European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.
Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.
A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)
Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leaders. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.
The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”
Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than to the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.
Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.
Less than a year ago, Mark Rutte and Pedro Sánchez were on opposite ends of the debate about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Sánchez and other Southern European leaders called for grants financed by EU-issued bonds. Rutte and his allies preferred loans. The two sides eventually split the difference.
Now the two prime ministers, one center-right, the other center-left, have made common cause for a vision of European “strategic autonomy” that is more liberal than Emmanuel Macron’s.
Talks to form a coalition government are underway in the Netherlands, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the election on Wednesday but fell short of an overall majority.
Four parties will be needed to form a government. Rutte’s right-liberal VVD (of which I am a member) and Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag’s left-liberal D66 would be needed in almost any combination. The two have 58 seats. 76 are needed for majority. Read more “Liberal Parties Look for Allies in Netherlands”
It’s easy to blame Armin Laschet for the German Christian Democrats’ slide in the polls. Since he was elected party leader in January, support for the center-right has fallen from 35-37 to 28-31 percent — still enough for first place, but the Greens, Social Democrats and liberal Free Democrats are all up.
The three might even win a majority between them, raising the prospect of the Christian Democrats being ejected from power when Angela Merkel steps down later this year.
The rise of new parties on the left, right and center has created new opportunities in Spain: a left-wing minority government that usually relies on the support of Basque and Catalan separatists in Congress, but on rare occasions takes votes from the far-right newcomer Vox (Voice).
The big story in this year’s election in the Netherlands is that all parties, including the ruling VVD (of which I am a member), have moved to the left. As a result, there is broad consensus for deficit spending, far-reaching climate legislation, closer defense integration in Europe, more central government involvement in housing and raising corporate tax.