German Election Guide

German parliament Berlin
The Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on Sunday, which will elect Angela Merkel’s successor. It is the first time since 1983 that a sitting chancellor isn’t seeking reelection.

If the polls are right, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats will lose power to the center-left Social Democrats for the first time since 2005.

Here is everything you need to know. Read more “German Election Guide”

Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little

Pedro Sánchez Pere Aragonès
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez meets Catalan president Pere Aragonès in his palace in Barcelona, September 15 (Generalitat de Catalunya)

The good news is that Catalan and Spanish politicians are talking again. Official dialogue between the regional and central governments resumed this week after a year-and-a-half delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that’s the only good news. A meeting on Wednesday ended without agreement. A solution to the longrunning dispute between Spain and its wealthiest region is still out of reach. Read more “Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little”

Curaçao Accepts Dutch Supervision of Economic Reforms

Parliament Curaçao Willemstad
Parliament of Curaçao in Willemstad (Antilliaans Dagblad)

The new government of Curaçao has accepted Dutch supervision of economic reforms it is due to carry out as part of a COVID-19 rescue plan.

Parties led by Gilmar Pisas won the election in March by promising to oppose supervision.

The now-prime minister defended his about-face by arguing Curaçao stood with its “back against the wall.”

Which was the same argument his predecessor, Eugene Rhuggenaath, made in the election campaign, when Pisas rejected it. Read more “Curaçao Accepts Dutch Supervision of Economic Reforms”

Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15, 2020 (PES)

Spain’s ruling Socialist Party is walking back its promises to Catalans. It has delayed, for the second time, a reform of the sedition law under which Catalonia’s independence leaders were imprisoned. And it has poured cold water on hopes that it might allow a Catalan referendum on independence.

Disappointing Catalans is not without risk. The Socialists need the support of Catalonia’s largest separatist party, the Republican Left, for their majority in Congress. Longer term, it puts the unity of Spain in jeopardy.

Catalans already know to expect little from the conservative People’s Party, which opposed Catalan self-government in the first place. If moderate Catalan nationalists become disillusioned in Spain’s other major party as well, some will decide their only remaining option is secession. Read more “Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans”

Scholz Should Stay the Course

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister and Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Deutscher Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are panicking. I wrote here last week that the unimpressive Armin Laschet is dragging Angela Merkel’s party down. All the opinion polls published since then have put the Social Democrats in the lead with 23 to 27 percent support, compared to 19-22 percent for the conservatives. The Greens and liberal Free Democrats are in third and fourth place.

Until a few months ago, the expectation in Berlin was that the Christian Democrats would swap the Social Democrats for the Greens in the next government. Now a two-party coalition is unlikely, and there is even a chance the Christian Democrats will lose power altogether. Read more “Scholz Should Stay the Course”

Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko at his residence in The Hague, November 26, 2015 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine/Mykola Lazarenko)

Five months after parliamentary elections, parties haven’t even begun substantive coalition talks in the Netherlands, already making this the third-longest government formation in postwar Dutch history.

Mark Rutte remains in office as caretaker prime minister, but his government can’t make major decisions on such issues as climate policy, reform of child benefits, labor law and taxes.

Those major issues are one reason it is taking so long: the choices the next government makes could reverberate for years. Read more “Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands”

Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down

Armin Laschet
German Christian Democratic party leader Armin Laschet campaigns in Osnabrück, August 18 (Dirk Vorderstraße)

It’s too soon to tell you I told you so. The German election is still a month away. But it is starting to look like the ruling Christian Democrats made a mistake nominating Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, for the chancellorship.

Laschet would succeed Angela Merkel, who is not seeking a fifth term after sixteen years in power.

I argued in December and April that Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, was the better candidate.

The Christian Democrats misread the national mood. They looked at Merkel’s high approval rating and thought Germans wanted more of the same. They don’t. Söder could have given the conservatives a fresh start. Read more “Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down”

What’s at Stake in the German Election

German parliament Berlin
Facade of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on September 26. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection after serving four terms. Her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling in first place, but the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens are not far behind.

Three more parties (counting the union of Merkel’s CDU and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union as one) are expected to win seats: the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the far-left Die Linke.

The outgoing “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is unlikely to defend its majority, and the former rivals are wary anyway of forming another two-party government after sharing power for twelve of the last sixteen years.

All other parties rule out pacts with the AfD. The Greens, who are projected to be the biggest winners of the election, would be needed in all possible coalitions:

  • Union + Greens + FDP: Failed in 2017, when the liberals balked. Could be a modernizing, pro-EU government that seeks technological solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Union + SPD + Greens: Less attractive to the Christian Democrats on labor and tax policy, but the Union and SPD see eye to eye on protecting industries and jobs.
  • SPD + Greens + FDP: Makes less sense for the FDP, who would face opposition from the center- and far right.
  • SPD + Greens + Linke: Politically risky for SPD and Greens, who want to appear moderate, and difficult policy-wise on defense, EU and relations with the United States.

Here’s where the four mainstream parties stand on ten of the issues at stake in this election. Read more “What’s at Stake in the German Election”

American Health Care Is Worst in Rich World

Empire State Building New York
The Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York behind the light of an emergency vehicle, June 9, 2016 (Unsplash/Dapo Oni)

America has the worst health-care system out of eleven rich nations.

The Commonwealth Fund, a century-old foundation dedicated to improving health care, places the United States behind Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in its latest report. The Netherlands and Norway share first place.

America is the world’s top innovator of new medications and treatments. The best medical schools are in the United States. The country spends relatively more on preventative care than most. But this doesn’t outweigh its poor scores on the Commonwealth Fund’s other criteria: access to care, administrative efficiency, equity and outcomes.

In practical terms, this means especially low-income Americans don’t get the health care they need, either because it’s too expensive, too complex or both. Preventable deaths, including infant and maternal mortality, are higher in the United States than in other wealthy nations. Life expectancy is lower.

The Commonwealth Fund’s findings match those of the Euro Health Consumer Index, OECD, Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation, all of which rank the United States below Australia, Canada and countries in Northern and Western Europe. Read more “American Health Care Is Worst in Rich World”

Who Wants to Live in Hungary?

Budapest Hungary
Skyline of Budapest, Hungary (Unsplash/Tom Bixler)

Hungary is having a moment on the American right. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson broadcasted from the country last week and interviewed Viktor Orbán. Rod Dreher blogged from Hungary for The American Conservative. John O’Sullivan, formerly a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, has defended Orbán’s power grabs in National Review. Sumantra Maitra defended Orbán in The Federalist. There is even an Hungarian Conservative magazine for English speakers.

Here in the Netherlands, far-right leaders Thierry Baudet and Geert Wilders admire Orbán. The right-wing De Dagelijkse Standaard calls him a “hero”.

Conservative columnist (and non-Orbán fan) David French sees Hungary as “the right’s Denmark”. Progressives want to become Scandinavia; Trumpists want to become Hungary.

So why don’t they just move there? Read more “Who Wants to Live in Hungary?”