What’s at Stake for Europe in America’s Election

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump has consistently sided against Europe and European interests, from raising tariffs on European exports to rescinding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies Treaties — which protected Russia’s neighbors — to paralyzing the G20 and the World Trade Organization to withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, New START and the World Health Organization.

It’s no wonder Europeans prefer Joe Biden — from between 58 percent of Italians to 80 percent of Danes, according to YouGov.

Beyond hope for a normalization of transatlantic relations, six key issues are at stake for Europe in the election on Tuesday. Read more “What’s at Stake for Europe in America’s Election”

Why Many Germans Hope Trump Will Lose

Angela Merkel Donald Trump
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

China wants get rid of me. Iran wants get rid of me. Germany wants get rid of me.

Donald Trump bashing Germany is hardly surprising. It has been a constant of his presidency. The once-special partnership between Germany and the United States, which already lost some of its luster in the decades after the Cold War, sunk to a post-World War II low during his administration.

Nor is Trump mistaken. Most Germans want to see him gone — with reason. Read more “Why Many Germans Hope Trump Will Lose”

English-Language Media Blame France for Islamic Terrorism

Nice France
The sun sets on Nice, France (Unsplash/Marcus Löfvenberg)

You would think the murder of three Christian worshippers in Nice — a 60 year-old woman, the 55 year-old sexton and a 44 year-old Brazilian-born mother of three — coming on the heels of the beheading of a schoolteacher in a Parisian suburb, would convince American and British journalists and opinion writers that France really has an Islamic terrorism problem, and it’s not a figment of President Emmanuel Macron’s imagination.

But no. Read more “English-Language Media Blame France for Islamic Terrorism”

Statism Makes a Comeback in the United Kingdom

London England
The British flag flies over the Cabinet Office in London, England (Shutterstock/Willy Barton)

Two months ago, I argued Britain was once again the sick man of Europe. It had the second-highest per capita COVID death rate among major countries. Economic output had fallen 20 percent from the year before.

The crisis wasn’t lost on policymakers. The dual shock of coronavirus and Brexit — Britain formally left in 2019 but still applies EU rules and regulations this year — has led to something of a quiet revolution in Whitehall: the potential rebirth of the interventionist state.

There is still much wrong with how the British government has handled both events, the poster child for COVID being the decimation of the British aviation and travel industry as well as the arts. Not since the closing of the coal mines has an entire industry shrunk so dramatically.

Yet the seeds of a new statism have been sown — by a Conservative government. Read more “Statism Makes a Comeback in the United Kingdom”

Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia

Barcelona Spain
Aerial view of the the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Carles Rabada)

Allegations of Russian interference have swirled around the Catalan independence movement for the last three years.

I cautioned against exaggerating Russia’s role in 2017, when two million Catalans voted in a referendum that had been deemed illegal by the Spanish state to break away.

I still believe what I did then: that Russia is a convenient scapegoat for Spaniards who don’t want to understand why nearly one in two Catalans prefer their own republic.

“Easier to blame foreign manipulation than examine the root causes of Catalan separatism and the events which led to the current crisis,” I wrote — from the 2010 Constitutional Court ruling that overturned parts of Catalonia’s autonomy statute to former prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s years-long refusal to negotiate a revision of the charter to current prime minister Pedro Sánchez slow-walking his promise to do just that. Read more “Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia”

Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Spain’s left-wing government has proposed raising public spending by 10 percent next year to cope with the effects of coronavirus. If approved — the ruling parties do not have a stable majority in Congress — it would be the biggest budget in Spanish history.

Health spending would rise 150 percent, or €3.1 billion. In addition, €2.4 billion would be set aside to prop up primary care and buy vaccines. Another €700 million, drawn from the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, would go to elderly care.

Spain qualifies for around €70 billion in EU grants and €70 billion in loans. It is not expected to make use of the loans, given that it can still borrow affordably on its own.

To pay for the extra spending, the coalition government also plans to raise taxes. Read more “Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget”

Criticism of Macron’s Islam Policy Is Over the Top

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17, 2018 (European Parliament)

Emmanuel Macron is the most liberal president France has had since the 1970s, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing legalized abortion and made contraceptives commercially available. Yet there has been a tendency on the left to blow every hint of Macronist illiberalism out of proportion.

Macron did not, on balance, cut public spending. He raised welfare benefits, extended unemployment insurance to the self-employed and penalized companies that made excessive use of short-term contracts. But he also liberalized labor law, to make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, and abolished a wealth tax few millionaires paid, which earned him the moniker “president of the rich”.

Police largely tolerated the so-called Yellow Vests protests against Macron in 2018, but left-wing critics seized on a few instances of police violence to argue the president couldn’t stand criticism.

Now that Macron is taking a harder line against Islamic extremism, following the beheading of a French teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils, John Lichfield reports for Politico Europe that the same tendency is rearing its head on the (American) left.

The New York Times claims Macron has ordered a “broad government crackdown against Muslim individuals and groups.” The World Socialist Web Site, in a widely retweeted story, accuses Macron of “whipping up … anti-Muslim hysteria.” An American sociologist who researches white supremacists laments that French officials “respond to violent extremism with violent extremism.”

What is this “broad crackdown”? Macron’s government has closed a mosque, which was run by a radical imam. A number of arrests have been made. “Anti-Muslim hysteria”? 51 more Islamic organizations are being investigated for alleged extremist sympathies. What about “violent extremism”? There are plans to take away the French passports of 231 foreign-born criminals.

Some of this may be an overreaction. Expelling dual citizens will be difficult if their countries of origin refuse to take them back. The rhetoric of Macron’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has not been helpful. He believes France is fighting a “civil war” against Islamists.

But — the convictions of the woke American left notwithstanding — words are not violence, and anyway Macron himself hasn’t gone so far. Read more “Criticism of Macron’s Islam Policy Is Over the Top”

Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 16 (European Council)

For too long has the European Union tolerated the formation of a self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” in its midst. A recent European Court of Justice ruling underscores that Hungary is not only in beach of the rule of law, but violates the very rights and values on which the EU is founded.

The court ruled earlier this month that restrictions imposed on foreign universities — which forced the George Soros-funded Central European University to relocate from Budapest to Vienna — were “incompatible” with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, commented that the ruling “should send a warning to Viktor Orbán: that it’s time to step back from the brink of autocracy and reverse the Hungarian government’s undemocratic path.”

Orbán, prime minister since 2010, has come a long way. He started his political career as a liberal anticommunist and ended up the most right-wing, authoritarian government leader in the EU.

If the rest of the bloc is to rein him in, it must first understand how he has been able to gain, and keep, his power.

This is Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian playbook. Read more “Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook”

“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 overseas 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”