Italy Has a Draghi-Sized Problem

Mario Draghi
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi walks to a news conference in Frankfurt, October 25, 2018 (ECB/Martin Lamberts)

Mario Draghi is the best thing to have happened to Italy in many years — and a symptom of its political weakness.

The former European Central Bank chief, who became prime minister a year ago, has the stature to implement difficult but long-overdue reforms in everything from digitalization to labor law. He has the support of all political parties except the far right. They can hide behind Draghi, and Draghi’s authority, when the reforms inevitably hurt vested interests.

If Draghi steps down, the whole thing could collapse. Left, right and anti-establishment parties could once again fall out. A next government could cancel or reverse reforms that affect its voters, which in turn would undermine support for countervailing reforms.

But if Draghi stays as prime minister until the election in 2023, parties need to find someone else to fill Italy’s largely ceremonial presidency, which has a seven-year mandate.

The eighty year-old Sergio Mattarella is due to step down in February. His successor must be chosen by a conclave of 321 senators, 630 deputies and 58 regional delegates.

You would think with so many politicians (Italy has the third-largest parliament in the world after China and the UK), it shouldn’t be too hard to find a replacement. But all eyes are on Draghi again. Read more “Italy Has a Draghi-Sized Problem”

Give Joe Biden a Break

Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi
American president Joe Biden and Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol in Washington DC, October 28, 2021 (White House/Adam Schultz)

One year into Joe Biden’s presidency, the media consensus is that he is failing.

The Financial Times reports that the Democrat is trying to “reboot” his “faltering” presidency. The Washington Post believes he is “stumbling”. The Wall Street Journal calls it “flailing”.

Foreign journalists agree. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper writes that Biden is historically unpopular and “much of his domestic agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill.” Here in the Netherlands, EW Magazine wonders if anybody is still happy with the president while RTL reports that he has “blundered” abroad and “broken” his election promises. Read more “Give Joe Biden a Break”

Pandemic Underscores Need for British Health Reform

St Thomas Hospital London England
St Thomas’ Hospital in London, England, January 31, 2019 (iStock/Ray Lipscombe)

COVID-19 has overwhelmed all health-care systems, but few were as ill prepared as the British.

The National Health Service (NHS) has almost 100,000 job openings, including close to 40,000 for nurses.

The pandemic exacerbated the shortages; because doctors and nurses contracted the virus or quit in exhaustion while demand for health care went up.

Nonessential procedures have been delayed. To clear the backlog, and return to the maximum waiting time of eighteen (!) weeks for treatment, the NHS would need an extra 18,000 nurses on top of the 40,000 it is looking to hire anyway. Read more “Pandemic Underscores Need for British Health Reform”

EU Is Right to Label Nuclear Power Green

Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant Finland
Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency visits the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, November 26, 2020 (TVO/Tapani Karjanlahti)

The European Commission has proposed to label nuclear power “green” in order to meet the bloc’s ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the level of 1990 by 2050.

The EU taxonomy still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and member states, but it seems unlikely they will want to unwind a hard-won compromise.

Once approved, it should unleash private-sector investment in green industries.

In a concession to coal-dependent Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power, the taxonomy would also consider natural gas “green” until 2030.

Ten member states, including Belgium, Finland and France, had argued for including nuclear. An eleventh, the Netherlands, just announced plans to phase out natural gas and build two more nuclear power plants. Read more “EU Is Right to Label Nuclear Power Green”

Expropriation Unlikely in Berlin, But So Is Cheaper Housing

Berlin Germany
Tower blocks in Berlin, Germany, May 3, 2020 (Unsplash/Sebastian Herrmann)

Berliners voted in September to expropriate apartments from large landlords. 56 percent voted for the proposal in a referendum, which would put around 243,000 of the city’s 1.5 million rental apartments in public ownership.

I argued against expropriation at the time, and have written a follow-up for the Dutch opinion website Wynia’s Week in which I argue the city is unlikely to go through with it. It is a bad proposal, one that is opposed by even the center-left, and it may not stand up in court.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean either the city or the federal government is likely to ease Berlin’s housing shortage. Read more “Expropriation Unlikely in Berlin, But So Is Cheaper Housing”

Dutch Labor Reforms Don’t Address Root Causes of Liberalization

Amsterdam Netherlands
Buildings on the Damrak in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Unsplash/Ronni Kurtz)

The Netherlands is finally about to have a new government. Ten months after the elections, and three weeks after parties did a deal, Mark Rutte is due to present his fourth cabinet in a week.

I’m happy with many of the proposals in the coalition agreement, which I summarized here before Christmas; not surprising, since it’s a coalition of four centrist and center-right parties, led by my own (Rutte’s).

I am worried about their plans for the labor market, which would raise costs for employers and freelancers in order to discourage abuses of self-employment laws.

(I also wrote a column on this in Dutch for deZZP.) Read more “Dutch Labor Reforms Don’t Address Root Causes of Liberalization”

“Repeal” of Spanish Labor Reforms Is Limited

Yolanda Díaz María Jesús Montero José Luis Escrivá
Spanish labor, finance and social security ministers Yolanda Díaz, María Jesús Montero and José Luis Escrivá give a news conference in Madrid, May 27 (La Moncloa)

Spanish employers and trade unions have done a deal with Pedro Sánchez’ socialist government to overturn several labor reforms of his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.

I argued against repeal. Rajoy’s liberalizations helped bring down unemployment, from a peak of 26 percent to 14 percent before the pandemic, and encouraged business growth. They allowed companies to opt out of collective bargaining agreements and expanded trial periods.

The reforms did not create more precarious jobs. The share of part-time, temporary and self-employed workers barely changed.

Temp work will nevertheless be restricted. Luckily the rest of Sánchez’ changes are mild. Read more ““Repeal” of Spanish Labor Reforms Is Limited”

Best Stories of 2021

2021 wasn’t all bad. Joe Biden became president of the United States. Israel and Italy got better governments. Spain took a step in the right direction for Catalonia — but a step in the wrong direction on labor policy. Political fragmentation didn’t weaken Germany. The Netherlands scored a little-noticed antitrust victory in Brussels.

Here are the best Atlantic Sentinel stories of the year. Read more “Best Stories of 2021”

Struggling Through Simms

Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present

Historians tend to discourage each other from writing sweeping histories. Usually that’s good advice. Few individuals know enough to write “the” history of peasantry or “the” history of the fifteenth century or “the” history of France. Better to devote a few years of your life to writing a thorough history of peasant life in fifteenth-century France than try to be the next Fernand Braudel.

We still want the best historians to at least make an attempt at grand narrative, or we couldn’t see the forest of history through the microhistory trees.

Good examples from recent years include John Darwin’s After Tamerlane (2007) and Peter Frankopan The Silk Roads (2015) for inner, and Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels (2003, 2009) for coastal, Eurasia, and Jack Goldstone’s Why Europe? (2008) for the rise of the West (far superior to Niall Ferguson’s more popular book on the topic).

Brendan Simms’ Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy is a lesser entry in the genre. Read more “Struggling Through Simms”

What’s in the Dutch Coalition Agreement

Mark Rutte Justin Trudeau
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau speaks with members of the Dutch government in The Hague, October 29 (PMO)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member) has completed negotiations with the left-liberal D66 and two Christian democratic parties to form his fourth government in the Netherlands.

At 47 pages, the coalition agreement is short by Dutch standards. In some cases, the parties define the outlines of a compromise but leave it to the next cabinet to fill in the blanks. Rutte has to find nineteen ministers and ten junior ministers.

Yesterday, I listed the key policies at a high level, which was based on Dutch media reports and the draft of an agreement Christian Union leader Gert-Jan Segers forgot on a train in November. Now that I’ve read the full text, I can give you the details. Read more “What’s in the Dutch Coalition Agreement”