Pardons Are the Least Sánchez Can Do for Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks at a congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Huesca, October 1, 2019 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

When he needed their support a year and a half ago to become prime minister a second time, Spain’s Pedro Sánchez offered Catalan parties a good deal: more autonomy, a resumption of official dialogue between the central and regional government, and possibly a pardon for the separatist leaders who were imprisoned for organizing an unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017.

No additional competencies have yet been transferred from Madrid to Barcelona. Official talks, to hash out a new division of powers, have been on hold. A legal independence referendum is still unlikely. But Spanish media report Sánchez is mulling pardons.

It’s the least he can do. Read more “Pardons Are the Least Sánchez Can Do for Catalans”

EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia

The interception of a Ryanair plane by Belarus is a breach of international right.

The crew was told by Belarusian officials there was a bomb threat, and they needed to divert to Minsk. It was a ploy to kidnap opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, who was traveling on the flight from Greece to Lithuania.

The Western response has so far been one of shared indignation. This must be followed by concrete action against dictator Alexander Lukashenko — not in the least to send a strong message to his protector in Moscow. Read more “EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia”

Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough

Waverley train station Edinburgh Scotland
Waverley railway station in Edinburgh, Scotland (iStock)

This week, the British government published its long-awaited and somewhat delayed review into the British railway network.

The proposals — putting infrastructure, timetables, fares and tickets back into government hands but allowing private companies to run the trains — are a step in the right direction, but they would keep the network in a twilight zone.

British rail is neither fully private nor fully public, despite the government and the Treasury in particular having control over many aspects of the railway. Accountability is murky. Industry fragmentation — 29 train companies, fifteen leasing companies — has only made it worse. Read more “Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) during his five-year leadership and still his supporters refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude that he can’t defeat the Conservatives?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration

Pablo Casado Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Spanish People’s Party leaders Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso campaign in the town of Majadahonda, north of Madrid, May 1 (PP)

Ben Hall writes in the Financial Times that Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s election victory in Madrid could be a template for center-right parties elsewhere.

I doubt it. Factors unique to Spain contributed to Díaz Ayuso’s success. In other countries, conservatives will have to strike a different balance. Read more “Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration”

Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts

Spanish Supreme Court Madrid
Seat of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ left-wing government has withdrawn reforms of the body that appoints Spain’s judges, including those of the Supreme Court.

The climbdown is a victory for conservatives, who have for years blocked the appointment and elevation of more progressive judges through their control of the General Council of the Judiciary.

The council’s five-year term expired in December 2018, six months after Sánchez took power from the conservative People’s Party, but it has continued to name judges to Spain’s highest courts.

Supermajorities of three out of five lawmakers are required in both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate to install a new council, giving the center-right People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice) — which together hold 40 percent of the seats — a veto. Read more “Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts”

Draghi Has the Right Plans for Italy

Mario Draghi
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 15, 2019 (European Parliament/Daina Le Lardic)

Two months ago, I argued Mario Draghi understands what Italy needs. Here it is.

The former European central bank chief, prime minister since February, has unveiled €221 billion in proposed investments, spread over six years. €191 billion would come from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund.

The proposals look good on paper. Read more “Draghi Has the Right Plans for Italy”

The Silent Reform of Spanish Pensions

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

Spain has a critical and essential employment problem: high chronic unemployment and job insecurity. Both of these are among the key causes of an embarrassing inequality, one of the worst in Europe.

Then, to complicate the solutions, comes the problem of the high public deficit, which has increased over the last decade as an inevitability. A debt aggravated by its dependence on external financing with a bias toward instability. And at the heart of this debt is the chronic deficit accumulated over the last decade in the pension system, which widens its deficit every year. Read more “The Silent Reform of Spanish Pensions”

Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start

Markus Söder
Bavarian minister president Markus Söder answers questions from reporters in Munich, Germany, March 9 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Bavaria’s Christian Democrats have called for a poll of elected party officials to select the conservatives’ joint chancellor candidate for the election in September.

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, have thrown their weight behind Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But many conservatives across the country think they stand a better chance with Markus Söder of Bavaria, who leads the state’s Christian Social Union (CSU).

They’re right. Read more “Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start”

Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
American 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 about 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” leadership. 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”