Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections

Arcevia Italy
View from Arcevia, a town in the central Italian region of Marche, December 24, 2013 (Giorgio Rodano)

Seven of Italy’s twenty regions hold elections on Sunday and Monday. Four are currently governed by the center-left, two by the right. Polls suggest that balance could flip.

The seventh, the Aosta Valley, is governed by local parties representing its French-speaking minority.

Italians will also elect over 1,100 mayors, two senators and decide in a referendum whether or not to cut the number of lawmakers.

Here is everything you need to know.

Italian law forbids the publication of polls in the two weeks prior to the vote, so all the numbers cited here are at least two weeks old. Read more “Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections”

Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Egor Myznik)

I have a story in The National Interest about the independence crisis in Catalonia.

The arguments will sound familiar to those of you who have been reading my analyses and opinions. I blame the Spanish government for refusing to listen to Catalans when all they asked for was more autonomy. I think it was a mistake to deny them a legal independence referendum when the majority of Catalans were still opposed to breaking away.

Now half are in favor and hope of a compromise is fading. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at least recognizes that the problem calls for a political, not a legal, solution, but he has postponed talks with the Catalan regional government due to COVID-19. Read more “Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point”

Spain Proposes Schengen Membership for Gibraltar

Gibraltar
Bay of Algeciras seen from the Rock of Gibraltar (Unsplash/Freja Saurbrey)

Politico reports that Spain has proposed to include Gibraltar in the EU’s passport-free Schengen Area to facilitate cross-border travel.

The arrangement would be similar to Liechtenstein’s, which is not in the EU but a member of Schengen. Andorra is negotiating a similar status. Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are in neither the EU nor Schengen but maintain open borders.

The proposal is backed by Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo.

96 percent of his citizens voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, but they were overruled by majorities in England and Wales.

Although Britain formally left the EU at the end of 2019, the bloc’s rules and regulations still apply until the end of 2020.

Gibraltar, like Britain, was never in the Schengen Area, but it was in the EU single market, allowing it to trade freely with the EU’s 27 other member states. Before the pandemic, commuters were typically waved through by Spanish border police. Read more “Spain Proposes Schengen Membership for Gibraltar”

Sánchez Needs to Remember Who His Friends Are

Pedro Sánchez Pablo Casado
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez greets People’s Party leader Pablo Casado outside his residence in Madrid, October 16, 2019 (La Moncloa)

It is time for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to accept little more will come of his overtures to Spain’s conservative opposition.

Sánchez, a social democrat who rules in coalition with the far-left Podemos (We Can), came to power with the support of Basque, Catalan and other regional parties.

But since the outbreak of coronavirus disease, he has tried to build broader support for his recovery programs.

I argued in July that Sánchez was walking a fine line. Make too many compromises with the right and Podemos and the Catalan Republican Left could feel betrayed.

That point is approaching fast. Read more “Sánchez Needs to Remember Who His Friends Are”

Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely

Pedro Sánchez
Pedro Sánchez addresses a conference of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party January 30, 2016 (PSOE)

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez needs to make good on his promise to open dialogue with the Catalan regional government.

Talks about more autonomy were put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Spain in March. Now that it looks like the country will have to live with coronavirus for many more months, Sánchez cannot delay indefinitely.

Catalonia is due to hold elections before the end of the year. If the Republican Left, the more moderate of the separatist parties, doesn’t have anything to show for bringing Sánchez, a fellow social democrat, to power in Madrid, hardliners could win in Barcelona and make a negotiated solution even more elusive. Read more “Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely”

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”

Setback for Montenegro’s Strongman

Milo Đukanović
Montenegrin president Milo Đukanović meets with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, June 9 (NATO)

The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has lost power in Montenegro after thirty years to an alliance of left- and right-wing parties, finally giving the Balkan country a chance at a free and more equal future.

Pro-Serbian opposition leader Zdravko Krivokapić announced, “The regime has fallen.”

Although DPS leader Milo Đukanović remains president until 2023, his party will be in opposition for the first time since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1990.

It fell to 35 percent support in the election on Sunday, giving it thirty out of 81 seats in parliament. Krivokapić’s For the Future of Montenegro, Peace Is Our Nation and United Reform Action won a combined 51 percent and 41 seats. Read more “Setback for Montenegro’s Strongman”

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”

COVID-19 Has Put Catalan Politics on Hold

Palau de la Generalitat Barcelona Spain
The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain at night (iStock/Tomas Sereda)

The coronavirus pandemic has put the politics of Catalan independence on hold.

Talks about transferring more power to the region, which Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez promised in return for the support of Catalonia’s Republican Left, were postponed when COVID-19 broke out in March and have yet to be rescheduled.

So do snap regional elections Catalan president Quim Torra called for in January.

Torra, whose center-right Together for Catalonia rules in a coalition with the Republican Left, was disappointed when the other separatists agreed to enforce a ruling by the electoral commission to strip him of his status as lawmaker.

The electoral commission found that Torra had violated rules on government neutrality by hanging a banner from his palace in Barcelona during the last election that demanded the release of nine prominent separatists who are in prison for leading a failed independence bid in 2017. Read more “COVID-19 Has Put Catalan Politics on Hold”

Cyprus Votes Against EU Trade Deal with Canada

Nicos Anastasiades Mette Frederiksen
President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus speaks with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, February 20 (European Council)

First tiny Wallonia threatened to derail the EU’s free-trade agreement with Canada. Now Cyprus, with a population of 1.2 million, is putting at risk a treaty that covers nearly 500 million consumers and 28 percent of the world’s economy.

Cypriot lawmakers voted 37 to eighteen against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which eliminates nearly all tariffs between Canada and the EU and includes mutual recognition of professional qualifications and product standards.

It’s one of those product standards the Cypriots are unhappy about. They argue CETA should close the Canadian market to foreign ripoffs of their national cheese, halloumi. Read more “Cyprus Votes Against EU Trade Deal with Canada”