Is Europe on the Verge of a Political Breakdown?
Among the many consequences of the war in Ukraine, power dynamics in the EU are changing -- or have changed -- in response to the profoundly altered circumstances. As a matter of fact, if on the one hand Viktor Orbán’s proximity to Vladimir Putin has de facto paralyzed the Visegrad group (Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic), on the other Poland and the Baltic states are gradually coming into a more structured relationship with Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, presenting the EU, starting with Germany and France, with a fait accompli.
At the same time, last Saturday tens of thousands of Czechs protested in Prague against the government to demand more state help with rising energy bills, with some carrying signs denouncing the country’s membership of the European Union and the NATO military alliance. It was the largest manifestation of public discontent over the worst cost-of-living crisis in three decades.
In Germany on Monday, more than 70,000 protesters took to the streets in Leipzig, the most populous city -- with population of 500,000 -- in the German state of Saxony to protest against the government’s inefficiency in supporting measures to overcome the rising cost of living amid soaring inflation in the European country after the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU in response to the assault on Ukraine. In addition to the Left Party, several right-wing parties have also called for demonstrations, including Free Saxons and Alternative for Germany (AfD).
In addition to that, it’s almost election time in Italy, where the very likely victory for the center-right coalition in the general election on September 25 could see Europe’s fluctuating power dynamics shift still further, as the Financial Tmes puts it. For a start, Giorgia Meloni, the frontrunner for the center-right coalition, promised voters in her electoral program she would try to modify the country’s recently approved EU national recovery plan and use the money to reduce consumer energy bills if she wins the election. “It cannot be a heresy to say that the National Recovery Plan cannot be perfected: it is provided by the rule,” she said last Monday at the Ambrosetti Forum, an annual international economic conference held in Cernobbio, on the shores of Lake Como. In turn, speaking at the same conference, Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s center-right League party, said Western sanctions against Russia are not working and actually harm Italy, suggesting allied countries should reconsider their approach. “Do we have to defend Ukraine? Yes,” Salvini said. “But I would not want the sanctions to harm those who impose them more than those who are hit by them.” Enrico Letta, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, promptly replied on Twitter to Salvini accusing him of doing Putin’s work: “I don’t think Putin could have said it better,” he said.
Enrico Letta, also replied to Meloni saying that the National Recovery Plan “can be discussed, but we say ‘no’ to renegotiations. If we got into a confrontation with Brussels, we would lose money and prospects for the future.” Brussels, for its part, has also hinted that plans could be “modified” to better align with the goal of transitioning away from Russian gas, but, according to what a European Commission spokesperson told Euractiv Italy, changing the plan to make more money available for offsetting household energy bills was not really acceptable. Another EU source made it clear that the readjustment of the recovery plan to the REPowerEU -- a plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels and fast forward the green transition -- strategy will in no way mean that this money could be used to help offset energy bills, Euractive Italy reports.
In short, Brussels seems to be in collision course with both Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini as much as the two opposed coalitions do among them. Not to mention that Meloni’s and Salvini’s main “sin” -- in the eyes of both the EU and Italian establishment -- is that they were (and still are) pro-Trump. And to make matters worse, they are pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional values and gender roles, pro-Christianity, and anti-no borders. But fortunately the electorate and the establishment seem to be at odds in their stance on many issues, and the center-left coalition is well aware that the next general election in Italy will be a tough one for them. It’s going to be a rough Fall/Winter for the EU.
In the UK, according to a survey that lays bare the extent of the crisis facing the next prime minister, 60 percent of British factories may fail, crushed by exorbitant energy prices. And needless to say, if six in ten British factories fail, Britain is going to be crippled, and probably will have a depression. MakeUK, formerly the Engineering Employers’ Federation, which represents manufacturers in the United Kingdom, claimed that nearly half of manufacturers have experienced a jump in electricity bills of more than 100% in the past year. “The current crisis is leaving businesses facing a stark choice,” the report said. “Cut production or shut up shop altogether if help does not come soon.”
As Rod Dreher puts it, “Putin is an SOB, for sure. But you can’t heat your home or run your country’s factories with anger at Putin, however red-hot it burns.” It goes without saying that such a pragmatic approach is likely to become very popular throughout Europe. An overwhelming landslide victory of the center-right coalition on September 25th might make Italy, whether the Establishment wants it or not, the driving force behind an epochal shift in the history of the Old Continent.
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area.
Image: Santeri Viinamäki