Rutte Survives Tax Debacle, Middle America Not Doing So Badly

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ Mark Rutte has been reprimanded by opposition parties for failing to disclose memos to parliament about internal government deliberations over the repeal of a business tax.

Rutte claimed he had not been aware of the papers, which were drafted by the Finance Ministry during the formation of his current government. The four parties in his coalition, which have a one-seat majority, accepted this explanation. All opposition parties but one voted to censure him.

Rutte surprised other parties by eliminating the dividend tax when he returned to power in October. Repeal had not been part of his election program. The suspicion in The Hague is that Rutte’s former employer, Unilever, and Royal Dutch Shell — two of the Netherlands’ largest companies — lobbied him to eliminate the tax. Read more

What You Need to Know About the Election in Mexico

Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016
Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico’s general election on July 1 will involve roughly 3,400 new elected officials taking office and $2 billion in campaign finance. It has been dubbed the biggest election in Mexican history.

It is important not only in terms of scale, but in terms of its new rules. For the first time, the ban on reelection does not apply and independent candidates can run.

This heightened capacity for change coincides with an electorate moving from apathy toward anger. Last year, only 18 percent of Mexicans told pollsters they were satisfied with their democracy, down from 41 percent in 2016. Institutional confidence is at a nadir.

Concerns about violence and insecurity related to drug cartels and organized crime are now coupled with deep frustrations about corruption and impunity as well as lopsided relations with the United States. Read more

Rutte Cornered on Tax Cut, Why France and Germany Treat Trump Differently

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answer questions from reporters in The Hague, April 19
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answer questions from reporters in The Hague, April 19 (NATO)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is in trouble.

When his latest government, a coalition of Christian and liberal parties, came to power in October, he claimed there was no paperwork to support its contention that the Netherlands needed to eliminate dividend tax altogether in order to remain competitive. Now it turns out the Finance Ministry did write a series of memos on the topic — and doubted the tax played a major role in multinationals’ decisionmaking.

The Finance Ministry produces a lot of memos when political parties are negotiating to form a government, so it is possible that Rutte didn’t see this one.

Except this was by far the most controversial policy of the new government. None of the governing parties had promised to cut dividend tax in their manifestos. There had been no public debate about it.

The suspicion in The Hague is that Rutte’s former employer, Unilever, and Royal Dutch Shell lobbied to get the tax removed.

Opposition parties have already called on Rutte to step down. That is unlikely. Prime minister since 2010, Rutte has a knack for talking his way out of problems and the ruling parties have no incentive to force him out. Read more

Merkel Eclipsed by Macron, Mistaking Trump’s Lies for Authenticity

Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, April 24
Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, April 24 (Elysée)

Der Spiegel laments that Angela Merkel is allowing Emmanuel Macron to take the lead in Europe.

The left-leaning weekly has complained for years that Merkel isn’t bold and visionary enough, but they have a point this time: Macron has seduced both eurocrats in Brussels and Donald Trump in Washington while Merkel’s authority in Berlin has been significantly reduced by a disappointing election result in September.

Also read Nicholas Vinocur in Politico on the French leader’s transatlantic ambitions:

Macron is determined to restore France’s greatness and Trump’s friendship elevates Paris as a nuclear power with a seat on the United Nations Security Council at a time when Britain — usually Washington’s preferred ally — is sidelined by the Brexit process.

Read more

Removing Trump Won’t Fix American Democracy

The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012
The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Carlos Delgado)

Dylan Matthews cautions in Vox that ending the Trump presidency will not fix, or even substantially ameliorate, most of the problems plaguing the American political system.

They were mounting for years before he took office — indeed, they made him possible — and they will continue to plague us for years after he leaves.

Matthews shares some of my ideas for fixing American democracy, including abolishing the Electoral College and moving toward proportional representation. He also suggests eliminating midterm elections and introducing public financing for elections.

Don’t tell conservatives, but what we’re talking about is making the United States more like a European democracy.

Are any of these reforms likely to happen? No. But even one or two would make a big difference. Read more

Macron’s Priorities for Trump Meeting, Tillerson’s Disastrous Tenure at State

Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017
Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017 (DoD/Dominique Pineiro)

Emmanuel Macron is due to meet his American counterpart, Donald Trump, in Washington DC next week. Erik Brattberg and Philippe Le Corre write in The National Interest that he will have four priorities:

  1. Staking out a common stance on Syria.
  2. Preserving European exemptions from Trump’s tariffs by pushing for a transatlantic trade agreement.
  3. Convincing Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
  4. Changing Trump’s mind on climate change.

#1 seems doable. #2, who knows? Signs for #3 are ominous. White House officials have been leaking to reporters that, this time, Trump is serious about blowing up the nuclear agreement. #4 seems impossible. Read more

In Defense of Multiparty Democracy

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Scott Lemieux sees two problems with ending the two-party system in the United States:

  1. It would split the Democratic coalition and do nothing to remedy conservative overrepresentation in the House and especially the Senate.
  2. What do you do about presidential elections?

As somebody who believes strongly in multiparty democracy (read my case for constitutional reform), let me respond. Read more