What Sánchez Should Do Next for Catalonia

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a news conference outside the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, June 22 (La Moncloa)

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 public 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.

Here’s what he should do next. Read more “What Sánchez Should Do Next for Catalonia”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Tracy Brabin Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

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?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
Ameican president Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 5 (White House/Adam Schultz)

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.”

His mistake is to assume America and Europe are starting from the same point. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden”

Netanyahu’s Rivals Must Do Deal with Arab Parties

Yair Lapid Benny Gantz
Israeli party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz attend a meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2019 (Flash90/Hadas Parush)

Israel’s center-left has a chance to eject Benjamin Netanyahu after twelve years of right-wing government — if they are willing to make a deal with Arab parties.

Deals with non-Zionist parties are almost taboo in Israel, which is 75 percent Jewish. This permanently excludes the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arab from power.

Little wonder Arab turnout is consistently low and fell below 50 percent on Tuesday, according to estimates. Read more “Netanyahu’s Rivals Must Do Deal with Arab Parties”

Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow

Mark Rutte Emmanuel Macron
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte greets French president Emmanuel Macron in The Hague, June 23, 2020 (Elysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

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”

Draghi Understands What Italy Needs

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi waves at reporters outside the Palazzo Chigi in Rome, February 13 (Governo Italiano)

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”

America Needs a de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle
French president Charles de Gaulle gives a speech in Montréal, Canada, July 24, 1967 (Archives de Montréal)

Charles de Gaulle’s great achievement, to paraphrase his British biographer, Julian Jackson, was that he reconciled the French left to patriotism and the French right to democracy.

The history of France since 1789 has been a consistent struggle between a universalist left and the conservative right; between republic and monarchy; the Enlightenment and Catholicism; labor and capital; Paris and La France profonde.

History hasn’t ended. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen embody opposite visions of France today. But de Gaulle narrowed the divide and helped Frenchmen and -women think of each other as opponents rather than enemies.

That America could use a whiff of Gaullism isn’t my idea. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, called for an American de Gaulle two years ago.

I suspect he envisaged an authority figure on the right. Instead we have Joe Biden. Can he play the same role? Read more “America Needs a de Gaulle”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric cars, infrastructure, renewable energy and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued the United States should imitate policies in Northern Europe to improve child care, health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden’s priority as president will be alleviating the COVID-19 pandemic, which the outgoing president, Donald Trump, has mismanaged. 350,000 Americans are dead. Nearly 11 million are unemployed. Republicans were slow to approve the latest stimulus, which Trump, seemingly without consulting lawmakers of his own party, threatened to veto and then signed anyway.

But the Democrat’s first-term goal must be to revitalize the American Dream, which is out of reach for most.

In the 47 years Biden has been in Washington, first as a senator, then as vice president, social mobility has declined to the point where Europeans are now more likely to grow out of poverty than Americans. Real incomes have been stagnant for everyone but the wealthy. Traditional middle-income jobs have been outsourced or made redundant by automation. Most job growth comes from established businesses, not startups, suggesting a decline in entrepreneurship. Housing is unaffordable in the very metro areas where those jobs are. There are fewer opportunities for workers without a college degree, and the cost of higher education has outpaced income growth. So have the costs of child care and health care, making it harder for families to combine childrearing and work.

America could learn from Nordic countries and the Netherlands, which combine competitive, free-market economies with generous social protections for the middle and working class.

Many of Biden’s policies would move America in that direction.

Here’s where I would start. Read more “What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term”

American Criticism of Macron Becomes Hysterical

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

The American left’s vilification of Emmanuel Macron continues.

Karen Attiah accuses the French president in The Washington Post of “pandering to Islamophobic sentiment” and flirting “with political authoritarianism.”

His crimes? “Pressuring” Islamic leaders to respect “republican values”. Putting restrictions on homeschooling, including canceling a program with teachers from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. Somehow making “life miserable for innocent Muslims” — Attiah gives no detail.

The same Attiah earlier retweeted the fake news that Macron was planning to give Muslim pupils ID numbers when all French pupils have identification numbers except those being homeschooled, and a proposal to give homeschooled pupils the same IDs was taken out of the bill. Read more “American Criticism of Macron Becomes Hysterical”