Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel attends the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

Saturday’s election for the leadership of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is also a debate over the future identity of the party.

Friedrich Merz, the darling of the right, would arrest Angela Merkel’s twenty-year slide to the center and take the fight to the far right with small-government and law-and-order policies.

Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian, fear that would risk throwing away Merkel’s gains with younger and women voters. They argue for continuity (critics might say muddling through), with Röttgen proposing a slightly more modernizing program.

Waiting in the wings are Jens Spahn, the ambitious health minister, and Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria. They are not in the running for the party leadership, but they may yet hope to be nominated for the chancellorship. Spahn is a younger version of Merz, Söder a more solid version of Laschet. Read more “Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology”

Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte addresses parliament in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has tendered his government’s resignation to King Willem-Alexander.

With only two months to go before elections, and the government remaining in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis in the Netherlands, the resignation is largely symbolic.

But smaller parties in Rutte’s coalition felt they had to take responsibility for what an inquiry described as an “unprecedented injustice” in the tax service, which wrongly accused more than 20,000 families of fraud.

Lodewijk Asscher, who was the responsible minister in charge of social affairs in the last government, stepped down as leader of the now-opposition Labor Party on Thursday. Read more “Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal”

German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor

Friedrich Merz
Friedrich Merz, then chairman of the Supervisory Board of BlackRock Germany, attends a bankers conference in Berlin, April 5, 2017 (Bankenverband)

1,001 party delegates will elect the next leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a digital congress on Saturday.

The winner will succeed Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the defense minister, who succeeded Angela Merkel in 2018. Merkel stepped down as party leader, but not chancellor, that year.

Kramp-Karrenbauer quit two years later. She never approached Merkel’s popularity in the polls, nor her authority in the party.

Merkel’s approval rating is approaching 90 percent, but she is not seeking a fifth term. Whoever is elected CDU leader on Saturday will be the party’s presumptive chancellor candidate for the election in September (the Christian Democrats are polling at 35-37 percent), but that is not a given. Read more “German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor”

Renzi Picks the Wrong Fight — Again

Matteo Renzi
Then-Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers questions from reporters in Rome, December 10, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has pulled the plug on the country’s ruling center-left coalition.

Renzi, now a senator, has withdrawn his 48 lawmakers and three ministers (one junior) from the coalition ostensibly over a spending dispute. He wants to use Italy’s €200+ billion share of the European Union’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund to invest in infrastructure and the green economy. The other ruling parties prefer to use the bulk of the money for short-term stimulus.

Renzi has also proposed to tap into the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), set up in the wake of the euro crisis, to help pay for Italy’s increased health care expenses, something Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resisted. ESM funding would come with strings attached. Countries are free to spend their share of the coronavirus recovery fund however they see fit.

Renzi’s proposals have merit. Italy is failing its next generation. It needs structural reforms — which ESM support would require — to catch up with the rest of Europe. Spending €200 billion to prop up the Italian economy in the short term is a wasted opportunity.

But expecting the other ruling parties to meet his terms, when Renzi’s is by far the smallest of the three, is unreasonable. Throwing Italy into a political crisis when it is still suffering one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world is irresponsible.

Conte must now try to find a new majority in parliament, perhaps with members of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, or call early elections. Read more “Renzi Picks the Wrong Fight — Again”

Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain

Gibraltar
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from the territory’s airport, September 29, 2015 (Shutterstock/Nigel Jarvis)

Gibraltar is joining the Schengen free-travel area and will accept European border guards in its ports.

The agreement, reached shortly before New Year’s between the governments of Britain and Spain, avoids the need for a hard border and pulls the Rock closer into the European Union than it was before.

It is a victory for Spanish nationalists, who have long dreamed of regaining a foothold in Gibraltar after three centuries of British rule.

Accomplished, ironically, by a left-wing government. Read more “Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain”

Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian

Markus Söder
Prime Minister Markus Söder enters the Bavarian State Parliament in Munich, December 15 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are polling faraway in first place for next year’s election with close to 40 percent support, up from a low of 26-28 percent a year ago.

Yet none of the three middle-aged men vying to succeed Angela Merkel are wildly popular.

Germans would prefer the prime minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder. Read more “Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian”

What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement

United Kingdom European Union flags
Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, January 29, 2016 (European Commission)

I haven’t read the 1,246 pages of the EU-UK trade agreement, so I’m going to rely on trusted sources to make sense of the accord.

First, a couple of notes on terminology.

This treaty, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, governs the future cross-Channel relationship. It is due to go into effect on January 1, although it will still need to be ratified by the parliaments of the European Union and the United Kingdom as well as the European Council.

Last year’s withdrawal agreement regulated Britain’s exit from the EU. It provided for a one-year transition period, which expires on December 31, and included a protocol for Northern Ireland, which keeps the province in the European single market for goods and effectively (but not legally) in the EU customs union to avoid the need for a border with the Republic of Ireland.

Both treaties have been unhelpfully referred to as “the deal” in the English-speaking press, but only the withdrawal agreement was crucial. The trade agreement, while good to have, since Britain does most of its trade with the EU, was always optional. Read more “What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement”

First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Left-wing Americans weren’t happy when the Democratic Party nominated the center-left Joe Biden for the presidency, but, unlike in 2016, few sat out the election.

Nor there were major spoiler candidates on the right. Voting for Hillary Clinton was apparently too much to ask of five million Donald Trump skeptics in 2016, who voted for libertarian Gary Johnson or conservative Evan McMullin. They could have tipped the election in Clinton’s favor.

In 2020, Democrats wisely nominated the least divisive old white guy they could find and anti-Trumpers voted like the republic depended on it. Biden won fifteen million more votes than Clinton and flipped five states, handing him a comfortable Electoral College victory.

Hungarians and Israelis hoping to get rid of their “Trumps” must take note. Read more “First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out”

Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, December 14 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s ruling separatist parties are drifting apart.

José Antich writes in the pro-independence outlet El Nacional that the top candidates of Together for Catalonia, the senior party in the regional government, are “supporters of a path of greater confrontation with Madrid.”

The list of the Republican Left, by contrast — currently the smaller party, but the largest in the polls — is led by office holders, including Acting President Pere Aragonès and Health Minister Alba Vergés. Read more “Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways”

Britain Still Won’t Accept Tradeoff at Heart of Brexit

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson chairs a cabinet meeting in London, England, September 30 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Andrew Parsons)

Britain is still trying to have its cake and eat it too.

  • It doesn’t want to lose access to the European market, but it doesn’t want to follow EU rules and regulations either.
  • It doesn’t want a border in Ulster, but it doesn’t want to keep Northern Ireland in closer regulatory alignment with the EU than the rest of the United Kingdom.
  • It doesn’t want a customs border in the Irish Sea, but it doesn’t want regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

And it still thinks it can spook the EU into relaxing its red lines by threatening to exit the transition period that ends on December 31 without a trade deal when the absence of a trade deal would hurt the UK far more than the EU. Read more “Britain Still Won’t Accept Tradeoff at Heart of Brexit”