2. 2018 eastern neighbourhoods remain turbulent
Germany Great Britain Europe
*2018 will change nothing
The EU has seemingly survived the existential crises of the Brexit vote, the ascent of Donald Trump, and the rise of the far right across the continent. But the union and its international influence remain fragile. The populist wave may have peaked, but it has certainly not passed; refugee deals with Turkey and Libya are under threat, and the southern and eastern neighbourhoods remain turbulent. Against this backdrop, we asked our national offices to outline their governments’ greatest hope and greatest fear for foreign and European policy in 2018.
In 2017, a new president was elected in France on a clear pro-European platform, and with the intention to reclaim a strong international role for France. With Emmanuel Macron’s victory, France aims at returning to the forefront not just of Europe, but of global affairs.
Consolidating the new momentum in Europe is obviously France’s key priority. With the uncertainties around the next German government, and several other roadblocks to be overcome, this is far from guaranteed.
For France, this is not just about tackling the European Union’s internal challenges. A European renewal should also help Europe to assert its views and interests on the global stage. In Macron’s vision, this new European impetus needs to be extrovert too: as he said in his speech at the Sorbonne, only Europe can “ensure a real sovereignty, i.e. our capacity to exist in the current world”.
Hence France’s renewed ambition – against the global backdrop of a retreating United States and increasingly assertive China – to act as the champion of multilateralism. Europe will better thrive if intrinsically global challenges, such as terrorism, migration, climate change, and digitalisation, are tackled under a multilateral approach. France’s hopes for a more effective multilateralism go beyond immediate security crises such as in Syria or in the Sahel, as illustrated in Macron’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly last September 2017.
France’s hope is that the multilateral architecture is strong enough to resist the current assaults, allowing Europe time to get its act together. Macron’s initiatives even suggest that he plans that international institutions succeed in reforming themselves in a direction that will make them more effective, more responsive, and closer to a “multilateralism that protects”, to paraphrase one of his famous slogans.
The worry for the French leader is that something could trigger the demise of this multilateral order – in particular, renewed international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. From a French perspective, international security is among the primary missions of the multilateral order.
France’s official assessment of the current international environment points to an unprecedented “concentration of threats and crises”, but notes that “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems remains a particularly troubling development”, which could pose “direct challenges to… international institutions and norms.”
France is particularly concerned about the potential for proliferation in the context of three international security crises. The repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria is all the more appalling in France’s views given the lack of meaningful international response. The Élysée is also vehemently opposed to US moves which risk the unravelling of the Iran nuclear deal. And Paris is closely following the deteriorating situation around the Korean peninsula, which it sees as at serious risk of conflagration.
The latter case is a significant example of how Macron is keen to maintain France‘s global reach, and of how it hopes to sweep along the rest of Europe to defend a renewed multilateral agenda.
Elections in Italy are foreseen in the first quarter of 2018, most probably on 4 March. The last election created an unstable legislature, which saw four different centre-left governments. Recently, the Parliament passed a new electoral law (supported by Renzi’s Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia). But rather than bringing more stability, the new law is designed to reward coalitions while penalising solo riders – clearly intended to restrict the rise of the Five Star Movement.
This tells us much about the government’s hopes for 2018: win over the Eurosceptic populists and remain anchored to Europe and its Franco-German engine.
No doubt the next months will be characterized by intense political confrontation, where populist arguments will dominate. While in past elections the theme of Europe was not part of electoral campaigns, today it is, and not in the way Europhiles hoped for. Indeed, the last European barometer highlights how Italians have become Europe critics, where only few years ago they were overwhelmingly pro Europe. The Euro crisis, migration and security concerns are the major drivers of this U-turn.
The Democratic Party should try to ally with new political forces, such as “More Europe”, in order to overcome the current negativity and create a pro-European narrative echoing Macron’s “Europe qui protége”. Some also fear the interference of fake news and a potential involvement of Russia through direct or indirect support to the North League and the 5 Stars Movement, who allegedly have strong ties with the giant neighbour, and who are strongly Eurosceptic.
According to an IPSOS recent poll, migration is a major fear among Italians, second only to employment. Clearly, this is a subjective matter: the actual number of migrants reaching Italy does not justify such concerns. As in other countries, it is very likely that many Italians will vote out of fear instead of out of rational thinking, and certainly not out of hope. Worse, populist arguments have also penetrated traditional party agendas, while the right wing, once moderate and focused on a liberal program, today has become a much more aggressive far-right.
Hopes and fears are two parts of the same coin, with migration and Europe being very much interlinked. The European Union took too long to respond to Italy’s appeals for solidarity and relocation schemes have never been truly implemented. Instead of coming up with a common policy to manage migration, the EU has outsourced it: to Turkey for the Syrian refugees and to Libya – an almost-failed state – for Sub-Sahara Africans, with tragic consequences.
The future does not look bright: the ongoing attitude of the Visegrads, the clash between Tusk and the Commission, the US leaving the global compact on migration, all reduce the possibility of solving the problem. The challenge for winning the next election will be rebuilding the foundation of trust among citizens, and to do so parties will need to come up with a strong vision and concrete plans, both on Europe and on fear-creating issues such as migration. Failing to do so will mean their defeat.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : eu