Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections

Arcevia Italy
View from Arcevia, a town in the central Italian region of Marche, December 24, 2013 (Giorgio Rodano)

Seven of Italy’s twenty regions hold elections on Sunday and Monday. Four are currently governed by the center-left, two by the right. Polls suggest that balance could flip.

The seventh, the Aosta Valley, is governed by local parties representing its French-speaking minority.

Italians will also elect over 1,100 mayors, two senators and decide in a referendum whether or not to cut the number of lawmakers.

Here is everything you need to know.

Italian law forbids the publication of polls in the two weeks prior to the vote, so all the numbers cited here are at least two weeks old. Read more “Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections”

What’s in France’s €100 Billion Stimulus

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

France has unveiled a $100 billion stimulus program, worth 4 percent of GDP over two years, to help its economy recover from the effects of COVID-19.

The money is split almost equally between support for businesses, investments in the green economy, and health and social programs. It comes on top of the €460 billion France has spent on exemptions from social charges, furlough subsidies and soft loans to keep businesses afloat.

France is counting on the EU to provide 40 percent of the money from its €750 billion recovery fund. Read more “What’s in France’s €100 Billion Stimulus”

What Biden Wants

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden could become the most progressive president of the United States since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That might sound odd after he was declared a “centrist” and the “establishment” candidate in the Democratic primaries.

The former vice president isn’t as left-wing as some of his former rivals, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He doesn’t want to break up big tech, defund the police, forgive all student loans or nationalize health insurance.

But the whole Democratic Party has moved to the left and Biden has moved with it. He has involved Democrats and allies from the left to the center, including environmental and minority rights groups, gun control advocates and trade unions, in drafting his program. Left-wing congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped write his climate policy. Biden incorporated Senator Cory Booker’s proposal to tie federal funding to looser building codes in his housing plan.

The result is that Biden has buy-in from across the Democratic coalition, which — provided the party wins not just the presidency but the Senate in November — means his plans stand a good chance of becoming reality. Read more “What Biden Wants”

Singapore-on-Thames Is Unlikely

London England
The sun rises over London, England (Uncoated)

With the Brexit transition period ending in just four months, concern is rising that the United Kingdom might crash out of the EU’s common market and customs regime without a deal.

Not everyone is worried. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, argued it “wouldn’t be the end of the world” if Britain left without a deal. Right-wing economists are looking forward to setting “attractive tax rates” once the United Kingdom is free of the EU’s grasp. The UK, they believe, could become a “Singapore-on-Thames”, gain a “competitive advantage” over the EU and draw businesses and investment away from continental Europe.

That is unlikely. Read more “Singapore-on-Thames Is Unlikely”

Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other

Yerevan Armenia
View of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia (Unsplash/Artak Petrosyan)

In what have been some of the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in years, sixteen soldiers and one civilian were killed in the last two weeks. Armenia has threatened to bomb an Azerbaijani reservoir. Azerbaijan has threatened to destroy an Armenian nuclear plant. These may be empty threats, but they speak to the level of tension between the two countries.

What exactly happened, why, and what is the likely outcome? Read more “Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other”

Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs

Spanish parliament Madrid
The Palacio de las Cortes, seat of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, in Madrid, August 16, 2017 (Shutterstock/Vivvi Smak)

The Spanish Congress has approved three out of four recovery programs proposed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose left-wing government does not have a majority.

Right-wing and regional parties supported plans for the economy, EU and health care. A package of social reforms, which included rental protections, a basic minimum wage and measures against gender violence, fell four votes short.

The government could reintroduce those proposals in its 2021 budget. Read more “Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs”

What Rutte Wants

Angela Merkel Ursula von der Leyen Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has become the bête noire of EU integrationists for refusing to sign off on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund that largely consists of debt-financed grants.

Rutte is not alone. The leaders of Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are also withholding support, which is why EU leaders are still holed up in Brussels after four days of talks.

But the Netherlands has the largest economy among this “frugal five” and Rutte doesn’t mind taking the heat.

Why? Read more “What Rutte Wants”

Should Scotland Become Independent?

Pap of Glencoe Scotland
Cottage at the foot of the Pap of Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Max Hermansson)

Scottish public opinion is moving in favor of independence with several recent polls giving the separatists a 1- to 7-point lead.

Independence lost in the 2014 referendum by 10 points, but Britain’s exit from the European Union, and the growing likelihood that it will end the year without a trade deal to replace its access to the European single market, has many Scots wondering if they might not be better off leaving the UK in order to rejoin to EU.

The answer is probably still no. Read more “Should Scotland Become Independent?”

Why Kosovo Is Lifting, But Will Likely Reinstate, Tariffs on Serbia

Edi Rama Albin Kurti
Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania receives his Kosovar counterpart, Albin Kurti, in Tirana, February 11 (Kancelarija Premijera)

Kosovo’s new prime minister, Albin Kurti, is partially lifting his predecessor’s 100 percent import tariff on Serbian goods. He has offered to lift the tariff completely if Serbia suspends its derecognition campaign. If it fails to reciprocate, the tariffs will be restored in June.

Since reciprocation would imply Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence, it seems inevitable the trade sanctions will be back soon. Read more “Why Kosovo Is Lifting, But Will Likely Reinstate, Tariffs on Serbia”

Why Democrats Are Scared of Sanders

Bernie Sanders
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders makes a speech in Brooklyn, New York, April 8, 2016 (Timothy Krause)

Why is the Democratic Party establishment in the United States scared of Bernie Sanders? Polls suggest the socialist from Vermont would do about as well against Donald Trump in a general election as his rival, Joe Biden.

I suspect there are three reasons:

  1. Democrats don’t trust the polls.
  2. They worry that, even if Sanders might defeat Trump, he would hurt down-ballot Democrats.
  3. They don’t want their party to be taken over by an outsider, like the Republican Party was in 2016. Read more “Why Democrats Are Scared of Sanders”