European Union Geopolitical Watch – From September 24 to September 30, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Antoine Bézier, Léo Caget, Yanis Kourrad, Audrey Moisan, Etienne Mathieu

09/25/2022 : Right-wing and far-right coalition led by Giorgia Meloni wins legislative elections in Italy. -Antoine Bézier-

On 25th September 2022, the right-wing and far-right coalition of Fratelli d’Italia (Giorgia Meloni), Liga (Matteo Salvini), Forza Italia (Silvio Berlusconi) and Noi Con l’Italia (Maurizio Lupi) won the Italian general election with between 41 and 45% of the vote. Giorgia Meloni, whose post-fascist party came out on top with 26.4% of the vote, is expected to become Italy’s next prime minister, and thus the first woman to lead an Italian government.

This current populist wave in Europe, whose first manifestations were the historic score of the Rassemblement national in the French parliamentary elections of June 2022 and the recent victory of the right-wing and far-right coalition in Sweden, is of great concern to Brussels. Italy would become the first EU founding state to be led by a far-right party. There are fears of a series of crises and tug-of-war between Italy and the European institutions. While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke of possible sanctions “if the next government undermines fundamental democratic principles in Europe“, Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, the other two leading figures in the coalition, saw this as unacceptable interference in Italy’s democratic process and demanded “an apology or resignation” from the German politician. As if it wanted to calm the situation and favour future relations with Italy, France, which claims to be the leader of the Europeanist and social-democrat camp in Europe, issued a measured and benevolent message, and the Elysée declared: “The Italian people have made a democratic and sovereign choice. We respect it. As neighbours and friends, we must continue to work together. It is as Europeans that we will succeed in meeting our common challenges.” The Italian politician was ambivalent about the European Union: On the one hand she would oppose a reform of the European treaties desired by Paris and the introduction of qualified majority voting in certain areas of common foreign policy, on the other hand she was able to give reassuring pledges to her future European partners and to the business community, stating for example that she was in no way in favour of an exit from the euro, an “Italexit” and a renegotiation of the EU treaties as the Rassemblement National would like.

As Giorgia Meloni has been singled out for her pro-Ukrainian stance, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter that he was “eager to work with Italy’s government on our shared goals: supporting a free and independent Ukraine, respecting human rights, and building a sustainable economic future. Italy is a vital ally, strong democracy, and valued partner.” The Kremlin, however, does not take a dim view of the result, with Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, “We are ready to welcome any political force that can overcome the established mainstream full of hatred towards our country (…) and be more constructive in relations with our country.”

Other populist figures in Europe naturally welcomed the victory of Fratelli d’Italia. “The Italian people have decided to take their destiny in their own hands by electing a patriotic and sovereignist government. Congratulations to Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini for having resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union by obtaining this great victory!“, said the president of the Rassemblement national Marine Le Pen on Twitter. Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, who claims to be the leader of populist Europe by virtue of his longevity in power, also warmly welcomed the victory on Twitter, through his political director Balázs Orbán: “Congratulations to Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi for these elections today! In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges.

25/09/2022 : The European Union condemns the repression of demonstrations in Iran. -Etienne Mathieu-

On September 25, Josep Borell, High Representative of the European Union, described the repression of demonstrations by the Iranian regime as an “unjustifiable and unacceptable” act. These demonstrations have been going on for nine days; the repression has already caused 41 civilian deaths. The European Union is particularly concerned about the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who died shortly after being arrested by the Iranian regime’s morality police for “wearing inappropriate clothing“. The police are suspected of being responsible for her death. On the other hand, Josep Borell condemns on behalf of the European Union the restrictions imposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran on access to the Internet and freedom of expression via instant messaging applications.

The European Union calls on Iran to stop the repression, to release protesters not guilty of violence and to publish credible figures on the human cost of the repression.

09/26/2022: Suspicions of sabotage causing leaks on Nordstream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. -Léo Caget-

On Monday September 26th, three leaks were identified on the two gas pipelines Nordstream 1 and Nordstream 2 linking Russia to Germany, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. They were preceded by underwater detonations, which were responsible for causing the leaks, and were quickly detected by Denmark and Sweden. Despite the fact that gas supplies from Russia to the European Union (EU) have been stopped in the context of tensions linked to the war in Ukraine, the pipelines were still full.

For Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, these leaks constitute an act of “sabotage” stressing that “any deliberate disruption of Europe’s active energy infrastructure is unacceptable and will be met with the strongest possible response.” Other leaders and government members of EU member states agreed with this hypothesis, without naming anyone responsible. While many eyes were on Russia, the Kremlin said it was “extremely concerned” about the events and that no stone should be left unturned.

09/28/2022: Russia asks to hold a UN Security Council meeting about Nordstream gas pipeline leaks. -Léo Caget-

On Wednesday September 28th, Russia requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on the following Friday to discuss the possible causes of sabotage operations that may have led to the leaks on the Nordstream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. Denying the suspicions that it was responsible, an investigation into acts of international terrorism was opened by the FSB, the Russian internal security services.

It also implicitly accused the United States of being behind the sabotage, referring to a February 2022 statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, who had mentioned a halt of Nordstream 2 if Russia launched a military intervention in Ukraine. The United States responded to these accusations by pointing to a “ridiculous” maneuver, citing a new attempt at disinformation by the Kremlin.

09/28/2022: European Commission presents a recommendation on minimum income. -Yanis Kourrad-

In a bid to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or exclusion in the European Union by 15 million, the Commission presented on 28 September a Council Recommendation on minimum income. This recommendation aims to reduce poverty in the Member States, to promote reintegration into the labour market and to enable 78% of the population aged between 20 and 64 to access a job. 

The Recommendation identifies a number of tools to achieve these objectives. For example, individualised support and access to inclusive labour markets appear in the first pages of the document. Moreover, the Commission invites Member States to improve the adequacy of income support and to increase the efficiency of the governance of social safety nets at all levels. 

Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrowskis nevertheless recalled the urgency of fighting poverty also in the short term, stressing that the current period of inflation and the troubled geopolitical context imply shocks on the labour market. 

Before this proposal can be adopted, it must be discussed and approved by the Member States. If adopted, a report to assess progress will be drawn up and updated every three years. 

09/29/2022: Towards greater digital responsibility in Europe: the Commission adopts two proposals. -Audrey Moisan-

This Wednesday, September 28, during its weekly meeting, the European Commission decided to adopt two proposals for rules aiming to establish greater digital autonomy on the part of actors present on European soil, but also in the context of the circular economy and the impact of global value chains.

These rules aim firstly at legal certainty for European manufacturers and companies, in order to invest in innovation and ensure support in case of defective products delivered to consumers, including in the context of repackaged digital products. This is the Commission’s way of modernizing the existing rules on this subject.

Secondly, the proposal adopted by the Commission is linked to the White Paper on AI, and its main objective is to simplify access to digital repairs, and to provide greater protection for victims, through a European harmonization of national measures, such as a “presumption of causality” and a “right of access to evidence”.

From an economic point of view, this harmonization should also allow European manufacturers to have a competitive advantage on European soil.

This decision of the Commission will soon have to be validated by the European Parliament and the European Council in order to enter into force. 

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