Salvini v. Macron: A Battle For The Soul Of Europe

The French president is the populist Italian Interior Minister’s favorite target. But is Salvini attacking Macron to mask his own failure to unite Europe’s nationalists?

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini
Olivier Tosseri

ROME — The campaign for the European Parliament elections in the spring of 2019 has not yet begun, but the main opposing forces have already drawn their battle lines. The elections will see the nationalist-populist axis running from Rome to Budapest squaring off against the pro-Europe progressives centered around Paris.

"There are currently two camps in Europe. Macron is at the head of the political forces that support immigration. On the other side, we want to put a stop to illegal immigration," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared following his recent meeting with Matteo Salvini in Milan. "We will work together to create a future alliance to bring to the forefront the questions of the right to work, healthcare and security. Everything that the European elites governed by Macron refuse to talk about."

Macron is the ideal scapegoat.

The French president, on his visit this week to Denmark, offered his response: "It is clear that today there is effectively a strong opposition between nationalists and progressives, and I will give no ground to nationalists and to those who spread a message of hate. If they want to see me as their main opponent, they're right."

The French president has already been singled out as a favored target of the leader of Italy's League party, with Salvini looking to demolish the current institutional architecture of the European Union, and to renegotiate its treaties. Macron is the ideal scapegoat, allowing Salvini to deflect attention away from the difficulties of putting together Italy"s next budget, and to mask the contradictions of his immigration policy.

French President Macron, the League's target of choice — Photo:

Indeed, Viktor Orban is unwilling to welcome even one migrant as part of the distribution plan, as his "hero and fellow traveler" Matteo Salvini would like. The latter preferred therefore to challenge France once again: "Macron should open the borders at Ventimiglia, stop giving lessons to others, and stop destabilizing Libya for his economic interests."

But Salvini's boasting and threats aimed at neighboring countries and at Brussels are beginning to sow the seeds of discontent within the Five Star Movement, the anti-elite party currently in coalition with the League. One of the Five Star Movement's leading figures, head of the lower house of Parliament Roberto Fico, is trying to disassociate himself from the policies of the troublesome ally. While Salvini's hardline on migration has helped ensure himself record popularity, it has come at the expense of the economic and social questions so dear to the Five Star Movement, and is in direct contradiction with the values held by the left wing of the party.

Discontent hasn't yet turned into revolt.

Declarations from Five Star members of parliament, calling for the "respect of the rule of law of a civilized nation" or an "end to measures which feed people's fear and hatred" have multiplied recently. Still, the rumblings of discontent building among its leadership hasn't yet turned into revolt. One explanation may be in the latest surveys of Five Star Movement's voter base: Over the past year, the percentage among the rank-and-file supporting Salvini‘s aggressive comments toward migrants has risen from 27% to 47%.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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