European Defense: If Not Now, When?

Varenna Italy jets
Italian Air Force jets create the country’s tricolor with green, white and red smoke trails over Varenna, September 29, 2019 (Wikimedia Commons/Achille Ballerini)

Pre-Trump America is not coming back. If last week’s announcement of a trilateral defense pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (“AUKUS”) doesn’t convince the last Atlanticists that Europe needs to take matters into its own hands, I don’t know what will.

The new alliance excludes Europe. It snatches a deal to build nuclear submarines from France, the EU’s top military power. And it was negotiated in secret. The three English-speaking leaders didn’t even bother to give their European allies a head’s up!

The French, who would lose a €56 billion contract to build submarines for Australia, have called the snub “a breach of trust” and “a stab in the back.” French ambassadors have been recalled from Canberra and Washington DC for the first time ever.

Other Europeans are frustrated too, with officials calling the Australian about-face “unacceptable.”

Inevitably, it has been dubbed a “wake-up call” by everyone from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign-policy coordinator, to Michael Roth, Germany’s European affairs ministers. But canceling an Australia-EU trade deal, which the European Commission had hoped to finalize this year, or postponing transatlantic talks about technology cooperation, which are scheduled for next week, won’t make Europe safer. What Europe needs to do is take its own defense seriously. Read more “European Defense: If Not Now, When?”

Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government

Christian Lindner
German Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner makes a speech in parliament in Berlin (Kevin Schneider)

With Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats neck and neck in the polls, and the Greens not far behind, no single party or combination of two parties is projected to win a majority in the election on Sunday. Germans should vote for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and make them kingmakers in the next Bundestag.

The liberals balked at a pact with the Christian Democrats and Greens in 2017, fearing that concessions to the center and left would prevent them from prying away voters from the far-right Alternative for Germany. They have wisely abandoned that strategy. Center-right parties across Europe have tried and failed to win back voters from the nationalist right by mimicking their policies and rhetoric. It’s unconvincing. The parties that did find their way back, like the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, did so by being true by their convictions.

The Free Democrats, in their manifesto as well as their campaign, have been outspokenly liberal, calling for equal adoption rights for gay couples, protecting personal data, reducing publicly-funded media to news and documentaries, and restricting unemployment benefits. These aren’t priorities for other parties, which is why the FDP needs to get back into power. Read more “Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government”

German Election Guide

German parliament Berlin
Reichstag in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on Sunday, which will elect Angela Merkel’s successor. It is the first time in postwar German history that a sitting chancellor isn’t seeking reelection.

If the polls are right, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats will lose power to the center-left Social Democrats for the first time since 2005.

Here is everything you need to know. Read more “German Election Guide”

Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little

Pedro Sánchez Christian Kern António Costa
Spanish, Austrian and Portuguese social democratic party leaders Pedro Sánchez, Christian Kern and António Costa attend a meeting in Lisbon, December 2, 2017 (PES)

The good news is that Catalan and Spanish politicians are talking again. Official dialogue between the regional and central governments was resumed this week after a year-and-a-half delay due to COVID-19.

But that’s the only good news. A meeting on Wednesday ended without agreement. A solution to the longrunning dispute between Spain and its wealthiest region is still out of reach. Read more “Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little”

Curaçao Accepts Dutch Supervision of Economic Reforms

Willemstad Curaçao
View of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock)

The new government of Curaçao has accepted Dutch supervision of economic reforms it is due to carry out as part of a COVID-19 rescue plan.

Parties led by Gilmar Pisas won the election in March on a promise to oppose supervision.

The now-prime minister defended his about-face by arguing Curaçao was with its “back against the wall.”

Which was the same argument his predecessor, Eugene Rhuggenaath, made in the election campaign, when Pisas rejected it. Read more “Curaçao Accepts Dutch Supervision of Economic Reforms”

Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15, 2020 (PES)

Spain’s ruling Socialist Party is walking back its promises to Catalans. It has delayed, for the second time, a reform of the sedition law under which Catalonia’s separatist leaders were imprisoned. And it has poured cold water on hopes that it might allow a Catalan referendum on independence.

Disappointing Catalans is not without risk. The Socialists need the support of Catalonia’s largest separatist party, the Republican Left, for their majority in Congress. Longer term, it makes Catalan secession more, not less, likely.

Catalans already know to expect little from the conservative People’s Party, which opposed Catalan home rule. If moderate Catalan nationalists become disillusioned in Spain’s other major party as well, some may decide their only recourse is to break away. Read more “Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans”

Scholz Should Stay the Course

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are panicking. I wrote here last week that the unimpressive Armin Laschet is dragging Angela Merkel’s party down. All the opinion polls published since then have put the Social Democrats in the lead with 23 to 27 percent support, compared to 19-22 percent for the conservatives. The Greens and liberal Free Democrats are in third and fourth place.

Until a few months ago, the expectation in Berlin was that the Christian Democrats would swap the Social Democrats for the Greens in the next government. Now a two-party coalition is unlikely, and there is even a chance the Christian Democrats will lose power altogether. Read more “Scholz Should Stay the Course”

Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands

Mark Rutte Angela Merkel
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and German chancellor Angela Merkel meet with other European leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2019 (European Council)

Five months after parliamentary elections, parties haven’t even begun substantive coalition talks in the Netherlands, already making this the third-longest government formation in postwar Dutch history.

Mark Rutte remains in office as caretaker prime minister, but his government can’t make major decisions on such issues as climate policy, reform of child benefits, labor law and taxes.

Those issues are one reason it’s taking so long: whatever choices the next government makes could reverberate for years. Read more “Why It’s Taking So Long to Form a Government in the Netherlands”

Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down

Armin Laschet
Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia attends a meeting of the German Federal Council in Berlin, December 18, 2020 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

It’s too soon to tell you I told you so. The German election is still a month away. But it is starting to look like the ruling Christian Democrats made a mistake nominating Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, for the chancellorship.

Laschet would succeed Angela Merkel, who is not seeking a fifth term after sixteen years in power.

I argued in December and April that Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, was the better candidate.

The Christian Democrats misread the national mood. They looked at Merkel’s high approval rating and thought Germans wanted more of the same. They don’t. Söder could have given the conservatives a fresh start. Read more “Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down”

What’s at Stake in the German Election

German parliament Berlin
Reichstag in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on September 26. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection after serving four terms. Her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling in first place, but the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens are not far behind.

Three more parties (counting the union of Merkel’s CDU and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union as one) are expected to win seats: the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the far-left Die Linke.

The outgoing “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats may not defend its majority. More importantly, neither wants to form another two-party government after sharing power for twelve of the last sixteen years.

All other parties rule out pacts with the AfD. The Greens, who are projected to be the biggest winners of the election, would be needed in all possible coalitions:

  • Union + Greens + FDP: Failed in 2017, when the liberals balked. Could be a modernizing, pro-EU government that seeks technological solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Union + SPD + Greens: Less attractive to the Christian Democrats on labor and tax policy, but the Union and SPD see eye to eye on protecting industries and jobs.
  • SPD + Greens + FDP: Makes less sense for the FDP, who would face opposition from the center- and far right.
  • SPD + Greens + Linke: Politically risky for SPD and Greens, who want to appear moderate, and difficult policy-wise on defense and foreign relations.

Here’s where the four mainstream parties stand on ten of the issues at stake in this election. Read more “What’s at Stake in the German Election”