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Dutch Parties Try to Emerge from Rutte’s Shadow

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5, 2016 (European Parliament)

Parliamentary elections aren’t due in the Netherlands until March 2021, but now that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic appears to be behind the country, parties are starting to jockey for advantage.

Inside the ruling coalition, the three smaller parties are struggling to emerge from Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s shadow, whose liberal VVD is up from 33 to a projected 42-46 out of 150 seats. Rutte is drawing support from both the center-right and the far right.

Left-wing parties can barely get one in three voters between them. The far right has yet to top 20 percent support. The more interesting developments are in the center, where two parties could nominate female candidates for prime minister. (more…)

When Will Europe Finally Take Its Defense Seriously?

Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier
French jets fly in formation over the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (Marine nationale)

France and Germany are calling for closer EU defense cooperation in a policy paper seen by Bloomberg News and supported by Italy, Spain and other nations.

The ambition isn’t new. Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel called for a “true European army” in 2018.

But the timing is conspicuous, coming days after President Donald Trump said he would pull 9,500 American troops out of Germany, bringing the total to a post-Cold War low of 25,000.

Will this finally convince Europeans to get serious about their own defense? (more…)

Britain’s Demands in EU Trade Talks Are Not Unreasonable

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, England, January 22 (Prime Minister’s Office/Andrew Parsons)

EU and UK negotiators have made little progress in talks for a post-Brexit trade deal since March. With half a year to go before the transition period — during which EU rules and regulations still apply in the United Kingdom — expires, and Britain insisting it will not seek an extension, the risk of a no-deal exit from the EU is once again rising.

Without a deal, tariffs and borders will go up on January 1. Agriculture, which the EU protects with an elaborate system of rules, subsidies and tariffs, would be hit hard. So would services, which now benefit from open borders, open skies and harmonized regulations. British and European authorities have separately calculated that the UK economy could be 10 percent smaller in fifteen years under a no-deal scenario. (more…)

Dutch Terms for Caribbean Support Are Fair

Willemstad Curaçao
View down the Breedestraat in Willemstad, Curaçao (Unsplash/Lakeisha Bennett)

Politicians in the Dutch Caribbean have reluctantly agreed to spending reductions and reforms to qualify for €370 million in financial support from the European Netherlands:

  • 25-percent cut in the salaries of politicians.
  • 12.5-percent cut in the salaries of other public-sector workers.
  • Capping public-sector wages at 130 percent of the prime minister’s salary. (Such an income limit already exists in the European Netherlands.)
  • 20-percent contribution from firms to wage subsidies for the unemployed.
  • Oversight from the Dutch Central Bank in the financial industry of the islands.

With their tourism-dependent economies in free fall due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease, the leaders of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten felt they had no choice but to agree to what Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao called “unrealistic demands” and John Leerdam, a former Labor Party politician, who was born on Curaçao, called a “diktat” from The Hague.

But the terms (which do not apply to emergency food and health-care aid) still fall short of the more thorough and long-term reforms Dutch governments, of the left and right, have advised for years, in some cases decades:

  • Changes in the tax law, so the wealthy pay a bigger share.
  • Improvements in tax collection.
  • Diversification of the economy to make the islands less dependent on tourism and oil. (more…)

Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s League, gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 29, 2015 (European Parliament)

It’s been a bad few months for Italy’s populist right-wing leader, Matteo Salvini.

First his erstwhile governing partner, the Five Star Movement, and the opposition Democrats outmaneuvered him by teaming up to avoid snap elections which polls predicted Salvini’s League would win.

Now his antics in reaction to the government’s coronavirus policy are falling flat.

Salvini and his party “occupied” parliament (refusing to leave the chamber) to demonstrate against the COVID-19 quarantine. He has tweeted out disinformation about the disease, claiming it was created in a Chinese lab. Few Italians care.

Polls find two in three have little faith in the EU anymore, which many Italians feel has been too slow to come to their aid. (Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world.) Yet it hasn’t given the Euroskeptic Salvini, who once argued for giving up the euro, a boost. (more…)

Policing in America Is Broken. There Are Solutions

Seattle Washington protest
Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, Washington, May 30 (Kelly Kline)

Since George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, cops have been caught on video arresting and beating up Americans for speaking out or doing nothing at all, driving their cars into a crowd, tear-gassing peaceful protesters and bystanders, and arresting and attacking journalists.

The New York Times puts it well: “Facing protests over use of force, police respond with more force.”

They are being egged on by President Donald Trump, who has described the protests as “acts of terror”, called on governors to “dominate” the streets and threatened to deploy the military; Republican senators, who have suggested the police commit war crimes to suppress the protests; and conservative media, who portray all demonstrators as far-left radicals. (more…)

Trump Once Again Throws Europe Under the Bus

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

There have been some constants in Donald Trump’s otherwise haphazard foreign policy. He will invariably side with Russia and against America’s allies in Europe. He sympathizes more with authoritarian regimes than democracies. He doesn’t believe in multilateralism or free trade.

Anything the president’s advisors or allies can portray as a show of “strength” Trump will support.

Anything his supporters in the Republican Party or the conservative media portray as “weakness”, whether it is consultations, compromises or concessions, Trump will resist.

The latest casualty of this simplistic, zero-sum worldview is the Open Skies Treaty, which includes most countries in the Northern Hemisphere and allows reciprocal flights over military facilities. (more…)

Europeans Trust Incumbents in Pandemic

Angela Merkel Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel receives Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Berlin, May 16, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

Most incumbent governments and leaders in Europe have seen their approval ratings go up since the outbreak of coronavirus disease. (more…)

Left-Wing Criticism of Macron Isn’t Grounded in Reality

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

Seventeen left-wing lawmakers have quit President Emmanuel Macron’s party in France and started their own group, called Ecology, Democracy and Solidarity.

The defections have deprived Macron of his absolute majority in the National Assembly. His La République En Marche is down to 288 out of 577 seats, although it still has the support of the centrist Democratic Movement (46 seats) and the center-right Agir (9).

The defectors accuse Macron of shifting to the right and neglecting income inequality and climate change.

That has more to do with perception than reality. (more…)

Arrimadas Shifts Spain’s Liberal Party Back to the Center

Ines Arrimadas
Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Spain’s Citizens party, speaks at an event on liberal feminism, March 6, 2020 (Ciudadanos)

In normal times, being elected as the first female leader of a Spanish political party, on International Women’s Day no less, would be seen as a good omen.

Unfortunately for Inés Arrimadas, she took over the reins of the center-right Citizens just as the coronavirus pandemic spread to Spain. With the country under lockdown, the leadership change in a party that has been reduced to a mere ten seats in Congress drew little attention.

But the health crisis has also given the Citizens an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the other two right-wing opposition parties: the conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox. (more…)