French National Front Could Emerge Stronger from Defeat

Marine Le Pen
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Claude Truong-Ngoc)

From a European point of view, the French have avoided the nightmare outcome of a presidential runoff between Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. But Europe’s political elite should not celebrate too soon.

It is more than probable that Emmanuel Macron will beat Le Pen in the second voting round, yet this might be the best possible outcome for the leader of the National Front.

As Donald Trump is discovering in America, it is often more fun to be the populist outsider than to be in power. A President Le Pen would have limited scope for causing foreign-policy chaos, but, with a massive majority against her in the National Assembly, she would have little prospect of delivering on her electoral promises. Her administration would almost certainly end in failure and the Front National would once again be relegated to the fringes of French politics. Read more “French National Front Could Emerge Stronger from Defeat”

Rapprochement with Russia: In the Absence of Western Resolve

Nick Ottens has argued convincingly for maintaining a tough line against Moscow. Or rather it would be convincing if the West were still capable of following through on such policies.

Some time ago, after a conference in San Sebastián in the Basque Country, the former mayor of that city commented to me that the key question in foreign policy is whether you are willing to die for Danzig. If not, then you have no right to a foreign policy, he said.

Today perhaps that should be changed to: Are you willing to die for Donbas? It is because we aren’t that taking a stand against Moscow has become so difficult. Read more “Rapprochement with Russia: In the Absence of Western Resolve”

By June, France Will Have a More Pro-Russian President

François Fillon
Former French prime minister François Fillon meets with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, March 1, 2012 (EPP)

The victory of François Fillon in the French center-right primary on Sunday means that, barring a major surprise, he will fight the second round of May’s presidential election against the far right’s Marine Le Pen.

This, in turn, guarantees that by June, France will have a president who, if not openly pro-Russian, has considerable sympathies for the views of Vladimir Putin. Read more “By June, France Will Have a More Pro-Russian President”

Trump Could Dismantle Western International Institutions

I am sitting at Madrid airport reflecting on the reality of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections yesterday. We live in a very different world from last night. The American president may be constitutionally constrained by the separation of powers, but Trump will govern with Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In any case, in foreign policy, which most directly concerns those of us outside the US, the president has considerable executive freedom of action.

Trump has been vague about his foreign policy. In part this is because it is an area he understands little.

However, there have been some indications. Read more “Trump Could Dismantle Western International Institutions”

Spaniards Don’t Take Trump Seriously, Take Clinton for Granted

Madrid Spain
Skyline of Madrid, Spain (Unsplash/Alex Azabache)

There is unanimous support across the Spanish political spectrum for Hillary Clinton. Even on the Spanish political right, Donald Trump is seen as beyond the pale.

Spanish politicians have been obsessed with their own problems, however. In recent weeks, the Socialist Party has removed its leader and then abstained in parliament to allow the center-right People’s Party of Mariano Rajoy to form a government. Having finally achieved a government after nearly a year of interparty squabbling, Spain had perhaps understandably been distracted from events elsewhere in the world.

That said, there has been little debate about what a Trump presidency would mean — for Spain, Europe or Latin America. Spaniards simply assume that Trump cannot possibly win. Read more “Spaniards Don’t Take Trump Seriously, Take Clinton for Granted”

United Kingdom May Take Its Time to Trigger EU Exit

David Cameron Angela Merkel
British prime minister David Cameron walks with German chancellor Angela Merkel outside his Chequers country residence in Buckinghamshire, England, October 9, 2015 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

While the presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament have called on Britain to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty to start its withdrawal from the bloc, it may take a while.

The referendum is only advisory. Parliament, where two-thirds of lawmakers want Britain to remain in the EU, is sovereign. David Cameron has left the decision to activate Article 50 to his successor. He or she will almost certainly want parliamentary approval. Politicians will be reluctant to ignore or overturn the referendum result, but they may be willing to complicate Brexit by laying down conditions for the negotiations, for example, by insisting on access to the single market. Read more “United Kingdom May Take Its Time to Trigger EU Exit”

The Rajoy School of Political Science

Mariano Rajoy
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy looks out the window of a cable car in Sóller, Majorca, June 22 (PP)

Napoleon famously regarded luck as the most important quality in his generals. We may need to apply the same thinking to politics, or at least Spanish politics.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy seems to be developing an entire political theory based around luck.

He would not put it quite like that. He would presumably argue that his continued success against all the odds is down to his political acumen and skills. But that is not how others see it. Read more “The Rajoy School of Political Science”

Pedro Sánchez: The Man Without Options

The polls for this weekend’s elections in Spain have been pretty consistent. The results are likely to repeat the electoral stalemate of the last election, in December. The conservative People’s Party will be the largest, but it, and the center-right Ciudadanos, will not win enough seats to form a government. The only difference this time is that the Unidos Podemos, a coalition of the anti-establishment Podemos party and the far-left Izquierda Unida, would replace the Socialists as the second largest party in parliament. According to one poll, the combined left could come close to an absolute majority.

All of this is a nightmare for Pedro Sánchez, the youthful Socialist Party leader. He looks set to face a number of options, all of them bad for him and his party.

Sánchez will be the leader of the third party and no longer the leader of the Spanish left. He will have the power to decide who governs, but neither of his coalition options would please what is left of his supporters. Read more “Pedro Sánchez: The Man Without Options”