Catalan Separatists Close In on Post-Election Deal

Laura Borràs
Laura Borràs presides over the first meeting of the new Catalan parliament in Barcelona, March 12 (Parlament de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s separatist parties, which won a majority in last month’s election, have taken the first step to forming a regional government.

The Republican Left, the formerly center-right Together for Catalonia — which now presents itself as a big tent — and the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) have divided up five of the seven seats on the presidium of the new parliament, with the speakership going to Together’s Laura Borràs.

The Republican Left, the biggest party for the first time since the Civil War, has its eyes on the regional presidency. Read more “Catalan Separatists Close In on Post-Election Deal”

Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5, 2016 (European Parliament)

In an hour-long election debate with Geert Wilders on Thursday night, Prime Minister Mark Rutte took his far-right opponent to task for treating nonnative Dutch as second-class citizens. He pointed out that Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close mosques and deny voting rights to dual citizens.

Because Morocco won’t allow even the descendants of Moroccan nationals to renounce their citizenship, Wilders’ proposal would disenfranchise some 400,000 Dutch citizens, including the speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib.

It is a plainly racist proposal, and Rutte called Wilders out on it — thrice. He asked Wilders to consider the effect of his rhetoric on the hundreds of thousands of Dutch Muslims of good will, not in the least children, some of whom Rutte teaches civics and sociology every week on a middle school in an immigrant neighborhood of The Hague.

He demanded an apology from Wilders for his infamous promise to voters in 2014 that he would arrange for there to be “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands. Far from apologize, Wilders said he wanted fewer Somalians and Syrians as well, and he accused the liberal party leader of presiding over the “destruction” of the Netherlands by admitting so many non-Western immigrants.

Rutte, once again, ruled out forming a coalition government with Wilders’ Freedom Party.

Here is how the Financial Times summarizes the exchange:

Rutte … felt compelled to insist that he wasn’t in fact a Muslim — twice. Ahead of the debate, Rutte told [de] Volkskrant he was ready to seal Dutch borders in the face of another EU migrant crisis and declared the country’s values “nonnegotiable” for foreigners.

Rutte’s preternatural ability to pander to the far right is part of the reason he is a shoo-in to keep his job for the next four years.

I don’t know if the author, Mehreen Khan, speaks Dutch, but it doesn’t sound like she listened to the debate. Read more “Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot”

Dutch Left Could Have Worst Election in Decades

Jesse Klaver
Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver attends a European Young Leaders conference in Malta, September 14, 2018 (Friends of Europe)

The three largest parties on the Dutch left could post their worst election result in decades.

At best, Labor, the Greens and far-left Socialists will defend their 37 seats in parliament, according to an aggregate of polls. At worst, they would fall to 31 out of 150 seats, down from a recent peak of 65 seats in 2006.

What happened? Read more “Dutch Left Could Have Worst Election in Decades”

Child Benefits Could Outlive Biden’s COVID-19 Stimulus

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden campaigns in Des Moines, Iowa, July 4, 2019 (Gage Skidmore)

The United States Senate has approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus recovery plan, more than twice the size of Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus.

With the exception of a $15 hourly minimum wage, the soon-to-be-law includes nearly all the provisions Biden had called for, including additional spending on health care, extended unemployment insurance (if cut by $100 per week from the original version) and rental assistance. For detail, check out my post about the bill from January.

The part I want to focus on here is a child allowance that ranges from $250 to $300 per month per child. Read more “Child Benefits Could Outlive Biden’s COVID-19 Stimulus”

EU Can’t Trust Britain to Keep Its Word

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 17, 2019 (European Commission)

How is the EU supposed to manage post-Brexit relations with a United Kingdom that won’t keep its word?

For the second time in six months, Britain has reneged on its Irish border commitments without consulting the EU or Ireland.

Northern Ireland is still in the European single market for goods under the EU-UK treaty. The rest of the United Kingdom is not, creating new regulatory barriers for British companies. They have struggled to cope. Supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland have gone empty. Parcels are stranded in Great Britain. The government of Boris Johnson has temporarily lifted the new rules to give businesses more time to adjust.

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a few more months of delay. But such a request should have been discussed in the Joint Partnership Council, which was created by the treaty on future EU-UK relations to manage precisely these situations. Instead, Britain acted unilaterally.

Not for the first time. In September, it weaseled out of its promise to respect EU regulations in Northern Ireland claiming it was breaching an earlier agreement with the EU in only a “specific and limited” way. As if that made a difference. Read more “EU Can’t Trust Britain to Keep Its Word”

What’s at Stake in the Dutch Election

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

This Dutch election campaign has been the least memorable in my lifetime. There are two more weeks to go, and two more televised debates. The first, last Sunday, failed to change the dynamic of the race.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is almost certain to win reelection. His liberal VVD (of which I am a member) is projected to win 37 to 41 out of 150 seats, up from 33.

Support for the other parties has changed little in recent months. The ruling Christian Democrats and Christian Union are stable in the polls. The social-liberal D66, the fourth party in Rutte’s government, appears to have lost some support to the liberals on the right and Labor on the left. Labor has also won (back) supporters from the more left-wing Greens and Socialists.

On the far right, the Trumpist Forum for Democracy could take two or three seats from Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, but its popularity has collapsed from two years ago, when it briefly rivaled Rutte’s in the polls.

Economic and social issues feel less important when Dutch voters still face daily restrictions due to coronavirus. Shopping on appointment was allowed again this week, but hotels, museums and restaurants remain closed. A 9 PM curfew is in effect. Rutte benefits from being the incumbent in a crisis. With the exception of the parties on the far right — which are unlikely to end up in government — most have, in some cases lukewarmly, supported his COVID-19 policies.

But there are other major issues that will play a role in the next four years, from climate and energy to labor law to an overhaul of child benefits.

I’ll walk you through ten of them as well as the positions of the mainstream parties on those issues, out of which the next government will probably be formed. Read more “What’s at Stake in the Dutch Election”

Dutch Intervene to Break Stalemate in Curaçao Legislature

Willemstad Curaçao
Aerial view of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Texpan)

The Dutch government has intervened on Curaçao to break what it described as an “antidemocratic” impasse on the island.

The government of what is nominally an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands had requested the intervention to reconstitute the island legislature. “At the moment,” Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath said earlier this week, “democracy isn’t functioning on Curaçao as it should be.”

All ten opposition lawmakers refused to attend virtual meetings of the Estates, denying the ruling parties, who also have ten seats, a quorum to swear in a tie-breaking deputy: Emmilou Capriles, who succeeds Jeser El Ayoubi.

The Dutch government has now appointed Capriles by decree.

The same opposition lawmakers tried to use the death of a ruling party lawmaker to bring down the government last summer. They failed, but not before encouraging riots. Read more “Dutch Intervene to Break Stalemate in Curaçao Legislature”

Hit Piece Calls Center-Left Sánchez Spain’s Donald Trump

Pedro Sánchez Pablo Iglesias
Spanish party leaders Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias meet in Madrid, February 5, 2016 (PSOE)

I’ve been a fan of Yascha Mounk’s Persuasion, which was founded to resist the illiberal turn in American media. The newsletter deliberately publishes analysis and commentary from across the political spectrum to make it readers think. I’ve disagreed with several pieces, and that’s the point.

This is the first time I’m disappointed by one.

Mounk has published a hit piece that makes Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a mainstream social democrat, out to be the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Francisco Franco! Read more “Hit Piece Calls Center-Left Sánchez Spain’s Donald Trump”

What Divides Dutch Voters

The Hague Netherlands
The Hofvijfer in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 29, 2020 (European Commission/Robert Meerding)

Parliamentary elections are held in the Netherlands in three weeks. Polls predict a victory for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party (of which I am a member), giving it 38 to 42 out of 150 seats, up from 33.

Support for most other parties is stable. The social-liberal D66, a junior party in Rutte’s government, and the far-left Socialists would each lose a few seats to Labor. The far-right Forum for Democracy, which tied with Rutte in midterm elections, has imploded. It would win fewer seats than the animal rights party.

The liberals benefit from having the most diverse base in terms of age, education, geography, but not gender. Other parties appeal more to certain groups — although the Netherlands is still a long way from the United States, where identity is crowding out issues. Dutch voters are fickle. Only one in five consistently votes for the same party. Read more “What Divides Dutch Voters”

Draghi Understands What Italy Needs

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi waves at reporters outside the Palazzo Chigi in Rome, February 13 (Governo Italiano)

Mario Draghi is off to a good start. The former central banker has won the support of Italy’s major political parties to form a government and he understands the reforms it needs to undertake.

His challenge will be convincing the parties to see those reforms through.

Receiving more than €200 billion from the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund should help. A chunk of the money will go to vaccinating Italy’s population of 60 million, but there will be more than enough left over to invest in long-term growth.

Money isn’t everything, though. Bringing Italy’s economy back to life after it shrunk almost 9 percent in 2020 will require making the sort of choices its politicians have avoided for years. Read more “Draghi Understands What Italy Needs”