April 16, 2018
Italy's and Germany's pained response to the Syria attacks
Donald Tusk welcomed the missile strikes by the US, the UK and France. Federica Mogherini did not, while emphasising the need for a political solution in Syria.
It is in Italy where the issue is politically at its most sensitive. We assume that Mogherini's reticence is related to a need to salvage her own political career, as the next Italian government will almost surely not nominate her for a second term at the Commission. Silvio Berlusconi produced a luke-warm endorsement of the military action, and recommending Italy as a potential interlocutor between the US and Russia - an idea we find preposterous. Matteo Salvini condemned the attacks, leaving no doubt that he is on the Russian side on this conflict. There are no points to be scored in Italian politics by supporting of Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, or Theresa May. We are at the point where Italian politics is becoming a serious issue for the cohesion of the EU.
In Germany, politicians tried to combine two positions within themselves. Angela Merkel formally supported the action, but rejected German participation. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also defended the action, but said it was wrong to demonise the Russians. At least the German coalition managed to avoid an overt split as its most senior members have issued very similar sounding statements.
In substance, however, the German reaction is the same as it always was: a pretence of solidarity but with no willingness to participate in military action. This is the same attitude as in the discussion on Nato defence spending targets. As the German media have been reporting, the country's Tornadoes and Euro Fighters are now such a decrepit state that they are no longer deemed fit to participate in Nato missions.
In view of Germany's hardening position on eurozone reform, we are wondering how Syria will affect the Franco-German relationship. Macron must surely be realising that Germany is not the partner he had hoped for.
FAZ also notes that (unlike in the UK) Germany cannot participate in such action without an explicit vote by the Bundestag. The paper notes that Germany is now very likely to come under increasing pressure from its partners, as it did when it refrained from participating in the campaign against Libya. It was only the subsequent perception that this campaign had worsened the political chaos in the country that criticism of Germany became more muted, but it is not clear this will so again.