With eyes to the East

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter accident last Sunday occurred at a crucial and tense moment for Iran, which is undergoing a delicate transitional phase. This is reflected in both regional dynamics, with the ongoing Gaza war and military clashes between Israel, Iran, and militias linked and funded by Tehran, and the internal dynamics of the theocratic regime, with the succession of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for which Raisi was the leading candidate. The presidential elections, now mandated by the Iranian Constitution, are shaping up as a new contest just months after the last vote, when the electorate in Tehran expressed their dissatisfaction with the conservative direction by using their only tool: abstention.

Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the disappearance of Raisi and his Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian will not cause immediate shocks in Iranian foreign policy, which remains under Khamenei’s control. Similarly, on the domestic front and at the regional and international levels, Iran will continue to follow the path of continuity, striving not to show any signs of weakness during a phase of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Europe is also approaching its elections. The European campaign has now entered its most intense phase. Just consider what has happened within the Identity and Democracy group, the most right-wing faction in the European Parliament: two weeks before the vote, the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) banned its top candidate for the European elections, Maximilian Krah, from participating in electoral events due to some of his recent statements about Nazism. These statements also led to a break with the French party Rassemblement National (RN), led by Marine Le Pen, which has officially distanced itself from AfD. Similarly, Matteo Salvini’s Lega has done the same, and now the possibility of an alliance with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), to which Fratelli d’Italia is affiliated, is emerging.

Fratelli d’Italia, meanwhile, was involved in a dramatic turnaround this week on one of the most discussed measures, the so-called “redditometro”, with a decree initially approved and then suspended at the behest of Meloni herself. She issued a highly mediatic statement on social media: “Never the ‘Big Brother’ tax”. Never will “ordinary people be harassed” by the tax authorities. The government’s line is to target “big tax evaders” and not to snoop into the expenses of “honest citizens”. Meloni had already hastened to assure that she would take care of the matter and request “modifications if necessary”. A somewhat clumsy affair institutionally, but ultimately an effective boost for the ongoing election campaign.

A campaign in which the theme of common European defense and its construction is more prominent than ever. The winds of war are unsettling member states, especially in the East, where observers are worried about Putin’s nuclear exercises, which seem to prepare for an escalation of the conflict. Europe is vigilant. According to Hungarian President Orban, Europe is even “plotting a war against Russia. In Brussels and Washington, but more in Brussels than in Washington, a kind of ‘sentiment’ for a world war is being prepared”. Propaganda aside, news from early May tells of growing tension: on the one hand, Russia has started nuclear exercises with tactical weapons in the southern military district, near the Ukrainian border. On the other, French President Macron’s bold statements about the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and the willingness of Estonia and Lithuania to play a role beyond merely providing weapons and aid. The overall climate is one of high alert. The new European establishment will need to address and manage this situation.