Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides

Catherine Ashton Vladimir Putin Alexander Lukashenko
EU foreign policy coordinator Catherine Ashton, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko meet in Minsk, August 27, 2014 (EEAS/Viktor Drachev)

Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. He is expected to win what will likely be a rigged election on Sunday, but he may not get a landslide this time. The cracks in his regime are widening. Read more “Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides”

Cyprus Votes Against EU Trade Deal with Canada

Nicos Anastasiades Ursula von der Leyen
Presidents Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus and Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission meet in Brussels, February 20 (European Commission/Etienne Ansotte)

First tiny Wallonia threatened to derail the EU’s free-trade agreement with Canada. Now Cyprus, with a population of 1.2 million, is putting at risk a treaty that covers nearly 500 million consumers and 28 percent of the world’s economy.

Cypriot lawmakers voted 37 to eighteen against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which eliminates nearly all tariffs between Canada and the EU and includes mutual recognition of professional qualifications and product standards.

It’s one of those product standards the Cypriots are unhappy about. They argue CETA should close the Canadian market to foreign ripoffs of their national cheese, halloumi. Read more “Cyprus Votes Against EU Trade Deal with Canada”

Pulling American Troops Out of Germany Is Another Gift to Putin

Donald Trump Vladimir Putin
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Kremlin)

Donald Trump has done his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, another favor by withdrawing almost 12,000 American troops from Germany, a third of the current deployment.

Fewer than half — 5,600 — are sent to other NATO countries, including Poland. Most will be pulled out of Europe altogether. An F-16 fighter squadron will be rebased in Italy.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper claims the decision is the outcome of long-term strategic planning and will somehow enhance “deterrence of Russia”.

President Trump revealed the real reason on Twitter:

Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What’s that all about? Also, Germany is very delinquent in their 2% fee to NATO. We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!

This is nonsense. There is no NATO “fee”. Germany has for decades underinvested in its defense, relying on American protection, but until recently neither the United States nor Germany’s neighbors objected to the lack of German remilitarization. In 1990, the Western Allies and Russia conditioned their support for German reunification on the country keeping its defense force under 370,000 men. That ceiling remains in place. Read more “Pulling American Troops Out of Germany Is Another Gift to Putin”

New Social Contract for the World After COVID

Miami Florida
The skyline of Miami, Florida (Unsplash/Ryan Parker)

The American economy wasn’t healthy before COVID-19. A middle-class life — the American Dream — was out of reach for most.

Social-democratic Canada and Europe prevented more people from falling through the cracks, but even there millions felt economically and culturally left behind.

A sense that the system wasn’t working for them contributed to the election of Donald Trump, the popularity of far-right nationalist parties and Brexit.

The economic impact of the pandemic can only exacerbate the divide between the well-educated and relatively well-off, who populate the major cities of Europe and North America, and the undereducated and underemployed, who live paycheck-to-paycheck in smaller cities and towns.

We need a better deal. A new social contract. Read more “New Social Contract for the World After COVID”

Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs

Spanish parliament Madrid
The Palacio de las Cortes, seat of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, in Madrid, August 16, 2017 (Shutterstock/Vivvi Smak)

The Spanish Congress has approved three out of four recovery programs proposed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose left-wing government does not have a majority.

Right-wing and regional parties supported plans for the economy, EU and health care. A package of social reforms, which included rental protections, a basic minimum wage and measures against gender violence, fell four votes short.

The government could reintroduce those proposals in its 2021 budget. Read more “Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs”

EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong

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 (European Council)

Whenever the EU is in crisis, you can count on the doomsayers to predict its imminent demise.

Not just the Euroskeptics: British tabloids, Russian propaganda and far-right politicians amplified by Russian propaganda arguing the EU is on the “brink of collapse”.

Even Europhiles. Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors warned that “the lack of European solidarity pose[s] a mortal danger to the European Union.” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte threatened the “destruction of the single market” if other EU countries didn’t agree with his demand for a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund consisting wholly or largely of debt-financed grants.

Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Center in Berlin, warned that Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden — the “frugal five” — were “playing with fire” by demanding verifiable economic reforms in return for financial support.

Christopher Wratil, an assistant professor in European politics at the University College London, argued “anyone with a sense of solidarity” would exclude those five countries from the recovery fund altogether.

As the EU summit, where the size and terms of the recovery program were hashed out this weekend, dragged on for days, the patience of pro-Europeans wore thin and inevitably World War II entered the discussion. Philipp Heimberger, an economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, tweeted:

Thinking about the Marshall Plan and debt forgiveness after World War II. Striking: leading European politicians today are oblivious to history. How else could you become a nitpicker on essential common efforts for an EU recovery fund, harming your own long-term interests?

Pay up, or war! Read more “EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong”

What Rutte Wants

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)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has become the bête noire of EU integrationists for refusing to sign off on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund that largely consists of debt-financed grants.

Rutte is not alone. The leaders of Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are also withholding support, which is why EU leaders are still holed up in Brussels after four days of talks.

But the Netherlands has the largest economy among this “frugal five” and Rutte doesn’t mind taking the heat.

Why? Read more “What Rutte Wants”

De Jonge Narrowly Wins Leadership of Dutch Christian Democrats

Hugo de Jonge
Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge attends a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 20, 2019 (EPP)

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has won an unexpectedly close election for the leadership of the Netherlands’ ruling Christian Democratic party.

De Jonge, a centrist who was backed by the party establishment, won 50.7 percent support against 49.3 for backbencher Pieter Omtzigt, a difference of 258 votes.

The Christian Democrats are the second-largest party in Mark Rutte’s government with nineteen out of 150 seats in parliament. Recent surveys give them 9 to 11 percent support, not enough to become the largest party but enough to play a role in the formation of the next government.

The Christian Democrats have been in all but three of the last fifteen Dutch governments. Read more “De Jonge Narrowly Wins Leadership of Dutch Christian Democrats”

Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice

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

The Dutch government is criticized in the international media for resisting EU grants (it prefers loans conditions on reforms) to help pay for the economic recovery in coronavirus-struck Southern Europe. But the critics are oddly incurious about the Netherlands’ motives.

An editorial in Monday’s Financial Times is typical. It accuses Prime Minister Mark Rutte of singlehandedly putting the EU economy at risk, but it resorts to stereotype and innuendo to explain why he’s unwilling to sign off on a €750 billion recovery fund: the Dutch are stingy and Rutte is worried about losing voters to the Euroskeptic right. (He’s never been more popular.)

Mr Rutte pays lip service to the idea of a stronger, geopolitical Europe but is unwilling to accept the price tag that comes with it, especially with national elections looming next year.

I single out the Financial Times because it should know better. There have been worse opinion columns in the Italian and Spanish press.

At least the Financial Times hints at the need for “productivity-enhancing reforms” in Italy and Spain, which have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. But it doesn’t say which reforms or why.

In an opinion column for EUobserver, I do. Read more “Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice”

Basque, Galician Elections Have National Implications

María Dolores Cospedal Alberto Núñez Feijóo
Former Spanish defense minister María Dolores Cospedal confers with President Alberto Núñez Feijóo of Galicia during a People’s Party congress in Seville, April 7, 2018 (PP)

Incumbents won regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia on Sunday, giving a boost to Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and throwing more doubt on the confrontational strategy of his conservative opponent, Pablo Casado.

The Basque Nationalist Party, which supports Sánchez’ minority left-wing government in Congress, posted its best result since 1984 with 39 percent of the votes.

In Galicia, the popular center-right governor, Albert Núñez Feijóo, won a fourth term with 48 percent support, the same share as in the 2016. The left-wing Galician Nationalist Bloc went up from 8 to 24 percent at the expense of other left-wing and regional parties. It doesn’t always support Sánchez in Congress but did back his investiture in January. Read more “Basque, Galician Elections Have National Implications”