Legalistic Spain Criticizes Legalistic Germany

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is greeted by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is greeted by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Throughout the Catalan independence crisis, the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy has taken a legalistic approach. It rejected a referendum in October, arguing it was impossible under Spanish law. When the region voted anyway, Rajoy let prosecutors and judges go after the leaders of the independence movement, never once proposing to meet for negotiations, much less to hash out a compromise.

Now the same government is criticizing Germany for allowing the legal process to play out in the case of former Catalan president — and fugitive from Spanish justice — Carles Puigdemont. Read more

Five Imperatives for the Left

Spanish, Austrian and Portuguese social democratic party leaders Pedro Sánchez, Christian Kern and António Costa attend a meeting in Lisbon, December 2, 2017
Spanish, Austrian and Portuguese social democratic party leaders Pedro Sánchez, Christian Kern and António Costa attend a meeting in Lisbon, December 2, 2017 (PES)

Ruy Teixeira sees five imperatives for the left in Europe and the United States:

  1. Up with the new coalition: Accept that the old working class has moved to the right. Focus on minorities, women, college-educated professionals and the lower-educated service worker “precariat”.
  2. Down with inequality: It holds down growth, it holds down living standards, it holds down upward mobility among the young, it leaves entire regions behind and it destroys healthy politics.
  3. Unite the left: The era when one tendency, like social democracy, could dominate the left and didn’t need allies is over.
  4. Forward to an open world: There is no going back to a closed, tradition-bound world.
  5. Ride the long wave: The economic potential of our time, with its monumental technological changes, is vast, albeit held back by a lack of societal investment in the future and retrograde policies pushed by the right. The left should be all about untapping that potential and riding the long wave. Read more

France Eyes Non-EU Military Force, Trump Governs by Bluffing

Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Reuters reports that France is looking to create a European military crisis force outside the EU, so the United Kingdom can participate.

The idea aims to bring together European countries with a military capacity and political desire to collaborate on planning, carry out joint analyses of emerging crises and to react to them quickly.

Almost all EU countries have committed to deepening military integration inside the union as well under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

All of this, of course, is happening against the backdrop of America’s withdrawal from Europe under Donald Trump. Read more

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