Photo : Olivier Hoslet/EPA
07 January 2022, Friday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #92
By Ashwin Dhanabalan
Italy: The race for the presidency
Upcoming presidential elections
On 24 January, Italy will hold elections for selecting a new head of state, replacing the incumbent Sergio Mattarella. The elections are being closely monitored given the candidacies of the current prime minister Mario Draghi and tycoon turned politician Silvio Berlusconi. Presidential candidates in Italy usually do not declare themselves as potential contenders before the polls. Yet, these two have managed to break the tradition and have turned heads since they put up their names as nominees for the post. The presidential elections in Italy would be conducted via a secret ballot, which will see more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives casting their votes.
The procedure for the elections involves each parliamentarian writing a name on a piece of paper and putting it in the ballot. Prior to this, parties try to choose a common candidate although the outcome cannot be controlled due to the secretive voting. As a result, random names appear as nominees since anyone can stand for the post as long as they are above 50 and Italian citizens. As reported by Reuters, the Italian election process has "first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds majority is required to elect a president. From the fourth vote on, the threshold is lowered to an absolute majority, meaning more than half of those who cast a ballot". Each round takes at least four hours to complete. Other candidates who have expressed their interest for the post include the current Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini and former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato.
A Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has put forward his name as the next President of Italy. He had allegedly promised his mother "that one day he would become president," and has put forward his name in a race that holds the future of Italy. Berlusconi was Italy's longest-serving post-war premier as he served three terms as prime minister. However, his sex party scandals and tax frauds led him to be barred from public office in 2013. The billionaire media mogul has been in the limelight for his eclectic personality, and analysts speculate that his personality could help him muster support during the elections. He has even sent out his speeches and policy priorities to parliamentarians, hoping they vote for him as he tries to broaden his appeal. Nevertheless, it has come to a point where he praised his arch political enemies' policies on "flagship citizens' income welfare schemes," making him unpredictable to even the center-right parties that support him.
A Profile: Mario Draghi
Current Prime Minister Mario Draghi is an all-time favourite among the Italian people as he played a crucial role to save Italy's economy when the pandemic hit the country. He is a respected banker turned emergency prime minister who brought structural reforms to the economy. He also served as the European Central Bank (ECB) chief from 2011-2019, during which he saved the euro during the debt crisis. Nonetheless, the Italians do not see him as a presidential candidate since the role of a president is more symbolic, representing national unity while the prime minister has a more vital role to play, being the head of the executive who deals with the immediate issues of the country. Concerning standing for the presidency, Draghi stated: "I am a man and, if you like, a grandfather at the service of the institutions." If Draghi decides to stand for the elections, Italy would have to elect a prime minister a year earlier, right after the presidential elections conclude.
As the elections are approaching, both the candidates would find it challenging to secure the position as Berlusconi would need more support from other parliamentarians apart from the center-right ones. At the same time, Draghi would need to muster the support of coalition parties to help him secure the post.
Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante, "Italy parliament to begin voting for new head of state on 24 January," Reuters, 04 January 2022.
Angela Giuffrida, "Italians fear return of instability if Mario Draghi quits to become president," The Guardian, 26 December 2021.
Hannah Roberts, "Italy's succession dilemma: It only wants Mario Draghi," POLITICO, 14 December 2021.
Angelo Amante, "Mission impossible? Berlusconi launches bid for Italian presidency," Reuters, 09 December 2021.
By Joeana Cera Matthews
France plans to use anti-coercion instrument against Chinese pressure on Lithuania
On 06 January, POLITICO reported a senior French government official stated that the bloc’s in-process anti-coercion instrument would be preceded by alternative action. The official was speaking in the background of the pressure Lithuania was facing from China due to the Taiwanese embassy in Vilnius. He said: “The anti-coercion instrument is still under negotiation, but maybe something can be done in advance in support of Lithuania… It is not clear what the determining reason for China's behavior towards this country was. Perhaps it was the Taiwan issue, but there was also the fact that Lithuania left the 17+1 mechanism that China had initiated.” The issue which has garnered international responses saw the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying: “China is pushing European and American companies to stop building products with components made in Lithuania or risk losing access to the Chinese market… The United States will work with our allies and partners, including Germany, to stand up against intimidation like this.” (Jakob Hanke Vela, Giorgio Leali and Stuart Lau, “France eyes quick anti-China action to bail out Lithuania in trade war,” POLITICO, 06 January 2022)
Poland to call back ambassador to the Czech Republic over “unacceptable comments”
On 06 January, the Polish government announced that it would soon recall the country’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. Miroslaw Jasinski will be called back for his comments on the Turow mine which has been a source of tension between Prague and Warsaw. The Polish government spokesperson Piotr Müller tweeted: “Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has decided to start the procedure for recalling the Polish Ambassador to the Czech Republic… Extremely irresponsible statements about the Turow mine are not acceptable.” In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Jasinski had claimed the tensions originated from “a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding and a lack of willingness to engage in dialogue — above all on the Polish side.” (Richard Connor, “Warsaw to recall ambassador to Prague after Poland criticism,” Deutsche Welle, 07 January 2022)
Doctors Without Borders leaves Poland-Belarus border
On 06 January, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) stated that it had withdrawn its medical staff from the Belarus-Poland border. MSF’s Emergency Coordinator for Poland and Lithuania Frauke Ossig said: “Since October, MSF has repeatedly requested access to the restricted area and the border guard posts in Poland, but without success… We know that there are still people crossing the border and hiding in the forest, in need of support, but while we are committed to assisting people on the move wherever they may be, we have not been able to reach them in Poland.” The lack of access to the region owes to the state of emergency imposed by the Polish Interior Ministry since 01 December 2021. (“Medics leave Poland-Belarus border without reaching migrants,” Deutsche Welle, 06 January 2022)
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