Sim­plis­tic slo­gans of no ben­e­fit to EU

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS -

Another ref­er­en­dum and another shock for the Euro­peanUnion. By link­ing his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture to a suc­cess­ful out­come of a plebiscite to amend the con­sti­tu­tion, Mat­teo Renzi was play­ing for high stakes. Per­haps if he had waited to see the re­sults of the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and the sur­pris­ing Don­ald Trump elec­tion vic­tory he might have taken a dif­fer­ent course. NowI­taly and the EU have to deal with the im­pact of his reck­less gam­ble.

On the plus side, fears of a sharp drop in the euro proved ground­less. There was a slight fall af­ter the re­sults then the euro re­cov­ered. And Ital­ians are used to short-lived gov­ern­ments. Pres­i­dent Ser­gioMat­tar­rela has asked Renzi to stay on un­til the bud­get is passed. Then he will ei­ther ap­point a care­taker prime min­is­ter or call new­elec­tions.

The op­po­si­tion par­ties in­clud­ing theNorth­ern League and Five StarMove­ment are push­ing for new­elec­tions and call­ing for a fur­ther ref­er­en­dum on whether Italy should re­main in the euro­zone. Most Ital­ians dis­like the govern­ment’s aus­ter­ity pro­gram which they see as be­ing im­posed on Italy by Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­ge­laMerkel. They are also an­gered at the lack of sol­i­dar­ity from other EU mem­bers in deal­ing with the mas­sive in­flow of refugees in the past 18 months.

Ital­ians have al­ways been among the most pro-Euro­pean cit­i­zens of the EU but now at­ti­tudes are chang­ing. Italy is a found­ing mem­ber of the EU and in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory from theUKwhich has al­ways been Euroscep­tic. But no one can pre­dict how Ital­ians would vote if there were to be a ref­er­en­dum on keep­ing the euro. This is what wor­ries other euro­zone mem­ber states along with the huge debts of Ital­ian banks.

Else­where in Europe the pop­ulist forces will have been heart­ened by Renzi’s de­feat. Ma­rine Le Pen, the leader of the French Na­tional Front, said that the re­sult was a blow to the “ab­surd aus­ter­ity pol­icy of the EU”. She is likely to make it to the sec­ond round of the French pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in­May but is un­likely to de­feat Fran­cois Fil­lon, the cen­ter­right can­di­date who has been mov­ing steadily to the right and steal­ing some of her poli­cies.

In Ger­many the pop­ulist Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many will cer­tainly make it into the Bun­destag fol­low­ing the Septem­ber elec­tions but both ma­jor par­ties, the Chris­tian Demo­crat­icUnion and the So­cial Demo­cratic Party, have ex­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing them as a coali­tion part­ner.

Renzi’s de­feat means that there are now only a hand­ful of so­cial­ist lead­ers in govern­ment in Europe. Although mil­lions of work­ers are call­ing for so­cial pro­tec­tion against glob­al­iza­tion, the tra­di­tional so­cial­ist par­ties are strug­gling to de­liver win­ning poli­cies. In­deed many work­ing class vot­ers are mov­ing to pop­ulist right-wing par­ties such as UK In­de­pen­dence Party in Bri­tain and theN­ational Front in France.

But these par­ties of­fer sim­plis­tic slo­gans for deal­ing with glob­al­iza­tion just like Trump’s cam­paign prom­ise to “bring back 25 mil­lion

The au­thor is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of So­cial Pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford. jobs” to theUS. If Trump does take theUS down the pro­tec­tion­ist road this will have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for the rest of the world, in­clud­ing the EU and China.

Most likely Italy will re­main in the euro­zone and mud­dle through as usual. With so many elec­tions in 2017 there is no prospect of any ma­jor newini­tia­tives by the EU. The 28 will gather for muted cel­e­bra­tions in Rome at the end of March. There could hardly be a worse time to call such a cel­e­bra­tory gath­er­ing as Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter There­saMay plans to trig­ger ar­ti­cle 50 that same week thus set­ting Brexit in mo­tion.

The EU will re­main in a weak sit­u­a­tion un­til 2018 or 2019 when the UK is due to leave. The ques­tion then is whether EU lead­ers can muster the po­lit­i­cal will to move the Euro­pean project for­ward.

The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the EU-Asia Cen­tre in Brus­sels.

LIU XINYI / FOR CHINA DAILY

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