Geopolitics

European Union, Risks From Every Corner Of The Continent

Eye on the Roman Coliseum
Eye on the Roman Coliseum

-Analysis-

BERLIN — Europe's leaders were jubilant when Alexander Van der Bellen won the Austrian election Sunday. The bitter pill came later with confirmation that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a strong supporter of the European Union, had lost the constitutional referendum he'd staked his reputation on — and would resign. Italy was one of the founding members of the EU. Renzi's resignation is just the latest grave worry for those who support a united Europe. Most of Renzi's opponents, from both the left and right, are firm opponents of Brussels. The European bloc must now prepare for more hard knocks in 2017.

So taken together, what do the results in Austria and Italy mean for the EU's future?

Van der Bellen, who supports the European Union, beat far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in Austria's presidential election, which is a ray of hope for many EU politicians. After Britain voted to leave the EU in June and billionaire Donald Trump won the U.S. election in November, the Austrian election is proof that populism and nationalism is not bound to always be a surefire success.

"Austrians are sending a clear pro-European signal. The right-wing populists' celebration is cancelled for now," Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP political group in the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter.

Italy is a very different story. Renzi's opponents — the upstart 5-Star Movement and the Lega Nord, a separatist party — were both successful in playing on populist fears. Still, they certainly can't be lumped together on their EU views. "I don't see a Europe defeated," says Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister. He says the results were more about Italian domestic politics.

Still, euroscepticism appears to have been trigger the rise of these movements, and the defeat of Renzi could lead to instability, which could spread turbulence across Europe because of the country's high debt, with banks sitting on a pile of bad loans. Politically speaking, an early election in Italy could put eurosceptics in a more decisive position. Things would get more serious if Italian populist Beppe Grillo, founder of the 5-Star Movement, decided to push for Italy's exit from the eurozone. "If Europe loses Italy … it will never be the same again," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Next year, the anti-EU rash might spread to two other founding members — France and the Netherlands — thanks to politicians like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. But what does Renzi's defeat mean for German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

Merkel faces an immediate jolt. She had come to rely on Renzi as an ally ever since he assumed office. Merkel fears that Italy will return to its position as Europe's trouble spot and that there will be more turmoil in the eurozone. With French president François Hollande leaving office next year. Merkel needs allies after Britain's vote to depart from the EU and Merkel's opponents in Germany, who are increasingly anti-EU, are giving her a hard time, and cheering each time something goes wrong in Europe. The rescue package for Greece was highly disputed insider her own party. If Italy also dips financially, it could spell serious trouble for Merkel, who will be seeking a fourth term next autumn.

Eurosceptic success

The EU, battered and bruised, has become an easy target. During the migrant crisis, no consensus could be found about the distribution of asylum seekers. Tens of thousands of refugees ended up in Italy by default by way of geography. During the debt crisis, the bloc wasn't able to find a recipe that managed to equitably share burdens and prosperity. According to Eurostat, Germany's unemployment rate is 4.1%, Italy's 11.6%, Spain's 19.2% and Greece's 23.4%. Such stark and entrenched disparities threaten to shake Europe's very foundation.

How can the EU face down this situation? That's a tough question. "Brexit" has prompted reflection. Leaders in both Brussels and national capitals are now advocating for better responsiveness to citizens, a more positive image for Europe and deeper transparency. Still, it's tough to get this message across. In March, Europe will be celebrating 60 years since signing the Treaty of Rome, a pact that had solidified the integration of member states. That celebration will be taking place where the drama has unfolded over the past 48 hours: in Rome.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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