Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down

Armin Laschet
German Christian Democratic party leader Armin Laschet campaigns in Osnabrück, August 18 (Dirk Vorderstraße)

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
Facade of the Reichstag building 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, NewYork 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”

Who Wants to Live in Hungary?

Budapest Hungary
Skyline of Budapest, Hungary (Unsplash/Tom Bixler)

Hungary is having a moment on the American right. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson broadcasted from the country last week and interviewed Viktor Orbán. Rod Dreher blogged from Hungary for The American Conservative. John O’Sullivan, a former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, has defended Orbán’s power grabs in National Review. Sumantra Maitra defended Orbán in The Federalist. There is even an Hungarian Conservative magazine for English speakers.

Here in the Netherlands, far-right leaders Thierry Baudet and Geert Wilders admire Orbán. The right-wing De Dagelijkse Standaard calls him a “hero”.

Conservative columnist (and non-Orbán fan) David French sees Hungary as “the right’s Denmark”. Progressives want America to become Scandinavia; Trumpists want to become Hungary.

So why don’t they just move there? Read more “Who Wants to Live in Hungary?”

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”

Sánchez Shifts Infrastructure Spending, Scholarships to Catalonia

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez arrives in Salzburg, Austria for a meeting with other European socialist party leaders, September 19, 2018 (PES)

Pedro Sánchez has taken another step toward normalizing relations with the separatist-controlled government of Catalonia.

The socialist has agreed to:

  1. Expand Barcelona’s El Prat Airport, and add high-speed rail connections with the regional airports of Girona and Reus, to the tune of €1.7 billion.
  2. Invest €200 million in Catalan infrastructure to bring the state’s spending in the region in line with its contribution to the national treasury.
  3. Hand control of university scholarships to Catalan authorities in time for the 2022-23 academic year.

Sánchez earlier this year pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who were imprisoned for organizing an unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017. Read more “Sánchez Shifts Infrastructure Spending, Scholarships to Catalonia”

America’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Explained

San Francisco California
The sun sets over the San Francisco Bay, California, September 29, 2015 (Thomas Hawk)

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
Sebastian Kurz leaves an Austrian People’s Party meeting in Vienna, May 14, 2017 (ÖVP/Jakob Glaser)

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).

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: EU Climate Edition

Berlaymont Brussels Belgium
The sun sets on the Berlaymont building, seat of the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium (Shutterstock/Jasmin Zurijeta)

Environmentalists have for years hectored the EU for not doing enough to fight climate change (when it is doing more than the world’s other major economies).

Now that it has proposed to force other nations to copy its standards or lose access to the European market — as part of its ambition to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2050 — the bloc is again assailed by leftists, this time for being “neocolonialist”.

Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Read more “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: EU Climate Edition”

Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar

Gibraltar
View of Gibraltar at dusk (Shutterstock/Philip Lange)

Did the British not read the fine print when they signed their Brexit deals?

Not only do they regret agreeing to a lay a customs border down the Irish Sea to avoid the need for passport checks and inspections of goods on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border; they also have second thoughts about their agreement with Spain for Gibraltar. Read more “Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar”