When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off on the other side of the Atlantic.
The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.
Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.
Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”
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?”
America has the worst health-care system of eleven rich nations.
The Commonwealth Fund, a century-old foundation dedicated to improving health care, places the United States behind Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in its latest report. The Netherlands and Norway share first place.
America is the world’s top innovator of new medications and treatments. The best medical schools are in the United States. The country spends relatively more on preventative care than most. But this doesn’t outweigh its poor scores on the Commonwealth Fund’s other criteria: access to care, administrative efficiency, equity and outcomes.
In practical terms, this means especially low-income Americans don’t get the health care they need, either because it’s too expensive, too complex or both. Preventable deaths, including infant and maternal mortality, are higher in the United States than in other wealthy countries. Life expectancy is lower.
Environmentalists have for years hectored the EU for not doing enough to fight climate change (when it is doing more than the world’s other major economies).
Now that it has proposed to force other nations to copy its standards or lose access to the European market — as part of its ambition to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2050 — the bloc is again assailed by leftists, this time for being “neocolonialist”.
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has pardoned the nine Catalan separatists who were imprisoned for organizing an unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017.
The pardons fall short of an amnesty. Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras and the other politicians who were convicted to between nine and thirteen years in prison for “sedition” against the Spanish state and misuse of government funds are still barred from holding public office.
“Sedition” remains a crime. (Although Sánchez’ government is looking into revising the arcane statute.) A vote on Catalan independence would still be illegal. It’s why I argued a month ago a pardon was the least Sánchez could do.
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) during his five-year leadership and still his supporters refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude that he can’t defeat the Conservatives?
European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than about elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.
Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.
A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)
Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leadership. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.
The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is criticized from the left and center for failing to make the argument for the EU integration in his reelection campaign.
The Financial Times, which a few days ago selectively quoted from Rutte’s televised debate with far-right leader Geert Wilders to make him and not Wilders out to be the bigot, has listened to his critics and concluded that Rutte is following, rather than leading, Dutch public opinion on the EU.
That’s hardly an outrage in a democracy, but I don’t think it tells the whole story. The prime minister who once promised to give “not one cent more” to Greece (and then agreed to another bailout) has become more pragmatic about European integration. Read more “Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow”
Mario Draghi is off to a good start. The former central banker has won the support of Italy’s major political parties to form a government and he understands the reforms it needs to undertake.
His challenge will be convincing the parties to see those reforms through.
Receiving more than €200 billion from the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund should help. A chunk of the money will go to vaccinating Italy’s population of 60 million, but there will be more than enough left over to invest in long-term growth.
Money isn’t everything, though. Bringing Italy’s economy back to life after it shrunk almost 9 percent in 2020 will require making the sort of choices its politicians have avoided for years. Read more “Draghi Understands What Italy Needs”