Energy Plays Key Role in Dutch Election

Netherlands wind turbines
Wind turbines near Velp, the Netherlands (Unsplash/Sander Weeteling)

Energy is one of the top issues in the Dutch parliamentary election, which will take place next month. Right-of-center parties have followed the traditionally more environmentally conscious Greens and social-liberal D66 (of which I am a member) in their ambition to adhere to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. But there are differences.

While there is consensus on some topics, such as biomass and natural gas, nuclear energy and windmills are controversial. Read more “Energy Plays Key Role in Dutch Election”

What Divides Dutch Voters

The Hague Netherlands
The Hofvijfer in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 29, 2020 (European Commission/Robert Meerding)

Parliamentary elections are held in the Netherlands in three weeks. Polls predict a victory for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party (of which I am a member), giving it 38-42 out of 150 seats, up from 33.

Support for most other parties is stable. The social-liberal D66, a junior party in Rutte’s government, and the far-left Socialists would each lose a few seats to Labor. The far-right Forum for Democracy, which tied with Rutte in midterm elections, has imploded. It would win fewer seats than the animal rights party.

The liberals benefit from having the most diverse base in terms of age, education, geography, but not gender. Other parties appeal more to certain groups — although the Netherlands is still a long way from the United States, where identity is crowding out issues. Dutch voters are fickle. Only one in five consistently votes for the same party. Read more “What Divides Dutch Voters”

Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”

Butter on Their Heads

Wopke Hoekstra
Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra in The Hague, September 15, 2020 (Ministerie van Financiën/Martijn Beekman)

There’s a Dutch expression for hypocrisy that doesn’t have a direct translation in English: you accuse someone of having “butter on their head”. It means they better avoid the heat lest it stream down their face.

Party leaders Wopke Hoekstra of the Christian Democrats and Lilianne Ploumen of Labor stepped into the heat on Saturday, when they addressed their respective party congresses (held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic). It wasn’t long before the butter on their heads started to melt.

Both accused Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power for ten years, of dismantling the Dutch welfare state.

Just one problem: their parties have each governed with Rutte for five of the last ten years. Read more “Butter on Their Heads”

Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel attends the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

Saturday’s election for the leadership of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is also a debate over the future identity of the party.

Friedrich Merz, the darling of the right, would arrest Angela Merkel’s twenty-year slide to the center and take the fight to the far right with small-government and law-and-order policies.

Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian, fear Merz would throw away Merkel’s gains with younger and women voters. They argue for continuity (critics might say muddling through), with Röttgen proposing a slightly more modernizing program.

Waiting in the wings are Jens Spahn, the ambitious health minister, and Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria. Neither man is in the running for the party leadership, but they may yet hope to be nominated for the chancellorship. Spahn is a younger version of Merz, Söder a more solid version of Laschet. Read more “Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology”

Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte addresses parliament in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has tendered his government’s resignation to King Willem-Alexander.

With only two months to go before elections, and the government remaining in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis, the resignation is largely symbolic.

But smaller parties in Rutte’s coalition felt they had to take responsibility for what an inquiry described as an “unprecedented injustice” in the tax service, which wrongly accused more than 20,000 families of fraud.

Lodewijk Asscher, who was the responsible minister in charge of social affairs in the last government, stepped down as leader of the now-opposition Labor Party on Thursday. Read more “Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal”

German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor

Friedrich Merz
Friedrich Merz, then chairman of the Supervisory Board of BlackRock Germany, attends a bankers conference in Berlin, April 5, 2017 (Bankenverband)

1,001 party delegates will elect the next leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a digital congress on Saturday.

The winner will succeed Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the defense minister, who succeeded Angela Merkel in 2018. Merkel stepped down as party leader, but not chancellor, that year. Kramp-Karrenbauer quit two years later. She never approached Merkel’s popularity in the polls, nor her authority in the party.

Merkel’s approval rating is approaching 90 percent, but she is not seeking a fifth term. Whoever is elected CDU leader on Saturday will be the party’s presumptive chancellor candidate for the election in September (the Christian Democrats are polling at 35-37 percent), but that is not a given. Read more “German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor”

Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian

Markus Söder
Prime Minister Markus Söder enters the Bavarian State Parliament in Munich, December 15 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are polling faraway in first place for next year’s election with close to 40 percent support, up from a low of 26-28 percent a year ago.

Yet none of the three middle-aged men vying to succeed Angela Merkel are wildly popular.

Germans would prefer the prime minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder. Read more “Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian”

What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement

United Kingdom European Union flags
Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, January 29, 2016 (European Commission)

I haven’t read the 1,246 pages of the EU-UK trade agreement, so I’m going to rely on trusted sources to make sense of the accord.

First, a couple of notes on terminology.

This treaty, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, governs the future cross-Channel relationship. It is due to go into effect on January 1, although it will still need to be ratified by the parliaments of the European Union and the United Kingdom as well as the European Council.

Last year’s withdrawal agreement regulated Britain’s exit from the EU. It provided for a one-year transition period, which expires on December 31, and included a protocol for Northern Ireland, which keeps the province in the European single market for goods and effectively (but not legally) in the EU customs union to avoid the need for a border with the Republic of Ireland.

Both treaties have been unhelpfully referred to as “the deal” in the English-speaking press, but only the withdrawal agreement was crucial. The trade agreement, while good to have, since Britain does most of its trade with the EU, was always optional. Read more “What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement”

Britain Still Won’t Accept Tradeoff at Heart of Brexit

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson chairs a cabinet meeting in London, England, September 30 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Andrew Parsons)

Britain is still trying to have its cake and eat it too.

  • It doesn’t want to lose access to the European market, but it doesn’t want to follow EU rules and regulations either.
  • It doesn’t want a border in Ulster, but it doesn’t want to keep Northern Ireland in closer regulatory alignment with the EU than the rest of the United Kingdom.
  • It doesn’t want a customs border in the Irish Sea, but it doesn’t want regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

And it still thinks it can spook the EU into relaxing its red lines by threatening to exit the transition period that ends on December 31 without a trade deal when the absence of a trade deal would hurt the UK far more than the EU. Read more “Britain Still Won’t Accept Tradeoff at Heart of Brexit”