Renzi Resigns, Italy Split Down the Middle, War on the Spanish Right

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy answers questions from reporters in Modena, September 17, 2015
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy answers questions from reporters in Modena, September 17, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s center-left leader, Matteo Renzi, has stepped down after his Democratic Party fell from first to fourth place in the election on Sunday.

I argued here in January that Renzi had two challenges: uniting the left and convincing voters he could still deliver reforms.

He failed at both. He watered down labor reforms in an attempt to appease the left wing of his party, but they walked out anyway. He didn’t secure a supermajority for constitutional reforms, necessitating a referendum to which he then foolishly tied his own political career.

Renzi did get important things right, not in the least recognizing that the future of the Democratic Party lies not with old working-class voters but with the young and college graduates. Yet he failed to dissuade them from supporting the Five Star Movement. Read more

Grand Coalition Wins Vote in Germany. Next Problem: Italy

European Council president Donald Tusk listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of conservative party leaders in Brussels, July 12, 2015
European Council president Donald Tusk listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of conservative party leaders in Brussels, July 12, 2015 (EPP)

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Nearly twice as many German Social Democratic Party members voted in favor of another grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives as voted against it. The results of the internal poll were announced on Sunday.

Parliament is due to confirm Merkel for a fourth term as chancellor next week. If she sits this one out, she will be Germany’s longest-ruling leader since Helmut Kohl.

Neither of the two major parties is out of the woods yet. The Social Democrats have fallen in the polls, losing support to, well, everyone. Merkel’s Christian Democrats are facing competition from the Free Democrats on the right and the Alternative on the far right. The party will debate in the coming years whether to continue Merkel’s centrist line or lurch to the right.

For now, though, the center can still hold. Read more

No Party or Coalition Wins Majority in Italy

Italian party leaders Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi
Italian party leaders Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi (Palazzo Chigi/European Council)
  • Italians elected a new parliament on Sunday.
  • The populist Five Star Movement and Northern League made gains at the expense of mainstream parties. Read more

Left-Right Coalition Would Be Best Outcome for Italy

Italian Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi visits a police academy in Rome, November 9, 2016
Italian Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi visits a police academy in Rome, November 9, 2016 (Palazzo Chigi)

There are two realistic outcomes to Italy’s election on Sunday: a right-wing government that includes the xenophobic Brothers of Italy and Northern League or a German-style grand coalition between Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Democrats.

The second would be better for Italy and for Europe. To make that outcome more likely, Italians should vote for the center-left. Read more

Trump Launches Trade War, Berlusconi Confirms Tajani Candidacy

American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6, 2017
American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Against the advice of literally all but two of his advisors, American president Donald Trump has announced tariffs on aluminum and steel of 10 and 25 percent, respectively.

The tariffs are not in effect yet, but, citing national-security concerns, the president does have the authority to impose them unilaterally.

The European Commission, which is responsible for EU trade policy, quickly condemned the “blatant intervention to protect US domestic industry” and said it would present countermeasures in a matter of days.

Remember when we were talking about a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership only a few years ago?

Politico has more on the challenge to Europe. Also read my story from July about Trump’s obsession with dying industries at the expense of retail and tech. Read more

Merkel Wins Party’s Support, Berlusconi a Warning to Americans

German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Meise, Belgium, December 19, 2013
German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Meise, Belgium, December 19, 2013 (EPP)

Delegates (not party members) of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have voted overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats. The waiting is now for the latter, who conclude a membership vote on Sunday.

The same CDU congress has named Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the moderate prime minister of Saarland, as party secretary and Jens Spahn, a right-wing critic of Angela Merkel’s immigration policy, as candidate for health minister.

Jeremy Cliffe argues in The Economist that the two appointments hint at a healthy ideological debate in the party:

In recent years, Mrs Merkel’s electorally successful, highly tactical and ideologically indistinct brand of centrism has smothered the contrasts between [the CDU’s] different ideological tendencies: liberal, Christian social and conservative. Now, however, a new period of cut-and-thrust in the party seems to be emerging.

Read more

Dutch Hope for Smooth Brexit, Russians Have Little Faith in Trump

Prime Ministers Theresa May of the United Kingdom, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Justin Trudeau of Canada pose for photographs outside NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017
Prime Ministers Theresa May of the United Kingdom, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Justin Trudeau of Canada pose for photographs outside NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017 (Flickr/Justin Trudeau)

Mehreen Khan reports for the Financial Times that the Dutch are lobbying both sides in the Brexit negotiations: They are pleading with the Brits to decide what they want and trying to ensure in Brussels that the United Kingdom is given plenty of room to reverse course or rethink red lines, whether it be on the customs union or anything else.

The reason: close relations across the North Sea.

Britain’s erstwhile continental ally has been a reliable partner on everything from EU budget contributions to the single market but is now uniquely exposed to the economic and emotional side-effects of Brexit.

In France, by contrast, attitudes have hardened. Since Emmanuel Macron’s election last summer, the share of French voters who wish the British would change their minds has fallen. Tony Barber argues that Brexit is now seen as not a loss but a potential gain to France. Read more