Costa Loses Support of Portugal’s Far Left

António Costa
Portuguese prime minister António Costa arrives in Brussels for a European Council meeting, October 16, 2020 (European Council)

After six years, António Costa’s “contraption” has run out of steam.

It is what Portugal’s right-wing opposition dubbed the social democrat’s confidence-and-supply arrangements with the far left. In return for concessions like raising the minimum wage and making schoolbooks free, the Communists and Left Bloc were willing to keep Costa in power.

Costa’s Socialists are eight seats short of a majority in parliament. The Communists and Left Bloc have 29 seats between them.

By not forming a full coalition, Costa could avoid the stigma of governing with extremists while the Communists and Left Bloc could openly criticize him for not raising salaries in the public sector or overturning the labor market reforms of his center-right predecessor.

That mutual understanding has collapsed. Read more “Costa Loses Support of Portugal’s Far Left”

Democrats Would Make American Child Care More Expensive

Joe Biden
American president Joe Biden walks down the colonnade of the White House in Washington DC, August 20 (White House/Erin Scott)

Over the summer, I wrote here that President Joe Biden’s child benefits — $300 per month for children under the age of 6 and $250 for kids up to the age of 17 — help American parents pay for child care, but don’t make child care less expensive.

Now Democrats propose to make it more expensive. Read more “Democrats Would Make American Child Care More Expensive”

Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany

German parliament Berlin
Debate in the plenary chamber of the German parliament in Berlin, July 1, 2020 (Pixabay)

When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off across the Atlantic.

The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.

Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.

Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”

Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility

Herbert Kickl Matteo Salvini
Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, the interior ministers of Austria and Italy, meet in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (European Council)

Italy’s Matteo Salvini tried to be all things to all people, and failed.

The leader of the (formerly Northern) League aspired to become the next Silvio Berlusconi: the uncontested leader of the Italian right. To prove he could govern, he formed a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and later supported the unity government of Mario Draghi.

But you can’t govern in Italy without making compromises, and that’s not something far-right voters tend to reward. Salvini has oscillated between mock statesmanship and populism, giving his supporters whiplash. Giorgia Meloni’s postfascist Brothers of Italy now threaten to eclipse him. Read more “Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility”

French Election Is Macron’s to Lose

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, leave the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 5 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

France’s presidential election is six months away, and it’s Emmanuel Macron’s to lose.

One in four voters support him wholeheartedly. That’s the support he got in the first voting round of the 2017 election, and it’s the share polls give him now.

Another 25 to 35 percent would prefer Macron over the far-right Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour, who are polling in second and third place.

Only a center-right candidate could make the second voting round competitive, with Xavier Bertrand holding the best cards. Read more “French Election Is Macron’s to Lose”

Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis

Barcelona Spain
Buildings in Barcelona, Spain, December 10, 2017 (Unsplash/Marco Da Silva)

Spain’s ruling left-wing parties have agreed various measures to make housing more affordable, including a rent cap and higher property taxes.

The proposals are unlikely to be effected in areas ruled by conservatives, and they are right to block them. The pandemic has already made housing more affordable in Spain. The country doesn’t need the government to step in. Read more “Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis”

How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law

Warsaw Poland
Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland at dusk, December 4, 2020 (Unsplash/Iwona Castiello d’Antonio)

Poland has escalated its rule-of-law dispute with the rest of the European Union by arguing its own laws supersede the EU’s, and indeed some EU laws are incompatible with the Polish Constitution.

The decision of the Constitutional Tribunal caps six years of legal battle that began when Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party returned to power in 2015.

Here is a timeline of events and a look at what could happen next. Read more “How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law”

Opposition to Nuclear Power Is Irrational

Power plant China
Nuclear power plant in China (iStock)

In my latest column for the Dutch opinion blog Wynia’s Week, I argue opposition to nuclear power makes no sense.

Breakthrough in Dutch Coalition Talks

Sigrid Kaag
Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag speaks at an event about EU-Japan trade, February 7, 2019 (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken)

Six and a half months after they were elected, Dutch lawmakers have finally taken a step closer to forming a coalition government: the same as the last one.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Christian Union were ready to renew their vows after the election in March. The coalition as a whole had gained seats, although the CDA lost four. The center-right parties are aligned on agriculture and EU policy, health care and taxes.

Their fourth partner, the social-liberal D66, needed more time. Read more “Breakthrough in Dutch Coalition Talks”

The Return of European Social Democracy

Olaf Scholz
German Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a conference in Berlin, June 25 (PES)

Olaf Scholz has given German social democracy a new lease on life. For the first time in sixteen years, his Social Democratic Party (SPD) — Germany’s oldest — has defeated the center-right Union of Christian Democrats. Support for the SPD went up from 20.5 to 26 percent in the election on Sunday. Still below its pre-reunification heights, when it would routinely win up to 40 percent, but enough to make Scholz the most likely next chancellor.

His counterparts in Portugal and Spain have been equally successful. António Costa was reelected with 36 percent support in 2019. Pedro Sánchez won two elections that year. Both govern with the support of the far left. Four of the five Nordic countries are led by social democrats. The fifth, Norway, soon will be, after Labor won the election two weeks ago.

It wasn’t so long ago that commentators ruminated on the “death of European social democracy,” myself included. Now it’s back in swing in the north, south and center. What changed? Read more “The Return of European Social Democracy”