Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
Ameican president Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 5 (White House/Adam Schultz)

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.”

His mistake is to assume America and Europe are starting from the same point. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown doubt on his future.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”

Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16, 2016 (European Council)

Two weeks after parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, attempts to form a coalition government have broken down amid incriminations that could put Mark Rutte’s prime ministership at risk.

Rutte won the election, but a botched start to the negotiations to form his fourth government has thrown doubt on his political survival.

The liberal has been in power since 2010. Read more “Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks”

Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers listen to a debate in parliament in The Hague, September 29, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

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.

But there is a tradeoff. When voters aren’t loyal — which is itself a good thing; they actually judge parties on their performance — turnover in parliament can be high, which robs it of experience and expertise. Read more “Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience”

Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20, 2020 (European Council)

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.

In a joint “non-paper“, the Dutch and Spanish leaders endorse strategic economy as a means to an end — growth and security — but not an end in itself. They caution it can’t become an excuse for isolation and protectionism. Read more “Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU”

Liberal Parties Look for Allies in Netherlands

Giuseppe Conte Mark Rutte
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is received by his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, July 10, 2020 (Palazzo Chigi)

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”

Don’t Blame Laschet for Poor State Election Results

Armin Laschet
Armin Laschet, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, gives a speech in the Bundesrat in Berlin, Germany, December 14, 2018 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

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.

Laschet bears some responsibility, but it’s hard to imagine how another leader could have avoided two disappointing state election results last Monday. Read more “Don’t Blame Laschet for Poor State Election Results”

Spanish Tribulations in Multiparty Democracy

Pablo Iglesias
Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias speaks at a rally in Madrid, May 20, 2017 (Podemos)

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).

It has also created crises, currently in the regions of Madrid and Murcia, where the once-dominant People’s Party (PP) has called snap elections in a bid to shore up the right-wing vote. Read more “Spanish Tribulations in Multiparty Democracy”

Dutch Election: Takeaways and What Happens Next

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is on track to win reelection with projections giving his liberal VVD (of which I am a member) 36 out of 150 seats in parliament, up three.

The outcome is likely to be a center-right government of three or four parties.

If you haven’t been reading our live election blog, this explainer will get you up to speed on the results, takeaways and next steps. Read more “Dutch Election: Takeaways and What Happens Next”

Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte attends the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 18, 2018 (Ministerie van Financiën/Valerie Kuypers)

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.

Not all foreign media have noticed. Many are still obsessed with yesterday’s story: the far right. Read more “Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election”