Europe in the doldrums

AFP/MICHELE TANTUSSI - El canciller alemán Olaf Scholz
photo_camera AFP/MICHELE TANTUSSI - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

On 27 February 2022, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the Bundestag to outline his government's response to the crisis in Ukraine. To applause and cheers, Scholz announced a change of era and a radical transformation of the central pillars of German foreign and security policy by proclaiming a Zeitenwende for Germany, a turning point or defining moment. The problem is that the Zeitenwende was a surprise. It affected, as the chancellor said, security and foreign relations, but the depth of the change has not yet been grasped. 

The most striking and hardly explicable fact, excluding Scholz's reception in the Bundestag, is how the European powers came to be unaware of the 'turning point', even though the Kremlin's strategic sequence of replenishing the 'empire', such as the preparations for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, were obvious. In the almost 19 months of war, the behaviour of the European powers has not changed strategically; they are acting reactively to events that they have had no influence over, they are passive subjects. 

In view of the situation, we should ask ourselves whether the Europe of before the invasion, incapable of understanding what was happening, is the right one to deal with the new situation. The question may seem absurd, but the current official European narrative differs substantially little from the surprise Zeitenwende. Europe is in a deep crisis, for the "change of era" has changed the foundations of its current status by affecting its security and economy. The traditional "big powers" of European politics, Germany and France, are immersed in deep crises that leave the Union itself without a discourse. 

The Russian threat has shifted the focus of European geopolitical gravity to the central zone, while the conditions for the formation of a new Iron Curtain are taking shape. The power relationship between Germany, France and Italy is, to say the least, in a theoretical period of coupling, NATO is taking on a new role, and the European transition to a new energy supply model is in the midst of a troubled gestation. For its part, Spain exhibits a delirious introversion that cancels out any international protagonism.

The war in Ukraine, in its military aspect, can be considered a war of "attrition" which, translated into common parlance, is a "let's see who can hold out the longest". European countries are sending aid to the Kiev government and, as can be deduced, this action is more the result of improvisation than of a preconceived plan, which coexists with profound disagreements on other aspects. Examples of this are the existence of a European anti-nuclear lobby led by Germany, while Italy and France follow an opposing nuclear path, or the different positions on relations with China, which are indications that they are opposed to national interests, so that the principle that International Relations are materialised through the exercise of power is applied without disguise.

On the other hand, there are internal problems such as the serious French crisis over immigration, which has led to a confrontation between the government, which wants to regulate it by law, and the right-wing opposition, which wants to frame it as a constitutional reform by referendum. The additional intention of introducing into the Constitution the possibility of derogating from the primacy of treaties and European law, when the fundamental interests of the nation are at stake, is a complete break with the concept of Europe that has been maintained until now. President Macron's opposition to reform is the expression of a deep schism in French society. 

An example of what can "cause a state" in Europe is Italy's stance in devising its own strategy. The aim expressed from Rome is to adapt Italy's protagonism as a regional power with global influence, relying on NATO and the European Union. President Meloni, following in the footsteps of her predecessor Mario Draghi, has maintained a clear Atlanticist stance, developing an African strategy, while contemplating the capacity to project power from the Mediterranean to the Indo-Pacific. 

Italy's new vision is a consequence of the realisation of the geopolitical reality that shapes the narrative and the scale of new priorities. Italy is sensitive to the risks emanating from the Balkans, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, the signs of which are the coups in the Sahel, Wagner's actions in the area, and the growing presence of China and Russian influence in the Balkans. While Draghi's government saw Italy's Mediterranean policy as a complement to its European policy, Meloni's government prefers to see the Mediterranean as the country's main area of policy action and European institutions as necessary but subsidiary. This shift can serve as an example to many EU countries.

Italy has adopted a foreign policy with national initiative by applying a design of the use of power in order to position itself, as a country, in an advantageous position in the chaotic international environment. The building of a highly professional government is its basic tool to exploit the great potential of G7 membership. This was demonstrated on 27 July in the joint communiqué following Meloni's visit to the White House, which reflects the excellent Italian-American relations. It exhaustively lists the aspects of these relations in the future in all aspects, from defence to science, not alluding to the European Union in any aspect, but to the G7, which is configured as the basic support for a new version of the West.

History shows that, in the face of great change, it is suicidal to approach it with a narrative that preaches solutions from the past. Italy is at it. The Europe of the future is a task to be designed, national interests are once again taking an influential position in European politics, they have become fashionable.