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August 3, 2021

EU: Urgent dossiers

These days, the European Union has different concerns compared to two or four weeks or months ago. Brexit is undoubtedly agitating the UK’s political life, but on the continent the urgent concerns are now different. Similarly, it seems that the tension between the two large Slavic states has picked up once again in Ukraine, but Minsk-2 and the EU’s large Russian dossier seems able to wait; only the leaders of France and Germany paid a recent visit to Moscow, having on their agenda rather the problems of the European organisation itself. More than two weeks ago, a government crisis started in Italy, when the EU felt obliged to show that it can impose certain order, to show the continent that not anyone can do as they please. And, even more recently, there was the quasi-collapse of the G-7, undoubtedly instigated by U.S. President Trump – even though in his latest tweets he has denied this interpretation. And a British daily (‘The Spectator’) has opined that, after G-7, NATO itself would be next on Trump’s “list” (it is pointed out that Premier Theresa May herself is very concerned in this regard).

The large European Union dossiers with an urgent deadline seem to be two in number. The first one is the disagreement that has intervened in what concerns the influx of refugees from the South and the position adopted by Italy in this regard. Believing it is being left alone to face this danger, Rome, under a new Government, has taken a decision that would obligate the EU to recall that a common policy is needed in this regard. And the things decided by Rome have had an extremely powerful impact in Berlin, where Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to reel under the burden of the dissensions that have appeared within her own party, hence right within the ruling coalition. Unlike Chancellor Merkel, who wants a general European agreement on the current crisis of immigrants from the South, Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (Bavaria) and Interior Minister, is imperatively asking that, once they reach Germany’s borders, the immigrants should be returned to the country in which they first registered as asylum seekers. Seehofer’s fear has to do with the fact that the elections in Bavaria, scheduled for October this year, could see massive gains for the far-right Alternative for Germany Party in the absence of energic orientation toward the exodus of migrants. Merkel hopes to overcome this crisis by reaching bilateral agreements with countries such as Italy and Greece – the European Council Summit taking place next week –, so that she would not force a split with the Bavarian wing of her own party or even snap elections. Something that – recalling how long it took for the current Government in Berlin to be formed following the elections of September 2017 – would have a massive impact on the health of the EU.

It seems that what is happening to the German Chancellor is not by chance, her current difficulties being much more serious. According to some analysts, for example Carnegie Europe’s Judy Dempsey, the most determined adversary of the Head of the German Government is President Donald Trump himself. The aforementioned expert writes in a recent analysis (June 19) that: “U.S. President Donald Trump is intent on undermining Merkel, intent on weakening Europe, and intent on supporting leaders, such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who have questioned the basic values upon which the EU was built.” If Dempsey is right, then what concerns the European Union most these days is the way the U.S., through the American President’s action, will put the European organisation – and Germany first of all – in a tight spot. “Trump is hell-bent on destroying the multilateral order that the United States built with its Western European allies after 1945,” Dempsey writes, his attacks  “on Merkel are dangerous” because “behind those verbal attacks is a disquieting agenda in which Germany would descend to the level that Trump wishes: a country that would close its borders; a country that would have its economy weakened by American tariffs on steel, aluminum, and car imports; a country that sees the White House dismantling the multilateral order that Germany has so much depended upon. Taken together, these could spell ruin for Germany—and, implicitly, for the EU.” Let us also observe that, almost simultaneously with Judy Dempsey’s observations, the American President was writing on Tweeter: “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” Which, we must admit, is basically unprecedented in transatlantic relations.

And one of Carl Bildt’s tweets sheds light on another one of the EU’s concerns these days, just as grave as the previous ones, even if only it evokes the outlook of an internal division within the European organisation. The Swedish diplomat, assessing the various analyses on the strategic options lying ahead for the EU in the near future, and noting that they boil down to the dynamic of agreements between Germany and France, does not hesitate to write: “There are some people in Brussels who seem to believe that there are only two member states in the EU. This is a profoundly dangerous illusion.” Nothing more concerning for the future of the EU than a split within the European organisation, which stands before some radical decisions regarding security, defence, and institutional consolidation in view of the huge global competition in store for it during these agitated times.

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