On the 9th of September, the EU southern member states held a conference. The impact of this event was not substantial but very promising and of course, full of symbolism. Portugal, Malta, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus signed a declaration and made a deal to repeat a EUMed conference in Portugal in the future. The two crucial questions around the gathering are: 1) what are the reasons which drove these states to coordinate a Mediterranean dialogue inside EU’s institutions? 2) Secondly, are there any real reasons for this conference to raise German anxiety? Perhaps, these questions could meet their answers in a junction.
EUMed summit: focus on the Mediterranean region
The EUMed meeting, in the words of the participants themselves, did not mean to be a divisive initiative but the beginning for the creation of a European Union that is in accordance with the ideas of solidarity, democracy, economic prosperity and social welfare. Five out of the seven countries agreed in Athens on a sound and clear truth. The EU’s international role has been shrinked more than ever and in order to avoid this deterioration the focus has to shift on the Mediterranean basin.
The Mediterranean Sea was the mother of civilizations. In Latin “Mediterranean”, means the middle of the earth as “Mesogeios” in Greek. The contemporary geopolitical situation calls for attention on that wide region where different civilizations, religions, issues and opportunities lie. The refugee crisis proved that geography and geopolitics have still their significance. The EU can’t find a viable solution for this humanitarian disaster which threatens the Middle East and North Africa regions and of course the EU itself. The difficulties and obstacles that the European South face could easily explain the reason why the Italian PM,Matteo Renzi, expressed his concerns on the outcome of the Bratislava summit. It is sound and clear that European South is separated from the North. The refugee crisis is going to threat Europe again and the EU has no plan to confront this humanitarian issue yet.
A set of crucial European issues
If we take a serious look at the post-World War II European political history, we will see that there is a reference to a “two-speed” EU1. Of course, there are policies (theoretically) that enhance ways to bridge the gap. What we are going to do when the gap isn’t narrowing? Unfortunately, the European crisis has shown its symptoms and maladies in the European South. The Eurozone’s crisis and its impact in the fiscal and financial context of each state (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Cyprus) have been calamitous. The US had warned that the austerity policies, which have been being promoted and established by the EU bureaucracy, wouldn’t have work out affecting productivity and reconstruction of the southern economies. This atmosphere is clearly depicted in the words of the Italian Prime Minister, who has been strongly critical of the meeting in Bratislava describing it as “a wasted opportunity”2. Matteo Renzi set the economic policy followed by the United States during the financial crisis of 2008 as an example for the European countries and he accused Germany for maintaining trade surpluses above the limit of 6%, requesting from Berlin to increase investment in Europe. Furthermore, there are differences on other issues like the EU-Russian relations. One of the former three pillars of the EU (Common Foreign Policy & Security) is substantially dysfunctional. Terrorist attacks in Paris and the terrorist threats against Italy together with the endless war in Syria and the possible locomotion of ISIS in Libya, create a toxic cocktail for Southern Europe.
While we make a dialogue about an organization like the EU, the variable of interaction could not be forgotten. The domino-effect is alive and kicking and the Northern European countries try to separate themseles from the problems of the South. So, why is the German Chancellor worrying?3 Why did the German Federal Minister of Finance, Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble speak ironically about the socialist leaders who participated at the EUMed conference? Lastly, why did the head of the European People’s Party Group, Mr. Manfed Weber, urge Athens to implement the agreed reforms, avoiding initiatives that lead to the creation of internal alliances within the EU?4 Creating a more constructive dialogue among the Mediterranean states (member states of EU) will boost the deepening procedures in EU and will give the right direction to face all these problems.
EUMed: tough challenges for the EU and a chance for a new dialogue
The EU is facing hard times. The meeting in Bratislava failed to take crucial decisions about the migration issue, a fact that was fully reflected at the German regional elections, where the far-right party AfD gathered 14.2%, entering for the first time in the local parliament. In Hungary, the Prime Minister, Victor Orban, will try to amend the Constitution so that the referendum’s result that rejected the relocation of refugees in his country will be accepted5. In Italy, a referendum on the constitutional reform bill may lead to Renzi’s resignation and to new elections. In Germany, the federal elections will be held next September, while in the U.S., Donald Tramp, seems to have got good chance at winning. Marine Le Pen, will claim the presidency and she has even promised a referendum for the withdrawal of France from the EU. Similar separatism trends may rise in Italy with the Five Star Movement and in Spain through an alliance of the Socialists party with Podemos.
All these facts are going to take place, at a time when the Brexit issue is still pending, while anti-European and far-right political parties are strengthening their electoral power throughout Europe. The political uncertainty described from these developments would adversely affect the European economies, as it coincides with a period of intense geopolitical rivalry in Syria and Ukraine and also with a new spate of terrorist attacks worldwide. Given that in France, a founding member of the EU, euroscepticism is rising, there are a few words to use to avoid hypocrisy when we face as a “dissolving threat” the EUMed summit that took place in Athens on 9th September 2016. Even Luxembourg threatened Hungary with expulsion from the EU. The EU’s structure is in peril. The Αthens’ initiative for a Mediterranean dialogue inside the EU, has become more indispensable than ever before. The Northern European countries should embrace initiatives like Mediterranean Summit and do not condemn them. Condemning initiatives which are similar to Athens’ Summit causes an augmentation of political suspiciousness inside the EU and gives the chance to radical voices to express arguments that drive the EU into dilution.
PhD Candidate & IR Risk assertion-conflict/crisis management
economist (B.A. Kapodestrian University of Athens), an international affairs analyst (M.Sc., Panteion University of Athens)
1 Webber, D., Successful and genuine failures: France, Germany & the others in the history of ‘multi-speed’ European political integration. (Unpublished manuscript).
2 Totaro, L., (2016, September 18), “Renzi Scolds Germany, France Over EU Regulations, Corriere Says”, Bloomberg.
3“This is the Meeting That Merkel ‘Should Be Afraid of”, (2016, September 9), Sputnik News.
4“Med nations seek unity ahead of Bratislava meeting”, (2016, September 9), Kathimerini. Kambas, M. and Maltezou, R. (2016, September 9), “EU Med nations hold summit on growth, EU paymasters question motive”, Reuters.
5 Than, K., (2016, October, 3), “Orban says to amend constitution so EU can’t impose migrants on Hungary”, Reuters.