Portugal’s Costa Cruising to Victory on Back of Strong Economy

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal meets with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in Berlin, February 5, 2016
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal meets with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in Berlin, February 5, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Portugal’s António Costa is almost certain to win reelection on Sunday. Polls give his Socialist Party in the range of 37 percent support against 26-28 percent for the center-right Social Democrats.

Costa won’t have enough for an absolute majority, but he is expected to continue to govern with the support of the far left. Read more “Portugal’s Costa Cruising to Victory on Back of Strong Economy”

Happy Little Country

View of the Netherlands from the air
View of the Netherlands from the air (Skitterphoto)

The Dutch are happier than ever. Austerity is over. The immigration crisis has receded from the headlines. The government this week announced €3 billion in tax cuts and is planning a long-term investment fund worth up to €50 billion. Support for anti-establishment parties is down. Just 16 percent want to leave the EU anymore. Read more “Happy Little Country”

Democrats Are Closer to the Center Than Republicans

Street view in San Francisco, California, April 7, 2010
Street view in San Francisco, California, April 7, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

In a recent column, I argued Democrats in the United States have moved to the left but Republicans have moved farther to the right. The former, at least in their policies, are still more centrist than most center-left parties in Europe while the latter now have more in common with far-right populists than they do with Britain’s Conservative Party and Germany’s Christian Democrats.

Centrists (myself included) still worry that Democrats might become too left-wing for voters in the middle — who, the turnout fantasies of partisans on either side notwithstanding, tend to decide the outcome of national elections. Read more “Democrats Are Closer to the Center Than Republicans”

Spanish Center-Right Rethinks Appeasement of Far Right

Jordi Cañas and Albert Rivera of the Spanish Citizens party talk in Madrid, August 6, 2013
Jordi Cañas and Albert Rivera of the Spanish Citizens party talk in Madrid, August 6, 2013 (Ciudadanos/Jordi Esteban)

Spain’s center-right parties are having second thoughts about cozying up to the far right.

Before the general election in April, the liberal Citizens and the conservative People’s Party ruled out a deal with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ Socialists. That meant the only alternative to his pact with the far-left Podemos was a right-wing coalition with the support of the nativist Vox. Voters preferred the former.

They once again gave the Socialists a plurality in European and local elections last month.

The Citizens now say they are willing to consider coalitions with the Socialists at the regional level under “exceptional” circumstances. They also reject more deals with Vox such as the one they struck in Andalusia last year.

The People’s Party, which as recently as eight years ago won 45 percent of the votes, has also repudiated its Vox-friendly strategy after falling to 17-20 percent support in the last two elections. Read more “Spanish Center-Right Rethinks Appeasement of Far Right”

Rutte Claims Center in Dutch Midterm Elections

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016 (European Parliament)

Two years ago, the Netherlands’ center-right prime minister, Mark Rutte, defeated the far right by adopting some of its policies on immigration while rejecting its divisive rhetoric.

In the run-up to this year’s provincial and Senate elections, he is claiming the center ground instead. Read more “Rutte Claims Center in Dutch Midterm Elections”

Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right

Xavier Bettel Emmanuel Macron Justin Trudeau
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Xavier Bettel and Justin Trudeau, the prime ministers of Luxembourg and Canada, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017 (NATO)

The worst argument against French president Emmanuel Macron’s latest EU reform push — made, among others, by the Russian-born Leonid Bershidsky, who writes for Bloomberg View from Germany, and the Dutch political commentator Peter van Nuijsenburg — is that it only provides ammunition for rival parties opposed to more European integration.

There are fair criticism to be made. Bershidsky also argues that Macron’s call for a European “renaissance” largely consists of adding more EU agencies and that what the bloc really needs is a shared Franco-German vision.

But the idea that less ambitious proposals, or no proposals at all, would appease the Euroskeptics is wrong. Read more “Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right”

Macron Fights His Way Back

Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017
Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017 (BKA/Andy Wenzel)

Commentators outside France have been predicting Emmanuel Macron’s downfall from the beginning of his presidency.

My own view throughout has been that unpopularity is unlikely to keep Macron up at night. He has been reforming France so thoroughly and at such a fast pace that he was bound to make enemies everywhere. He has a long-enough mandate (five years) to see his reforms bear fruit. And because both the center-left and center-right are in disarray, there is no strong opposition against him.

That threatened to change this winter, when opponents of a fuel-tax increase donned fluorescent yellow vests and took to the streets. Suddenly reactionary France had a movement. Polls showed massive support. Macron hastily canceled the tax hike, the first time he had bowed to public pressure. His political obituaries were being rewritten again. Read more “Macron Fights His Way Back”

The Sources of Populist Rage — And What To Do About It

Yellow Vests protest in Avignon, France, December 1
Yellow Vests protest in Avignon, France, December 1 (Sébastien Huette)

Add France to populism’s list of victims.

A year ago, Emmanuel Macron’s election victory was hailed as a setback for the transatlantic reactionary movement that began with Brexit and has since led to Donald Trump in America, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and an anti-EU government in Italy.

The outbreak of nationwide anti-tax protests, which quickly morphed into an anti-government movement, makes clear the same forces that gave us Brexit and Trump live in France.

The consequences could be calamitous. Read more “The Sources of Populist Rage — And What To Do About It”

The Remarkable Thing About Europe Is Not That It Has Problems

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, March 8, 2016
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, March 8, 2016 (European Parliament)

I’m used to American and British commentators dismissing the EU, but when even a Harvard professor misses the point it warrants a rebuttal.

Imagining a post-American world, Stephen M. Walt doesn’t see Europe playing much of a role. He argues in Foreign Policy that the EU project is deeply troubled.

  • The outcome of the Brexit process is uncertain.
  • Economic growth on the continent is uneven.
  • Extremist parties are flourishing in several countries.
  • The refugee issue, which has convulsed domestic politics throughout Europe, is not going away.

His bottom line:

The EU has become too large and heterogeneous to make rapid and bold decisions, and it faces opposition from illiberal and xenophobic elements within.

Read more “The Remarkable Thing About Europe Is Not That It Has Problems”

Rumors of a Democratic Civil War Are (Probably) Exaggerated

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic candidate for Congress, appears on MSNBC's Morning Joe, June 27
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic candidate for Congress, appears on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, June 27 (Anthony Scutro)

Axios warns that Democrats in the United States risk throwing away their advantage in November’s congressional elections if they nominate more left-wing candidates.

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leftist endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, defeated incumbent congressman Joe Crowley in New York last week.
  • Membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has ballooned from 7,000 to 37,000 since the 2016 election.
  • 37 Democratic state legislators have been defeated by primary challengers so far.

It’s a little early to panic, but there is clearly a trend — and the fear is it will doom Democrats in the midterms, when, due to built-in disadvantages for their demographics and geographies, they need to defeat Republicans nationwide by around 7 percent to take back Congress. Read more “Rumors of a Democratic Civil War Are (Probably) Exaggerated”