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What is Europe’s state of health? A four-step diagnosis: Brexit, Eurogroup, Macedonia and Strasbourg

This week will “disclose” the state of health of Member Countries and of the EU as a whole. Spotlight on the Tory party conference in the UK, the finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg, the failure of the post-referendum meeting in Skopije and the Euro-Parliament plenary session

Strasburgo: veduta esterna della sede del Parlamento europeo

A four-leg tour of the Old Continent can help better understand if European Countries and the EU as a whole are following the same direction and where they are headed.

First stopover: Birmingham.The Tory party annual conference is ongoing in the UK. The Conservatives at the helm of the government have been marked by internal division and disorientation. Despite having secured an electoral win in the recent past, and faced with a splintered opposition, the Conservatives –to put it clearly– don’t know which way to turn. They promoted and pulled the strings of the Brexit referendum, in conjunction with euro-sceptic leader Nigel Farage; they sacrificed David Cameron on the altar of questionable “national interests”; they forced voters to last year’s new electoral round to install an executive supported by a fragile majority of MPs; and now they prove to be unable to handle the talks with EU27 Countries – that have no intention to make concessions –meant to secure an “amicable divorce” with limited consequences on British citizens. Few are willing to admit it but it’s more than clear that leaving the EU will cause London’s isolation, it will not bring new business to the City nor to London-based enterprises, it will exacerbate internal divisions among the same British subjects, between England and Scotland,  exposing the Country to the – very serious – risk of raising walls and reopening old wounds between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Theresa May could end up being hit by her own party’s “friendly fire”, where staunch Hard-Brexit advocates, led by ex Minister Boris Johnson, are doing their utmost to remove the Premier from number 19, Downing Street. Their supposed major, alternative plan, is still unclear.
Second focus: Luxembourg. For two days EU’s Council of Economic and Finance (ECOFIN) Ministers will  be engaged in a pressing debate on public finances, economic and monetary union, situation of the real economy… Index numbers, percentages, “macro-strategies” are bound to prevail in the debate, but the real problems linked to the resilience of the single currency, the sustainability member Countries’ fiscal policies, the promotion of employment-boosting growth strategies, won’t be secondary issues. Unfortunately, Italy will once again be under the magnifying glass. Europe will ask the government-in-office, in particular Economy Minister Tria, to explain the reason for targeting a budget deficit at 2.4%, well-above the target of 1.6%. Nobody has an interest in a crisis with Italy, it’s a matter of complying with agreements and protecting the stability of Euro zone countries, Commissioners Moscovici and Dombrovskis pointed out. Italy has a huge public debt, growth projections are gloomy, agencies question Italy’s credit-worthiness. But most of those with a basic knowledge of economics know that uncontrolled deficits and a growing debt load mean digging deeper into Italian taxpayers’ pockets. Will Tria be convincing?

Third focus: Macedonia On Sunday September 30 was called to vote to change the Country’s name (North Macedonia), a decision that would have ended the tug of war with Greece and enabled Skopje to make a determined leap forward toward the EU and NATO. Europeanist and Social-Democrat Prime Minister Zoran Zaev strongly supported it, while Conservative President Ivanov called for a boycott. While the referendum was only “consultative”, it was hit by low turnout, as only 36% of voters cast ballots – 90% of whom voted in favour of the agreement with Athens. Now the ball is in Parliament court, due to engage in a fierce battle that could lead to a new round of national elections. For sure, yesterday Macedonia reaffirmed a dated, sterile form of nationalism (“Alexander the Great is ours and woe betide whoever questions it”), stuck in the past while the world runs fastly.

Last focus: Strasbourg.The plenary of the Euro-Parliament opens today (ongoing until Thursday), with a busy agenda that includes political and legislative decisions, debates on the future of Europe, bitter confrontations between Europeanists and Eurosceptics. The EU Parliament is elected with universal suffrage. It is – or rather, it should be – the voice of European citizens. Despite its limited powers within the EU structure it remains the litmus test of Europe’s state of health. With only nine months to go before the elections that will renew the Assembly’s composition, it will be interesting to find out whether in Strasbourg Europe sees itself “united in diversity”, sharing the same political horizon and the same system of values, or whether the anti-establishment forces are prevailing to the extent of a takeover in the elections of May 23-26. With all due consequences.

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