Geopolitics come first, and the bailout deal follows
by Dimitris Rapidis and Enrico Calvone (August 6, 2015)
Egypt was looking to build on a new national narrative that would bring back sentiments of pride and a feeling of regional assertiveness for Sisi. In a tough and complex geopolitical environment, with the war against ISIS to intensify, Turkey and the United States to form a powerful alliance against the jihadists, Iran to transform from rogue state to Middle East regulator, and energy regional struggle to come back in the headlines, Egypt wanted to demonstrate that it remains in the center of global developments, able to construe that whatever geopolitical shifts occur, Cairo remains a center for decision-making in the Middle East and a power that can share global developments and preserve stability in a highly tumultuous environment.
The role of France and Italy
After seven months of tenuous and heart-breaking negotiations in Eurozone, the insistence of Germany's Minister of Finance Schaueble to object to any proposals made by the Greek side, pushed France and Italy to form a coalition and support the Greek demands for a more accommodating solution. The decision of President Hollande to start criticizing Eurozone hardliners was a clear sign that France wanted to re-assert its role as a major pillar of influence in the European Union and Eurozone.
Hollande knows perfectly well that by demonstrating solidarity to Greece, France and Italy could bid for a more relaxing terms with regards to their deficit and debt, as Athens would and still be on the hotspot of Eurozone's austerity route. Therefore, Paris and Rome could gain time and prepare their moves against Berlin, acknowledging that their financial and budgetary holes could not be addressed via more austerity that would end up with a huge political cost for both Hollande and Renzi. Both leaders assessed that by showing continuous verbal support to Greek PM Tsipras, they can also gain back their falling popularity and engulf the big and transnational wave of social solidarity that has sparked in the EU already since February.
Especially for Hollande, his presence at the inauguration of the New Suez Canal is entrenched with strong symbolism as France was one of the trusted forces of the Canal back in the 19th and 20th century, at the times of expansive colonialism in the Middle East, North and Central Africa. Furthermore, the French President wanted to re-affirm his country decisiveness to play an energetic role in the region and increase financial profits for the French companies and industries that are operating in global scale in transports, commodities, maritime affairs, weaponry and counter-intelligence services.
Tsipras and Medvedev sidelining Sisi
During a tough month of final bailout talks, PM Tsipras was one of the notable figures in the ceremony. After a disastrous outcome on the Euro Summit of July 12, a deep rupture in his party and the government with regards to the capitulation on creditors' demands, the subsequent social grievances and the lack of a credible Plan B, PM Tsipras is investing on his international profile and his government's firm commitment to diversify geopolitical alliances in the quest of more synergies in the energy and security sector.
Alongside the triangle partnership that Greece is developing with Egypt and Cyprus, PM Tsipras wants to re-affirm his government's strong will to keep on with the trilateral gas pipeline project (i.e. Russia-Turkey-Greece) that has been temporarily stalled under the forced developments with the bailout negotiations. In this respect, PM Tsipras has many times made clear during this month that he does not believe in this bailout deal and that himself and his government are not the ones that have built and contributed to this package, though being obliged to implement it. From this perspective, the Syriza government, and this is the point where all parts and members of Syriza agree on, wants to increase political ties and investment opportunities with regional players, despite the continuous pressing from Brussels not to do so.
What to expect?
There is a growing and vibrant discussion in European level over the entire Eurozone project and its negative turn, especially with reference to the Greek case. More and more political influencers, think-tanks, and civic organizations call for a revision of Eurozone's policy, meaning the effort to efficiently address sky-rocketed sovereign debt, appalling macroeconomic indicators, the complete collapse of the welfare state, the alarming issue of migration and the social struggle for solidarity. All these issues are inextricably interwoven and are formulated and used as an internal race of influence between Germany and its allies on one hand, France, Italy and their allies on the other side.
Disappointingly enough, this debate is not so far focusing on the transformation of the European project towards more integration and convergence, but rather towards a two-speed Europe that could function better under different priorities and dynamics. Under the current circumstances, for France, Italy, and Greece (i.e. to a lesser extent given its comparatively weaker geopolitical capacity so far) geopolitics come first as a means to externalize (and probably reverse) the defeat of elastic macroeconomics by austerity politics. And the inauguration of the New Suez Canal gave a great opportunity for that.
*Dimitris Rapidis is Director of Bridging Europe and Enrico Calvone is Research Analyst at Bridging Europe.
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