Britain a ‘United’ Kingdom How Much Longer?

The EU elections raise questions about the territorial integrity of the U.K., writes Johanna Ross.

By Johanna Ross
in Edinburgh, Scotland
Special to Consortium News

They were the elections that weren’t supposed to take place, but wound up proving highly significant for British politics. By now the U.K. should have divorced itself from the EU under Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise of “Brexit means Brexit.” But with her leadership turning out to be not so “strong and stable,” Britain finds itself still part of Europe. As a result, on May 23, voters in the European Parliament election seized the chance to send a resounding message to traditional centrist parties that the duopoly that has dominated U.K. politics since World War II — Conservative and Labour — is no more. Change is afoot.

Despite two years of disastrous Brexit negotiations with deal after deal blocked by Westminster politicians and considerable attempts by Remain (in EU) supporters, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, to lobby for a second referendum on Brexit, the indefatigable Nigel Farage led his Brexit Party to decisive victory, claiming 32 percent of the vote. Taken at face value this result has reinforced the 2016 EU referendum result with a clear message: the U.K. wants out of Europe.

Scotland Always More Pro-Europe

But a map of the voting ratio tells a different story in Scotland. As predicted, it was a historic result for the governing Scottish National Party, which stood on a Remain platform, advocating a second referendum. Their 38 percent vote rose from 29 percent in the last EU election five years ago. The Brexit Party by contrast secured just under 15 percent. As Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon concluded, Scotland has reinforced its pro-EU stance.

From the days of the Auld Alliance with France, long before the 1707 unification with England, Scotland has had its own relationship with the Continent. Links with universities such as Leiden in the Netherlands and trade links with Bruges, Belgium, and Gdansk, Poland, were in place long before similar connections were made with England.

Scotland has always been more pro-Europe and this election result emphasized that. It’s already being hailed as the necessary catalyst for a second referendum on Scottish independence or “IndyRef2” as it’s known closer to home. Nationalists have been calling for this since they were defeated 45 percent to 55 percent in the 2014 vote. But Sturgeon stuck to her guns, saying that the time was not right; as polls confirmed. However, less than a week after the EU election, the SNP has already published a new independence bill, declaring the EU election result a “fresh start” for Indyref2. A deadline has been set for May 2021.

Westminster can of course try to block any second referendum. At least three of the candidates to replace May have said they would. But that could court a serious backlash. More and more Scots believe that London is no longer interested in their views on anything, with the Brexit negotiations amply demonstrating this. As Scottish historian Tom Devine has commented, the Brexit talks demonstrated that any idea of a union based on “partnership and mutual respect” is “fraud and myth.” Under the circumstances, it is not far-fetched to envisage a Catalonia-style situation in which Scotland forges ahead with a second referendum in spite of Westminster.

In such an instance Scotland may get more support from EU allies than Catalonia did. Britain’s reputation in Europe, after all, has been severely damaged over Brexit, and the EU is, arguably, more likely to back a country interested in joining Europe, than one that has rejected it. In any case, it wouldn’t be the first time Scotland made such a move. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath was sent to the Pope, signed by 50 Scottish nobles and proclaimed Scotland’s independence.

Then there is the question of leadership. Sturgeon, in contrast to her Westminster counterpart, is widely trusted and respected in Scotland. Unlike May, she has provided the one thing that citizens value in a leader: consistency. Despite criticism for not calling another referendum to date, she stuck to her strategy – and it has paid off. The next campaign for independence is sure to be more effective this time around. It was widely agreed that the economic arguments for independence were the weakest link in the Yes campaign back in 2014. Aware of this, the Nationalists are publishing a guide on the subject, to be delivered to 2.4 million Scottish households this summer.

All indicators now are pointing to a no-deal Brexit, which will only boost the nationalists’ case. It could also potentially create chaos in another part of the United Kingdom—the island of Ireland.

Ireland’s Borders

Leaving without a deal would be the worst-case scenario for anyone who has any memory of the Northern Ireland Troubles. It’s feared that a hard border between north and south — which would occur if Northern Ireland, as part of the U.K., left the EU — with all the strict control and customs checks that the EU requires on its borders — could trigger a return to the days of bombings and shootings and jeopardise everything achieved under the Good Friday Agreement. It would be the ultimate provocation to Irish nationalist paramilitary groups who believe in a United Ireland. 

A hard border, therefore, would be deemed a step back into the dark days of conflict, which no-one wants given all the lives that were lost to it throughout the 20th century. Indeed, times have changed and so has the political landscape on the Emerald Isle. The Irish Republic has benefited from EU and Eurozone membership and for many in the north has seemed like a beacon of economic prosperity. By contrast, Northern Ireland doesn’t even have a government — as the power-sharing agreement between the nationalists and unionists broke down two years ago — and the economic outlook is clouded by Brexit.

These factors — together with a majority of Northern Irish voting to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum — have therefore raised an idea that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago: that of Irish reunification. Earlier this year several U.K. cabinet ministers cited a “very real” prospect that a no-deal Brexit would lead to a vote on Irish reunification. Polls both north and south of the border have indicated increasing desire on both sides for this to happen. Granted, a united Ireland naturally brings its own set of obstacles and it’s not something to count on happening tomorrow. It is remarkable, nonetheless, that it is even being discussed.

All this raises the real possibility of the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Poor, inconsistent leadership from May, and a Westminster parliament that has put party politics and self-interest before the delivery of Brexit, has created the current crisis, which in turn has been a gift to Scottish and Irish nationalists.

What previously may have been considered a risky, unstable option for some voters — independence — no doubt now looks like a safer bet given the quagmire of Brexit. Voters now have to weigh up if it is in their interest to remain inside a union that no longer serves the Scottish people (some would argue never did).

As Robert Burns, Scotland’s 18thcentury bard, put it: “I have long said to myself, what are the advantages Scotland reaps from this so called Union, that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence and her very name?” More than 200 years later, Scots are still pondering the same question.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.




EU Elections Spotlight Europe’s Weakened Left

Attilio Moro analyzes why the failures of neoliberalism are feeding right-wing populism in Europe. 

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

The EU Parliament elections that wrapped up over the weekend may not have been the blowout that some predicted for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. But the champions of the European political establishment were still badly damaged.

In Germany, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, or CDU party, weathered the polling, with some slippage. But its main ally, the center-left Social Democrats, or SPD, lost nearly half its ground from five years ago. In France, Macron’s centrist grouping lost to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, or RN.

The results reveal a rising political tide buoying rightwing, anti-EU populists: Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini; Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the U.K.’s Brexit Party leader Nigel Farrage.

The trend leaves the partnership of the centrist European People’s Party (with Merkel as its tacit leader) and the Party of European Socialists, or PES, no longer able to run the European Parliament as it has for 40 years. Now they will need the help of external forces.

All of this was predictable.

For too many years the EU political elites have neglected their  constituencies. Instead, to please Germany and banking interests, they  enforced austerity policies at the expense of lower-income people and employment.

Ultraliberalist Orthodoxy 

For too many years the EU elites have been prone to support an ultra-liberalist orthodoxy that has been ravaging the welfare state. Meanwhile, they failed to adequately address the social consequences of mass immigration. Unable to forge a common policy, they hypocritically preached human rights while striking deals with Turkey and other Mediterranean countries that provided money to keep migrants in detention camps.

For too many years the EU has been accommodating corporate lobbying and hardly responding to the problem of rising unemployment among young people in southern Europe.

The cardinal question is why voters in the lower-middle classes — marginalized and impoverished by ultra-liberal, right-wing policies— are now voting for right-wing and even extreme right-wing parties? Why not leftist parties, in keeping with the classical logic of political alternatives?

The answer appears to be simple: the European left is not seen as an alternative.

The only big European country where the left (in a very mild version of that term) marked gains is Spain. There the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez won 33 percent of the vote. But that result mainly reflected public animus towards the corrupt and centrist People’s Party, or PP, which flooded Spanish banks with money just as the “leftist” Democratic Party, or PD, did in Italy.

Italy’s left has more or less disappeared. It has been drowned by the very bourgeois PD, which took 23 percent of the vote, down from 38 percent five years ago. 

Mute on Yellow Vests 

In France, during the Yellow Vest era, the most impressive social uprising in recent European history, leftist parties merely held ground. Both the longstanding Socialist Party and the new Left Party got 6 percent. Neither one was able to give a political voice to the Gilet Jaunes. Instead, most of the anticapitalistic insurgency was absorbed by Le Pen’s extreme right-wing Rassemblement National (National Rally) or the Greens.

The liberal-democrats of ALDE — the most avowedly pro-business and pro-EU political group in the EU Parliament — managed to win around 15 percent of the vote. This was a clearly alarmed reaction to the prospect of an anti-European populist takeover. 

What Next?

Again, the two traditional leadership groups — the People’s Party and the PES  — will no longer be able to run the show on their own and will need new allies. ALDE will be more than happy to help, as will the Greens, under certain conditions.

The populist and right-wing parties of Le Pen, Salvini and Orban will remain in the opposition. But they will have a stronger say in the appointment of the new commissioners in Brussels. And they may continue to capitalize on the further decline of the middle class.

The “mild” PES  –  which prioritized the defense of Volkswagen over workers’ rights during the past five years — will be pushed to the margin of the new majority. The “harder” European United Left will remain at the margin of the opposition. Both are damned to disappear from the EU Parliament and from European society altogether if they continue to cede monopoly over the social protest movements to the populist and right-wing parties. 

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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PEPE ESCOBAR: Iran Squeezed Between Imperial Psychos and European Cowards

Berlin, Paris and London assumed Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the promised economic rewards.  Now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth, writes Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
in Bangkok
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration unilaterally cheated on the 2015 multinational, UN-endorsed JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. It has imposed an illegal, worldwide financial and energy blockade on all forms of trade with Iran — from oil and gas to exports of iron, steel, aluminum and copper. For all practical purposes, and in any geopolitical scenario, this is a declaration of war.

Successive U.S. governments have ripped international law to shreds; ditching the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is only the latest instance. It doesn’t matter that Tehran has fulfilled all its commitments to the deal — according to UN inspectors. Once the leadership in Tehran concluded that the U.S. sanctions tsunami is fiercer than ever, it decided to begin partially withdrawing from the deal.

President Hassan Rouhani was adamant: Iran has not left the JCPOA — yet. Tehran’s measures are legal under the framework of articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA — and European officials were informed in advance. But it’s clear the EU3 (Germany, France, Britain), who have always insisted on their vocal support for the JCPOA, must work seriously to alleviate the U.S.-provoked economic disaster to Iran if Tehran has any incentive to continue to abide by the agreement.

Russia and China — the pillars of Eurasia integration, to which Iran adheres — support Tehran’s position. This was discussed extensively in Moscow by Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Javad Zarif, perhaps the world’s top two foreign ministers.

At the same time, it’s politically naïve to believe the Europeans will suddenly grow a backbone.

The comfortable assumption in Berlin, Paris and London was that Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the economic rewards promised in 2015. Yet now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth.

It’s hard to expect anything meaningful coming from an enfeebled Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Berlin already targeted by Washington’s trade ire; a Brexit-paralyzed Britain; and a massively unpopular President Emmanuel Macron in France already threatening to impose his own sanctions if Tehran does not agree to limit its ballistic missile program. Tehran will never allow inspections over its thriving missile industry – and this was never part of the JCPOA to begin with.

As it stands, the EU3 are not buying Iranian oil. They are meekly abiding by the U.S. banking and oil/gas sanctions — which are now extended to manufacturing sectors — and doing nothing to protect Iran from its nasty effects. The implementation of INSTEX, the SWIFT alternative for trade with Iran, is languishing. Besides expressing lame “regrets” about the U.S. sanctions, the EU3 are de facto playing the game on the side of U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates; and by extension against Russia, China and Iran.

Rise of the Imperial Psychos

As Tehran de facto kicked the ball to the European court, both EU3 options are dire. To meaningfully defend the JCPOA will invite a ballistic reaction from the Trump administration. To behave like poodles — the most probable course of action — means emboldening even more the psychopaths doubling as imperial functionaries bent on a hot war against Iran at all costs; Koch brothers Big Oil asset and enraptured evangelist, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and paid Mujahideen-e Khalq asset and notorious intel manipulator, National Security Advisor John Bolton.

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The Pompeo-Bolton gangster maneuver is hardly Bismarck’s Realpolitik. It consists of relentlessly pushing Tehran to make a mistake, any mistake, in terms of “violating” its obligations under the JCPOA, so that this may be sold to gullible American public opinion as the proverbial “threat” to the “rules-based order” doubling as a casus belli.

There’s one thing the no-holds-barred U.S. economic war against Iran has managed to achieve: internal unity in the Islamic Republic. Team Rouhani’s initial aim for the JCPOA was to open up to Western trade (trade with Asia was always on) and somewhat curtail the power of the IRGC, or Revolutionary Guards, which control vast sectors of the Iranian economy.

Washington’s economic war proved instead the IRGC was right all along, echoing the finely-tuned geopolitical sentiment of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who always emphasized the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.

And as much as Washington has branded the IRGC a “terrorist organization,” Tehran replied in kind, branding CENTCOM the same.

Independent Persian Gulf oil traders dismiss the notion that the kleptocrat House of Saud — de facto run by Jared “of Arabia” Kushner’s Whatsapp pal Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the Saudi  crown prince – holds up to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day in spare capacity capable of replacing Iran’s 2 million barrels of exports (out of 3.45 million of total daily production). The House of Saud seems more interested in hiking oil prices for Asian customers.

Faulty Blockade

Washington’s energy trade blockade of Iran is bound to fail.

China will continue to buy its 650,000 barrels a day – and may even buy more. Multiple Chinese companies trade technology and industrial services for Iranian oil.

Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey — all bordering Iran — will continue to buy Iranian high-quality light crude by every method of payment (including gold) and transportation available, formal or informal. Baghdad’s trade relationship with Tehran will continue to thrive.

As economic suffocation won’t suffice, Plan B is — what else — the threat of a hot war.

It’s by now established that the info, in fact rumors, about alleged Iranian maneuvers to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf was relayed to Bolton by the Mossad, at the White House, with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat personally briefing Bolton.

Everyone is aware of the corollary: a “reposition of assets” (in Pentagonese) — from the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group deployment to four B-52 bombers landing in Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, all part of a “warning” to Iran.

A pre-war roaring crescendo now engulfs the Lebanese front as well as the Iranian front.

Reasons for Psychotic Rage

Iran’s GDP is similar to Thailand’s, and its military budget is similar to Singapore’s. Bullying Iran is a geopolitical and geo-economic absurdity. Iran may be an emerging Global South actor — it could easily be a member of the G20 — but can never be construed as a “threat” to the U.S.

Yet Iran provokes psychopathic imperial functionaries to a paroxysm of rage for three serious reasons. Neocons never mind that trying to destroy Iraq cost over $6 trillion — and it was a major war crime, a political disaster, and an economic abyss all rolled into one. Trying to destroy Iran will cost untold trillions more.

The most glaring reason for the irrational hatred is the fact the Islamic Republic is one of the very few nations on the planet consistently defying the hegemon — for four decades now.

The second reason is that Iran, just like Venezuela — and this is a combined war front — have committed the supreme anathema; trading on energy bypassing the petrodollar, the foundation stone of U.S. hegemony.

The third (invisible) reason is that to attack Iran is to disable emerging Eurasia integration, just like using NSA spying to ultimately put Brazil in the bag was an attack on Latin American integration.

The non-stop hysteria over whether President Donald Trump is being maneuvered into war on Iran by his pet psychopaths – well, he actually directed Iran to Call me — eludes the Big Picture. As shown before, a possible shut down of the Strait of Hormuz, whatever the reasons, would be like a major meteor impact on the global economy. And that would inevitably translate as no Trump reelection in 2020.

The Strait of Hormuz would never need to be blocked if all the oil Iran is able to export is bought by China, other Asian clients and even Russia — which could relabel it. But Tehran wouldn’t blink on blocking Hormuz if faced with total economic strangulation.

According to a dissident U.S. intel expert, “the United States is at a clear disadvantage in that if the Strait of Hormuz is shut the U.S. collapses. But if the U.S. can divert Russia from defending Iran, then Iran can be attacked and Russia will have accomplished nothing, as the neocons do not want detente with Russia and China. Trump does want detente but the Deep State does not intend to permit it.”

Assuming this scenario is correct, the usual suspects in the United States government are trying to divert Putin from the Strait of Hormuz question while keeping Trump weakened, as the neocons proceed 24/7 on the business of strangling Iran. It’s hard to see Putin falling for this not exactly elaborate trap.

Not Bluffing

So what happens next? Professor Mohammad Marandi at the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran offers quite a sobering perspective: “After 60 days Iran will push things even further. I don’t think the Iranians are bluffing. They will also be pushing back at the Saudis and the Emiratis by different means.”

Marandi, ominously, sees “further escalation” ahead:

“Iranians have been preparing for war with the Unites States ever since the Iraq invasion in 2003. After what they’ve seen in Libya, in Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, they know that the Americans and Europeans are utterly brutal. The whole shore of the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side and the Gulf of Oman is full of tunnels and underground high-tech missiles. The Persian Gulf is full of ships equipped with highly developed sea-to-sea missiles. If there is real war, all the oil and gas facilities in the region will be destroyed, all the tankers will be destroyed.”

And if that show comes to pass, Marandi regards the Strait of Hormuz as the “sideshow”:

“The Americans will be driven out of Iraq. Iraq exports 4 million barrels of oil a day; that would probably come to an end, through strikes and other means. It would be catastrophic for the Americans. It would be catastrophic for the world – and for Iran as well. But the Americans would simply not win.”

So as Marandi explains it — and Iranian public opinion now largely agrees — the Islamic Republic has leverage because they know “the Americans can’t afford to go to war. Crazies like Pompeo and Bolton may want it, but many in the establishment don’t.”

Tehran may have developed a modified MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) framework as leverage, mostly to push Trump ally MbS to cool down. “Assuming,” adds Marandi, “the madmen don’t get the upper hand, and if they do, then it’s war. But for the time being, I thinks that’s highly unlikely.”

All Options on the Table?

In Cold War 2.0 terms, from Central Asia to the Eastern Mediterranean and from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea, Tehran is able to count on quite a set of formal and informal alliances. That not only centers on the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran-Herat axis, but also includes Turkey and Qatar. And most important of all, the top actors on the Eurasian integration chessboard: the Russia and China in strategic partnership.

When Zarif met Lavrov last week in Moscow, they discussed virtually everything: Syria (they negotiate together in the Astana, now Nur-Sultan process), the Caspian, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Iran will become a member), the JCPOA and Venezuela.

The Trump administration was dragged kicking and screamoing to meet Kim Jong-Un at the same table because of the DPRK’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests. And then Kim ordered extra missile tests because, in his own words, as quoted by KCNA, “genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty.”

Global South Watching

The overwhelming majority of Global South nations are watching the U.S. neocon offensive to ultimately strangle “the Iranian people”, aware more than ever that Iran may be bullied to extinction because it does not posses a nuclear deterrent. The IRGC has reached the same conclusion.

That would mean the death of the JCPOA – and the Return of the Living Dead of “all options on the table.”

But then, there’ll be twists and turns in the Art of the (Demented) Deal. So what if, and it’s a major “if”, Donald Trump is being held hostage by his pet psychopaths?

Let The Dealer speak:

“We hope we don’t have to do anything with regard to the use of military force…We can make a deal, a fair deal. … We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. Not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape. They’re in bad shape right now. I look forward to the day where we can actually help Iran. We’re not looking to hurt Iran. I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy… We have no secrets. And they can be very, very strong, financially. They have great potential.”

Then again, Ayatollah Khamenei said: the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

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PEPE ESCOBAR: The Eagle, the Bear and the Dragon

The eagle has conveniently forgotten that the original, Ancient Silk Road linked the dragon with the Roman empire for centuries – with no interlopers outside of Eurasia, muses Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
Special to Consortium News

Once upon a time, deep into the night in selected campfires across the deserts of Southwest Asia, I used to tell a fable about the eagle, the bear and the dragon – much to the amusement of my Arab and Persian interlocutors.

It was about how, in the young 21stcentury, the eagle, the bear and the dragon had taken their (furry) gloves off and engaged in what turned out to be Cold War 2.0.

As we approach the end of the second decade of this already incandescent century, perhaps it’s fruitful to upgrade the fable. With all due respect to Jean de la Fontaine, excuse me while I kiss the (desert) sky again.

Long gone are the days when a frustrated bear repeatedly offered to cooperate with the eagle and its minions on a burning question: nuclear missiles.

The bear repeatedly argued that the deployment of interceptor missiles and radars in that land of the blind leading the blind – Europe – was a threat. The eagle repeatedly argued that this is to protect us from those rogue Persians.

Now the eagle – claiming the dragon is getting an easy ride – has torn down every treaty in sight and is bent on deploying nuclear missiles in selected eastern parts of the land of the blind leading the blind, essentially targeting the bear.

All That Glitters is Silk

Roughly two decades after what top bear Putin defined as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20thcentury”, he proposed a form of USSR light; a political/economic body called the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

The idea was to have the EAEU interact with the EU – the top institution of the motley crew congregated as the blind leading the blind.

The eagle not only rejected the possible integration; it came up with a modified color revolution scenario to unplug Ukraine from the EAEU.

Even earlier than that, the eagle had wanted to set up a New Silk Road under its total control. The eagle had conveniently forgotten that the original, Ancient Silk Road linked the dragon with the Roman empire for centuries – with no interlopers outside of Eurasia.

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So one can imagine the eagle’s stupor when the dragon irrupted on the global stage with its own super-charged New Silk Roads – upgrading the bear original idea of a free trade area “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” to a multi-connectivity corridor, terrestrial and maritime, from eastern China to western Europe and everything in between, spanning the whole of Eurasia.

Facing this new paradigm the blind, well, remained blind for as long as anyone could remember; they simply could not get their act together.

The eagle, meanwhile, was incrementally raising the stakes. It launched what amounted for all practical purposes to a progressively weaponized encirclement of the dragon.

The eagle made a series of moves that amount to inciting nations bordering the South China Sea to antagonize the dragon, while repositioning an array of toys – nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter jets – closer and closer to the dragon’s territory.

All the time, what the dragon saw – and continues to see – is a battered eagle trying to muscle its way out of an irreversible decline by trying to intimidate, isolate and sabotage the dragon’s irreversible ascent back to where it has been for 18 of the past 20 centuries; enthroned as the king of the jungle.

A key vector is that Eurasia-wide players know that under the new laws of the jungle the dragon simply can’t – and won’t – be reduced to the status of a supporting actor. And Eurasia-wide players are too smart to embark on a Cold War 2.0 that will undermine Eurasia itself.

The eagle’s reaction to the dragon’s New Silk strategy took some time to swing from inaction to outright demonization – complementing the joint description of both the dragon and the bear as existential threats.

And yet, for all the spinning crossfire, Eurasia-wide players are not exactly impressed anymore with an eagle empire armed to its teeth. Especially after the eagle’s crest was severely damaged by failure upon hunting failure in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Eagle aircraft carriers patrolling the eastern part of Mare Nostrum are not exactly scaring the bear, the Persians and the Syrians.

A “reset” between the eagle and the bear was always a myth. It took some time – and much financial distress – for the bear to realize there won’t be any reset, while the dragon only saw a reset towards open confrontation.

After establishing itself, slowly but surely, as the most advanced military power on the planet, with hypersonic know-how, the bear came to a startling conclusion: we don’t care anymore about what the eagle says – or does.

Under the Raging Volcano

Meanwhile, the dragon kept expanding, inexorably, across all Asian latitudes as well as Africa, Latin America and even across the unemployment-infested pastures of the austerity-hit blind leading the blind.

The dragon is firmly assured that, if cornered to the point of resorting to a nuclear option, it holds the power to make the eagle’s staggering deficit explode, degrade its credit rating to junk, and wreak havoc in the global financial system.

No wonder the eagle, under an all-enveloping paranoid cloud of cognitive dissonance, feeding state propaganda 24/7 to its subjects and minions, keeps spewing out lava like a raging volcano – dispensing sanctions to a great deal of the planet, entertaining regime change wet dreams, launching a total energy embargo against the Persians, resurrecting the “war on terra”, and aiming to punishlike a Bat Out Of Intel Hell any journalist, publisher or whistleblower revealing its inner machinations.

It hurts, so bad, to admit that the political/economic center of a new multipolar world will be Asia – actually Eurasia.

As the eagle got more and more threatening, the bear and the dragon got closer and closer in their strategic partnership. Now both bear and dragon have too many strategic links across the planet to be intimidated by the eagle’s massive Empire of Bases or those periodic coalitions of the (somewhat reluctant) willing.

To match comprehensive, in-progress Eurasia integration, of which the New Silk Roads are the graphic symbol, the eagle’s fury, unleashed, has nothing to offer – except rehashing a war against Islam coupled with the weaponized cornering of both bear and dragon.

Then there’s Persia – those master chess players. The eagle has been gunning for the Persians ever since they got rid of the eagle’s proconsul, the Shah, in 1979 – and this after the eagle and perfidious Albion had already smashed democracy to place the Shah, who made Saddam look like Gandhi, in power in 1953.

The eagle wants all that oil and natural gas back – not to mention a new Shah as the new gendarme of the Persian Gulf. The difference is now the bear and the dragon are saying No Way. What is the eagle to do? Set up the false flag to end all false flags?

This is where we stand now. And once again, we reach the end – though not the endgame. There’s still no moral to this revamped fable. We continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Our only, slim hope is that a bunch of Hollow Men obsessed by the Second Coming won’t turn Cold War 2.0 into Armageddon.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

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In Upcoming Elections EU Parliament Faces a Long List of Enemies

Attilio Moro explains why the EU’s only directly elected legislative body is mounting such an energetic voter-turnout campaign. 

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

As the EU approaches what are considered to be the most important elections in the history of its parliament — between May 22 and 26 — the EU has never had so many enemies.

The list starts with U.S. President Donald Trump and extends to the Brexiters in the UK. It goes from Andrze Duda, the Polish premier, to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; from the Czech Republic’s Prime Minster Andrej Babis to the Romanian government.

Italy also makes the list. Its unofficial prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has been advocating, until he took office, the exit from the euro and possibly from the EU altogether. Other anti-EU leaders include Austrian Prime Minister Norbert Hofer, who assumed office on an anti-European platform, and France’s Marine Le Pen.

There is also the AFD Party in Germany and a score of sizable anti-EU minorities in almost all European countries.

The most aggressive of all has been Donald Trump, who went well beyond his “American First” slogan in calling EU countries the trade “enemy” of the U.S. Under his watch, EU-U.S. relations have never been so bad.

Divisions with EU

The Trump administration’s divisions with the EU seem to involve everything, from NATO (Europeans have to pay more, Trump keeps saying) to Iran (Washington trying to block Europe from dealing with Teheran); from trade (too many German cars in the U.S.) to the environment (Trump backed out of the collective reduction of Co2, as internationally agreed in Paris).

Trump has given confidence and strength to Brexiteers and every possible type of EU dissident, to the point that Poland’s Duda has openly defied the EU Commission’s demand to abolish the illiberal law allowing his government to appoint the justices of the Supreme Court.

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Hungary’s Orban could defy the European immigration policy by refusing to take in one single migrant (Trump is building a wall, after all). And, contrary to the “European spirit of openness” (and against the wishes of many of George Soros’s friends in Brussels) — Orban in 2018 managed to force most of operations of the private university in Budapest funded by the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist to move to Vienna.

The Czech Republic’s Babis, the richest man in the country, continues to flout warnings from Brussels about his violations of press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.

Romania is displaying the most conspicuous insubordination in the case of Laura Kovesi, its former chief prosecutor, who oversaw the convictions of thousands of politicians, officials and businesspeople. Now Bucharest, which is holding the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of June, is trying to prevent Kovesi from leading the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will begin functioning in 2020. Romania’s justice minister has been smearing her in letters to his EU counterparts and the government briefly subjected her to a travel ban. The only government that opposes her nomination is her own.

Sovereignism

The ideology that unifies most of the European “enemies” of the EU is sovereignism, the idea that national interests should come before those of Europe and that sharing wealth doesn’t imply sharing policies and values.

In line with Trump, Sovereignists don’t believe that the problems of the modern world can be dealt with through a multilateral approach. They will win, according to most estimates, a sizeable share of the seats in the EU Parliament later this month.

They will be supported by a substantial share of the European public opinion (mainly right-wing) which is at odds with what they consider to be an EU immigration policy that is too permissive.

They will also be supported by plenty who feel that the EU institutions, including the EU Parliament, are bureaucratic and remote from ordinary people, while too close to the lobbies. They have a point. Around 15 thousand lobbyists are active in Brussels. It is not a mystery that they are very influential in the EU Parliament.

Recently, it turned out that the EU’s liberal party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, or ALDE, received hundreds of thousands of  euros in donations from Google, Bayer, Microsoft, Uber, Syngenta and Deloitte.

The leftists of the GUE/NGL and the Greens both fiercely oppose corporate lobbying. But with those two exceptions, there is good reason to believe that all the other major political groups have received this much money and more.

One of the most striking cases of EU corporate influence is that of Bayer-Monsanto, which managed last year to renew its European license for the weed killer, Roundup, which has been defined by leading research institutions as an endocrine disrupter with links to cancer.

In addition to corporate corruption, anti-EU sentiment includes those opposed to the neoliberal economic policies (privatizations of public companies, cuts in social spending, deregulation) imposed in the last 20 years by the EU institutions, which not only failed to revive the economy but brought southern European countries to the brink of bankruptcy.

Despite the widespread frustrations, most European citizens consider the EU as vital in the era of globalization. And a reasonable percentage of the European constituency will turn out to elect their delegates to Brussels.

But the EU Parliament senses the threat it is facing and is running an unprecedented voter turnout campaign. In every European airport now, huge (and very expensive) billboards inform travelers of what the EU has done for their country.

Had parliamentarians arranged more transparency in the way they do business, or had they passed a proposal that has been languishing for decades for passage – which would oblige lobbies to register — that might have been more effective than billboards.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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Democratic Triumph for Catalan Separatists

Given all they were up against, Craig Murray underscores the importance of their victory in Spain’s general election.

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

The Spanish general election in Catalonia was a stunning victory for the Catalan separatists, their best election result, achieved despite their leadership being exiled or political prisoners and despite an avalanche of mainstream media propaganda against them.

Four of those elected are currently in jail.

The Spanish state has reacted by declaring the two major separatist candidates — Clara Ponsati and Carles Puigdemont — ineligible for the European Parliament elections.

The Catalan Republican left won the biggest share of the vote, which negates the continued false propaganda being put about Catalonian independence being a right-wing movement. Over 60 percent of the vote in Catalonia went to avowedly left-wing parties.

It is further worth noting that there is a very plain correlation between the geographical location of the 3.6 percent of the vote that the neo-fascists of Vox gained in Catalonia, and the Spanish occupation garrisons in the country.

You will struggle very hard indeed to learn any of the above facts from British mainstream media; I had to get them all from Catalan sources.

The Guardian has published 55 articles in the last three years boosting Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the Catalan branch of the right wing “Spanish” Citizens party, including at least three op-eds written by Ines Arrimadas herself. The Guardian has sought relentlessly to portray public opinion in Catalonia as anti-independence, and Arrimadas as its true representative.

Yet in the Spanish general election, Arrimadas’ party got only 11.6 percent of the vote in Catalonia. The right-wing nationalist Spanish parties, the fascist Vox, the Francoist PP and Arrimadas’ foreign security service promoted Citizens, got a pathetic 20.1 percent of the vote among all three, in a stunning Catalan rejection of Spanish nationalism.

Citizens started life as an astroturf effort to help counter the left-wing and anti-EU populism of Podemos. To that end it was funded and assisted by the German foreign intelligence service, the BND. It remains a favorite tool of foreign intelligence services, particularly MI6 which of course sees the links between Catalan and Scottish nationalism. Hence the peculiarly active link between Ciudadanos and MI6’s print media mouthpiece, the Guardian.

It is impossible to correlate directly from party results to potential referendum results, as a number of parties including Podemos and the Greens hold ambivalent positions on independence, and a percentage of voters will have a view on independence that differs from the party they support. For example, a small but significant number of Socialist Party supporters of PM Pedro Sanchez, also support Catalan independence.

Given the thuggish violence of Francoist paramilitary forces against the ordinary voters in Catalonia’s referendum, given the imprisoning and exile of its peaceful leadership, given the extraordinary Madrid dictated barrage of MSM propaganda, the Catalan nationalist victory in the general election is a wonderful triumph for the human spirit. Now you won’t hear that in the MSM.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. This article first appeared on his website.




Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and his EU advisor say the publisher should not be tried in social media and must be given a fair hearing in court. 

 

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On Thursday this week WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a London court. This hearing relates to the request by the United States to extradite Assange to that country to face a computer hacking charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years. No doubt social media will be alive with commentary, support, abuse and everything in between concerning Assange’s plight.

When, after almost seven years, on April 11, 2019, Assange was arrested on Ecuadorian soil and taken into custody by U.K. police, social media exploded with the pro- and anti-Assange forces countering each other, and there has been a deluge of commentary about WikiLeaks and Assange the man. But much of what passes for comment about Assange on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook ignores some fundamental issues and facts about this extraordinary case. It is important to restate them in the hope, vain though it may be, that social media comment about Assange and WikiLeaks is at least well informed and deals with what is actually at stake in his case.

There is firstly the issue of Assange’s breaching bail in 2012 and seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This was never a case of an individual seeking to flee from justice. To see Assange’s actions in this light is to ignore the fundamental right every person has to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion. In his case the fear was Sweden would detain him and then hand him over to the United States. Sweden refused to assure him it would not.  We must also remember that Assange did not “hide” in the embassy, like a fugitive. He was detained because he had no choice — leave and be arrested was not a viable option.

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It is also essential that Assange’s right to a fair trial be respected. The opinions on his arrests, his alleged (mis-)conduct and his persona has essentially involved many on social media engaging in the classic “trial by media.”  The ongoing discussions about this on media platforms got divided in two camps: Assange is either a villain who deserves what he got or a hero who disclosed information that the public had a right to know.

Trial by Twitter

Assange’s case has, and is being decided upon by millions of social media judges around the world who are finding him guilty of hacking, espionage and sexual misconduct. And many of these same social media judges are deliberating on Assange’s extradition fight and the role of Sweden and the United States. Moreover, his trial on social media leads inevitably to the persecution by non-state actors in the form of harassment to WikiLeaks, Assange and to those close to him.

One issue is of particular concern. It is particularly troubling that many on social media are misleading others into thinking that there are legal proceedings afoot in Sweden today. This assertion is simply wrong. Assange has never been charged in Sweden, the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct was closed, twice. There are only two live issues before the courts, leaving aside the sentencing for breach of bail. They are, the extradition request and the accompanying charges brought by the U.S. in respect of which there is a real possibility that once on U.S. soil, Assange will face an inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and an unfair trial. It is to be expected Assange will receive a similar treatment as his collaborator, Chelsea Manning, who is currently detained due to her unwillingness to testify to a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

We simply say this to social media participants. Don’t judge Assange’s case on its presentation in the political arena, in the news or in the analysis of others on social media. Moreover, don’t let the procedure in Assange’s trial set a dangerous precedent for future, similar cases. The legal proceedings involving him must be decided by an impartial judge respecting and following the rule of law.  His case has to be judged fairly on the merits and on actual evidence rather than on conspiracy theories or political games. The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge and the respect to all the procedural requirements to minimize the risk on other potential breaches of fundamental rights. There is no exception to these fundamental rights in Assange’s case. Respecting Assange’s fair trial and the rule of law, will benefit justice.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Australian legal adviser to Julian Assange. Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne, Australia.

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VIDEO: European Parliament Debates Assange Extradition

The European Parliament Tuesday held a fiery debate on Julian Assange’s fate. Some MEPs argued the matter had no place in their body, others said human rights &  press freedom were fundamental European issues. Video by Cathy Vogan.

Watch the 27-minute debate on Assange here, captured from the plenary session by Cathy Vogan for Consortium News.

Catherine Vogan is an Australian film-maker and academic at Sydney Film School. She is a contributor to Consortium News.

 




China’s European Moment Has Arrived

The simplicities of the postwar order have just begun to pass into history, writes Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Xi Jinping’s visits to Rome, Paris and Monaco last week. In bringing his much-remarked Belt and Road Initiative to the center of Europe, the Chinese president has faced the Continent with the most fundamental question it will have to resolve in coming decades: Where does it stand as a trans–Atlantic partner with the U.S. and — as of Xi’s European tour — the western flank of the Eurasian landmass? The simplicities of the postwar order, to put the point another way, have just begun to pass into history.

In Rome, the populist government of Premier Giuseppe Conte brought Italy into China’s ambitious plan to connect East Asia and Western Europe via a multitude of infrastructure projects stretching from Shanghai to Lisbon and beyond. The memorandum of understanding Xi and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio signed calls for joint development of roads, railways, bridges, airports, seaports, energy projects and telecommunications systems. Along with the MoU, Chinese investors signed 29 agreements worth $2.8 billion.

Italy is the first Group of 7 nation to commit to China’s BRI strategy and the first among the European Union’s founding members. It did so two weeks after the European Commission released “EU–China: A Strategic Outlook,” an assessment  of China’s swift arrival in Europe that goes straight to the core of the Continent’s ambivalence. Here is the operative passage in the E.C. report:

“China is, simultaneously, in different policy areas, a cooperation partner with whom the E.U. has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the E.U. needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

There is much in this document to chew upon. One is the mounting concern among EU members and senior officials in Brussels about China’s emergence as a global power. This is natural, providing it does not tip into a contemporary version of the last century’s Yellow Peril. At the same time, the Continent’s leaders are highly resistant to the confrontational posture toward China that Washington urges upon them. This is the wisest course they could possibly choose: It is a strong indicator that Europeans are at last seeking an independent voice in global affairs.

Looking for Unity

They are also looking for a united EU front in the Continent’s relations with China. This was Emmanuel Macron’s point when Xi arrived in Paris. The French president made sure German Chancellor Angela Merkel and E.C. President Jean–Claude Juncker were there to greet Xi on his arrival at the Élysée Palace. The primary reason Italy sent shockwaves through Europe when it signed onto Xi’s signature project is because it effectively broke ranks at a highly charged moment.

But unity of the kind Macron and Merkel advocate is likely to prove elusive. For one thing, Brussels can impose only so far on the sovereignty of member states. For another, no one wants to miss, in the name of an E.U. principle, the opportunities China promises to bring Europe’s way. While Macron insisted on EU unity, he and Xi looked on as China signed contracts with Airbus, Électricité de France, and numerous other companies worth more than $35 billion.

There is only one way to read this: Core Europe can argue all it wants that China is unrolling a divide-and-conquer strategy, but one looks in vain for on-the-ground resistance to China’s apparent preference for bilateral agreements across the Continent. On his way home, Xi stopped in Monaco, which agreed in February to allow Huawei, China’s controversial telecoms company, to develop the principality’s 5G phone network.

In numerous ways, Italy was fated to demonstrate the likely shape of China’s arrival in Europe. The Conte government, a coalition led by the rightist Lega and the Five-Star Movement, has been a contrarian among EU members since it came to power last year: It is highly critical of Brussels and of other member states, it opposes EU austerity policies, it is fiercely jealous of its sovereignty in the EU context, and it favors better ties with Russia.

Closer to the ground, the Italian economy is weak and inward investment is paltry. Chinese manufacturers have made short work of Italian competitors in industries such as textiles and pharmaceuticals over the past couple of decades. A map, finally, tells us all we need to know about Italy’s geographic position: Its ports, notably Trieste at the northern end of the Adriatic, are gateways to the heart of Europe’s strongest markets.

 

 

As the westward destination of Xi’s envisioned Belt and Road, Europe’s economic and political relations with China were bound to reach a takeoff point. The accord with Italy, Xi’s European tour and an EU–China summit scheduled to take place in Brussels on April 9 signal that this moment has arrived.

Shift in Relationship

But it is not yet clear whether Europeans have grasped the strategic magnitude of last week’s events. In effect, the Continent’s leaders have started down a path that is almost certain to induce a shift in the longstanding trans–Atlantic relationship. In effect, Europe is starting — at last — to act more independently while repositioning itself between the Atlantic world and the dynamic nations of the East; China first among them by a long way.

No European leader has yet addressed this inevitable question.

Let us not overstate this case. Trans–Atlantic ties have been increasingly strained since Barack Obama’s presidency. President Donald Trump’s antagonisms, most notably over the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement, have intensified this friction. But there is still no indication that any European leader advocates a rupture in relations with Washington.

Can U.S.–European ties evolve gradually as China’s presence on the Continent grows more evident? This is the core question. Both sides will determine the outcome. The Europeans appear to be preparing for a new chapter in the trans–Atlantic story, but there is simply no telling how Washington will respond to a reduction in its long-unchallenged influence in Western European capitals.

There is one other question the West as a whole must face. The E.C.’s “strategic outlook” terms China “a systemic rival promoting alternative forms of governance.” There are two problems with this commonly sounded theme.

First, there is no evidence whatsoever that China has or ever will insist that other countries conform to its political standards in exchange for economic advantage. That may be customary practice among Western nations and at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is not China’s.

Second, as we advance toward a condition of parity between West and non–West — an inevitable feature of our century — it will no longer be plausible to assume that the West’s parliamentary democracies set the standard by which all others can be judged. Nations have vastly varying political traditions. It is up to each to maintain or depart from them. China understands this. So should the West.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Italy Looks to China

The U.S. and EU may worry about Rome joining the New Silk Road, but it’s their fault, writes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus
in Milan
Special to Consortium News

Italy caused a political firestorm in mid-March when it announced that it would be joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome from March 21 to 23.

As the first G-7 country to accept a formal agreement to participate in the initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, Italy found itself under instant pressure from both the United States and its allies in Europe, all of which worried that it represented an expansion of China’s economic foothold in the West.

The populist government led by the Five-Star Movement and the League was caught off guard by the rapid backlash, which began with a pointed tweet from the U.S. National Security Council on March 9.

Garrett Marquis, confidant of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Security Council spokesman, followed up with a threat to stop intelligence-sharing between the two countries.

Prior to the Chinese leader’s arrival, Giancarlo Giorgetti, the secretary of the Council of Ministers, a post equivalent to chief of staff in the U.S., confirmed the signing of the memorandum to exploit new economic opportunities, but said important restrictions would be placed on cooperation with China, and that it was “ridiculous to speak of detachment from the United States.”

The government also took practical measures immediately, expanding the scope of the “golden power,” the government’s ability to veto economic operations that it deems a threat to national security. This is aimed in particular at protecting the telecommunications sector and the development of the 5G mobile network, an area where the Trump Administration is putting pressure on other European countries as well.

On March 25, by the time Xi Jinping had come and gone, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said “I think the proper balance has been reached. … Nobody should see this as a change in course, or a change in strategy internationally. Italy remains where it is.”

Nonetheless, the China Daily is calling it a milestone in cooperation and plenty of news outlets are underscoring the significance of the deal, which starts at $2.8 billion and could expand to $22.6 billion.

Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, who led negotiations on the deal, has insisted that despite taking into account U.S. and EU worries, Italy must make its own decisions, following an “Italy first” strategy. 

But Salvini, to whom Geraci owes his position, and who is poised to have even more clout after the European elections at the end of May, has been clear that it is not the type of change in alignment the Chinese had trumpeted. 

Salvini even stayed away from the state dinner with Xi; and he has vowed to use his position as interior minister to monitor national security as regards port infrastructure. The other deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, who met with Bolton last Thursday in Washington, says that while Italy is simply pursuing its economic interests, it remains a key NATO ally and trade partner. This is Italy’s standard posture, which will likely be accommodated as long as the government responds to specific requests from the U.S., as it already has, for example on 5G, the new telecommunications infrastructure.

Larger Partnerships

Italy is certainly not the first country in Europe to look to China for economic growth opportunities. Its larger neighbors in the European Union (EU) actually do more business with China, and have established themselves as key partners in the BRI.

Germany exports 94 billion euros worth of goods to China, for example, while the United Kingdom and France come in at 23 billion and 21 billion, respectively. Italy’s share is currently only 13 billion.

After his visit to Rome, Xi Jinping was welcomed to Paris, where he signed agreements for the purchase of tens of billions of euros of French products, from airplanes to wind power systems, despite not formally joining the BRI. And the German city of Duisburg has become a key terminal for the Chinese initiative, with the arrival of dozens of trains every week that carry goods to be distributed throughout Europe thanks to the city’s central position and infrastructure connections.

Critics of these agreements point to two negative effects of Chinese expansion: cheaper products that undercut European producers, costing manufacturing jobs, and growing Chinese ownership of assets in Europe, giving the Asian giant increasing power over Western economies.

Other European countries, such as Portugal and Greece, have signed formal agreements with China regarding the New Silk Road. Italy is different because it has a much larger economy, and is a member of the G-7. Yet it shares the need to rebound from the economic collapse suffered in recent years during the Euro crisis. These have been aggravated by the neoliberal policies imposed by the European Commission and the European Central Bank, with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund.

Between 2011 until 2014, during EU-dictated austerities, Italy’s GDP declined by 7 percent, with the loss of 20 percent of the country’s industrial production.

It’s been a disaster from which the economy has only partially recovered. The current government is attempting to reverse the situation, with greater social spending and public investment. But lacking many allies in Europe, it’s being forced to compromise with EU institutions and scale back on its plans.

So, it’s no surprise that Italy would look to China to help jump-start the economy. And given that other European countries have more trade with China, it’s reasonable to expect Italy to make up the gap with countries such as France and Germany, both through investment in private enterprises and the construction of public infrastructure. And the Italians are seeking more opportunities for their companies to sell products in China.

Larger Problem for West

Italy’s situation reflects a larger problem for the West. The neoliberal economic policies of the past 30 years have brought the outsourcing of well-paying jobs, and a reduction of the role of the state in both stimulating growth and guaranteeing the welfare state. This has weakened the middle class and widened inequalities. As this has happened, the West has lost economic and political weight, opening the door for new powers to expand. China has been the main beneficiary, considerably increasing its economic presence in areas such as Africa and Latin America, and now aiming to play a leading role in Europe as well.

This shift worries U.S. government institutions seeking to bar China from such strategic sectors as telecommunications and to maintain close military-industrial cooperation with European allies.

The strong negative reaction from the U.S., followed by the European Commission, may have been driven by China’s public relations about the deal and in part by the make-up of the Italian government.

China portrayed it as a major step, not just another agreement with one country among many in Europe. The Chinese press hailed the accord as a step forward in a comprehensive strategic partnership,” and published remarks calling it an antidote to the rising wave of unilateralism and trade protectionism,” a clear dig at the U.S.

Xi Jinping then wrote a long article published on the front page of Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera. Meanwhile, on the day of Xi’s arrival, copies of the official China Daily were distributed free to numerous hotels around Rome.

All that contributed to the unease, and key players in the Italian institutions quickly decided they could not afford to anger the United States. The memorandum has been signed, and Italy will try to obtain as much economic benefit as possible, attempting to make up ground compared to its European competitors. However, the document, and the government’s rhetoric, have been adjusted to dampen the notion of a change in Italy’s strategic positioning.

Italy has the only fully populist government in Europe: the Five-Star Movement and the League came to power after elections one year ago, determined to challenge the status quo, meaning going against EU economic orthodoxy, and also hoping to lower the tensions that have dominated relations with Russia in recent years.

The Trump administration has generally been supportive of the Italians, while other European governments have not. Thus, the desire to accelerate cooperation with China is now being tempered by the need to maintain the full support of the country’s most important ally.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan. He was elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association in March 2018. His latest book “Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions of the European Union” is due out at the end of April.

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