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EUROPE ON THE DEFENSIVE OVER DEFENSE

EUROPE ON THE DEFENSIVE OVER DEFENSE

Back from Paris, President Trump wasted little time in heaping criticism on his French counterpart and erstwhile buddy, Emmanuel Macron. He pulled no punches—going straight for Macron’s low approval ratings and France’s unfair trade practices.


Most importantly, he also derided the French-led proposal – reiterated by Macron during this weekend’s WWI commemorations in Paris – to create an EU defense force to counter threats from the US, China, and Russia. The EU is unique today in its cooperation on almost every front except defense, a legacy of the costly conflicts of the 20th century. Macron wants Europe to compete not only economically, but also militarily, on the world stage.

So what is this proposal, and why is Trump, who has routinely called on EU nations to spend more on defense, angry about it?

The French president has already put into motion the development of a joint European military force capable of taking coordinated action abroad (think disaster response or strikes in Syria). So far, ten countries, including Germany and the UK, have signed up for the so-called European Intervention Initiative. The group, so the idea goes, would eventually offer an alternative to the US-dominated NATO alliance that includes most EU members.

Mr. Macron’s proposal is in part a product of his frustration with a slower-moving EU-led reform (known as “PESCO” or permanent structured cooperation) that’s aimed at integrating and coordinating defense capabilities across the Union. The program has the less ambitious goal of reducing widespread inefficiencies in European defenses—from the incompatibility of different countries’ systems to their prioritization of inefficient domestic defense firms—rather than enabling coordinated military action. Macron wants the EU to move even faster.

But in pushing for Europe to take on a larger responsibility for its own defense, Macron faces steep opposition both outside and inside the bloc.

The pressure from outside: Trump has called on France and other NATO allies to live up to their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. But he’s wary of efforts to compete with the decades-old alliance—and he doesn’t like being labelled as a problem this force is intended to address. To counter Macron’s efforts, Trump could pressure like-minded allies in the EU who already oppose the French president’s proposal or threaten to lash out at France on trade, as he hinted yesterday on Twitter.

The pressure from inside: Within the EU, the reaction to Macron’s renewed call to bolster the continent's defenses has been mixed. As if on cue, German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday signaled support for Macron’s broad vision for a unified and independent European defense. But the devil’s in the details, and the establishment in Berlin is reluctant to rock the boat with a US that still retains 45,000 troops on German soil and whose nuclear umbrella provides the ultimate security guarantee. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the Baltics, US security guarantees help to deter a revanchist Russia. These countries aren’t willing to risk the ire of the US president to help the French.

For now, the creation of a “real European army” is merely a subject for debate, but Macron has made clear he intends to push that debate forward.

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When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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