EU Rejects Northern Ireland Proposals, Italy No Closer to Government

British and European flags outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, January 29, 2016
British and European flags outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, January 29, 2016 (European Commission)

The EU has rejected British proposals for avoiding a hard border in Ulster, with a source telling The Telegraph, “It was a detailed and forensic rebuttal… It was made clear that none of the UK’s customs options will work. None of them.”

Keep in mind that The Telegraph is a right-wing, pro-Brexit newspaper, so its sources may be attempting to put pressure on EU negotiators.

According to the report, the EU rejected:

  • A “customs partnership”, under which British would collect EU tariffs on goods destined for EU markets, as needlessly complex; and
  • A “highly streamlined customs arrangement” as effectively “turning a blind eye” to goods coming from non-EU countries.

The United Kingdom has committed to keeping Northern Ireland in full regulatory alignment with the EU in order to avoid a border with Ireland. The easiest way to accomplish that would be to keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs unions, however, that is unacceptable to hardline unionists in Theresa May’s government. Read more

Merkel Presents Alternative Eurozone Plan, Erdoğan Calls Early Elections

German finance minister Olaf Scholz and Chancellor Angela Merkel answer questions from reporters in Meseberg, April 11
German finance minister Olaf Scholz and Chancellor Angela Merkel answer questions from reporters in Meseberg, April 11 (Bundesregierung)

Angela Merkel’s response to Emmanuel Macron’s EU reform push is to beef up the Eurogroup: the regular conclave of finance ministers from the nineteen countries that use the single currency. Merkel would add economy ministers to the meetings and expand the Eurogroup’s remit to include all areas of economic policy.

Mehreen Khan argues in the Financial Times that it’s a good way to sabotage eurozone reform: “you effectively hollow out decisionmaking power and create a glorified talking shop.”

I think that’s an exaggeration, but Merkel and Macron do have different priorities.

The former, backed by a Dutch-led alliance of liberal member states, calls for structural reforms to boost competitiveness in the south. Macron argues for investments to promote convergence.

The end goal is the same, but the way they would get there is very different: Merkel puts the onus on the laggards while Macron argues for a shared responsibility. Hence his push for a common eurozone budget and a European finance minister. Read more

Macron’s German Challenge, What America Should Attempt in Syria

French president Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17
French president Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17 (European Parliament)

Eric Maurice writes in EUobserver that French president Emmanuel Macron’s biggest challenges comes from Berlin, where Angela Merkel and her conservative party are skeptical of plans to create a European Monetary Fund and establish a European deposit insurance scheme to protect savers:

Although the two plans were initiated by the EU before Macron took them, their rejection would signal a clear rebuttal of the French president’s more ambitious proposals for the longer term.

Merkel hasn’t ruled out a European Monetary Fund, but — like the Dutch and other deficit hawks in the north of Europe — she wants it to be an “intergovernmental”, as opposed to an EU-led, institution.

Germany isn’t in favor of creating a eurozone budget and finance minister either.

I predicted in September that these would be the most difficult items on Macron’s wishlist, but other things are still doable: harmonizing corporate tax rates and asylum procedures, creating an EU military intervention force, reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. Read more

Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria

An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008
An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008 (Caren Litherland)

A Voice Of the People poll has found (PDF) majority support in the United States for introducing ranked-choice voting.

Also known as instant runoff, it would allow Americans to vote for third-party candidates without wasting their votes. Maine is the first state to consider it.

Another way to break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly would be to consolidate congressional districts.

I would support either. The two-party system has polarized Americans. We see in Europe that multiparty democracies are better at managing tensions. Read more

Democrats Poll Better for Senate, Trump Rethinks TPP

The United States Capitol dominates the skyline of Washington DC, November 22, 2013
The United States Capitol dominates the skyline of Washington DC, November 22, 2013 (IIP/Tim Brown)

The conventional wisdom in the United States is that Democrats are likely to take control of the House of Representatives in November while Republicans are likely to defend their majority in the Senate.

That’s changing, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Democrats are polling better in Arizona and Tennessee. Ted Cruz is still likely to win reelection in Texas, but Democrat Beto O’Rourke is mounting a serious challenge.

In Florida, it’s the other way around. The candidacy of Republican governor Rick Scott is making Democrat Bill Nelson’s reelection a little less likely.

For more, read my story from February. Read more

Everything You Need to Know About the Airstrikes in Syria

American defense secretary James Mattis delivers a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington DC, April 13
American defense secretary James Mattis delivers a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington DC, April 13 (DoD/Amber I. Smith)

Britain, France and the United States attacked three targets in Syria last night in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad:

  1. A scientific research center in the Damascus area.
  2. A chemical weapons storage site west of Homs, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said was “the primary location of Syrian sarin … production equipment.”
  3. A chemical weapons equipment storage facility and command post close to the second target.

American defense secretary James Mattis called Friday’s attack a “one-time shot” and emphasized that the strikes weren’t aimed at Assad’s protector, Russia.

President Donald Trump, however, singled out Iran and Russia for their support of Assad.

“What kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” he asked. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” Read more

American Right Loses Its Mind, Catalans Escalate Legal Fight

Radio and television host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Radio and television host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Mocking a survivor of the Parkland, Florida school shooting for failing to get into several colleges. Calling Robert Mueller the head of a crime family. Comparing the FBI to the Gestapo. Leading with a story about sex-crazed pandas on the day President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is served a search warrant by the FBI.

Fox News is losing its mind.

The reasons are obvious:

  • Republicans are expected to lose badly in November’s midterm elections.
  • Robert Mueller is closing in on the president, with a report on his attempts to obstruct justice expected as early as next month.
  • James Comey, whom Trump fired from the FBI when he refused to protect the president from the Russia investigation, has a book out on Tuesday. Politico has its main takeaways.

It’s easy to dismiss Fox’s antics, but remember: there are millions of Americans who watch — and only watch — this channel, including the president. They don’t know any better. Read more