Costa Loses Support of Portugal’s Far Left

António Costa
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal attends a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016 (PES)

After six years, António Costa’s “contraption” has run out of steam.

It is what Portugal’s right-wing opposition dubbed the social democrat’s confidence-and-supply arrangements with the far left. In return for concessions like raising the minimum wage and making school textbooks free, the Communists and Left Bloc were willing to keep Costa in power.

Costa’s Socialists are eight seats short of a majority in parliament. The Communists and Left Bloc have 29 seats between them.

By not forming a full coalition, Costa could avoid the stigma of governing with extremists while the Communists and Left Bloc could openly criticize him for not raising salaries in the public sector or overturning the labor market reforms of his center-right predecessor.

That mutual understanding has collapsed. Read more “Costa Loses Support of Portugal’s Far Left”

Democrats Would Make American Child Care More Expensive

Joe Biden
American president Joe Biden walks down the colonnade of the White House in Washington DC, August 20 (White House/Erin Scott)

Over the summer, I wrote here that President Joe Biden’s child benefits — $300 per month for each child under the age of 6 and $250 for kids up to the age of 17 — help American parents pay for child care but don’t reduce the cost of child care.

Now Democrats propose to raise those costs. Read more “Democrats Would Make American Child Care More Expensive”

Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany

German parliament Berlin
Debate in the plenary chamber of the German parliament in Berlin, July 1, 2020 (Pixabay)

When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off on the other side of the Atlantic.

The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.

Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.

Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”

Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility

Herbert Kickl Matteo Salvini
Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, the interior ministers of Austria and Italy, meet in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (European Council)

Italy’s Matteo Salvini tried to be all things to all people, and failed.

The leader of the (formerly Northern) League aspired to become the next Silvio Berlusconi: the uncontested leader of the Italian right. To prove he could govern, he formed a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and later supported the unity government of Mario Draghi.

But you can’t govern in Italy without making compromises, and that’s not something far-right voters tend to reward. Salvini has oscillated between mock statesmanship and populism, giving his supporters whiplash. Giorgia Meloni’s postfascist Brothers of Italy now threaten to eclipse him. Read more “Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility”

French Election is Macron’s to Lose

Vladimir Putin Emmanuel Macron Angela Merkel Volodymyr Zelensky
Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Volodymyr Zelensky, the leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine, attend a summit in Paris, December 9, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

France’s presidential election is six months away, and it’s Emmanuel Macron’s to lose.

One in four voters support him wholeheartedly. That’s the support he got in the first voting round of the 2017 election, and it’s the share polls give him now.

Another 25 to 35 percent would prefer Macron over the far-right Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour, who are polling in second and third place.

Only a center-right candidate could make the second voting round competitive, with Xavier Bertrand holding the cast cards. Read more “French Election is Macron’s to Lose”

Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis

Barcelona Spain
Buildings in Barcelona, Spain, December 10, 2017 (Unsplash/Marco Da Silva)

Spain’s ruling left-wing parties have agreed various measures to make housing more affordable, including a rent cap and higher property taxes for landlords.

The proposals are unlikely to be effected in areas ruled by conservatives, and they are right to block them. The pandemic has already made housing more affordable in Spain. The country doesn’t need the government to step in. Read more “Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis”

Don’t Blame Russia for High Gas Prices

Amur gas plant Svobodny Russia
Gazprom workers at the Amur natural gas plant outside Svobodny, Russia, June 9, 2021 (Gazprom)

The price of natural gas is skyrocketing. In the United States, it’s up 100 percent from a year ago. In parts of Europe, 500 percent. Japan and Korea are paying record prices for liquified natural gas imports.

Nick Ottens explained the reasons behind this surge here. I will focus on one: Russia’s role.

Russia has been accused of market manipulation by various countries: forcing the price of gas up in order to accelerate the completion of Nord Stream 2. This accusation is unsurprising, given the history of price and supply disputes between Europe and Russia.

But it is wrong. Read more “Don’t Blame Russia for High Gas Prices”

How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law

Constitutional Tribunal Warsaw Poland
Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland, November 3, 2012 (Lukas Plewnia)

Poland has escalated its rule-of-law dispute with the rest of the European Union by arguing its own laws supersede the EU’s, and indeed some EU laws are incompatible with the Polish Constitution.

The decision of the Constitutional Tribunal caps six years of legal battle that began when Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice returned to power in 2015.

Here’s a timeline of events and a look at what could happen next. Read more “How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law”

Opposition to Nuclear Power Is Irrational

Power plant China
Nuclear power plant in China (iStock)

In my latest column for the Dutch opinion blog Wynia’s Week, I argue opposition to nuclear power makes no sense.

Breakthrough in Dutch Coalition Talks

Sigrid Kaag
Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag speaks at an EU-Japan conference, February 7, 2019 (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken)

Six and a half months after they were elected, Dutch lawmakers have finally taken a step closer to forming a coalition government: the same as the last one.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Christian Union were ready to renew their vows after the election in March. The coalition as a whole had gained seats, although the CDA lost four. The center-right parties are aligned on agriculture and EU policy, health care and taxes.

Their fourth partner, the social-liberal D66, needed more time. Read more “Breakthrough in Dutch Coalition Talks”