“Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals

Angela Merkel Ursula von der Leyen Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Emmanuel Macron and Mark Rutte belong to the same European liberal family, but they take different views on the future of the liberal world order.

The French president believes Europe should become less reliant on the United States and foreign trade. He argues for “strategic autonomy” in everything from the digital economy to defense to environmental policy.

The Dutch prime minister has doubts, rooted in decades of Dutch Atlanticism and centuries of international trade.

Both have allies.

Macron has the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister.

Rutte is backed by smaller countries in Central and Northern Europe as well others in the European Commission. The Financial Times reports that plenty suspect “strategic autonomy” is a fancy way to dress up French protectionism; are wary of formally endorsing the principle if it means undermining NATO and open trade; and are skeptical of the push for reshoring of industry and supply chains.

They have reason to be. Read more ““Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals”

Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed

Quim Torra
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14, 2018 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Successive Spanish governments have treated Catalan separatism as a legal, rather than a political, problem. This has done nothing to weaken support for independence. It has radicalized Catalans.

The dismissal of Catalan president Quim Torra is the latest episode in a decade-long legal drama. Spain’s Supreme Court removed him from office on Monday for hanging a “partisan” banner from the balcony of his government’s medieval palace in the center of Barcelona during the 2019 election.

The banner didn’t express support for a political party, but rather called for the release of the nine separatists who were imprisoned for leading a failed breakaway from Spain in 2017.

Torra’s removal triggers early elections, which polls predict the separatists will win.

He is the second Catalan president in three years to be unseated by the Spanish judiciary. His predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted after leading the 2017 independence bid. He fled to Belgium to escape prosecution. Read more “Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

How Germany Turned Its Refugee Crisis into Success

Muslim family
A Muslim family walks in a park in Germany, February 10, 2014 (Metropolico)

Migration is back on the European agenda after a fire in the Mória refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos left some 13,000 without shelter.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson has called for “mandatory solidarity” from member states, but not all countries are willing to accept asylum seekers. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia resist proposals to distribute migrants proportionately across the EU.

With xenophobia hampering an effective migration policy, it’s worth taking a look at the country that has admitted the most refugees: Germany. Its “we will manage” attitude could be an example to its neighbors. Read more “How Germany Turned Its Refugee Crisis into Success”

Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways

Palazzo Balbi Venice Italy
View of the Palazzo Balbi, the residence of the regional president of Veneto, in Venice, Italy, April 1, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Moroder)

Italians elected new regional councils and governors in the Aosta Valley, Apulia, Campania, Liguria, Marche, Tuscany and Veneto on Sunday and Monday.

They also voted in a referendum to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies from 630 to 400 and in the Senate from 315 to 200.

The right has gained control of one more region — Marche — but the center-left Democrats held their own in the regions they governed.

The populist Five Star Movement, which shares power with the Democrats nationally, underperformed everywhere. Read more “Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways”

Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections

Arcevia Italy
View from Arcevia, a town in the central Italian region of Marche, December 24, 2013 (Giorgio Rodano)

Seven of Italy’s twenty regions hold elections on Sunday and Monday. Four are currently governed by the center-left, two by the right. Polls suggest that balance could flip.

The seventh, the Aosta Valley, is governed by local parties representing its French-speaking minority.

Italians will also elect over 1,100 mayors, two senators and decide in a referendum whether or not to cut the number of lawmakers.

Here is everything you need to know.

Italian law forbids the publication of polls in the two weeks prior to the vote, so all the numbers cited here are at least two weeks old. Read more “Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections”

Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria

Colomanskirche Schwangau Germany
Colomanskirche in Bavaria, Germany, May 26, 2019 (Zsolt Czillinger)

Caroline de Gruyter writes in EUobserver that Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — which allies with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union nationally — has moved back to the center after it tried, and failed, to outflank the far right.

Conservatives in France, Spain and the United States should take note. Read more “Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria”

Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Egor Myznik)

I have a story in The National Interest about the independence crisis in Catalonia.

The arguments will sound familiar to those of you who have been reading my analyses and opinions. I blame the Spanish government for refusing to listen to Catalans when all they asked for was more autonomy. I think it was a mistake to deny them a legal independence referendum when the majority of Catalans were still opposed to breaking away.

Now half are in favor and hope of a compromise is fading. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at least recognizes that the problem calls for a political, not a legal, solution, but he has postponed talks with the Catalan regional government due to COVID-19. Read more “Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point”

Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19

Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands reads out his annual speech from the throne in the Grote Kerk in The Hague, September 15 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ ruling center-right coalition unveiled an expansionary budget on Tuesday, when King Willem-Alexander read out his annual speech from the throne to set out the government’s priorities for the next fiscal year.

Whereas the Dutch government, then also led by Mark Rutte, raised taxes and cut public spending during the last economic crisis to keep its budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling, it now argues against austerity and is borrowing the equivalent of 7.2 percent of GDP (down from an earlier estimate of 8.7 percent).

Rutte argues the savings made in previous years allow the government to avoid cuts this time.

The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 5 percent this year as a result of COVID-19 and grow 3.5 percent next year, when unemployment would reach 545,000, or almost 6 percent. Debt as a share of GDP is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent. Read more “Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19”

Johnson Puts British Diplomacy, Internal Relations at Risk

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson listens to a reporter’s question in Brussels, October 17, 2019 (European Commission)

British prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of “legislative hooliganism” and running a “rogue state” for bringing forth legislation that would breach international law.

The Internal Market Bill, which Johnson’s government is planning to enact in order to establish the legal framework for Britain’s internal market following the end of the Brexit transition period, would contravene the withdrawal agreement Britain has negotiated with the EU.

The withdrawal agreement subjects Northern Ireland to EU rules on exports and state aid in order to avoid the need for a border with the Republic of Ireland. The open border has helped keep the peace between Catholics and Protestants in the region for twenty years.

The Internal Market Bill gives UK ministers the power to opt out of those rules. Read more “Johnson Puts British Diplomacy, Internal Relations at Risk”

Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European leaders, February 12, 2015 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has taken a hard line in Brussels on the conditions of coronavirus aid to Southern Europe, but at home his government has abandoned austerity without controversy.

During the last economic crisis, Rutte, who has led the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy since 2006, raised taxes and cut public spending to keep the Netherlands’ budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

Now, when the economic contraction caused by COVID-19 is even more severe, he is borrowing €56 billion, or 7.2 percent of GDP. Debt as a share of economic output is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent.

Statism is back in a country that is (or used to be) considered a champion of liberalization and free trade.

Rutte’s competitors spy an opportunity. Read more “Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism”