EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops

American officials caution against weakening NATO. Germany’s Social Democrats rally support for another grand coalition.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14 (NATO)

Americans continue to worry that closer defense cooperation in Europe might compromise NATO.

Echoing Madeleine Albright’s “three Ds” — no duplication, no decoupling, no discrimination against non-EU NATO states — Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States ambassador to NATO, warned on Wednesday that European efforts shouldn’t be “protectionist, duplicative of NATO work or distracting from their alliance responsibilities.”

“In Texas we say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” the former senator added.

But transatlantic solidarity goes two ways. On the same day Hutchison cautioned European allies against weakening NATO, Defense Secretary James Mattis hectored them for failing to meet their defense spending targets.

Their boss, Donald Trump, has in the past declared NATO “obsolete”. Little wonder Europe is making its own plans.

Many of which complement NATO, from improving mobility by creating a “military Schengen” to developing a European infantry fighting vehicle.

Also read Tobias Buck in the Financial Times, who reports that Germany still has a long way to go before it can lead a European army.

Social Democrats rally the troops

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leaders in Germany are rallying support for another grand coalition with Angela Merkel.

Andrea Nahles, who is likely to succeed Martin Schulz as party leader, told members in North Rhine-Westphalia that Merkel is on the way out. “The chance to renew stands before us,” she said.

Olaf Scholz, the centrist mayor of Hamburg and finance minister to-be, urged support for the coalition in order to get reforms in Europe: “The window of opportunity is now, not in five or ten years.”

Also read Matthew Karnitschnig in Politico: Social Democrats settle scores.

Macron mulls creation of European party

Emmanuel Macron is seriously mulling the creation of a new pan-European party.

Libération reports that the French president believes the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) has been “compromised” by the inclusion of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. The center-left Party of European Socialists (PES) is, to Macron’s mind, “inconsistent”.

European Commission president and EPP heavyweight Jean-Claude Juncker pooh-poohed Macron’s criticism and suggested that voters should shun parties that fail to join one of the existing blocs.

Possible allies for Macron include Matteo Renzi’s Democrats in Italy, who currently group with the PES, and Albert Rivera’s Citizens in Spain, who are now a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

Conservatives’ risky culture-war strategy

Stephen Bush writes in New Statesman that Britain’s Conservatives are mimicking the culture-war strategy of America’s Republicans. The former calculate that centrist and liberals voters who backed EU membership are lost. The only way to win back a majority is to lure pro-Brexit Labour Party voters to the right.

That is not impossible. To an extent, that is what happened in the 2017 election.

But there are two problems with this strategy:

  1. Just as working-class whites who switched from the Democrats to Donald Trump are a shrinking, if potent, demographic, there will be fewer and fewer pro-Brexit Labour Party voters each year and (relatively) more and more centrists, liberals and urbanites.
  2. It bets the Conservative Party’s fate on Labour failing to improve Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity or replacing him with a moderate.

Again, it may work — for a while. Longer term, Conservatives need to find a better message than the half-measure between Thatcherism and one-nation conservatism they offered voters last year, just as James R. Pritchett argued here at the time.