Greek-Italian EEZ Agreement is Signed

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Amid a high level of tension in the Mediterranean brought on by Turkey’s deal with the Libyan government demarking their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) Greece and Italy signed an agreement establishing an EEZ for the two nations in the Ionian Sea. The agreement was signed today by the Greek and Italian foreign ministers, making official the demarcation of maritime zones which has been pending since 1977. While its fair to say the agreement has been a long time coming, recent Turkish moves in the Mediterranean are responsible for pushing demarcation to the front burner. The agreement will have considerable ramifications for the area but it is, at heart, a hedge against Turkish hegemonic ambitions in the natural resource-rich Eastern Med region.

This may not be the only EEZ agreement Greece signs this month. Athens is in negotiations with multiple neighboring states to reach similar agreements. Again, keeping Turkey in check is the primary motivation fueling these moves. In fact, sources in the Greek Foreign Ministry have hinted that an agreement with Egypt could be signed as early as next week. If Greece and Egypt complete a deal it will be benefit Cairo’s continuing campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, which has received significant funding from Turkey.

It has become possible that the war in Libya has the potential to drag on for an extended period of time with no clear winner. If this comes about it allows Turkey to maintain its foothold in Libya, meaning the EEZ agreement between Ankara and Tripoli will take effect, and be enforced. The rest of the Mediterranean is waking up to this possibility. Italy and Greece are already making moves and now it is a question of who will move next. Israel and Cyprus are also major players in this game. They will be heard from sooner or later.

7 March, 2020 Update: Italy to Quarantine the Lombardy Region

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The Italian government is moving to lock down the northern region of Lombardy in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. Italy has been the hardest hit European nation with the virus having caused 233 deaths, and nearly 6,000 infections. The government’s intention is to extend the physical boundaries of the quarantined areas and forbid people from entering or leaving the region. The following measures will be implemented to help maintain the integrity of the quarantine:

– All public events are being banned.

– Cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs will be closed

– There will be a moratorium on funerals and weddings, however no mention was made of church services

– The national government is also leaning towards extending the closure of schools around Italy unit early April.

 

The government expects the decree covering these steps to be approved by this evening. These draconian steps were prompted by the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases over a 24 hour period. On Friday there were 2,636 announced cases. Today the number was 5,883. Lombardy is one of the most severely affected regions accounting for 85% of all cases in Italy, as well as 95% of the deaths. The Lombardy region is home to upwards of 10 million Italian citizens.

 

As more news becomes available, this post will be updated.

Wednesday 30 May, 2018 Update: Europe Approaching Crisis Mode

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Here we go again. A political crisis in a European Union member-nation is pushing the supranational body into deep panic mode. If this were not enough, the Italian political situation is also bringing about a fresh round of global economic anxiety. There is growing concern around the world that the current situation could potentially threaten the global economy and spark a financial crisis greater in scope than the one the world endured from 2007 to 2009. Running parallel to this unease is the fear that Italy’s political ‘turmoil’ could lead to a permanent weakening of the European Union, and possibly the end of the euro.

In Rome, two anti-establishment parties have failed to form a government after months of negotiations. General elections will take place over the summer, most likely. It is probable that the Italian government will be headed by a populist party following those future elections. A major populist victory in Italy could be the death knell for the EU. Populism has been gaining ground across Europe since Brexit and the Trump victory in the United States, and Brussels has been unable to effectively quell, or challenge it. Eastern and Central Europe are becoming solid bastions of populist governments. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s power has been sapped following the surprising results of the general elections in September, 2017. Although she has managed to form a coalition government, it resembles a house of cards. The German chancellor’s influence in Europe has dropped considerably since then. In the midst of this emerging Italian crisis, Merkel announced she would be willing to work with any coalition government that emerges in Rome, but discussions on economic policy would have to take place within the guidelines governing the euro zone. If Italy forms a stable,  pro-European government in the coming months, Merkel’s advice will no doubt be heeded.

Should the opposite happen, and an anti-establishment government comes to power, all bets are off. Merkel’s warnings will be ignored and there’s a good chance the next Italian government will begin moving towards an imminent exit from the EU. What must be remembered is that Italy went from being pro-EU to anti-EU in a very short time period. The reason is the immigration crisis, and EU’s handling of it. The last elections in Italy were all about immigration. Anti-immigration, and anti-EU sentiment were unleashed at the polls.

Even with its political future somewhat murky, the odds are that the anti-EU sentiment in Italy is not going to dissipate soon. If the EU cannot change this, it will face an even greater crisis in the months to come.

Thursday 8 March, 2018 Update: The EU’s Vulnerable Southern Flank

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The Italian general elections on Sunday ended up as a triumph for Italy’s populist parties. The Northern League and Five Star Movement (M5S) were the major winners. Both parties campaigned on anti-establishment, anti-immigration, and anti-European Union platforms. A new government has yet to be formed and it could be some time yet before that happens. However, that government will almost assuredly be staunchly anti-European Union in sentiment, as well as in deed.

Italy has long been considered to be one of the economic problem children of the European Union, along with Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The growing debt and economic vulnerability of of the Southern European EU members brought about an era of austerity from Lisbon to Athens. Austerity was more than enough for Southern European nations to contend with. But then came the European migrant crisis which saw continuous waves of African, and Middle Eastern migrants washing up on Southern European shorelines.

Italy was arguably the hardest hit. Austerity, and the migrant crisis combined to bring about a political shift in Italy. In recent years, voters have moved away from mainstream political parties, and tossed their lot in with populist parties that are opposed to essentially everything that the European Union supports. Brussels, and Rome appear to be fated towards a clash down the road and the EU is not waiting for the new government to form before it fires the first shot.

Yesterday, the European Commission urged Italy to increase economic reforms. The nation’s recovery from the 2008 crisis continues, yet at a sluggish pace. The commission also cited ‘excessive economic imbalances’ present in Italy. To be fair, the commission’s report also pointed to Cyprus and Croatia as having similar problems, yet their inclusion serves to highlight the fact that the EU’s southern flank is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

This increases the scrutiny which will be placed on Rome in the coming months. The new Italian government will not be as receptive and compliant to EU ‘economic suggestions’ as Greece and Alex Tsipras’ government was in 2015. More to the point, Rome will not submit itself to the wishes of Brussels, and the veiled threats of Angela Merkel like Athens did. The EU feels it would be in its best interests to have a stake in determining Italy’s economic policies for the foreseeable future. How far Brussels is willing to go to keep its influence alive remains to be seen?

What will Italy’s reaction be to increased EU bullying? An Italexit could have severe consequences for Brussels and signal the final nail in the coffin for the great European Experiment.

 

Thursday 1 December, 2016 Update: Italy’s “Trump Moment”?

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On Sunday, Italians will go to the polls on a constitutional referendum. An event which, some observers speculate, could set the stage for Act Three of the populist revolt against the political establishment/ The very same revote that made Brexit a reality in the UK and brought Donald Trump to power here in the United States. The Trump victory has galvanized right-leaning populist movements across Europe. Since early November, political analysts have been looking around and wondering what nation will be next. The smart money is been on France, and with a presidential election coming in 2017 it is a good a good bet.

With that in mind, it would be irresponsible to dismiss what is happening in Italy at the moment. Sunday’s vote will determine whether or not the Italian constitution is amended to reform the Italian parliament, and the way which governments are formed. The referendum is not cut-and-dried the way Brexit was. The opposite holds true, in fact. It is a complex package of reforms that will change how democracy functions in Italy if successful. The core of the referendum is a proposed reformation of the legislative process which is famously chaotic and debilitated. It takes power away from the regions and Senate, thus making it far easier to pass government reforms. Supporters point to this as their most powerful argument. Detractors, on the other hand, point to the referendum as a slippery slope towards authoritarianism and the death knell for representative democracy.

The results of Sunday’s vote will be especially consequential, in that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s political future will be determined by it. His position will be strengthened if the Senate is stripped of most of its power. Renzi has gone all in, even making it known that he will resign if the “no” vote wins. Beyond Italy’s borders, world financial markets are watching events closely. A negative vote makes it more problematic for Italian banks to recapitalize, and the state of those financial institutions is fragile enough already. Then there is the European Union. The EU has taken a keen interest in the referendum, naturally. To be precise, the EU’s main focus is Renzi. The prime minister is viewed as the EU’s best weapon to counter the rising wave of populism. A “yes” vote will put Renzi in a position where he can emerge as a new, powerful leader for Europe in the future. A leader with political beliefs more in line with EU values and in direct contradiction to the type of politicians being backed by populist groups both in Italy and across Europe.

A ‘no’ victory on Sunday will not cause a collapse of the euro and the EU. However, with the Brexit wounds still fresh and anti-establishment sentiment still surging, it will make life more difficult for the embattled supranational union.