(Europa/Russia) The European Union and Russia: Old Faces, New Trends (Pyotr, Iskenderov, Strategic Culture Foundation, 19 febbraio 2013)
Experts, headed by the well-known American economist Nouriel Roubini from the finan-cial analysis company RGE Monitor, have published a financial prognosis for the European Union which forecasts a new round of the crisis in Spain and Italy if anti-European forces come to power in these countries. Of particular concern to Roubini is the possible return to power of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.
Today, the governments are not looking that strong in either Spain or Italy. There are still mass protest actions in Spain against the anti-crisis programme of the centre-right cabinet, and added to this are the recent accusations of corruption involving ministers. According to The Wall Street Journal, Spain's shadow economy makes up 20-25% of the gross domestic product, which is considerably more than similar indicators in Germany and the USA, for example. Spain's total tax revenue, meanwhile, amounted to 32.1% of the GDP according to 2011 figures, which is substantially lower than the average for a country in the eurozone.
In recent weeks, however, Spain's problems may be receding into the shadows when compared with Italy's. The upcoming general elections in Italy on 24-25 February may see the removal of the current right-wing coalition headed by Premier Mario Monti, who carried out the anti-crisis policy in line with recommendations from Brussels. The policy is based on cutting back social programmes and payments and an all-out tax increase. At present, Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic Party, which is largely in agreement with the current govern-ment's views on economic policy, is leading in the polls However, on a wave of political and financial scandals which have shocked the country, the People of Freedom party headed by former premier Silvio Berlusconi, rallying under the slogans of a tough and largely just criti-cism of the Brussels bureaucracy with its anti-crisis formulae beneficial to transnational cor-porations, is rapidly gaining popularly. He has already managed to shock the European Un-ion by promising Italians that the municipal property tax paid in 2012 will be given back.
First to sound the alarm was the international financial information agency Bloomberg. According to experts at Bloomberg, the fact that Silvio Berlusconi's coalition has noticeably improved its position in the run up to the Italian parliamentary elections is a cause for con-cern with regard to Italy's budget saving measures in the future. Experts from RGE Monitor have also declared that the Berlusconi coalition's possible victory in the forthcoming elec-tions is a serious risk factor for the entire eurozone.
In recent days, there have been many indications that the leadership of the European Union and the leaders of its member states, primarily Germany, are trying to interfere directly in the Italian election campaign in order to ensure victory for Mario Monti, regarded by Brussels as a manageable candidate...
This is understandable if you take into account certain statements made by Berlusconi. "Ceding sovereignty to a United States of Europe, to the government of a unified Europe elected by its own people", says Berlusconi, "is not the same as handing it over to the bu-reaucrats in Brussels". According to the Italian politician, the financial crisis needs to be overcome by stimulating economic growth, something he intends to do should he return to power. Mario Monti's government, meanwhile, has followed a different path by significantly increasing taxes on everything, as a result of which tax levels in Italy have reached 56%. The newspaper La Stampa recalls the shock felt in Germany at Silvio Berlusconi's announcement of his intention to return to mainstream politics. "There was fear discernible in Angela Merkel's words that Italy might abandon the path of reforms begun by Monti and drag the 17 eurozone countries into trouble. After all, elections are coming up which are going to have to take place against internal debates on the instability of the eurozone and the possible interference of the ECB, in which Berlin has increasingly less influence", La Stampa empha-sised.
Similar fears can also be heard in French columnist Jean-Marie Colombani's assessment of the situation. He is convinced that Silvio Berlusconi's return to Italy's political Olympus will be enough to reverse all of the European Union's anti-crisis programmes. "Do not be in any doubt, the elections in Italy are just as important for our future as the German elections planned for September", writes Colombani.
However, it is not just economic considerations that are causing the panic increasingly taking hold of European Union leaders and officials. The strengthening of the Italy-Russia alliance also seems to be on the minds of those in Brussels. And from the point of view of European Union strategists, this is significantly more serious than the fluctuations of global financial indices and the exchange rate of the euro against the dollar. As the Italian publica-tion L'Occidentale points out, Silvio Berlusconi is the one who is able to offer an alternative to the current policy involving the "direct political interference of the European Union" in the affairs of Russia and other Eastern European states. "Only now is it becoming clear", writes L'Occidentale, "that the way suggested by Berlusconi (to cooperate more with Russia in order to achieve greater benefits) may be more effective and would avoid certain devel-opments that have considerably worsened the current situation in the east of Europe and the Caucasus...”
Of course, Silvio Berlusconi is far too complicated a man to be characterised so defini-tively. However, the independence he displays and his interest in developing trade and eco-nomic relations with Russia allows his possible return to power to be seen as the collapse of the Euro-Atlantic policy. It is also possible to consider the recent victory of Miloš Zeman in the Czech presidential elections as part of this same collapse. It should be said that followers of Euro-Atlanticism view this trend in European politics as even more dangerous than the financial problems in the eurozone.