Doubts About Netherlands’ Credibility After Cabinet Resigns

The Netherlands’ liberal prime minister, Mark Rutte, tendered his cabinet’s resignation to Queen Beatrix on Monday afternoon. His right-wing coalition collapsed over the weekend, when Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders pulled out of crucial budget talks.

The resignation of Rutte’s minority government, composed of the Christian Democrat and his own liberal party, leaves a political vacuum in one of the eurozone’s core member states only weeks ahead of a deadline to submit national spending plans to the European Commission for review. Read more “Doubts About Netherlands’ Credibility After Cabinet Resigns”

Political Cowardice Wrecking Europe’s New Right

In 2010, a new right rose in Europe. Parties that were or had become economically conservative and socially liberal came to power despite the left blaming their free-market ideology for the financial crisis. Now, the tides are turning.

Denmark’s Christian Democrats and liberals were ousted in September of last year after a decade in government and replaced by a left-wing administration.

Theirs had been a minority government, supported in parliament by the far-right and nationalist Danish People’s Party which parted with other two right-wing parties on entitlement and labor market reforms. By positioning itself as the champion of pensioners and the working class, the People’s Party appealed to a constituency which increasingly mistrusted the typically pro-European and pro-globalization conservatives and liberals.

In the Netherlands, a similar administration took office in September 2010. The liberal party had won the elections on a platform of economic repair and formed a minority cabinet with the Christian Democrats who had lost half of their seats, many of them to Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, ideologically equivalent to the Danish People’s Party.

Wilders supported the conservative-liberal coalition in parliament until this weekend when he rejected additional austerity measures.

The government had initially planned only the barest possible of spending cuts but was forced to consider steeper reductions to bring the deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 per European treaty rules. Now, it may have lost the legitimacy and the majority to do so.

Prime Minister Petr Nečas’s center-right government of the Czech Republic is also aiming to balance the budget by reining in health-care and pension spending and raising taxes but it too could lose the support of one of its coalition partners, raising the possibility of parliamentary elections as early as June.

Like their Dutch counterparts, the Czech right-wing parties never made the philosophical argument for smaller government. The left-wing opposition, rallying with trade unions in the streets against “devastating” cuts and “asocial reforms,” is winning the public debate.

The godfather of Europe’s new right-wing movement, David Cameron, remains fairly popular in the polls despite enacting policies that are similar to his beleaguered counterparts on the continent. His “detoxification” of the Conservative Party brand of one that cares only for the rich hasn’t stopped the Labour opposition from credibly arguing that his government doesn’t care for the little guy though. It is only because of Labour’s ineffectual leader Ed Miliband that the party hasn’t managed to mount a more convincing stand against British austerity.

Cameron’s position is far from enviable however. His lackluster austerity agenda has failed to wield significant results. The British economy remains in recession but the political and public resistance to further budget restraint is so high that it’s probably too late now for the coalition to change its tone and argue that it’s shrinking government for anything but pragmatic reasons.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t win three elections telling voters that she didn’t have a choice but to enact unpopular austerity measures. She convinced them that it was the right thing to do.

When times are tough, people will be inclined to vote for the party that seems to them capable of managing the nation’s finances. As soon as a crisis is averted, which many left-wing parties seem to believe is the case, the political managers lose their appeal. People don’t just care for policy. They crave for a politics of vision.

Austerity is not an ideology. It is a means to an end but when the end is left unsaid, who but a masochist would vote for it? The left, at least, has its appeal to “fairness.” Europe’s right hasn’t dared articulate an alternative vision for fear of appearing asocial and losing elections — and now it’s losing anyway.

Dutch Budget Talks Fail, Elections Likely

Negotiations between the Netherlands’ three ruling parties about future budget cuts collapsed on Saturday. Elections are expected to be scheduled for September at a time when the country is under pressure from its European peers to deliver a credible austerity package.

Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party supports a minority administration of Christian Democrat and liberal parties but did not provide cabinet members, walked out on the budget talks, citing his unwillingness to abide by a European “diktat” to bring the government’s deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product next year.

“We don’t want to obey Brussels,” said Wilders. The €14 billion in cuts which were necessary to reduce the shortfall to under 3 percent in 2013 would have followed €18 billion in savings that were achieved in this year’s budget. Read more “Dutch Budget Talks Fail, Elections Likely”

Dutch, German Left Demand Concessions on Fiscal Treaty

Opposition social democrats in Germany and the Netherlands want concessions in exchange for supporting a European fiscal compact that is supposed to go into effect next year.

German left-wing leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his party will only back new eurozone budget rules if the continent adopts a financial transaction tax.

Chancellor Angela Merkel needs his support in order to ratify the new fiscal treaty. A two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament is required.

Left-wing parties, like their counterparts in the Netherlands, have previously backed European bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Possibility of a tax

Merkel’s liberal coalition partners have said that they will only accept a financial transaction tax if it is implemented across Europe. Because the United Kingdom, which opposed such a levy, has refused to join the fiscal compact, that may be possible.

Steinmeier told the Frankfurter Rundschau that “additional measures to promote economic growth” must also be enacted.

“For this, you would obviously need the funds that must come from things like a tax on financial markets,” he said.

French and Dutch support

The French Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, who is likely to replace the incumbent conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy in May, argues for a financial transaction tax as well. He has called “the world of finance” his “enemy”.

But he has also said he wants to “renegotiate” the fiscal compact so it puts greater emphasis on growth. Presumably that means more room for deficit spending.

The Dutch Labor Party has already convinced the Netherlands’ minority center-right government to considering rolling out a bank tax.

Ronald Plasterk, a candidate for the Labor Party leadership, has lamented, “Everyone is tightening their belts except the sector that caused the crisis.”

Fiscal rules

The fiscal treaty that was signed by European leaders, except the British and Czech prime ministers, in January. It calls on countries to write balanced budget requirements into their national laws and reaffirms the Stability and Growth Pact’s deficit and debt limits of 3 and 60 percent of gross domestic product, respectively.

Countries that break the rules can be fined up to .1 percent of national income.

Dutch: We Can Live Without Greece in Eurozone

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and European Commissioner Neelie Kroes both said on Tuesday that the single currency area would survive a Greek exit.

Rutte said in a radio interview that the eurozone could “handle” a country leaving the union because the risk of contagion has now been sufficiently reduced.

His words echoed those of Kroes’ who told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that “it is just not true” that the euro would collapse if Greece were to give up the currency. Kroes is a member of the Netherlands’ ruling liberal party which Rutte heads. Read more “Dutch: We Can Live Without Greece in Eurozone”

Russia Threatens European Cattle, Meat Import Ban

Russia on Tuesday threatened a ban of Western European beef and livestock imports after a virus that was previously known to affect goats and sheep was also discovered in cattle this week.

The Schmallenberg virus, named after the German town where it was first diagnosed last year, has been found in newborn Belgian, Dutch and German calves, lambs and kids. The disease is transmitted by means of insect vectors and has been detected in fourteen Belgian, 52 Dutch and twenty German farms. Read more “Russia Threatens European Cattle, Meat Import Ban”

Finland, Netherlands Resist Expansion Bailout Fund

Finland’s prime minister supported a Dutch proposal to create a European commissioner for fiscal discipline on Monday and warned that Europe may have mere “weeks” left to convince markets that it can combat its spiraling debt crisis.

Prime Ministers Jyrki Katainen and Mark Rutte rejected international calls for an expansion of Europe’s bailout facility however, stressing that profligate euro nations in the periphery should enforce budget discipline according to existing treaty obligations. Read more “Finland, Netherlands Resist Expansion Bailout Fund”

Green Cosmopolitanism Fashionable in North Europe

Green and socially liberal parties are the rise across Northern Europe. From Britain to Berlin, their electorate is composed of students and young urban professionals who lean left on social issues but do not care for the welfarism and trade union socialism of traditional labor parties.

State elections in Berlin, Germany were closely watched this weekend for a Green election victory. Bündnis 90/Die Grünen won 17.6 percent of the vote, behind the major party Social Democrats and conservatives but ahead of the liberals and far left which both lost support.

Some of the new Green party voters come from the Social Democrats who retained their majority despite losing votes; some of them come from the pro-business Free Democrats who didn’t make the election threshold.

The Free Democratic Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner on the federal level, has performed poorly in recent state elections after it claimed an unprecedented 14.6 percent share of the vote nationwide in 2009. The liberals’ popularity has diminished since with college educated urban voters in particular defecting to the left.

Local elections in Saarland in 2009 may have been a harbinger of a new political constellation in Germany where the Greens refused to cooperate with the Social Democrats and the far left in favor of an alliance with liberals and conservatives. In 2008, they had previously entered a coalition with the Christian Democrats in Hamburg.

This year, the Greens tripled their share of the vote in Rheinland-Pfalz and won the prime ministership in Baden-Württemberg, once a conservative stronghold. Their candidate, a 62 year-old former chemist, belonged to the centrist wing of the Green party and profited from an anti-nuclear sentiment that swept Germany in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in March.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, left of center parties similar to Germany’s Grünen also appeal to cosmopolitan young working people who reject the old left’s reinvigorated market criticism but are appalled by the right’s willingness to embrace populist anti-immigrant and security policies at the same time. They are united around themes of environmentalism, individualism and minority rights.

In Denmark, the Radikale Venstre represents social liberals who oppose the main liberal Venstre‘s alliance with the far-right Danish People’s Party. In the Netherlands, the intellectual D66 and progressive GroenLinks together accounted for 13.5 percent of the vote in last year’s parliamentary elections. Both oppose the hardline immigration policy of the liberal-conservative government but favor market driven entitlement and labor law reforms.

The Liberal Democrats in Britain aren’t willing to admit yet that they represent a similar kind of cosmopolitanism. The reason is that part of their leftist electorate doesn’t want to commit to such a direction. As The Economist put it, when they voted Liberal Democrat last year, “they assumed it was a social democratic party with civil libertarianism and Europhilia thrown in; a Labour Party for university towns and upmarket suburbs rather than the industrial heartlands.”

The Liberal Democrats’ alliance with the Conservatives proved their voters wrong. Party leader Nick Clegg, now deputy prime minister, led them toward centrist, classic liberalism, much to the dismay of rank and file liberals who “don’t really believe their party is either liberal in the classical sense or even ideologically neutral between right and left.”

This could be a problem for other Northwest European Green parties as well. Their members tend to be more leftist than their voters who are generally skeptical of “big government” welfare schemes. Moreover, part of their base has pacifist roots which could complicate their ability to govern responsibly.

The German Greens realized this in 1998 when they entered a coalition with the Social Democrats just before NATO intervened in Kosovo. Green party parliamentarians weren’t happy with the war and outright hostile to sending German troops to Afghanistan in 2001. GroenLinks in the Netherlands found itself in a similar predicament this year when it failed to enthuse party members for an Afghan police mission it endorsed.

Dutch Threaten Eurozone Exit for Profligate Nations

Eurozone nations that aren’t willing to submit to a stricter enforcement of fiscal rules should leave the single currency area, the Dutch prime minister declared on Wednesday.

In a written statement to lawmakers, Mark Rutte suggested that countries that won’t commit to “strengthening budgetary discipline and the stringent enforcement of rules under independent supervision” should be forced out of the monetary union.

The Dutch leader envisioned the appointment of a “eurocommissioner” who would be empowered to subject countries to austerity measures if they violated the fiscal agreements of the Stability and Growth Pact repeatedly. This treaty, which was adopted by the seventeen members of the eurozone in 1997, maximizes deficit and debt ratios at 3 and 60 percent of gross domestic product respectively.

“Member states that aren’t prepared to put themselves in receivership can choose to leave the eurozone,” according to Rutte. Read more “Dutch Threaten Eurozone Exit for Profligate Nations”

The War on Drugs Has Failed

The global drug war has failed, says a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, “with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” It is time that governments consider legalizing marijuana and similar substances.

The commission includes, among others, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and business tycoon Richard Branson. They are urging today’s leaders to “have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately — that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”

Instead of punishing users who “do no harm to others,” the commission argues that governments should end criminalization of drug use and experiment with legal models that would undermine organized crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug users in need.

America’s war on drugs, which is being waged both within the nation’s borders and across Central America, is utterly futile. Tens of thousands of law enforcements officers and civilians have lost their lives in the struggle and drug use in America has not declined. Rather the country is funding both sides of the war, with the government spending almost the exact amount on law enforcement and foreign aid as American citizens buy in drugs.

A just government doesn’t dictate what products its citizens can and cannot consume or enjoy. It is not the government’s responsibility to protect people against themselves. Read more “The War on Drugs Has Failed”