Alwaght- While the European Union is already grappling with the Brexit challenge, the convergence of the largest political and economic regional bloc is drifting towards decline.
Two years ago, when Europe became a destination of the crisis-hit refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya, the political leaders in Europe divided over how to deal with the influx of refugees. While a group backed the idea of taking them in, the opposite group demanded closed doors to the migrants. Recently, a spat has surged between France and Italy both of which are destinations to the migrants. The chill in the European allies’ relationship gives rise to a vague outlook of the future of relations of the 28-member Union.
What has caused Rome-Paris rift?
The spat sparked after the Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio during a trip to Paris met with two leaders of the French “Yellow Vests” movement, which has been protesting over the past three months against the economic policies of President Immanuel Macron. The meeting drew an angry reaction from the French foreign ministry which described the move as damaging the bilateral ties of the two countries and recalled its ambassador from Rome.
The rift, however, was not only caused by the meeting. It dates back to the early days of anti-Macron protests that affected France. Earlier, some of the Italian government officials including the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities Alberto Bonisoli expressed support to the protest movement in France, calling the demonstrations a legitimate right for government opponents.
The French-Italian rift is even older, dating back, in fact, to the last summer when Italian general elections brought to power populist right-wing Five Star Movement and League Party. Months before the beginning of the French demonstrations, the Italian deputy PM had called France “neo-colonial power fueling poverty in Africa.”
Trading barbs between the two countries has been empowered by a rivalry for oil in Libya, mainly featuring France’s Total and Italy’s ENI. While in southern Libya the Paris-backed groups hold the ground, in the northern areas of the oil-rich nation, groups supported by Rome are in control. The two countries are vying for control of rich oilfields in the north, especially in Sirte province. That is the main reason they fire potshots at each other.
Paris and France are also at odds over the migration challenge. The leftist new leaders of Italy blame the current migration crisis on Paris, and also Berlin, both adopting the open-doors policy regarding the foreigners seeking entry to Europe. As tensions unfolded, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte addressed the issue saying that once Paris shows compromises and cooperation with Rome in the migration case, the two can immediately solve their diplomatic problem. So far, no signs that the spat will soon end appeared, however.
France-Italian spat, the tip of European division iceberg
The recent face-off between France and Italy, according to the analysts, is just the tip of the iceberg of intra-European cleavages, something questioning the optimism about watertight cohesion inside the European bloc. Accusing each other of being colonial powers is almost rare for the European members, something showing to what extent the situation worsened between the two countries.
Less than two years ago, many thought that the marriage of stances among the European countries is so successful that they began to walk down to becoming “United States of Europe.” But now pundits find convergence simply a fantasy as the gaps widen inside EU.
One reason behind this departure from unity within the EU is the rise of right-wing and nationalist parties in the West. Examples are the nationalist sentiments-driven exit of Britain from the EU, the power gain of rightist Five State Movement and League Party in Italy, and the emergence of hardline French National Front led by the Eurosceptic Jean-Marine Le Pen. Countries in Eastern Europe like Hungary and Poland also witnessed such a political transformation that slowly drove the moderate parties to minority and thus marginalization.
The rise of Donald Trump as president of the US who openly encourages the breakup of the Union even compounded the situation for Europe. Beside cheering for London to exit from the EU, Trump incited it to file a complaint against the bloc. Reports suggest that during a meeting with Macron, Trump told his French counterpart to walk the same British way with the EU.
On the other side, the rise of right-wing politics in Europe is itself a product of another issue. The Yellow Vests protest movement eruption and its expansion to other European nations, such as Belgium and Germany, was a response to an expression of deep discontentment with the decades-long policy of foisted integration without recognizing nationalistic and cultural distinctions. Such forced integration, which once sought to blur the national lines even in the non-Western countries, is now resoundingly challenged in the Western world by the public. This well questioned and jeopardized the Western-initiated liberal globalization more than any other time. Such a risk to the globalization agenda has a face and it is the ascendance of the right-wing politics and the simmering protests against the current policies across the EU member states.