should be funded. In the absence of EU-wide tax revenues, the authors propose creating a synthetic common corporate tax base in the eurozone.

The amount would be fixed every year and allow countries doing well to pay more in good times and less in bad.

The budget would stay fiscally neutral in the long run. On the size, the authors are agnostic as long as the money goes to the right places.  Overall, the blueprint is already far more advanced than anything that’s emerged from stuttering technical level negotiations in Brussels.

Should ministers manage to agree something resembling the report’s recommendations by June, it might well help rescue the eurozone budget from being another well-intentioned but ultimately insignificant EU grand bargain. Even France — the budget’s biggest champion — seems to realise that EMU reform won’t yield any quick wins ahead of pan-EU elections in May.

One senior French diplomat now likens the quest to build a truly common eurozone budget “a 10- or 20-year process” — much like the project to create the euro itself. Chart du jour: turning on the taps The euro’s slowing economies have quietly turned on the fiscal taps to lift growth after years of austerity.

Italy and Germany are leading the pack (chart above via the FT’s Chris Giles). What we’re reading on Planet Europe EU-turns

Emmanuel Macron is having second thoughts about holding a referendum on the same day as EU elections after the plan was met with dismay by his government, reports JDD.

The paper also has polling data showing a majority of French citizens want the plebiscite — with the exception of En Marche voters.  Central bank independence  Is this Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio’s new culture war? The pair have raised alarm in the central bank community by slamming the Bank of Italy and Rome’s securities regulator as “fraudsters”.

Mr Di Maio has also hinted at an overhaul of senior executives employed at the central bank, reports Repubblica.

Germany’s hard Brexit 

Europe’s largest economy risks losing 100,000 jobs if the UK exits the EU without a deal. Die Welt has the details from new research from the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research. Merkel unfriends Facebook  Angela Merkel has decided to take her Facebook page — and its 2.5m followers — offline.

Der Spiegel tracks how the chancellor’s page has become hijacked by “Merkel-haters” in recent years and question whether its disappearance will affect her legacy. Mrs Merkel it seems is more interested in creating a pretty lit Instagram page.

The EU is underpinning Orban 

Viktor Orban used a state-of-the-nation speech on Sunday to accuse George Soros of “appointing” Frans Timmermans as his man to run a pro-immigration EU Commission.

Young Poles

Poland’s young voters are growing increasingly radical and are turning towards right-wing conservatism. (Deutsche Welle) Universal basic happiness  Finland’s brief experiment with a universal basic income resulted in higher recorded happiness rates among recipients but didn’t encourage them to find jobs. (Bloomberg)

Yellow vests look to capitalize on protest momentum — Week 13

February 9, 2019

As President Macron’s approval bounces back, yellow vest protesters hope to convert notoriety into electoral success. The movement has brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets across France.

Protestors in Paris

At least one demonstrator was injured as France’s yellow vest protests entered their 13th week on Saturday. At least 10 protesters were arrested after scuffles broke out with police near the Palais Bourbon, where the National Assembly meets.

Officers said they used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd after people began to throw debris at riot police.

The protests have brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets all over France. Initially called to voice opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s planned tax hikes on fuel, they brought roads, businesses, and even the government to its knees for a time. Scores of people have been injured and hundreds arrested since the protests began in November.

Macron bounces back

However, the demonstrations appeared to be losing steam as Macron acquiesced to some demands and has embarked on a nationwide town hall tour to learn more about people’s grievances. Recent polls have suggested that his approval rating is back on the rise.

At the same time, some yellow vest participants have been looking to capitalize on the movement’s momentum and turn it into electoral success, which could prove tricky as they are very loosely organized and have no specific leadership organization.

To that end, some yellow vest demonstrators met with Italy’s populist Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who said he offered them advice on turning a citizen’s movement into a political party. The meeting touched off a row between France and Italy, marking a low point in relations between the two founding EU nations since the end of the Second World War. On Friday, Di Maio refused to apologize and accused Macron of playing “political games.”

es/sms (AP, AFP)


Italy’s populists enjoy provocation

February 9, 2019

Watching Italy’s populist leaders behave like bulls in a china shop is hard to bear. Their escalating dispute with France is toxic for the EU and we shouldn’t let them get away with it.

By Bernd Riegert


Matteo Salvini (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

French President Emmanuel Macron is tired of the constant provocation coming from Italy’s populist government. For a long time he did not respond. Now he has temporarily withdrawn his ambassador to the country. The Elysee Palace issued a sharp statement on this punitive diplomatic action — something that shouldn’t happen between fellow European Union member states. The basic message was that relations between the governments in Paris and Rome have reached their lowest point since the Second World War.

Read moreItaly sends mixed signals in historic spat with France

The populist boasters’ reaction was to be expected: They have been making fun of “Napoleon” and the “crazy champagne drinker.” Macron has become a great target during the current regional election campaign in Italy, as well as the European Parliament elections in May. The respective leaders of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right nationalist League party, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini (pictured at top), have found an ideal enemy in France’s liberal, pro-EU president. Unfortunately, Macron has shown himself willing to play the game, though he could hardly help it after Di Maio and Salvini openly teamed up with his domestic enemies in France: the “yellow vests” protesters and far-right populist Marine Le Pen.

Targeted emotional incitement

Italy’s populists are doing what populists do: They are telling people what they want to hear, stirring up emotions, spreading false allegations and fomenting hatred. The absurd accusations against France in general, and Macron in particular, have fallen on fertile ground in Italy. Even before the changes of government in Rome and Paris, many Italians felt inferior to the French, who they perceived as arrogant. The absurd proposition that the EU prefers the big brother in the West and has been turning a blind eye when it comes to France’s national debt has been around for a long time.

It is not surprising that Di Maio and Salvini, currently campaigning against each other in Italy, are now trying to outdo each other in terms of bashing France. What is depressing is how successful the shrill-toned populists are: Around 60 percent of Italian voters seem to be following these pied pipers. Macron, however, is now in a weak position in his own country. His approval ratings have hit rock-bottom, his reform course has stalled and he is now also arguing with his partner, Germany, over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Read moreCould EU energy security be guaranteed without Nord Stream 2?

Italy’s political gamblers cannot be expected to show respect and decency. They don’t care about the damage they are doing to Franco-Italian relations in the medium term. They are disregarding business associations’ warnings not to strain the very close economic ties between the two countries. Italy is heavily indebted in France. There are numerous cross-border investments. There are strong connections, for example with the airline Alitalia, with shipyards, transport projects, telecommunications and energy supply. Is all this now to be put in jeopardy?

Angela Merkel: The mediator?

The way the two governments are treating each other is unworthy of allied EU members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel could step in as a mediator. So far, she has held back from criticizing the populists in Rome. Her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, however, was all too willing to get into bed with right-wing nationalist Salvini when it came to migration policy. There is reason to fear that neither side has an interest in settling this artificially manufactured dispute before the European Parliament elections. It is simply too effective as campaign ammunition. The duel is on between nationalists and progressives.

This polarisation is, of course, toxic for the EU, which is based on consensus and compromise. Member states must work together and not fall back into nationalistic squabbling. What will happen now that the French ambassador to Italy has been recalled? Will diplomatic relations be terminated? Will there be mobilization? A declaration of war? Of course not! Salvini and Macron should meet for a TV debate and present their diametrically opposed understandings of politics to the people.

Yellow Vest movement shows some signs of splintering on 13th consecutive weekend of protests

February 9, 2019

Yellow Vests protesters will demonstrate for a 13th consecutive weekend on Saturday, with multiple rallies planned throughout France. But the latest protests are increasingly plagued by internal quarrels over how to secure more political gains.

The Yellow Vest movement is becoming increasingly divided and fractured, with supporters disagreeing on both the means to and the political end game.  ome are willing to ally with trade unions to exact more government concessions; others continue to mistrust them. Most want to continue ratcheting up the pressure, even demanding the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

But the number of protesters has fallen over the last two Saturdays. An estimated 58,600 people demonstrated throughout France on February 2, according to the interior ministry, although the Yellow Vests claim some 116,000 demonstrators took to the streets

Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters | Protesters wearing yellow vests take part in a demonstration in Paris on February 9.

A demonstration is scheduled to start Saturday morning at Place de l’Étoile while three additional rallies have also been announced by Éric Drouet, a truck driver and spokesman of the Gilets Jaunes movement.

Various events are also planned in other cities, including Montpellier, Lille, Nantes, Rennes, Brest, Caen and Lorient.

“There is a lot of tension, a lot of ill intentions, a lot of impatience,” Drouet said in a live video on Wednesday. He explained that he was working on a “completely legal” strategy to force Macron to resign.

And some of these tensions have boiled over into the diplomatic sphere. Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s Five-Star Movement and deputy prime minister, caused a major rift with France on Tuesday when he met members of the Yellow Vests to show his support.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

France recalls Italy ambassador — Italy’s leaders have been voicing support for Yellow Vest movement against Macron

February 7, 2019

France has recalled its ambassador in Rome after what Paris described as baseless and repeated attacks from Italy’s political leaders in past months, and urged Italy to return to a more friendly stance.

France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements,” France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said Italy‘s attacks were without precedent since World War Two. “Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another.”

Image result for Matteo Salvini, pictures, BBC

Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio

Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment 5-Star movement, have goaded French President Emmanuel Macron on a host of inflammatory issues.

“All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”


Europe Enters Another Age of Schism

February 7, 2019

It is no secret that the European Union is in severe crisis. Besides the challenge of Brexit, the established order is threatened by a range of other schismatics and heretics to the south, east and indeed within the Franco-German core. What is less well understood is that in many ways we have been here before – 500 years ago, when the Reformation tore Europe apart.

Around 1500, most of our continent was shaped by a single geo-ideological and geopolitical order, or at least a common imaginary. Roman Catholicism reigned supreme from the west coast of Ireland to the eastern borders of Poland and Lithuania, from Norway’s North Cape to the heel of the Italian boot. A wronged wife in Yorkshire could appeal to the papacy for justice if necessary. You had to go quite far east or south-east to encounter the rival Christian order of Orthodoxy in Muscovy and much of the Balkans. This was the result of an earlier schism in the church, creating a second Rome in Constantinople, and after the fall of that city a Third Rome in Moscow. Europeans referred to their continent as “Christendom”.

By Brendan Simms

This order was already under some pressure. The Roman Church was generally perceived to be in crisis. Clerical ignorance and corruption, for example the sale of “indulgences”, were increasingly regarded as intolerable. Demands for reform were widespread. In England, one of the great realms of Europe, the common people chafed under clerical abuses, and the monarchy under papal constraints on its authority. Ever since the Middle Ages, the parliamentary statute of “praemunire” had made it illegal to sue for justice in a foreign court, at least with regard to high matters of state. When all was said and done, though, the sense of inhabiting a political commonwealth was deeply ingrained throughout most of the continent.

This unity was shattered by the Reformation crisis, which engulfed Europe from the second decade of the 16th century. The German friar Martin Luther’s concerns were largely doctrinal, not least his insistence on justification by faith alone. The Church cleaned up its act, to a certain extent, with the Counter-Reformation, but it also sought to reassert the true faith and papal authority through force of arms. Over the next 200 years or so, our continent was roiled by troubles. These were wars of religion, but also political power struggles both between states and within them.

Nowhere was this contest as intense as in the Holy Roman Empire (in effect, Germany), the heart of Europe. It was ploughed over in the 16th century wars of the Protestant princes against Emperor Charles V, who was loyal to Rome, and then traumatically in the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. Protestants and Catholics set about each other; external powers such as France, Sweden and Spain intervened at will. Cities such as Magdeburg were sacked amid scenes of extraordinary brutality. The experience seared itself so deeply into the national consciousness that even in the mid 20th century, shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Thirty Years War was still regarded as its most traumatic period in history.

In England the Reformation was not a doctrinal dispute over theological truth that developed into a political contest. It happened the other way around. It originated as a challenge by Henry VIII against the authority of the church – to be more specific, his desire to annul his marriage to his wife Katherine, despite the pope’s refusal to grant this, and marry another in order to produce a male heir. This escalated into a broader assertion of English sovereignty, most strikingly expressed in parliament’s Act of Appeals in 1533, which laid down “that this realm of England is an empire”.

In other words, England was a legal system unto itself. There could be no appeal to a higher authority. The doctrine of “praemunire”, which had previously applied only to matters of state, now became the law of the land. A wronged woman in Yorkshire could no longer appeal to Rome. England was increasingly separated from the European legal order. At the same time, Henry VIII relentlessly attacked the institutions of the Church, especially through the dissolution of the monasteries.


Central to Henry’s vision was his sense of English greatness. Funded by the sale of church property, he sought to re-establish Henry V’s empire in France and to vindicate Christendom in a crusade against the Turks. He even hoped to become Holy Roman Emperor and was a candidate for that crown in the contest in which Charles V emerged victorious.

The implementation of the English Reformation was not a linear process, neither with regard to doctrine nor in respect of authority. Henry oscillated doctrinally, but as far as belief was concerned he effectively died a Catholic. The most far-reaching liturgical changes – such as the introduction of the Prayer Book in 1549 – took place during the reign of his immediate heir Edward VI. This was followed by a reaction under the Catholic Queen Mary, Henry’s daughter from his first marriage, which was one of the bloodiest periods of religious persecution in Europe at the time. Only in the early 18th century, with the bedding down of the Hanoverian succession, did Protestantism and parliamentary supremacy become firmly established in this country.

Three things were central to this process of emancipation from the continent. First, the creation of a pro-Reformation constituency. This was partly acquisitive – the emergence of a whole new class that benefited from the distribution of spoils from the secularised monasteries. But it was also affective – the widespread sense that loyalty to an independent English church represented a fundamental part of what it meant to be English, and that the Old Church, the Church of Rome, was the faith of foreigners and traitors. Catholic holdouts, or “recusants”, came to be seen as a fifth column. Secondly, the new regime established an ascendancy not merely over England, but over the entire British Isles. Thirdly, England was able to see off various outside attempts at interference and to intervene itself decisively on the European mainland.

Justly or unjustly, the Catholic or crypto-Catholic English monarchs acquired a reputation for strategic incompetence or, worse still, collusion with foreign powers. Mary’s standing never recovered from the loss of Calais in 1558, nor that of Charles II from the Treaty of Dover in 1670, by which he effectively sold the country to France in return for Louis XIV’s support for the restoration of Catholicism and monarchical authority in England.


When the great schism came to an end in the early 18th century, a very different European order took shape. In England, Anglicanism emerged dominant and in the British Isles so did Protestantism more generally. The four nations were progressively welded into a single geopolitical unit. These were designed to prevent Scotland and Ireland from serving, as they so often had, as “the back door” to England.

The new system also delivered on Henry’s main ambition, which was to make England – or the United Kingdom as the expanded state was now called – the principal ordering power in Europe. From the early 18th century to the present day, London has been at the heart of almost every major European settlement, beginning with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which enshrined the principle of the “balance of power”. This was followed by the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, in which the British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh was centrally involved in the reconstruction of Europe following the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Lloyd George was similarly involved in the Versailles Settlement that established a new order after the First World War. Churchill and his successors were among the “big three” at the Yalta and Potsdam settlements that ended the Second World War. Britain was less central during the Cold War, but was still the most important western European actor. The great exception was the European integration project, which Britain joined belatedly and, as we all know, awkwardly.

In France, the boot was on the other foot. Protestantism had been completely defeated; royal power triumphed over representative assemblies. The French church was very much under the control of the crown, a phenomenon known as “Gallicanism”, while the more aesthetic and purified form of Catholicism practised there was called “Jansenism”. France too became an ordering power in Europe, though a less effective and long-lasting one than the United Kingdom.

In Germany, the great schism resulted in a very different settlement, both religiously and politically. The Treaties of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, enshrined a system of power-sharing between Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. This was guaranteed by external powers, in the first instance France and Sweden.

Contrary to myth, Westphalia did not mark the emergence of the modern “sovereign nation state”. On the contrary, sovereignty was diffused, partly because it was feared that German princes would abuse it and plunge central Europe back into war, and partly because outside actors feared that their rivals might use the unified powers of the Holy Roman Empire to achieve hegemony in Europe.

A different sort of compromise was reached in parts of eastern Europe, which had been contested by Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The Uniate Church effectively split the difference. It acknowledged papal authority, but followed a Byzantine liturgy – the opposite of the late Henrician Reformation in England.

This order lasted about another 200 years and survived serious challenges, the most severe being that of revolutionary and Napoleonic France around 1800. From the early 20th century however, between 1914 and 1945, Europe was once again convulsed by a period in which ideologies, states and nations faced off, in what both Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill called, with good reason, “The Second Thirty Years War”. Like its predecessor, it was a savage ideological conflict, this time a three-sided contest between Nazism, communism and western democracy. Like the Thirty Years War, its main focus had been Germany.

In some respects, the order that emerged after the Second World War bore a remarkable resemblance to what had followed the great 17th century conflagrations. At first, Germany was neutralised, becoming an object rather than a subject of the European system. The Federal Republic slowly regained its right to participate in European politics on the understanding that it remained embedded in the wider structures of European integration. The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Thereafter, London did much of its “ordering” in Europe through the EEC and later the European Union.

The EU resembled both a church and an empire. Its hold over the imaginations and emotions of many Europeans was something like a religious faith. They might be diverse and fractious, but they were all part of a single whole. A new order was born, one in which the divisions originating in the Reformation and deepened by centuries of conflict were slowly healed. The EU was often likened to the Old Holy Roman Empire with its emphasis on rules and the “juridification” of political conflict. It was a geo-economic order centred on the customs union, the single market and free movement. Above all, the EU was a geo-legal order, in which Union law prevailed over national law. A wronged woman in Yorkshire could now appeal to a higher court – the Court of Justice of the EU – than those of the land. There was a general sense that there could be no prosperity, no security, no law and even no salvation outside the EU.


Over the past eight years, however, Europe has been so violently convulsed by crises that we can speak of another age of schism. First to emerge was the North-South divide. The eurozone bubble burst in the Mediterranean, creating unsustainable banking and sovereign debt crises in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. There is now a fundamental divide between “northern Europe” and the “south” – which is groaning under the impact of austerity.

Europe was also rent by the eastern schism. Member states such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria increasingly felt culturally alienated from the central and western European liberal mainstream. This division became manifest when some of these countries refused to take even a token number of refugees from the brutal Syrian war. There was also a big question mark over the reach of the EU’s legal order, as governments ignored rulings on the independence of the judiciary and of the press. Eastern Europe began to become a fundamentally different place, with a distinct and more reactionary political culture, closer to Putin’s “Third Rome” than Brussels.

All this was aggravated by a schism not merely between the member states but within them. These had long existed, but the economic crisis, and especially the appearance of around a million new migrants from Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa in late 2015 led to a surge in right- and left-wing populism, even in the Franco-German core. In the 2017 presidential elections in France, the National Front secured a third of the votes in the second round. In the German federal elections the same year, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland more than doubled its vote share to 12.6 per cent and is now the official opposition in the Bundestag.

But, of course, the greatest breach in the European order was the Brexit vote of June 2016. There were many issues at stake in the referendum, but the fundamental (if not always clearly articulated) question was whether Britain should accept serious constraints on its sovereignty in order to remain part of a larger commonwealth, or whether it would reassert the primacy of laws made by Westminster and arbitrated by UK courts alone.

The Brexit project was thus “Empire 2.0”, not so much in the global 19th century sense, but in the sense of making the UK, to use the language of the 1533 Parliamentary Act of Appeals, once more “an empire” unto itself; that is a sovereign legal and political space. This was primarily an assertion of authority, rather than the articulation of doctrinal difference. It was, so to speak, a Henry VIII moment.

The response of the EU to this challenge in some respects resembled that of the Old Church and Catholic Europe to the Reformation. This sentiment was manifest in the response of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, to Theresa May’s hope that they could make a “success of Brexit”. Brexit, he said, “cannot” be a success. There could be no salvation outside the Union, just as there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Brexit was an offence not merely to the European order, but to the European imaginary.

When the EU began the Brexit talks, it did so not with the understanding that the European system was co-owned by the United Kingdom and the European Union, but rather that the UK was defecting from the only legitimate geo-legal order. This was reflected in its “demands” at the start of the negotiation.

British and UK flags (picture alliance/empics/S. Rousseau)

First, the UK would have to settle its divorce “bill” and EU citizens’ rights. Then it would have to provide guarantees on the Irish border, making clear that the only assurances the EU would accept involved a “backstop” that would, if necessary, extrude Northern Ireland from the economic and legal order of the United Kingdom. (May is now frantically seeking to amend this to provide an exit mechanism for the UK.) Only then would the EU discuss the future relationship, including the all-important question of trade. It treated the United Kingdom, in effect, as a schismatic rather than an equal partner. Strikingly, the UK government and its negotiators not only accepted the EU’s framework but also seem to have internalised the thinking behind it.

Merkel and Macron greet each other (Reuters/Y. Herman)

This is not surprising, as the policy was formulated by a Remain prime minister and conducted by civil service mandarins whose entire professional and cultural formation had taken place within the EU. This is not to suggest any bad faith on their part, merely to note that their thinking still runs within a groove that Brexit was designed to escape. It was rather like entrusting the English Reformation to the English bishops loyal to Rome. Even Brexiteers such as David Davis followed suit, at least initially.

The resulting “deal” agreed by the Prime Minister with the EU in November 2018 reflects this. It is the opposite of the Henrician Reformation. It offers a clear doctrinal break with the EU, for example through a proposed end to “free movement”, but will most likely leave the UK under the authority of a foreign politico-legal order. During the transition period, the UK will remain part of the customs union ultimately arbitrated by the European Court of Justice.

Ireland, in other words, has once again served as the “back door” to England, or if you prefer as the “back door” back into Europe for Remainers and British business. In the meantime, the entire UK will be subject to EU rules on trade, current and future environmental legislation, labour and social laws, and state aid, without having a voice in making them. It is therefore not surprising to find a leading Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, arguing that the Prime Minister’s plan to remain under some EU laws was in violation of the (long-repealed) Statute of Praemunire.

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a speech

The deal agreed between May and the EU also differs from the Henrician Reformation, and the subsequent history of this country, in another fundamental respect. For hundreds of years, the UK has been not merely self-governing but an ordering power in Europe. The deal on offer, by contrast, excludes Britain from the general ordering system of the continent. If one prefers, one can say that the UK has excluded itself, but the point remains.

Some of the contours of the new post-schism European order are already clear. It seems likely that the Old Church and empire, otherwise known as the European Union, will continue to hold sway over much of central and western Europe. It has acquired a doughty if embattled champion in France’s President Macron, whose reform policies are very much in the Jansenist tradition, and whose insistence on French national interests within a larger “European sovereignty” can only be described as “Gallican”. The east is increasingly Uniate: politically tied to the European Union, but culturally more and more Byzantine.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a package of wage increases and tax cuts for low earners and retirees in December in a bid to stem the "yellow vest" protests

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a package of wage increases and tax cuts for low earners and retirees in December in a bid to stem the “yellow vest” protests AFP/File

For now, we cannot be sure how Britain will fit in. A “people’s vote”, or some other change of heart, could return her to the Old Church, the EU. Britain could, as per the Prime Minister’s deal, follow the Uniate model of remaining under aspects of EU authority but cultivate liturgical difference in areas such as immigration. Or the UK could go for fully fledged political Anglicanism – complete separation from the continent.

Nobody can be sure how this will end. The Old Church remains strong in many parts of the United Kingdom, especially Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also in the big cities, the universities and the professions. Because of demographic shifts, peak Remain will be in about 20 years’ time. For this reason, all else being equal, Brexit will only be irreversible with the passing of the first generation of those who have only known life outside the EU. If Brexit persists beyond this point, the Remainers will indeed become recusants, still prominent perhaps in the seats of learning, but no longer a force to be reckoned with.

Philippe Wojazer, REUTERS | Members of the French “yellow vests” movement at a Paris protest, February 2, 2019. Sign reads, “Emmanuel Macron – look at your Rolex – It’s the time of Revolt”.

In European geopolitics, of course, things are never equal. Like the Reformation, the future of Brexit will also be determined by outside powers. The EU could, for instance, so marginalise the UK that “return” becomes the only remedy to penury and irrelevance. Alternatively, the EU might provoke a hostile reaction and deepen Brexit. Just as the reign of Mary Tudor led to a fatal association between Catholicism, foreign domination and strategic incompetence, so the cause of Remain or “return” could be tarred with the same brush.

So we are left with more questions than answers. Will Brexit be reversed by a Marian reaction, or will the original clash of authority be followed by a further deepening of the UK’s political divide with the continent?

Will England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland be ordered by the United Kingdom, or by the European Union?

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Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio

Even if Westminster manages to assert its authority over the British Isles, how will the United Kingdom discharge its ordering functions on the continent of Europe once outside the EU? Will the Europeans recognise the “exceptionality” of the United Kingdom, and accept the co-management of our continent, or are Britain and the rest of Europe condemned to another destructive clash of ordering claims?

Brendan Simms is a New Statesman contributing writer and professor of the history of international relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge




Why Italy’s Debts Are Europe’s Big Problem

February 4, 2019

From the trading floors of London to the gatherings of European leaders in Brussels, there’s one issue that can induce a shudder of financial fear like no other: Italian debt.

Europe’s most dangerous stock of public borrowing—some 1.5 trillion euros ($1.7 trillion)—is concentrated on the balance sheets of banks in Rome and Milan. But a rout could quickly sweep in lenders in Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid—the main banks in the rest of Europe are holding more than 425 billion euros ($490 billion) of sovereign and private Italian debt, based on a Bloomberg analysis of European Banking Authority data.

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Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio

Although Italy’s economy slipped into recession in the fourth quarter, markets are calm for now. But a budget standoff in the fall showed how swiftly sentiment can turn. And if markets should turn south, no one knows exactly where the tipping point will come.

French banks are the most exposed if a sell-off in Italy starts to affect the economy and spread through Europe’s financial system. The country’s two largest banks, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Agricole SA own retail units in Italy.

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A populist government prone to infighting and at constant odds with the European Union is what makes the current situation so dicey. It needs to sell more than 400 billion euros a year to keep the show on the road, a situation that forces domestic banks to buy even more debt.

The connection between a weak economy and weak banks, many of which are still vulnerable despite three years of declines in bad loans, has a name: the doom loop.

A government crisis could drag down the banking system or a banking crisis could suck in the government. Already seven lenders have required bailouts in the past three years, and they may not be the last.

Europe’s existing rescue mechanisms were bolted together on the fly during the last debt crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel keeping fiscal hawks in line while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi flooded the market with liquidity.

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But Draghi will be gone this year and Merkel’s power is on the wane. What’s worse, Italy’s financing requirements would exhaust the existing capacity of the European Stability Mechanism’s bailout funds, or 410 billion euros, in just a year.

That would leave the next generation of European leaders once again weighing the cost of holding their monetary union together.

See also:

European Union’s subversion of democracy contributed to the recession in Italy

venice floodA woman walks in a flooded street in Venice. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Gallup: Global popularity ratings for all world leaders declines — Often an indicator for loss of stability

January 31, 2019

An annual poll by Gallup shows that the global popularity ratings for all world leaders has declined. That indicates dwindling stability around the world, Gallup President Kancho Stoychev told DW.

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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping

Vietnam APEC-Gipfel | russischer Präsident Wladimir Putin und US-Präsident Donald Trump (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Silva)

The Gallup International Association publishes an annual global survey on the popularity of world leaders.

The 2018 End of Year Survey was conducted across 45 countries between October 2018 and January 2019 and included almost 47,000 respondents.

DW: Mr. Stoychev, which takeaway of this year’s End of Year Survey surprised you the most?

Kancho Stoychev: It’s surprising that for the first time we are registering a downtrend in the ratings for all major political leaders in the world. This has never happened before. Normally some leaders go up and some go down for various reasons, but all of them going down together compared to last year and previous years — this is really without precedent. Something is happening in the world. It’s not only about the famous gap between elites and masses, between leaders and voters, it appears that there are deeper reasons, that the world we are living in is in a period of transition.

It’s not only political leaders that are losing support. Even Pope Francis is becoming less popular. Is this trend a result of the challenges some of the individual leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin face at home, or does it indicate a growing mistrust in political leadership in general?

I think it is the latter. Yes, the national problems reflect the image of the respective leader, but we are talking about global data. Obviously we know that the rating of President Macron is going down in France, but it is also declining around the world. The same goes for many other leaders, including [Angela] Merkel, who is still the most trusted and positively evaluated leader not only in Europe but around the world and who is also losing a serious amount of support. It is not only about domestic issues, it’s about the global atmosphere. We saw during the last year a growing confrontation on an international level, which reflects the ratings of the global leaders.

Bulgarian sociologist Kancho Stoychev was elected president of the GIA in 2017

In my opinion, the biggest part of the problem is their inability to deal with the problems facing the world today. The world order which was established after the Second World War seems to be instable. We neither live in a Cold War situation with two big camps or configurations of countries, nor are we really in a situation like the one we had for 10 or 15 years when we had only one big superpower, the US. We live in a multipolar world, the whole picture is becoming more complicated. And it’s especially complicated in Europe due to the problems we as are facing here.

How do domestic crises like the Brexit chaos in the UK Parliament or the yellow vests movement in France affect the respective leaders’ popularity abroad?

pect for human rights.

French President Emmanuel Macron

There is no general answer to that question, but this is a good point. Let’s take Brexit: In some countries and regions, [Prime Minister] Theresa May’s ratings are going up. This means that the European view on the events, the view that Brexit isn’t the best thing to happen to Europe, is not shared all across the globe. Many other regions see Brexit more positively than we do and in many places people seem to accept the deficit in a better way than us. It’s very complicated because we are discussing global attitudes here, not only certain regions or countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tops the list of political leaders, taking over from Macron, who was the most popular leader last year. The survey shows that she is more popular in Africa, non-EU Europe and Canada than at home in the EU. Is this a new phenomenon?

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This is a new trend from last year that is mainly due to the developments and events in Europe. It is a European Union internal problem. During the past year, we saw growing tensions not only between the so-called Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), but also in Italy. We saw serious discourse and disagreements on certain problems and projects between Germany and some northern countries like the Baltic States. This is not the complete list of problems, but the overall deterioration of trust in politicians in Europe is reflected in the ratings of every single European leader.

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Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio

US President Donald Trump remains unchallenged at the bottom of the ranking. Have you observed any changes in his popularity in certain regions?

What is interesting is that his acceptance in Russia is continually declining, which was not the case one year ago when public opinion of him was much higher in Russia. Now, about 70 percent of Russians have a negative opinion of him. The same is happening with respect to the opinions of Americans about the Russian President, Putin: Exactly 70 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of him, which is a big problem. It means that the confrontation between the US, Russia and China is reflecting on a level of mass opinion.

This is bad for the stability of the world, because the populations of these superpowers are getting a negative opinion of the adversary. To me, this is very dangerous because it is not only about politicians speaking back to one another or being in conflict. Now, this conflict is spread among people from both sides of the ocean. The US and Russia are great nations and that attitude towards the leader of the other nation is something that must worry all of us.



Italy’s Salvini warns migrant rescue ship not to approach

January 24, 2019

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Thursday insisted the country’s ports were closed to migrants, as a ship carrying 47 people rescued at sea headed for Sicily in deteriorating weather.

“Umpteenth provocation: having stayed for days in Maltese waters, Sea Watch 3 with 47 on board is heading for our shores. No one will disembark in Italy,” he tweeted.

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Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio

“Ready to send medicine, food and whatever is necessary, but Italian ports are and will remain closed.”

The Dutch-flagged vessel, which is operated by the German NGO Sea Watch, picked up the migrants and asylum seekers six days ago off the coast of Libya as they made the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.

Since then Malta and Italy, the nearest European Union countries, have refused to let them dock, despite an encroaching storm.

Sea Watch 3 rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya on Saturday

Sea Watch 3 rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya on Saturday AFP/File

“We’re facing a Mediterranean cyclone, a rather rare weather phenomenon with waves of 7 meters (23 foot), rain and icy wind,” the NGO tweeted on Thursday.

“#SeaWatch is sailing in this storm and looking for shelter, on board are 47 people rescued out of distress last Saturday.”

The boat is currently headed for waters off eastern Sicily, according to maritime tracking sites, to seek shelter from the weather.



People in a dingy off the coast of Libya with a ship in the background (picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. Calvo)

Some 170 migrants are feared to have drowned the Mediterranean Sea, on or bout January 19, 2019, after two dinghies sank in separate incidents near Libya and Morocco.