The EU is facing a real problem now that a new alliance has emerged within it. The Aug. 28 Hungary-Italy high-level meeting was a landmark event that seriously jeopardized European unity as those deep divisions emerged into the open. Budapest and Rome agreed to jointly oppose Brussels on the issue of migration. Expressing their determination to take a tough stance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italian Deputy Head of State and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hit it off, creating what CNN called a Trojan horse within the European Union. The two agreed to jointly pursue their anti-immigration agenda prior to the European elections next May. Both slammed French President Macron for his stance on the problem. PM Orban described Macron as “the leader of the pro-migration parties in Europe today.” According to him, “There are currently two camps in Europe and one is headed by (Emmanuel) Macron.”
Before that event, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met with his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis, who is also opposed to relocating refugees.
The Sunday Express cited Massimiliano Panarari, a political science professor at Luiss University in Rome, who believes that “Italy has become a laboratory of European populism and risks moving away not only from Europe, but also from western democracies and getting closer, together with Orbán’s Hungary, to Vladimir Putin, who enjoys Salvini’s manifestations of sympathy.”
There was something really important that Mr. Orban said during the press conference after the meeting with Salvini in Milan, the city that gave birth to Silvio Berlusconi, an Italian member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and ex-prime minister. The Hungarian PM “asked permission” to meet the Italian official from Berlusconi, who is a long-standing friend of Russia President Vladimir Putin. So is Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban. And Salvini? He opposes the Russian sanctions and is a member of the government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is expected to visit Moscow soon. While Europe is fending off the US attacks and the trade war lingers on, Russia’s influence is growing for the simple reason that many leaders want a friendly relationship with Moscow while defying the rule of Brussels.
Italy called for immediate changes to EU’s Operation Sophia during the EU-wide summit of defense and foreign ministers in Vienna that was held Aug. 30-31. No agreement was reached about the ports where the ships filled with migrants would disembark. The EU’s anti-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean (Operation Sophia), currently headed by Italy, is in jeopardy. Rome is threatening to close its ports to the mission if no solution is found this week. If so, it’ll be a heavy blow to EU unity right before the Sept. 20 summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg that was convened to discuss migration — a hot-button issue on which the bloc has failed to reach an agreement.
The anti-migration stance is backed by the Visegrad Group (V4), which includes the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, as well as Austria, that stands in defense of the right to remain national states instead of becoming part of a federalist entity led by the French-German alliance. The V4 is openly challenging the EU on its refugee policy.
In July, the EU took legal action against Poland over the reform of its judicial system. But Warsaw is backed by Budapest. Poland and Hungary have joined together in opposition to the EU bureaucracy on many issues. With the two nations supporting one another, no EU sanctions can be levied against them. According to EU’s Article 7, two members are enough to bring that mechanism to a standstill.
The emerging “anti-Merkel/Macron” alliance, comprising the Visegrad Group, Austria, and Italy, might soon be strengthened by a country that has been known as an exemplary EU member. The parliamentary election in Sweden will take place on September 9. The far-right Eurosceptic Sweden Democrats are expected to win big – by 18.7% – an increase of almost 50% over the 2014 election. Bookies predict an even larger win. If so, that party will hold the balance of power. The Sweden Democrats have threatened to vote down any government that does not give them a say over immigration policy. In any event, they’ll play an important role in the horse trading that will follow the election.
The idea of a multi-speed Europe has been revived by the French president, auguring a possible split of that bloc that is already divided into mini-coalitions. Chances are slim for the EU to remain united. The bloc is about to take a nosedive. It’ll have to work really hard to survive, but the chances of overcoming the deepening rift appear to be slim at best.