Aruba, Curaçao Agree to Terms of Dutch Coronavirus Aid

Oranjestad Aruba
Aerial view of Oranjestad, Aruba (iStock/Darryl Brooks)

Aruba and Curaçao have agreed to liberalize their economies in order to qualify for continued financial support from the European Netherlands, without which the islands would almost certainly go bankrupt.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought tourism, on which the islands depend, close to a standstill.

Sint Maarten, the third autonomous Dutch island in the Caribbean, has yet to meet the terms of Dutch aid, which include cutting public-sector salaries by 12.5 to 25 percent. Read more “Aruba, Curaçao Agree to Terms of Dutch Coronavirus Aid”

Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes

Geert Wilders Thierry Baudet Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions from far-right politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet in parliament in The Hague, November 27, 2019 (ANP)

Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.

Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.

Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.

In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.

Baudet has winked at the alt-right with calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.

He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”. Read more “Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes”

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”

Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are closing in on a deal with the European Netherlands for hundreds of millions of euros in support to cope with the impact of COVID-19.

The sticking point in negotiations has been the Netherlands’ insistence that Dutch officials would carry out and monitor economic reforms on which the bailout is conditioned; a demand Caribbean leaders argue is incompatible with their autonomy.

Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao, the largest of the three self-governing islands, told lawmakers this week that a compromise is at hand.

The Dutch supervisors would remain, but any decisions they take that affect spending and taxes would need to be ratified by the island legislatures.

The government of Curaçao would also be consulted on the appointment of one of the three supervisors.

Antilliaans Dagblad reports that a majority of lawmakers on Curaçao could agree to those terms.

But Raymond Knops, the Dutch state secretary for the interior, sounded less optimistic on Tuesday, when he told parliamentarians in The Hague that the three islands are currently unable to “bear” their autonomy. Read more “Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal”

Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways

Palazzo Balbi Venice Italy
View of the Palazzo Balbi, the residence of the regional president of Veneto, in Venice, Italy, April 1, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Moroder)

Italians elected new regional councils and governors in the Aosta Valley, Apulia, Campania, Liguria, Marche, Tuscany and Veneto on Sunday and Monday.

They also voted in a referendum to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies from 630 to 400 and in the Senate from 315 to 200.

The right has gained control of one more region — Marche — but the center-left Democrats held their own in the regions they governed.

The populist Five Star Movement, which shares power with the Democrats nationally, underperformed everywhere. Read more “Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways”

Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19

Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands reads out his annual speech from the throne in the Grote Kerk in The Hague, September 15 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ ruling center-right coalition unveiled an expansionary budget on Tuesday, when King Willem-Alexander read out his annual speech from the throne to set out the government’s priorities for the next fiscal year.

Whereas the Dutch government, then also led by Mark Rutte, raised taxes and cut public spending during the last economic crisis to keep its budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling, it now argues against austerity and is borrowing the equivalent of 7.2 percent of GDP (down from an earlier estimate of 8.7 percent).

Rutte argues the savings made in previous years allow the government to avoid cuts this time.

The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 5 percent this year as a result of COVID-19 and grow 3.5 percent next year, when unemployment would reach 545,000, or almost 6 percent. Debt as a share of GDP is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent. Read more “Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19”

Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a Victory Day ceremony in Ankara, August 30 (Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean show no sign of easing.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the EU of “modern-day colonialism” for supporting Greek claims in the region.

His government has accused the United States of violating the “spirit” of the NATO alliance by lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus.

Greece and Turkey are both in NATO, but they have a history of antagonism and overlapping maritime border claims. Those long-standing disputes have been rekindled by the discovery of national gas in waters around Cyprus, the northern half of which Turkey recognizes as an independent republic. Read more “Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute”

Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

The Dutch government has extended support for companies and self-employed workers struggling as a result of COVID-19 until July 2021, although some policies are becoming less generous.

The thinking, reports the national broadcaster NOS, is that firms shouldn’t be subsidized if they aren’t viable long term and workers in sectors with job losses should be coaxed into reskilling.

The measures will cost almost €39 billion this year. The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 6.4 percent. Read more “Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses”

France Deploys Warships as Tensions with Turkey Rise

NATO warships Aegean Sea
NATO warships conduct maneuvers in the Aegean Sea (Bundeswehr)

France is boosting its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean to reinforce Cypriot and Greek claims in the area and protect the activities of its energy giant Total.

The helicopter carrier Tonnerre, which is taking aid to Lebanon following the fertilizer explosion in Beirut, and the frigate La Fayette, which is training with the Greek navy, will remain in the area.

Two French Rafale warplanes will be based in Crete.

The deployments come after the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier patrolled the region earlier this year, and in response to the appearance of Turkish drill ships and frigates in disputed waters.

Turkish warships have in the past blocked Western drilling rigs in waters around Cyprus. Read more “France Deploys Warships as Tensions with Turkey Rise”

Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao

Willemstad Curaçao
Aerial view of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Texpan)

Weeks of political deadlock on Curaçao have been broken with the swearing-in of Shaheen Elhage as lawmaker. He succeeds William Millerson, who died in June.

Millerson’s death had reduced the government to ten out of 21 seats in the island’s legislature. Opposition parties refused to attend Elhage’s inauguration, denying the ruling parties a quorum. They are unhappy with cuts and reforms the government is enacting to qualify for financial support from the Netherlands.

One opposition lawmaker, Marilyn Moses, did attend parliament on Monday.

The other nine, seven of whom want independence from the Netherlands, still didn’t show. Read more “Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao”