Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start

Markus Söder
Bavarian state prime minister Markus Söder delivers a news conference in Munich, Germany, March 9 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Bavaria’s Christian Democrats have called for a poll of elected party officials to select the conservatives’ joint chancellor candidate for the election in September.

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, have thrown their weight behind Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But many conservatives across the country think they stand a better chance with Markus Söder of Bavaria, who leads the state’s Christian Social Union (CSU).

They’re right. Read more “Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start”

Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
Ameican president Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 5 (White House/Adam Schultz)

European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.

Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.

A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)

Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leaders. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.

The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”

His mistake is to assume America and Europe are starting from the same point. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown doubt on his future.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”

Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16, 2016 (European Council)

Two weeks after parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, attempts to form a coalition government have broken down amid incriminations that could put Mark Rutte’s prime ministership at risk.

Rutte won the election, but a botched start to the negotiations to form his fourth government has thrown doubt on his political survival.

The liberal has been in power since 2010. Read more “Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks”

Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers listen to a debate in parliament in The Hague, September 29, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than to the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.

Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.

But there is a tradeoff. When voters aren’t loyal — which is itself a good thing; they actually judge parties on their performance — turnover in parliament can be high, which robs it of experience and expertise. Read more “Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience”

The Dictator of France

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, June 23, 2018 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

What’s gotten into Persuasion?

First they published a ridiculous hit piece arguing Spain’s center-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is the greatest threat to democracy since Francisco Franco. Now it’s Emmanuel Macron’s turn.

Robert Zaretsky, a history professor at the University of Houston, accuses the French president of becoming “authoritarian”.

To be fair, Zaretsky recognizes that a measure of autocracy is built into France’s presidential-centric Fifth Republic. On paper, the French president is the most powerful leader in democratic Europe; both ceremonial head of state and chief executive. Every president, from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, dominated French politics in their time.

Macron is no different. Zaretsky marshals little evidence to prove this president (ab)uses the powers of his office more than his predecessors. Read more “The Dictator of France”

Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20, 2020 (European Council)

Less than a year ago, Mark Rutte and Pedro Sánchez were on opposite ends of the debate about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Sánchez and other Southern European leaders called for grants financed by EU-issued bonds. Rutte and his allies preferred loans. The two sides eventually split the difference.

Now the two prime ministers, one center-right, the other center-left, have made common cause for a vision of European “strategic autonomy” that is more liberal than Emmanuel Macron’s.

In a joint “non-paper“, the Dutch and Spanish leaders endorse strategic economy as a means to an end — growth and security — but not an end in itself. They caution it can’t become an excuse for isolation and protectionism. Read more “Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU”

Netanyahu’s Rivals Must Do Deal with Arab Parties

Yair Lapid Benny Gantz
Israeli party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz attend a meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2019 (Flash90/Hadas Parush)

Israel’s center-left has a chance to eject Benjamin Netanyahu after twelve years of right-wing government — if they are willing to make a deal with Arab parties.

Deals with non-Zionist parties are almost taboo in Israel, which is 75 percent Jewish. This permanently excludes the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arab from power.

Little wonder Arab turnout is consistently low and fell below 50 percent on Tuesday, according to estimates. Read more “Netanyahu’s Rivals Must Do Deal with Arab Parties”

Netanyahu Rival Would Be Kingmaker in New Knesset

Israeli parliament Jerusalem
View of the Knesset in Israel, Jerusalem, April 8, 2009 (Israel Tourism)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is projected to place first in Israel’s parliamentary election with 31 to 33 seats, down from 37.

Yamina, a new right-wing party led by former economy minister Naftali Bennett, would hold the balance of power in the new Knesset with seven or eight seats, according to exit polls.

61 seats are needed for a majority. Read more “Netanyahu Rival Would Be Kingmaker in New Knesset”

Netanyahu Cruises to Reelection on Back of Vaccination Success

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours Ben Gurion Airport, August 17, 2020 (GPO)

Parliamentary elections are held in Israel on Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud is projected to place first with around thirty seats, down from 37. Twelve other parties are expected to cross the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, including two new parties on the right.

I asked our man in Tel Aviv, Ariel Reichard, for comment. Read more “Netanyahu Cruises to Reelection on Back of Vaccination Success”