Macron Marches On, China Retaliates in Trade War

Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017
Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017 (BKA/Andy Wenzel)

The moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) has joined the hardline General Confederation of Labor (CGT) in weekly strikes against a proposed overhaul of the state railway company, yet President Emmanuel Macron shows no sign of budging.

Most French voters support his effort to end generous employment terms for new — not existing — rail workers, including automatic pay rises and early retirement.

That may change as travelers are exposed to frequent disruptions, but, as I argued here the other week, falling popularity is unlikely to keep Macron up at night. He has four years left for his reforms to start bearing fruit and there is no unified opposition against him. Read more

No Clear Evidence for Either Democratic Strategy, Politics as Identity

The suburbs of Columbus, Ohio seen from the air, July 12, 2007
The suburbs of Columbus, Ohio seen from the air, July 12, 2007 (Pierre Metivier)

The big debate in America’s Democratic Party right now is whether it should attempt to win back working-class white voters, especially in the Midwest, who defected to Donald Trump in 2016, or if it should attempt to win over more middle-income, suburban voters, some of whom switched from voting for Mitt Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I suspect the latter and I’ve made that case recently here and here.

Short version: the interests and views of middle-class, suburban voters align more closely with those of minorities, millennials and the urban upper class, which is the Democratic base, than they do with rural, small-town, reactionary voters, which is the Republican base.

Whether this is a winning strategy, though, is still up in the air. Nathaniel Rakich point out at FiveThirtyEight that special elections so far support both theses: Democrats have overperformed in the suburbs as well as among white voters without college degrees. Read more

Germany Approves Russian Pipeline, Five Stars Call for Deal with League

Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

German regulators have approved the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would help Russia bypass Ukraine and its other former satellite states in Eastern Europe.

Germany and the Netherlands, the two main beneficiaries of the pipeline, are virtually isolated in Europe in their support for it.

Nord Stream 2 would double the capacity of the existing Baltic Sea pipeline, but it makes no economic sense. Russia uses perhaps 60 percent of its existing pipeline capacity. The only reason for adding a connection is that Russia wants to be able to blackmail Ukraine without interrupting its gas supply to the rest of Europe.

Regulators in Denmark, Finland and Sweden still need to sign off on the project. Read more

Spain Should Negotiate with Puigdemont, France Didn’t Start the Fire

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

In my latest op-ed for the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper, I argue Spain should negotiate with Carles Puigdemont rather than put the former Catalan president in jail.

Puigdemont was arrested in Germany this weekend on his way back to Belgium from a conference in Finland. He is likely to be extradited.

The numbers two and three of his party, Together for Catalonia, are already in jail. So is the leader of the second-largest independence party, the Republican Left. Its deputy leader has fled to Switzerland.

At this rate, there won’t be anyone left to form a new government in the region, however, Spain cannot restore home rule so long as there isn’t one. It suspended Catalonia’s autonomy after Puigdemont declared independence in October.

To break the gridlock, I argue that Spain, being the strongest party in the conflict, must take the first step: offer increased autonomy for Catalonia and a referendum, not on independence, but on a revised autonomy statute. That way, Spain would no longer have to fear secession and the Catalans would feel they are masters of their own fate.

Unfortunately, such a compromise is unacceptable to Spain’s ruling People’s Party as well as Catalan hardliners.

English speakers may be interested in my Atlantic Sentinel editorial from December: A Third Way for Catalonia. Read more

Trump on the Warpath, Puigdemont Arrested in Germany

American president Donald Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 1
American president Donald Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 1 (USAF/Robert Cloys)

Donald Trump’s personnel shakeup is deeply troubling, argues Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine — especially the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, “two individuals who simply couldn’t capitulate to the demand that they obey only Trump, rather than the country as well.”

Tillerson is being replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo, “a man whose hatred of Islam is only matched by his sympathy for waterboarders.”

H.R. McMaster is being replaced as national security advisor by John Bolton, whose agenda, as Fred Kaplan puts it in Slate, is not “peace through strength,” but regime change through war.

Gary Cohn is being replaced as chief economic advisor by Larry Kudlow: according to Sullivan, “a sane person followed by a delusional maniac Trump sees on Fox.”

The State Department, indeed, the entire diplomatic apparatus, has, it seems, been replaced by Jared Kushner, “a corrupt enthusiast for West Bank settlements who no longer has a security clearance.”

Not only do the changes suggest Trump is preparing to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election; they also hint at a future war with Iran.

Everything we know about Trump’s character tells us that war is the only aspect of foreign relations he understands:

He cannot exist as an equal party in an international system. He has to dominate other countries the way he does other human beings.

Read more

Five Catalan Politicians Jailed, Five Reasons for Russia’s Spy Poisoning

Catalan politician Jordi Turull makes a speech in Barcelona, December 12, 2013
Catalan politician Jordi Turull makes a speech in Barcelona, December 12, 2013 (CDC)

Five Catalan politicians, including the former speaker of parliament and three acting ministers, have been send (back) to jail for their role in the region’s attempt to break away from Spain.

The fifth, Jordi Turull, had been put forward as a candidate for regional president by the largest independence party, Together for Catalonia, but he lost a vote in parliament on Thursday.

A sixth, Marta Rovira, has fled to Switzerland to escape arrest.

Rovira has led the second-largest independence party, the Republican Left, since their leader, Oriol Junqueras, was jailed in December.

Thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Friday night to demonstrate against the Spanish judge’s decision.

The arrests make it even more difficult to form a new government in the region. The separatists have a majority, but all their leaders are now either in jail or in self-imposed exile. Read more

Falling Popularity Won’t Keep Macron Up at Night

French president Emmanuel Macron visits Corsica, February 6
French president Emmanuel Macron visits Corsica, February 6 (Elysée/Manon Pradier)

Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has fallen to its lowest point yet, with only one in four French voters supporting him anymore.

It probably won’t keep the president up at night. He still has four years left for his reforms to start bearing fruit while there is no unified opposition against him. Read more