A Half-Tone Victory for Merkel

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Credit Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Angela Merkel won a fourth term at the helm of Germany ensuing the German federal parliamentary election. In postwar Germany, she is now one of the longest serving Chancellors after Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. Despite winning her fourth mandate and maintaining her status of most seasoned European politician, she is facing some serious challenges at home. Her conservative party, the CDU, scored one of the lowest results in recent memory and lost almost 1 million voters to the extreme-right anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Time will tell, but this general election sends a signal to Germany, Europe and the world: traditional postwar german politics appear to be changing. This election marks very well a substantial political shift.

Data and Political Landscape

The big story of this election is the rise of the AfD as the third largest bloc in the parliament with over 88 deputies, as it received 12.6% of the vote. As argued by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, “Germany now looks more like a ‘normal’ western country. And that, ironically, is not something to be welcomed.” The normality implies a Western country with a relatively strong presence by a extreme-right anti-immigrant party. Germany is not immune anymore.

The AfD was founded in 2013 in response to the bailout of the Eurozone economies. It was an eurosceptic party created by conservative intellectuals six months prior to the 2013 elections, led by a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg, Bernd Lucke, opposed to the bailouts by Germany of other eurozone economies. At that time, the party failed to make it into the Bundestag receiving only 4.6% of the vote, or 0.4 percentage points below the 5% cutoff. The 2015-16 refugee crisis leading to an open-door policy by Chancellor Merkel, welcoming over 1 million refugees, was used by the AfD leadership in order to shift the party ideology from eurosceptism to anti-immigration. The three figureheads of the party being Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel, and Frauke Petry have used incendiary rhetorics and not shied away from addressing Germany’s nazi past.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 11.14.51 AM
Source: The Guardian

With 32.9% of the vote, Merkel’s CDU won the night and a significant share of the Bundestag. However, it is a half-tone victory considering one of the worst results for the CDU losing over 8.6% of the votes compared with the 2013 general election. Furthermore, Merkel’s CDU saw the migration of roughly 1 million voters towards the AfD (see chart below). Merkel’s agenda throughout the campaign was mainly based on the concept of continuity. But the migration towards the AfD may not be only about immigration policies. Chancellor Merkel played a considerable role on making Germany one of the strongest world economies and the economic power of the European bloc. The reforms began in the 1990s, continued by Merkel, implementing neoliberal economic programs permitting to grow the economy, lower unemployment and averse the debt. For instance, four of the world largest companies are German and the country has one of the lowest unemployment level at 5.7%. But these policies came at a cost as the trade-off allowed a huge wealth to companies and low wages. Over the 12 years under Merkel, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor has widened and 16% of the population is at risk of poverty.

Arguable one of the major losers of the 2017 election is the SPD receiving its worst defeat since40674809_303 postwar with 20.5% of voters. In a four year period, the party led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, lost over 5% of voters. One of the major problems for Schulz, whom lacked strong domestic presence, was his inability to articulate a clear alternative to Merkel’s CDU. In addition, traditional SPD voters, its blue-collars base, is declining and represents roughly 19% of the electorate. This number almost mirrors the final results of the SPD at this election. In addition, almost half a million of SPD voters migrated towards the AfD during this election cycle. Schulz’s call to bring the party into the opposition, meaning it won’t join the coalition with the CDU, is no surprise. During his announcement, the SPD leader declared that “in a democracy the opposition is perhaps a more decisive force than the government.” The hope and strategy is to redefine the values, policies and ultimately ideology of the SPD for the next general election in order to attract more voters.

Voter Migration - 2017 German Elections
Source: Deutsche Welle

This illustration below provides a substantial and brief analysis of the Bundestag since the end of the World War two. As one can observe, the SPD-CDU have historically held a substantial majority until the 2017 elections. Last, as illustrated at the bottom of the illustration, a extreme-right party, the AfD, makes his first appearance in the Bundestag since postwar Germany.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 11.09.52 AM
Source: Financial Times

Jamaica Coalition

In order to govern, Chancellor Merkel will need to form a coalition. The evening of results, SPD leader, Martin Schulz, called for the party to stand as the opposition and not forming a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU. This leaves Merkel with the possibility to join forces with the pro-business Free-Democrats, or FDP, and Green party. This triumvirat is known as the Jamaica Coalition, considering that the colors of each party mirror the colors of the flag of the Caribbean island (Black, Green and Yellow).

The development of the coalition is a priority for Merkel, which will be a major challenge for the Chancellor. For starter, candidates of the FDP and Green party disagree on substantial issues and won’t be imageseasily brought together. A “deal to form a coalition” writes Stefan Wagstyl “could take months to put together, given stark policy differences between the parties on several issues including environmental protection.”

The Jamaica coalition will affect the ability of Merkel to work with French president, Emmanuel Macron. The FDP agenda, as advanced during the campaign, goes in opposition with Macron’s proposals, as it opposes the French proposition to reform the Eurozone (i.e. creation of a European budget). On this point, President Macron will be announcing his vision for the reform of the Eurozone on Tuesday, September 26, as he was waiting for the official results of the German election. Ensuing his speech, FDP reactions will be critical for Merkel in order to define the terms of the coalition and therefore her future line with regards to European reforms.

Finally, Chancellor Merkel will need to deal with a growing opposition within her own party. For instance, Merkel is starting to see some opposition coming from Klaus-Peter Willsch, a conservative CDU, opposed to Merkel’s immigration policy. The dealing with the FDP and Green party will be challenging, but keeping in check her own party will be major dilemma.

German Political Realities and Beyond

Despite winning a fourth term and a clear mandate, the outcomes of this election cycle respond to Merkel’s most critical policy-choices: the bailouts of some of Germany’s Eurozone partners and open-door policies vis-à-vis refugees. Both decisions taken by Chancellor Merkel were the right one at the time (for the bailouts avoiding a collapse of the Eurozone) and morally justified and politically courageous (welcoming over 1 millions refugees). Unfortunately, she is now confronting the reality of a changing German electorate.

The strong result by the AfD to the 2017 federal election sends a significant signal that German politics is changing. Populism, which has been present and rising all around Germany and across the pond, finally arrived in Germany. AfD will be a force to reckon with in the legislative process, but could be the necessary evil in order for mainstream parties to craft more substantial social and integration policies.

However, the day ensuing the results, co-chair of the AfD, Frauke Petry, surprised her colleagues by announcing that she will not be part of the AfD group, but will be present as an independent. This announcement illustrates a reality regarding extreme-right parties in Europe. Winning elections has become easier for these parties, like the Front National (FN) of France and even the UKIP party in the UK, able to attract a substantial

Frauke Petry flounces out
Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

share of the electorate. But they are unable to maintain unity once elected and even less able to govern. The most striking case is exemplified by the FN arriving, as expected, to the second round of the French elections in front of two mainstream parties, Les Républicains (right) and the Socialist Party (left). Marine le Pen, president of the party and presidential candidate, was correct when claiming that the FN was the largest party of France. However, after losing the second round with a high percentage (33.6%), the party has been dealing with major internal crises and is now almost irrelevant in shaping the debate and agenda. Petry’s announcement seems to prove the point that extreme-right parties grow strong as an opposition force using identity politics and deeply inconsistent policies in order to get elected. But their lack of political consistency and leadership tension affect their abilities to survive, despite stronger results at elections, and therefor to govern.

This elections mark a turning point in German politics and may bode some major difficulties ahead for Merkel. Furthermore, ensuing the election of Macron in May and its legislative majority, the world expected France and Germany to be finally on the same political page in order to advance and reform the EU. Hopefully, Europe will not be the big looser of this election.

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
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Dehumanizing Migrants – European Strategy to Buck-Pass a Serious Crisis?

Source: AFP / Getty Images
Source: AFP / Getty Images

The current influx of migrants in direction of Western Europe exemplifies more than a simple migration crisis (listen here to a fascinating discussion with Ryan Heath of Politico and Leonard Doyle of the IOM). In fact it exposes two crises: a political and a civic. The human tragedy behind the dangerous voyage of these migrants fleeing war, terrorism, violence, economic misery, human right violations and social tensions should move Europeans towards a genuine desire to assist them through newly designed immigration policies (asylum policies and quotas), social inclusion and assistance, and eventually more humanitarian assistance through Commission’s programs and using the CSDP in unstable countries. But instead, Europeans are blaming the others, blaming the European Union, blaming the other Member States. The migration crisis has dropped fuel over an already powerful nationalist fire. Europe is undeniably facing a serious ethical and internal crisis (read previous analyses herehere, here and here).

Interestingly enough, if one remove the emotional dimension in order to analyze the current migratory challenge facing the EU and looks at numbers, the picture become clearer in demonstrating one simple fact: Europeans are not committed in trying to solve this crisis. The numbers tell a very different story and in fact should make Europeans think about the forces limiting the design and implementation of sound policies to at least try to be in the driver seat.

Data – The Case of Syrian Refugees

The graph and two tables located below illustrates the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe (the three documents come from a report produced by the International Organization for Migration, access it here).

Migration
Source: IOM

So from 2014 to 2015, the number of migrants loosing their lives in the Mediterranean has increased making it the most dangerous migratory route in the world.

Arrivals
Source: IOM
Origins
Source: IOM

As illustrated above the bulk of the migrants come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Each of these countries are facing terrible security, economic and political conditions. Afghanistan has been a country at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion (one can argue that violence in Afghanistan goes even further). Nigeria and Somalia are facing serious political and security issues. Both countries host vicious terrorist networks like Boko-Haram (Nigeria) and some factions of Al-Qaeda (in Somalia) terrorizing the population and underlining the inabilities of their governments to protect their citizens. Eritrea is a police state with vicious policies including “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances.” Last but not least, Syria has been destroyed by war starting right after the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, the regime of Al-Assad has waged war against the opposition. The war has shifted and saw the rise of new powerful player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The European Commission wrote in a recent factsheet, that “the Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Migrants from Syria usually pass by Turkey and Greece in order to enter into Europe, as it is much shorter than using the Central Mediterranean route and arriving in Italy. “The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria” writes the Commission “has reached 12.2 million, approximately 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced.” And a total of roughly 4 million Syrians have fled Syria. Out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 1.8m are located in Turkey (reports demonstrate that the local population have embraced and included the Syrian refugees), 1.1m in Lebanon (a country of 4.4 million inhabitants, so the Syrian refugees represent 25% of the overall population.), 630,000 in Jordan (a population of 6.5 million), and 250,000 in Iraq.

As calculated by the UNHRC, the number of Syrians seeking for security and refugee in Europe has increased by only represent 6% of the overall number of Syrian refugees, or 240,000. Since January 2015, the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers have certainly increased, but solely represent 90,000. The UNHRC shows that 49% of the asylum applications are being shared between Germany and Sweden, second with 29% for Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and 23% for rest of the EU which includes France, the UK, Denmark, Poland and other powerful EU Member States.

Source: UNHRC
Source: UNHRC

These numbers, only looking at Syrian refugees, demonstrate the lack of commitment to either solving the crisis in Syria or assisting Syrians in getting a better life in Europe. It is difficult to believe that the richest economic bloc in the world with a population of 500 million can neither absorb 100,000 refugees on a long period of time, nor provide temporary infrastructures when developing countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with 4 million refugees.

European Crises – Politics, Nationalism and Inhumanity

European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other national politicians like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Nicolas Sarkozy of France (to name a few) share all in common one strategy: dehumanizing the refugees. They all imagesremove the humanity from these refugees in order to appeal to a scared, uneducated and to some degree lazy electorate. The fact that these elected and non-elected officials can receive so much attention and support raises an important problem in European societies. Many experts have been calling for an increase of solidarity among EU Member States, but such solidarity cannot occur if the European citizenry feels no emotional connection with the migrants seeking for a better life in Europe.

If some European institutions, like the European Commission, have advanced some ideas of quotas and asylum policies, and some EU Member States, like Germany and Sweden, have welcome more migrants than other Member States, the rest of Europe seems absent. France and the United Kingdom ought to play a bigger role in advocating for greater solidarity and behaving as role-model (take here a 10 question survey about the migration crisis).

The fraught between London and Paris over the camp in Calais, the so-called Jungle, illustrates the level of the debate. On the one hand, London cannot keep believing that migrants will crash the whole British social welfare programs and the homogeneity of its society. While on the other hand, it is unacceptable for France, one of the richest countries in the world, to have a camp, of broadly 4,000 migrants, with no proper structures and supervision. The French government is saying that the local police forces are being outnumbered. The fact that France cannot put in place immigration centers, dispatch enough policemen and social agents on the ground for a total of 5,000 migrants (on a large estimation) is not because it can’t, but simply because it does not want. France, a highly centralized country, has the military and civilian power and capabilities to assist 5,000 individuals on its territory. The government has already over 10,000 soldiers as part of the large domestic counter-terrorist operation, called Sentinelle, in order to protect public and religious areas from eventual terrorist attacks. It is only a matter of priority for France and the other EU Members. Put in perspective with the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon representing 25% of its overall population, one could talk of a true crisis if France were dealing with 15m refugees on its territory.

And in the meantime, Italy and Greece are left alone dealing with massive flows of migrants (237,000 combined so far this year). Greece is dealing with a serious economic crisis affecting the basic functioning of its state, and Italy is not in its best economic shape as well. Europeans have only agreed on increasing the funding of its two naval missions off the Coast of Italy and Greece. Greece has become a point of transit, while Italy is trying to do what it can with its resources.

2B32729100000578-3190377-Coming_closer_One_tourist_appears-a-58_1439044784090
Source: Reuters

During an interview of a business leader, as part of a large study on global perceptions of the EU, I asked the interviewee to describe the image representing the visibility of the EU in the US. The response was fascinating as usually interviewees have identified an historical monument or a European leader, but the response was a small boat with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. Such response is fascinating in two ways. First, it shows the power of the images published in the US (which could include the many pictures about the situation in Greece). These images of Europe published in mainstream American media in the last six months have only portrayed misery, poverty and devastation. Second, it demonstrates, either the inabilities or unwillingness, of one of the richest group of states in the world to implement policies to solve a humanitarian crisis and assure its own protection. These little boats are starting to seriously affect the credibility and image of Europe.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Year in Review – A Relentless 2014

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2014 has certainly been a complex and eventful year for the world; and 2015 already started at full throttle with the recent terrorist attacks in France. The relentless year was marked by a succession of events affecting directly or indirectly the Euro-Atlantic community at every level of analysis imaginable: individual, domestic, national, regional and naturally international. This year Politipond has identified six axiomatic issues occurring in 2014 with likely future repercussions.

The election of the European Parliament – the European earthquake

Were the European Parliament elections in May 2014 a wake-up call for Europe? Or the beginning of a new direction for the Union? The elections underscored a trend in most EU Member States, a shift towards the extremes (right and left). Some EU Member States have seen an increasing attraction to extreme-left parties. Greece, which has been at the heart of the future of the Eurozone since 2009, is still experiencing considerable traumas caused by the austerity measures implemented as required by the terms of the bailout. Today, Greece is still facing political problems, which has been a blessing for Syriza, a far-left populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. In other EU Member States, the shift has been towards the extreme-right wing political parties. This is the case in several large EU Member States such as France (with the Front National led by Marine Le Pen), the United Kingdom (with UK Independence Party with Nigel Farage), the Netherlands (Party of Freedom with Geert Wilders), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria and Alliance for the Future of Austria with Heinz-Christian Strache and Josef Bucher), among others.

Among these parties, the Front National, UKIP and the Freedom Party have increased their visibility on the European stage and their influence on shaping national debates. In the case of the Front National, the party received the most votes in France for the 2014 EP elections with 25% of the votes representing an increase by 18.9% from the 2009 EP elections (read analysis on France here). Marine Le Pen even called her party the first one of France. The graph below illustrates the votes received by extreme-right wing parties in the 2014 EP elections.

Graph by Alexandre Afonso
Graph by Alexandre Afonso

The 2014 EP elections were certainly a political earthquake in Europe as large EU Member States fell to extreme parties. However, institutionally, the influence of right-wing parties at the EP remains minor as they only have 52 seats out of the 751. At the end of the day, the EP remains in the hands of the EPP (Social Democrats) and the S&D (Socialists). But the increase of votes received by extreme-right parties underlined several aspects: a high discontentment with the EU; a misunderstanding of the EU; nationalist feelings; and the permanent anger towards immigrants. During Pope Francis’ speech before the EP in December, he described the EU as an “elderly and haggard” Europe. Europe needs to reconnect with its citizens, and it won’t be with the help of its radical parties.

A new EU leadership

2014 was the year of the renouveau in terms of changing personnel at leadership positions in the EU. This was the case for the High Representative (HR/VP), known as the EU foreign minister, the President of the Commission, and the President of the European Council. Ensuing the European elections for the European Parliament (EP) in May, the President of the EP remained the same, Martin Schulz. Considering the HRVP and the

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

President of the Commission, the latter went to former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker (read here an article on the Juncker Commission) and to the former Italian Foreign Minister, Federiga Mogherini. These two individuals have been welcomed as they are expected to bring a new wind to Europe and their respective institutions. The José Manuel Barroso’s years have affected the dynamism of the Commission, especially in his last quinquennat; while, for his counterpart, Catherine Ashton, she never seemed at her ease leading the European foreign policy machine and the EEAS. However, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council left the position to Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, in excellent standing. Herman Van Rompuy, undeniably discrete but efficient, was axiomatic in holding European unity especially during the period of tense negotiations to save the PIIGS and the Eurozone (read here one of the best peer-reviewed articles on Ashton and Van Rompuy).

Soon after his appointment Jean-Claude Juncker pledged before the EP that he would seek to reboost and/or reboot the European economic engine. Later this fall, he announced his strategy, known as the Juncker Plan, a €315bn investment fund program intended to kick-start the European economy/ies. The Commission argues that the Juncker plan could “create up to 1.3 million jobs with investment in broadband, energy networks and transport infrastructure, as well as education and research.” This public-private investment fund program (the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create a €21bn reserve fund allowing the EIB to provide loans of a total of €63bn, while the bulk of the money, €252bn, would come from private investors) would allow to fund broad construction and renovation programs across Europe. Some experts argue that the Juncker plan is too little, in terms of the size of the investments, while EU Member States are reluctant to invest their shares in such program. In any case, it won’t start before mid-2015.

Sluggish negotiations around the TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), initiated in July 2013, has become a sluggish and complex series of negotiations between the EU and the US. At first this massive bilateral trade agreement was expected to be quickly completed and agreed. The TTIP consists in removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors as well as harmonizing some rules, technical regulation, standards, and approval procedures. According to the European Commission, the TTIP is projected to boost the EU’s economy by €120 billion; the US economy by €90 billion; and the rest of the world by €100 billion. “The TTIP’s goal” argue Javier Solana and Carl Bildt, “is to unleash the power of the transatlantic economy, which remains by far the world’s largest and wealthiest market, accounting for three-quarters of global financial activity and more than half of world trade.”

Almost two years in, the negotiations on the TTIP are facing serious criticisms inside Europe. The TTIP has provided the arguments to anti-globalization movements, fear of decline of democratic foundations, declining national sovereignty, as well as destruction of national/regional identities and cultures. Nevertheless, as demonstrated below, a majority of European citizens are in favor of the TTIP at the exception of Austria.

Source: Eurobarometer
Source: Eurobarometer

The TTIP is seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy, but mainly European economies stagnating since the financial crisis. The TTIP is as well a response to the other trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the rise of Asian economies. Economists and experts argue that a failure to conclude the TTIP in 2015 could lead to the collapse of the negotiations and leave the European economy in difficult position in the years/decade to come.

A Climate Deal for the Earth?

President Obama announced on November 11 the historical climate deal with his Chinese counterpart to control the level of pollution of the two nations. The US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% below the 2005 levels by 2025, while China committed to increase its share of power produced by non-carbon sources, nuclear and solar, to 20%. Nevertheless, China recognized that its greenhouse gas emissions will continue peaking until at least 2030.

pol_climatechart48_630

This climate pact between the two largest polluting nations was agreed weeks prior the Lima summit laying down groundwork for the comprehensive UN greenhouse gas reduction pact expected to be agreed at the 2015 Paris summit, known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCC COP21). The 2014 US-Chinese climate pact is an important stepping-stone prior the 2015 climate summit in Paris. The 2015 Paris summit may be a turning point for the EU and the EU-28 to lead on this question after the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco.

A Terrorist Triad: ISIL, Boko Harm, and Al-Shabaab

Terrorism has always existed and will continue to live on. However, the type of terrorism faced by the Euro-Atlantic community since the mid-1990s has been principally based on radical islamic terrorism. The principal group on top of Western lists was Al-Qaeda, which has lost some of its grandeur since the assassination of its leader Ben Laden. The year 2014 was important as three groups have shaped Western foreign policies: the new comer, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also now referred as the Islamic State, IS), and two more established groups, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Each group does fall under a similar category of being inspired by Islam, but have different agendas and different radiance.

In the case of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, both groups are located on the African continents. Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, recognized by the US in 2013 as a foreign terrorist organization, seeks to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram became a familiar house-name in 2014 with the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls creating an outcry in the US. In the case of Al-Shabaad, a somali islamic terrorist group, is an Al-Qaeda militant group fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia. The group has started to increase its attacks outside of Somalia’s borders and especially against Uganda and Kenya (remember the terrorist attack on a Nairobi Mall in 2013) as both states are actively involved in fighting Al-Shabaad.

The last terrorist group, ISIL, is more recent. It has risen from the rubbles of the Syrian civil war, ensuing the Arab Spring. Prior its existence as ISIL, it was identified as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and emerged during the US campaign against Saddam Hussein. The group became ISIL in 2012 when the ambition of the group became regional and some fighters moved their fight to Syria. Even though Western governments were aware of its existence, ISIL became a top priority for Western citizens – regardless of its real threat to Western homelands – in June 2014 after several victories in overtaking large Iraqi cities like Mosul and Fallujah. ISIL has progressively begun a territorial warfare in order to create its own state, a caliphate, over parts of Syria and Iraq.

Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press.
Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press. Published in the New York Times on September 16, 2014

The core distinction between ISIL and the two other groups lays in their soft power. ISIL has been extremely attractive to many Europeans and Americans citizens, while Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have remained more local/regional in their recruiting efforts. A large number of Western citizens, mainly from France, Belgium and the UK, have decided to join the fight aside ISIL fighters in Syria. These fighters have been perceived as a real threat to homeland security (as proven by the January 7th attacks in France against Charlie Hebdo).

Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014
Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014

Ultimately, these three terrorist organizations will keep their importance on influencing Western foreign and defense policies as the US and some of its European allies are already involved in military actions in Iraq and Syria. In the case of Europe, France is actively fighting terrorist networks in the region of the Sahel (Operation Barkhane, read here a previous analysis) and other African nations like in Mali (Operation Serval).

Russia Unchecked?

On the European chessboard, 2014 belongs to Russia. Russia brought back the European continent to traditional warfare with territorial invasions and other types of military provocations unseen since the Cold War (including the destruction of an airliner above Ukraine). 2014 started with the ‘invasion‘ of Crimea by the Russian army leading to its annexation to Russia validated by a referendum. By mid-Spring 2014, Ukraine had lost a part of its territory without any actions by the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The West started to act against Russia during the summer once reports revealed the presence of ‘green men’ in Eastern Ukraine and movement of military equipments across the border.

During the summer, EU Member States agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and some financial institutions. At first, many experts thought that20141122_FBC287 the sanctions were too little too late, but in late 2014 the Russian economy was showing serious signs of weakness. However, one needs to underscore that the slowdown of the Russian economy is related to the collapse of the oil prices and a decrease in consumer spendings. In almost one year, the rouble has lost 30% of its value and the Russian economy is on the verge of recession. As reported by the Economist, “Banks have been cut off from Western capital markets, and the price of oil—Russia’s most important export commodity—has fallen hard.”

Despite the economic situation of Russia, at least until now, Vladimir Putin has maintained throughout 2014 a very strong domestic support and sky-high approval rating. Putin’s decision to invade and annex Crimea was highly popular in Russia (as illustrated below). Additionally, the anti-Western narratives advanced by Putin have been well received domestically. However, with the decline of the Russian economy the shift from Russian foreign prestige to more concrete concerns, like jobs, economic stability, and social conditions, may re-become of importance in the national debate.

PutinApproval2000-sept14

2015, Year of the Renouveau?

The economists seem very optimistic considering the forecast of the global economy. According to Les Echos (of December 30, 2014) 2014 was indeed an excellent year for world markets with record results for Shanghai (+49.7% since December 31, 2013), New York (+13.1% for S&P 500 since December 31, 2013), a modest result for Stoxx Europe (+4.9%), a stagnating French CAC40 (+0.5%), and a declining British FTSE (-1.7%). But with rising world markets, declining oil prices, increasing US gas production, and an increasing American growth, 2015 looks bright for the US, but remain mitigated for European economies.

The Grexit may be back on the table based on the elections of January 25th. With Syriza at the head of the polls, his leader has been calling for a renegotiation of Greece’s loan terms implemented by the Troika (IMF, Commission, and ECB). Neither Berlin nor Brussels want to go down this road. According to Der Spiegel, Berlin is willing to let Athens leave the European Monetary Union (EMU) if it decides to abandon the austerity measures. Two aspects can be underscored: on the one hand, some argues that Berlin is not worried anymore about a contagion to other European economies in case of a Grexit. While on the other, some others are claiming that it is part of a ‘tactical game’ played by Berlin in order to lower the chances of a Syriza victory at the end of the month. In any case, the question of the Euro and EU membership will remain throughout 2015.

Will the Brexit occur? In 2015, British subjects will be voting for the next Prime Minister. The elections are going to be closely monitored considering the possibilities of an eventual referendum on the future of the United Kingdom’s EU membership. The current PM, David Cameron, has been promising a referendum for 2017 if re-elected and has been a counter-productive force in Brussels. Additionally, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), getting strong results at the 2014 EP elections seem a strong frontrunner for the post of PM. He has, as well, promised a referendum on the EU membership of the UK. The financial hub of Europe, the City, has been concerned about the financial and economic repercussions of a Brexit. The City’s argument is that by being outside a powerful club, the EU, the UK won’t be able to influence its decision-making and direction. In a recent poll, 56% of British citizens are favorable in staying within the Union.

Last but not least, 2015 may be the year of another large debate in Europe about terrorism versus immigration, freedom versus security and the solidification of the rise of anti-immigrants parties. The terrorist attacks of January 7th, 2015 in Paris will change the national and European debate about counterterrorism, social-economic policies, domestic political narratives, and naturally foreign policies towards the Arab world.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Comeback of Nicolas Sarkozy – France’s Saviour?

Credit: afp.com/Lionel Bonaventure
Credit: afp.com/Lionel Bonaventure

France is once again at the center of European politics with the recent elections of Nicolas Sarkozy as the new President of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), the center-right party. Receiving 64.5% of the votes out of a 58.1% of voting participation of party members, the Sarkozysts believe that he is destined to retake the French Presidency in 2017 and save France from François Hollande. Unfortunately, experts and political advisors were expecting a result around 80% in order to assert his power and uncontested control over the party. Instead the relative good result of Bruno Le Maire, with 29,18%, has overshadowed Sarkozy’s comeback. So, why does the election of Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of the center-right French party matter for European and French politics?

Before his unsuccessful reelection in 2012, Sarkozy had said that if he lost “nobody will hear of me again.” During his absence from the French political scene, Nicolas Sarkozy was enjoying the life of a highly paid keynote speaker traveling around the world. In parallel, he had continued meeting unofficially with world heads of state and government in order to maintain his broad network. His silence ended in September 2014 when he announced his return to public life in France. Undeniably, Nicolas Sarkozy has only one thing in mind, save France from François Hollande by regaining the French Presidency in 2017. The road to the Presidency goes through the internal control of the UMP party. Since September, he has managed to paint a very dark picture of France by claiming that “it is the crisis in France that can tip Europe into disaster.” Since his election in May 2012, François Hollande, the second Socialist president of the Fifth Republic, has been facing serious challenges that had costed Sarkozy’s reelection in 2012, namely the economic slowdown of France, the eurozone crisis, high French unemployment, divided french society over its immigration policies and family values.

UMP, a troubled party?

After losing the Presidency in May 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy left the UMP in turmoil. For over two years, the party was facing financial, ideational, ideological and leadership problems. A feud between Jean-François Copé, a close Sarkozy ally, and François Fillon, former Prime Minister for Sarkozy, led the party into a dark period of division. Because of shady party elections, François Fillon called for a recall on the results. This led to a real threat of a split within the party from 2012 to 2014. Mr. Copé was the president of the UMP and was already envisioning himself as the next UMP candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections. But his presidential dream was shattered with the emergence of the Bygmalion affair, a funding scandal of the unsuccessful Sarkozy campaign. The solution for solving the turmoil within the party was the appointment of a triumvirat composed of three former Primer Ministers, François Fillon, Alain Juppé et Jean-Pierre Raffarin, that would lead the party from June 2014 to the elections in November.

Two big scandals have shaken the party, the Bygmalion affair and the hidden deficit of the party. The first crisis is the infamous Bygmalion affair, an event organizer for the Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. There were ‘anomalies,’ as underlined by Jerome Lavrilleux, a deputy director of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. It appears that the UMP ordered fake invoices to Bygmalion in order to cover some of the costs of the Sarkozy campaign. This affair, directly or indirectly, implicates Nicolas Sarkozy claiming ignoring all of it. The second crisis emerged in early July 2014, the UMP announced that it was facing a massive debt of €74.5 millions caused by a loan for the party building (€27,5 millions), the spending for the 2014 Presidential election of Nicolas Sarkozy (€44 millions), and an additional loan (€2,5 millions). Both scandals are directly connected to Nicolas Sarkozy. Now as the President, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to address or simply try to cover these serious problems facing the credibility of the party and ultimately his image as a shady politician.

Additionally, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to work on recreating a clear narrative within the UMP. Today, the French right is as lost as the Republican Party in the US. Both parties

Drawing by Chappatte
Drawing by Chappatte

cannot identify their political and ideological baselines. In France, the party is divided between the center-right embodied by François Fillon and Alain Juppé, and a more extreme-right, promoted by Nicolas Sarkozy and François Copé. In the US, the GOP is spilt between a more reaganian republican party and an extreme neoliberal and libertarian branch. In both country, this ideological division is affecting the line of conduct of the parties and pushing them to the extreme right. In France, Sarkozy and Copé believe that by attracting the voters of the Front National, extreme-right, they will be able to get in power; while in the US, senators like Mitch McConnell (listen here an in-depth look at McConnell’s political life) are trying to attract the libertarians of the Tea Party affecting the historically more center and progressive line of conduct of the party. This radicalization, or even extremization, of the right has created a serious black-hole in shaping the political and economic debate in both countries. In the US, the GOP is more ideologically based than ever before – see its positions on climate change, heath care, women rights, minority rights, economic and fiscal policies -, while in France the UMP is moving towards an anti-everything party – anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-reformed family values, etc. -.

Sarkozy, the Solution?

The return of Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of the center-right wing party two and half year before the 2017 presidential elections is not a good news for France and Europe. Since he has made his comeback at the beginning of the summer, the political narratives within the

Credit : Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP
Credit : Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP

party and outside have been extremely venomous. Being elected President of the Party is one thing, now convincing French citizens to trust him again is another. Both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande share one commonality: French citizens tend to dislike them equally, but for different reasons. Their public appearances create reticences among French citizens. Sarkozy has not been able to change his image of the ‘bling-bling’ president. Sarkozy and his advisers tend to forget one core dimension, François Hollande was elected in May 2012 because he represented the ‘anti-Sarkozy.’ Nicolas Sarkozy has to change his public image and convince the public opinion. As argued by Dominique Moïsi, a top French expert, “I don’t think Sarkozy will be France’s answer. He still hasn’t realized the extent to which the French rejected him in 2012, and the truth is, while they may be deeply disappointed in François Hollande, they have not changed their mind about him.”

Credit: Sebastien Bozon. AFP
Credit: Sebastien Bozon. AFP

The road to 2017 for Nicolas Sarkozy will be long for two reasons: his dark past as a politicians, and his lack of new ideas. First, as a politician, Nicolas Sarkozy’s political life is far from being pristine. Sarkozy is facing many judiciary inquiries for several cases such as allegations of undeclared cash from Libyan dictator Gaddafi, the L’Oréal affair with heiress Liliane Bettencourt, corruption allegations against the UMP, overspending for his 2014 campaign, and the Lagarde-Tapie scandal. Second, his political ideas do not seem to have changed since loosing power in 2014. On Europe, he is pushing for increasing control of movement of people within the Union. He has yet to advance new economic and social policies in order to explain what he would do differently than during his quinquennat, which was far from being convincing.

The Need for a Political Renouveau

At the European level, Nicolas Sarkozy’ success in his party is not a good news (read here a sum up of the comments by European press on Sarkozy’s comeback). Sarkozy embodies the lack of rejuvenation of the political scene and ultimately political, economic and social ideas. Just within the UMP, the return of Sarkozy at the presidency of the party and Alain Juppé, a center-right politician, as an eventual candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections demonstrate the lack of renouveau. Both men have demonstrated their leadership skills and political thoughts over their years/decades in government. They would eventually face one another during a primary election scheduled in 2016 to determine the UMP candidate for the 2017 presidential race. Neither candidate can foster dreams of a better future. They are just embodying the continuity of the political status-quo.

What else is to expect? So for an EU in search of a renouveau and new wind (remember Pope Francis’ speech before the European Parliament comparing the EU to “a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant”), it cannot afford of having the same political leaders perpetually coming back and not leaving the place to a younger group. Such domestic stagnation illustrates one of the reasons behind the lack of attractiveness and lethargy of Europe. Despite its serious economic and social crises, Italy has been able to turn the Berlusconi page and elect a new brand of Italian politicians – for better or worst -. Matteo Renzi, aside from any political judgments, embodies a new political scene. The new High Representative for EU foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, former Foreign Minister of the Renzi’s government, belongs to this new scene. French citizens ought to address this problems of perpetual elite reproduction and finally elect newer and younger politicians, on either sides of the political spectrum. Stefan Ulrich of the German newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that “France advanced towards the past.” With Sarkozy returning at the helm at the French right, the presidential race is officially on. Neither France nor the EU can afford a three year presidential race. They both need new ideas, new visions, new leaders.

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