Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down

Armin Laschet
Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia attends a meeting of the German Federal Council in Berlin, December 18, 2020 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

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
Reichstag 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 may not defend its majority. More importantly, neither wants to form 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 and foreign relations.

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 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 countries. 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 rank the United States below Australia, Canada and most countries in Europe. Read more “American Health Care Is Worst in Rich World”

Italian Parliament Backs Judicial Reforms

Palace of Justice Rome Italy
Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy (Deposit Photos)

Mario Draghi isn’t wasting any time. The former European Central Bank chief became prime minister of Italy in February, announced his reform plans in April and got parliament’s approval for an overhaul of the justice system on Tuesday.

Italian courts are notoriously slow. Even routine proceedings like resolving bankruptcies can take years. It is one of the reasons startup activity is low, foreign investment is lacking and Italy is one of the worst countries in the developed world to do business in.

Draghi’s goal is to reduce the average length of criminal trials by a quarter and those of civil cases by 40 percent. Read more “Italian Parliament Backs Judicial Reforms”

America’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Explained

San Francisco California
Traffic in San Francisco, California, April 7, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

The United States Senate is expected to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill this week with funding for everything from broadband Internet to road safety.

The bill, which is believed to have the support of enough Republicans to overcome a forty-senator filibuster, falls short of the $2 trillion President Joe Biden had proposed to spend on (green) infrastructure over four years.

The compromise bill has $550 billion in new spending. The rest consists of existing infrastructure funds which are either being diverted or renewed.

Unlike Biden’s $2 trillion proposal, which would have been funded by corporate tax increases, the compromise version draws money from various sources, including around $200 billion left over from COVID-19 relief programs. Read more “America’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Explained”

Conservative Wunderkind Loses His Shine

Sebastian Kurz Emmanuel Macron
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and French president Emmanuel Macron speak on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels, April 10, 2019 (BKA/Arno Melicharek)

Sebastian Kurz was the future once. Conservative Christian democrats in Germany longed for a man like him to succeed the middle-of-the-road Angela Merkel. Time magazine declared him one of the ten most promising young world leaders.

Four years later, Kurz is the subject of a criminal investigation, for lying under oath. His People’s Party is down in the polls. Kurz projected an image of renewal, but he merely swapped one network of cronies for another (his own) without changing the way politics is done in Austria.

In my latest for Wynia’s Week, a Dutch opinion blog, I argue there is a better way. Both Austria’s Christian democrats and Bavaria’s were challenged by the nationalist right during the European migrant crisis. Both lurched to the right in a bid to outflank the competition. But whereas Bavaria’s Christian Social Union soon reversed itself, realizing that voters could smell their desperation and didn’t like it, Austria’s People’s Party is stuck with the high-on-flash, low-on-substance Kurz.

Click here to read the whole thing (in Dutch).

What’s in France’s New Climate Law

France train
High-speed train in France (Adobe Stock/Chlorophylle)

French lawmakers adopted a far-reaching climate law this week that puts the country on track to meet its Paris commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

That is short of the 55-percent cut the European Commission has proposed in its “Green Deal”, which has yet to be approved by member states.

The French measures do align with the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy, which sets aside 20 to 25 percent of funding for “eco-schemes”, which can range from organic farms to forests and wetlands being retained for carbon sequestration.

Some of the policies flow from the citizen consultations President Emmanuel Macron held across France in the wake of the 2018 Yellow Vests protests, which were sparked by a rise in gasoline tax.

Here is an overview. Read more “What’s in France’s New Climate Law”

Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left

Dutch parliament The Hague
Debate in the Dutch parliament in The Hague, March 15, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

The Netherlands has broken a century-old record: seventeen parties won seats in the election in March, the highest since 1918, but defections from the centrist Christian Democrats and far-right Forum for Democracy would make this parliament the most fragmented since the year women got the vote.

Pieter Omtzigt, who narrowly lost an internal election for the Christian Democratic leadership a year ago, has resigned from the party. He now sits as an independent.

Wybren van Haga, who left Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member) in 2019 to join Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy, has split again and formed a new right-wing party with Olaf Ephraim and Hans Smolders. The three were appalled when Baudet compared the COVID-19 lockdown to the wartime Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

The defections make it even harder for Rutte to avoid forming a coalition with the left. Read more “Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left”

Don’t Bet Against Israel’s Anti-Netanyahu Coalition Yet

Israel’s new left-right coalition has suffered its first defeat in the Knesset.

Amichai Chikli, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (Rightward) party, sided with the largely conservative opposition to block an extension of the family reunification law.

Two members of the governing United Arab List, known by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am, abstained, arguing a proposed compromise, which would have granted residency to some 1,600 Palestinian families, did not go far enough.

Without their support, the vote ended in a 59-59 tie, which means the law expires. Read more “Don’t Bet Against Israel’s Anti-Netanyahu Coalition Yet”

The EU’s Farm Deal, Explained

France cow
A cow in Nantes, France (Unsplash/Mathieu Odin)

Nobody is happy with the EU’s new farms policy. Greens argue ambitions for biodiversity and sustainability are too low. Agricultural groups complain they are too high, and farmers will receive lower subsidies to boot.

Which suggests the compromise — the outcome of two years of negotiations — may not be unreasonable.

Here are the most important things to know. Read more “The EU’s Farm Deal, Explained”