Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar

Gibraltar
View of Gibraltar at dusk (Shutterstock/Philip Lange)

Did the British not read the fine print when they signed their Brexit deals?

Not only do they regret agreeing to a lay a customs border down the Irish Sea to avoid the need for passport checks and inspections of goods on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border; they also have second thoughts about their agreement with Spain for Gibraltar. Read more “Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar”

What’s in France’s New Climate Law

France train
High-speed train in France (Adobe Stock/Chlorophylle)

French lawmakers adopted a far-reaching climate law this week that puts the country on track to meet its Paris commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

That is short of the 55-percent cut the European Commission has proposed in its “Green Deal”, which has yet to be approved by member states.

The French measures do align with the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy, which sets aside 20 to 25 percent of funding for “eco-schemes”, which can range from organic farms to forests and wetlands being retained for carbon sequestration.

Some of the policies flow from the citizen consultations President Emmanuel Macron held across France in the wake of the 2018 Yellow Vests protests, which were sparked by a rise in gasoline tax.

Here is an overview. Read more “What’s in France’s New Climate Law”

Biden’s Child Benefits Don’t Make Child Care Cheaper

Joe Biden
American president Joe Biden meets with staff in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, June 2 (White House/Adam Schultz)

Last week, American parents received their first monthly child benefits worth $300 for children under the age of 6 and $250 for kids up to the age of 17.

Couples making under $250,000 per year, or single parents earning less than $112,500, qualify.

President Joe Biden described the cheques, worth $15 billion, as “the largest ever one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States of America.”

That’s probably true, and the hope is that the benefits, introduced as part a COVID-19 rescue plan, will become permanent.

But they don’t lower the price of child care. Read more “Biden’s Child Benefits Don’t Make Child Care Cheaper”

Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left

Dutch parliament
Chamber of the Dutch parliament in The Hague, April 8, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

The Netherlands has broken a century-old record: seventeen parties won seats in the election in March, the highest since 1918, but defections from the centrist Christian Democrats and far-right Forum for Democracy would make this parliament the most fragmented since the year women got the vote.

Pieter Omtzigt, who narrowly lost an internal election for the Christian Democratic leadership a year ago, has resigned from the party. He now sits as an independent.

Wybren van Haga, who left Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member) in 2019 to join Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy, has split again and formed a new right-wing party with Olaf Ephraim and Hans Smolders. The three were appalled when Baudet compared the COVID-19 lockdown to the wartime Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

The defections make it even harder for Rutte to avoid forming a coalition with the left. Read more “Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left”

Judges Need to Know Their Place

Supreme Court The Hague Netherlands
Seat of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, February 3, 2016 (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf/Bas Kijzers)

European judges have discovered they can compel politicians to take action against climate change.

France’s Council of State has given the government of Emmanuel Macron an April 2022 deadline (one month before the election) to ensure the country will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

Germany’s Constitutional Court issued a similar ruling in April and gave the government an end-of-year deadline to update its policy.

A Dutch court has gone further, ordering Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, to reduce not just its own carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent but those of its customers and suppliers as well.

It’s like we’re living in a kritocracy. Read more “Judges Need to Know Their Place”

Political Fragmentation Isn’t the Problem

Swedish parliament Stockholm
Parliament House in Stockholm, Sweden (iStock/Vladislav Zolotov

Another political crisis in Europe, another chance to beat on multiparty democracy.

It’s not like the two-party systems of America and Britain are crisis-free, yet journalists in those countries have a tendency to find complex causes for their own political problems while reducing continental Europe’s to “fragmentation”.

Today’s example: Bloomberg, which argues the “turmoil” in Sweden “reflects a shifting political landscape” and this is a “warning to other countries with key elections looming — like Germany and France — where fractured politics have also upended old alliances.” Read more “Political Fragmentation Isn’t the Problem”

Macron Should Go Ahead with Pension Reforms

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron chats with a guard at the Elysée Palace in Paris, December 19, 2017 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

Emmanuel Macron is reportedly mulling pension reforms that were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are risks: reforms will almost certainly spark protests, including from trade unions, which oppose raising the retirement age. Macron can ill afford social unrest a year away from the election.

But it could also burnish the French president’s reformist credentials after the COVID-19 crisis forced him into a more managerial role.

Macron is expected to unveil his plans when he addresses the nation ahead of Bastille Day on July 14. The fact that it has leaked he may bring back reforms suggests he is testing the waters. So let me add my arguments to the discussion.

I’ll take the political first before covering the — more important — substantive arguments. Read more “Macron Should Go Ahead with Pension Reforms”

Don’t Bet Against Israel’s Anti-Netanyahu Coalition Yet

Avigdor Lieberman Benny Gantz Yair Lapid Naftali Bennett
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel attend a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 13 (Flash90/Yonatan Sindel)

Israel’s new left-right coalition has suffered its first defeat in the Knesset.

Amichai Chikli, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (Rightward) party, sided with the largely conservative opposition to block an extension of the family reunification law.

Two members of the governing United Arab List, known by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am, abstained, arguing a proposed compromise, which would have granted residency to some 1,600 Palestinian families, did not go far enough.

Without their support, the vote ended in a 59-59 tie, which means the law expires. Read more “Don’t Bet Against Israel’s Anti-Netanyahu Coalition Yet”

Swedish Housing Crisis Has Similarities with Netherlands

Stockholm Sweden
Strandvägen boulevard in Stockholm, Sweden (iStock/Alexis Gonzalez)

Stefan Löfven may be Europe’s first prime minister brought down by a housing crisis, but he is unlikely to be the last.

Löfven, a social democrat, lost the support of the far left over a proposal to allow landlords to freely set rents for newly-built apartments.

Rents in Sweden are usually negotiated between landlords and tenants’ associations.

Other countries struggle to find the right balance between public and private in housing too. Berlin instituted a citywide rent freeze last year, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by Germany’s highest court. Spain’s central government is challenging a Catalan rent cap. Authorities in Barcelona want to extend a moratorium on evictions that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But perhaps the best comparison is with the Netherlands, which organizes public housing in much the same way as Sweden. Read more “Swedish Housing Crisis Has Similarities with Netherlands”

The EU’s Farm Deal, Explained

Nantes France cow
A cow in Nantes, France (Unsplash/Mathieu Odin)

Nobody is happy with the EU’s new farms policy. Greens argue ambitions for biodiversity and sustainability are too low. Agricultural groups complain they are too high, and farmers will receive lower subsidies to boot.

Which suggests the compromise — the outcome of two years of negotiations — may not be unreasonable.

Here are the most important things to know. Read more “The EU’s Farm Deal, Explained”