Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little

Pedro Sánchez Pere Aragonès
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez meets Catalan president Pere Aragonès in his palace in Barcelona, September 15 (Generalitat de Catalunya)

The good news is that Catalan and Spanish politicians are talking again. Official dialogue between the regional and central governments resumed this week after a year-and-a-half delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that’s the only good news. A meeting on Wednesday ended without agreement. A solution to the longrunning dispute between Spain and its wealthiest region is still out of reach. Read more “Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little”

Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15, 2020 (PES)

Spain’s ruling Socialist Party is walking back its promises to Catalans. It has delayed, for the second time, a reform of the sedition law under which Catalonia’s independence leaders were imprisoned. And it has poured cold water on hopes that it might allow a Catalan referendum on independence.

Disappointing Catalans is not without risk. The Socialists need the support of Catalonia’s largest separatist party, the Republican Left, for their majority in Congress. Longer term, it puts the unity of Spain in jeopardy.

Catalans already know to expect little from the conservative People’s Party, which opposed Catalan self-government in the first place. If moderate Catalan nationalists become disillusioned in Spain’s other major party as well, some will decide their only remaining option is secession. Read more “Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans”

Scholz Should Stay the Course

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister and Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Deutscher Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are panicking. I wrote here last week that the unimpressive Armin Laschet is dragging Angela Merkel’s party down. All the opinion polls published since then have put the Social Democrats in the lead with 23 to 27 percent support, compared to 19-22 percent for the conservatives. The Greens and liberal Free Democrats are in third and fourth place.

Until a few months ago, the expectation in Berlin was that the Christian Democrats would swap the Social Democrats for the Greens in the next government. Now a two-party coalition is unlikely, and there is even a chance the Christian Democrats will lose power altogether. Read more “Scholz Should Stay the Course”

Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko at his residence in The Hague, November 26, 2015 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine/Mykola Lazarenko)

Five months after parliamentary elections, parties haven’t even begun substantive coalition talks in the Netherlands, already making this the third-longest government formation in postwar Dutch history.

Mark Rutte remains in office as caretaker prime minister, but his government can’t make major decisions on such issues as climate policy, reform of child benefits, labor law and taxes.

Those major issues are one reason it is taking so long: the choices the next government makes could reverberate for years. Read more “Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands”

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 is unlikely to defend its majority, and the former rivals are wary anyway of forming 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, EU and relations with the United States.

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”

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, formerly a 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 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 in Rome, Italy (Deposit Photos)

Mario Draghi isn’t wasting any time. The former European Central Bank president 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”

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).