Europe & EU 2017-2018

Written by  //  July 13, 2018  //  Europe & EU  //  No comments

The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania,
Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain,
Sweden and the UK.
After the 2016 Brexit vote
Official website of the European Union
France 2917

Donald Tusk: Trump has an aversion to the EU and NATO
European Council chief says he’ll enter race to be Polish president if Jarosław Kaczyński does.
By Michał Broniatowski
(Politico eu) European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday criticized Donald Trump’s behavior during his European trip, and his willingness to engage with authoritarian leaders.
Interviewed in his office in Brussels, Tusk spoke for more than half an hour on the Polish news channel TVN 24, and had harsh words for the judicial reforms brought in by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).
Tusk spent a sizeable part of the interview talking about Polish politics and his rivals in PiS.
“Simply speaking, the authority which fully subordinates courts, prosecutors and police as well as the independent media … will very quickly transform democracy into kleptocracy or, speaking more clearly, into a reign of thieves,” he said in reference to the government’s changes to the judicial system.
The European Commission took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 — the so-called nuclear option — against Poland in December, following countless warnings, requests for dialogue and demands for clarifications about changes that it says risk undermining judicial independence in the country.

11 July
Commentary: Europe’s fears about Trump-Putin summit
Gregory Feifer
(Reuters) Some European diplomats I spoke with in Washington ahead of the summit fear Trump will do more than just denigrate NATO, going so far as to threaten a U.S. withdrawal from the military alliance before engaging in a lovefest with Putin that will enable the Russian leader to further exploit Washington’s differences with Europe. More significant than issues such as a looming trade war and Trump’s desire to have Moscow re-admitted to the G8 (reduced to the G7 after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea), uncertainty about where the Trump administration is ultimately heading is shaking a continent swept up in an anti-immigrant, right-wing populist tide.

10 July
An inconvenient truth: Addressing democratic backsliding within NATO
By Jonathan Katz and Torrey Taussig
(Brookings) What can NATO do to counter democratic backsliding within its ranks? After a troubling G-7 meeting in Canada, the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels may be a hair twisting exercise in alliance management. Muted cohesion, however, is not enough to address the anti-democratic trends tearing apart the fabric of Europe and NATO. Strong actions and words are needed to counter this democratic crisis.
First, in fighting for the relevance of NATO’s Article V promise of collective defense, we should not forget about NATO’s other founding articles, including Article II: states’ promise to strengthen free institutions within their borders. We should also recall the central governance requirements that states needed to meet in order to join the alliance, including rules around civilian control of the military, legislative monitoring, and transparency of arms procurements—all democratic foundations that make the alliance stronger.
NATO currently has no options to suspend, expel, or penalize a NATO member, for example Hungary, for violating a core tenet of the alliance’s democratic values. There is not even a proper venue at NATO—for example the North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s main decisionmaking body—to raise matters that some consider a direct threat to the alliance’s core principles. The NAC already has over a dozen committees, but none deal directly with democratic backsliding and human rights violations in the alliance.

3 July
Merkel migration deal’s domino effect
Austria and Italy threaten border controls if Berlin goes ahead with chancellor’s plan.
Angela Merkel struck a deal on migration that saved her own skin but threw the EU into disarray.
(Politico Eu) Within hours of the German chancellor announcing that she and her harshest domestic critic on migration — Interior Minister Horst Seehofer — had reached a compromise to end a standoff that threatened to bring down the government, her neighbors were up in arms.
Austria and Italy said they plan to reintroduce border controls if Berlin goes ahead with plans to establish so-called transit zones along Germany’s southern border to allow for accelerated deportations of refugees not entitled to seek asylum in the country.
If they do so, it would put the survival of the EU’s cherished Schengen area of border-free travel at risk.Schengen under threat as Austria hits back at Merkel’s migrant deal
Poland Purges Supreme Court, and Protesters Take to Streets
(NYT) Poland’s government carried out a sweeping purge of the Supreme Court on Tuesday night, eroding the judiciary’s independence, escalating a confrontation with the European Union over the rule of law and further dividing this nation. Tens of thousands took to the streets in protest.
Poland was once a beacon for countries struggling to escape the yoke of the Soviet Union and embrace Western democracy. But it is now in league with neighboring nations, like Hungary, whose leaders have turned to authoritarian means to tighten their grip on power, presenting a grave challenge to a European Union already grappling with nationalist, populist and anti-immigrant movements.
In his zeal to create what he calls a Fourth Republic, free of any vestige of Communist rule and vest the state with ever greater power, the party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has also set the nation on a collision course with the European Union. The bloc views the changes as a threat to the rule of law and the Western values at the heart of the treaty binding the union of nations.
But the European Union’s failure to curb Hungary’s drift toward authoritarianism has emboldened other leaders in the region, where right-wing nationalism and populism are on the rise. Right-wing governments have taken power recently in Austria and Italy, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, a guardian of liberal Western values, just agreed to build camps on Germany’s borders to process migrants.

2 July
Chris Patten: The Real Threats to the EU
The European Union must address a slew of challenges – from immigration to eurozone reform – that risk causing systemic problems lethal to the bloc. Given this, sensible leaders can be forgiven for politely sending the UK on its way, and focusing their attention on threats to the EU’s long-term cohesion and fundamental values.
(Project Syndicate) It seems that EU leaders have accepted that we British have taken leave of our senses, and there is not much they can do about it. They certainly are not going to undermine their own successful, law-based economic model to do us a favor. Brexit will hurt us a lot more than it will hurt the EU.
What could hurt the EU – indeed, threaten its very fabric – is a slew of other challenges, beginning with US President Donald Trump’s threats to the health and even survival of the transatlantic alliance, a key pillar of the post-World War II global order.
…  The EU has always prided itself on being a community of values that protects minorities and has welcomed the poor and downtrodden. The EU is, after all, composed of minorities, and it has known its share of poverty and hardship.
… Good sense and experience should tell us that selfish sloganeering, violating the rule of law, and dismissing international commitments is not a recipe for good policy. Macron is right to argue that Viktor Orbán’s Hungary and Jarosław Kaczynski’s Poland should no longer be allowed to pick the pockets of their richer European partners, while trampling over EU values.
The EU must confront the challenges ahead with cohesive, collaborative policies that combine effectiveness with basic human decency. On migration, for example, it must work as one to strengthen its own borders, while helping, through development assistance and security cooperation, the countries from which people are fleeing. With more stability and open markets, they will be able to export their products, rather than their citizens.

21 June
Kemal Derviş: Toward a More Democratic Europe?
The rise of extreme populism in Europe is coming at the expense of traditional center-right and center-left parties and putting the European Union at risk. But the populist threat could induce a restructuring of European politics that ultimately bolsters the EU’s legitimacy.
(Project Syndicate) Next year’s European Parliament election is likely to reveal more about the potential for such political restructuring. The European Parliament has never generated the same level of interest as other European institutions, such as the Commission, the Council, or even the Court of Justice. European parliamentary debates rarely make it far outside Brussels or Strasbourg, and voter turnout to fill the body’s seats has typically been low. Such facts have long been cited as evidence that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit, with citizens inadequately engaged with European-level governance.
But as a series of crises have hit the EU – affecting most acutely Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy – these dynamics have been changing. Gone are the days when Europeans quietly accepted the EU, despite some complaints. Now, the EU is at the center of domestic political debates, which increasingly include existential questions about the survival of the eurozone and the entire European project.
Europe Strikes Back Against Trump Tariffs as Global Trade War Escalates
The European Union fought back on Friday against the Trump administration’s tariffs, slapping penalties on an array of American products that target the president’s political base, like bourbon, motorcycles and orange juice.
The European counterattack on $3.2 billion of goods, a response to the administration’s measures on steel and aluminum imports, adds another front to a trade war that has engulfed allies and adversaries around the world. China and Mexico have already retaliated with their own tariffs, and Canada, Japan and Turkey are readying similar offensives.

8 June
Commentary: In U.S. and EU, illiberalism in full bloom
(Reuters) This is one week in the politics of the EU. It does not sum up the Union: most states continue to be run by centrist parties with broadly liberal approaches to both political and social issues, and none have followed the United Kingdom to head for the exit. But the forward march of liberalism, and of the Union, has been halted; the strength of the Merkel government reduced; and the wind behind the conservative nationalists much strengthened by the newly-installed Italian populist government. Democratic politics, long criticised for clustering round the center, with little difference between left and right, now has what the critics craved: a fight for principles, strategies and the allegiance of the electorates.

1 June
Italy gets populist government
(Politico Eu) Once installed in Rome, the new government is likely to take a Euroskeptic stance and clash with Brussels on the EU budget, immigration and European sanctions against Russia, where it favors a more conciliatory stance.
The prospect of a populist and Euroskeptic government in Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has already rattled markets and worried its EU partners.

31 May
Trump’s New Blow to Europe
Washington’s decision to impose metal tariffs on its European allies caps a year defined by U.S.-EU divergence
(The Atlantic) … the Europeans probably saw this coming a while ago. After all, President Trump’s decision to impose a 25percent steel tariff and 10percent aluminum tariff on key U.S. allies, which he said is necessary for the country’s national security, marks just one in a series of recent blows to the transatlantic alliance. It also caps a year defined by policy divergence, during which two allies accustomed to standing shoulder to shoulder have found themselves increasingly on opposing sides.
The first of these divergences came almost exactly a year ago, when Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord … The second major division came months later when Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The controversial move reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy, which had up until that point deemed the city disputed territory between Israelis and Palestinians. But it also put the U.S. squarely at odds with its European partners, who rebuked the move and widely declined invitations to attend the embassy’s opening earlier this month (of the bloc’s 28 member states, just four sent their ambassadors).
Then there was Iran. In what has arguably been the greatest break in the the transatlantic alliance under the Trump administration, Washington announced earlier this month that the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Just as it had done ahead of Trump’s decision on the Paris accord and the steel and aluminum tariffs, the EU went to great lengths to try and convince Trump not to abandon the deal—even going so far as to dispatch France’s Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to Washington to make their case. Though unsuccessful, the EU reaffirmed it would fight to preserve the deal, even if it means doing so without Washington. It adopted a similar posture with regard to the Paris accord and Jerusalem.
… Despite their deep historical ties and their continued close cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism and security, the U.S. and the EU now find themselves on divergent paths—with one side careening towards “America First,” while the other continues toward “multilateralism.”

27 May
Italy’s president scotches populist governing alliance
A ‘technocratic’ premier may try to govern but early elections are likelier outcome.
(Politico Eu) Italy’s messy post-election drama on Sunday night took another stunning turn.
The country’s president rejected a proposed populist 5Star-League alliance that included a Euroskeptic as economy minister and looked poised to appoint a “technocratic” government as early as Monday.
The collapse of the proposed coalition leaves Italy on an uncertain path in the days ahead, veering between the possibility of early elections or a technocratic government of longer duration. It also threatens a constitutional crisis, as the leaders of the 5Stars Movement and the League condemned the president and one even called for his impeachment. And it’s sure to further rattle already nervous international financial markets.
Mattarella has summoned former International Monetary Fund official Carlo Cottarelli to appear at the presidential palace on Monday morning, suggesting that he is leaning toward appointing a technocratic government.
Italy’s parliament must sign off on any new government, and that’s going to be a tough bar to clear. Even though the two main opposition parties — Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the center-left Democratic Party — have already said they would support a government sponsored by Mattarella, they alone don’t have enough votes.

13 April
Europe and its populists
(Lowy Institute) The overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary’s 8 April elections is yet another sign that nationalist and populist parties are alive and kicking in Europe.
Orbán’s policies will also underline the very significant differences of opinion that exist between those member states governed by nationalist/populist parties, such as Fidesz, which do not support further European integration, and those governments, Germany and France in particular, who argue the lesson from Brexit is that Europe needs to integrate more actively and aggressively.
Coupled with this are major concerns in Brussels, Berlin, and Paris about steps Orbán might take to clamp down even further on democratic rights, especially limits on media freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and NGOs.
… nationalist/populist parties (most, but not all, are from the far right) remain strong in Europe and could benefit from the current disarray in the European Union. Deep-rooted and popular concerns remain about illegal migration and the concentration of power in Brussels, compounded by poor governance in some European countries and disillusionment with traditional political parties. Economic problems continue in many European countries, as do concerns about globalisation, Russian destabilisation of the West, and grave doubts about the reliability of the US under President Trump.
Nationalist/populist parties are now represented in parliaments across Europe, including in the majors. In some countries, such as Poland and Hungary, they form government; in others, such as Austria, they are part of a governing coalition; and in others they tolerate minority governments. In all European countries nationalist/populist parties are reshaping the political environment and forcing traditional parties to confront the issues they raise, and to look for new coalitions.
EU states with the highest populist share of votes include Hungary, Greece, Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Bulgaria.
In Germany, following the very difficult formation of the new grand coalition government under Chancellor Angela Merkel, the AfD, as the third-largest party in the Bundestag with 12.6% of the vote at the September 2017 election, is now formally the official opposition’

24 March
United we fall: a European army is a really bad idea
Who would be in charge? What would they be fighting for – and in what language? This is an idea doomed to failure, says an Iraq war veteran
Colonel Tim Collins
(The Spectator) Any European army would fall under the unelected career politicians of the EU whose ability to make a decision has to be seriously questioned. While it could, in theory, exist, it would achieve little more than that mere fact of existence because of the indecision and complexity within the EU itself
The European Corps, or Eurocorps, has existed since 1993 with five European nation contributors, but with the Franco-German Brigade at its heart. It has deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo and to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2006. Haven’t heard of it? Neither has the enemy. They tended to stick close to the base in Kabul International Airport (KIA), known to the UK and US as ‘the Olympic Village’ because of the tendency of most residents to spend their days lounging around inside the perimeter in national uniform or tracksuits.
11 March
Astonishing! While we were all focused on DJT.
A very EU coup: Martin Selmayr’s astonishing power grab
How a bureaucrat seized power in nine minutes
(The Spectator) The coup began at 9.39 a.m. on 21 February, when 1,000 journalists were sent an email summoning them to a 10.30 a.m. audience with Jean-Claude Juncker.
Selmayr is now accountable to no one. Indeed, he has lost no time further consolidating his power. He has moved his office close to the President’s. I understand he will continue to chair meetings in the President’s office and even plans to put the hitherto independent European legal service under his command. So all he needs now is a new president as docile as Juncker has been and he’ll have achieved his aim: before his 50th birthday, and without ever having stood for elected office Selmayr will become the alpha and omega of the European Commission.”

7 March
Italy’s howl of nihilism
The old system has been swept away in a blind flight toward an uncertain future.
Politics can create strange bedfellows, but nobody knows who will sleep with the winners of Italy’s election: Matteo Salvini, the nationalist leader of the far-right League, and Luigi Di Maio, the moderate face of the furious 5Star Movement. No parliamentary majority is in sight. The populists won; they crushed Italy’s last traditional party — former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party — and swept away old, smiling Silvio Berlusconi. But they didn’t win enough seats to rule.
Revolution at the polls: How Italy made Steve Bannon’s “ultimate dream” come true Anti-establishmentarianism, isolationism, xenophobia and populism won the country’s general elections on March 4.

5-6 March
(The Atlantic) At least one thing seems clear after Italy’s elections on Sunday: The country’s relationship to the European Union is going to change. The majority of votes went to parties that are skeptical of both Italy’s long-standing EU ties and its political establishment. But the results have raised big questions about where the populist winners will take the country in the wake of the center-left establishment’s collapse.
Italy election: Populist surge prompts political deadlock
(BBC) Italy is on course for a hung parliament after voters backed right-wing and populist parties, projections based on partial results suggest.
The Eurosceptic, anti-establishment Five Star Movement has won the lion’s share of the vote.
But ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition, which includes the far-right League, looks set to win the most seats in the lower house of parliament.
Forming a government may now take weeks of negotiation and coalition-building.
Alternatively, fresh elections could be held in a bid to produce a more decisive result – though there is no guarantee that would happen.

4 March
Germany gets new government
Social Democrats clear path by backing new grand coalition.
(Politico Eu) The decision ends nearly half a year of uncertainty over Germany’s political leadership. The limbo hobbled Merkel’s caretaker government, forcing delays on a number of pressing fronts, in particular the debate over EU reform.
A rejection of the coalition by the SPD would have thrown German politics into disarray, leaving a minority government or a new election as the only remaining options. …
Merkel was also forced to accept a number of changes in the wake of September’s election. Her new team of ministers, announced last week, includes Jens Spahn, her loudest critic within the party. She also promoted a potential successor, naming Saarland premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to become the CDU’s general secretary, a key leadership position.
For a weakened Merkel, a fourth term as chancellor offers a final chance to secure her legacy. Many believe she will try to do so on the European front, where France’s Emanuel Macron has been clamoring for deep structural reforms to the EU.

3 March
Who killed European social democracy?
Collapse of center left risks destabilizing Continent’s politics.
(Politico Eu) Social democracy, the most influential force in European politics for decades, is dying. And the result could be political fragmentation, instability and paralysis.
In recent months, social democratic parties have been swept from power in the Czech Republic, Austria, France and the Netherlands, adding to a long string of losses since 2010.
Many blame the financial and economic crises that began in 2008 and caught governments flat-footed. But while resistance to austerity fueled social democracy’s decline, the roots of its misfortunes stretch back much further.
“The weakening of the political left has been long in the making,” argued Jan Rovny, a political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris. “It has been largely caused by deep structural and technological change that has altered the face of European societies, changed the economic patterns of the Continent and given a renewed vigor to politics of identity.”

30 January
How (the European) Trump won a second term
(Politico Eu) Miloš Zeman appealed to Czech skepticism of EU and opposition to migration.
He’s a septuagenarian who dislikes Muslims, the media and migrants and loves Vladimir Putin. He’s detested by urban dwellers and liberal elites who see him as a national embarrassment and a menace to values they hold dear.
And he’s just won his second term as president. …Zeman’s reelection also means the Czech Republic’s running battle with the EU regarding such issues as migration and sanctions against Russia will continue, with the possibility raised during the campaign of a referendum being held on EU membership. However, to mount such a vote would mean going through a complex and difficult legal process


26 December
Danuta Hübner: Rescuing Europe’s Illiberal Democracies
Brexit and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries have exposed a strain of European politics that many complacently assumed had been eradicated three decades ago. To turn back illiberal forces, EU leaders need to muster a stronger defense of EU values, starting with the rule of law and good-faith engagement.
(Project Syndicate) A populist nationalist is now president of the United States. The United Kingdom is withdrawing from the European Union. And self-proclaimed illiberal democrats are in power in Hungary and Poland. It turns out that, at the “end” of history, the enemies of open, democratic societies never actually surrendered. They were just pushed into the shadows.
There are a number of sociological reasons why illiberalism is resurgent today. Across the West, once-universal public spheres have been weakened and divided, and once-public social concerns have been “privatized.”
But the main reason for the West’s illiberal turn concerns emotions. For those who are unsettled by the widespread change of the past few decades, national identities have become increasingly appealing as a way to offset often-unpredictable globalization.

15 December
‘Congratulations’: EU moves to Brexit phase two but warns will be tough
(Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Friday [15 December] to move Brexit talks onto trade and a transition pact but some leaders cautioned that the final year of divorce negotiations before Britain’s exit could be fraught with peril.
Summit chair Donald Tusk said the world’s biggest trading bloc would start “exploratory contacts” with Britain on what London wants in a future trade relationship, as well as starting discussion on the immediate post-Brexit transition.
The head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, cast May as a “tough, smart, polite and friendly negotiator” — a polite nod to a woman facing ferocious and complex pressures at home, whose downfall Brussels fears would complicate talks further.

12 December
The End of European Bilateralisms: Germany, France, and Russia
(Carnegie.Ru) Today German and French positions reflect much more the skepticism ingrained in the EU’s “five guiding principles for relations with Russia” than previous ideas of a strategic partnership with Moscow. This will render it impossible for Russia to simply return to traditional bilateralism. If, at some point in the future, a Russian leadership wants to normalize relations with the EU and rebuild European security, it will have to take into account, among many other things, the almost complete collapse of trust in its relations with Germany and France.

22 November
Ross Douthat: Angela Merkel’s Failure May Be Just What Europe Needs
(NYT Op-Ed) … That mystique is undeserved because it is too kind to her decision, lauded for its idealism but ultimately deeply reckless and destabilizing, to swiftly admit a million-odd migrants into the heart of Europe in 2015. No recent move has so clearly highlighted the undemocratic, Berlin-dominated nature of European decision making and the gulf between the elite consensus and popular opinion. And no move has contributed so much to the disturbances since — the worsening of Europe’s terrorism problem, the shock of Brexit and the rise of Trump, and the growing divide between the E.U.’s Franco-German core and its eastern nations.
… [Germany] just has to choose between a new election, which would probably deliver the same divisions but would still leave the nationalists stuck at 10-15 percent of the vote and Merkel’s party with a plurality, and a minority government led by Merkel herself, which would be a novelty in Berlin but which is normal enough in other stable Western countries.

The beginning of the end of Angela Merkel
For all her Teflon-like invulnerability, the talks’ collapse leaves the chancellor gravely wounded.
(Politico EU) After seven weeks of “exploratory talks,” it was suddenly curtains — a first in the history of the Bonn-Berlin Republic. On Sunday, the leader of one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s presumptive junior coalition partner, Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats (FDP), went in front of the microphones to stun the nation: “It is better not to govern at all than to govern badly.” In other words, “Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Merkel.”
… the party system has splintered, making majority-building more complicated than ever before. The FDP take their roughly 10 percent, which has typically been enough to tip the scales in the past. But the two major parties are being devoured from the fringes.

18 November
Frustrated foreign leaders bypass Washington in search of blue-state allies
(WaPost) Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, countries around the world are scrambling to adapt as the White House has struggled to fill key government positions, scaled back the State Department and upended old alliances. Now some nations are finding that even if they are frustrated by President Trump’s Washington, they can still prosper from robust relations with the California Republic and a constellation of like-minded U.S. cities, some of which are bigger than European countries.
Many world leaders say they have no illusions that they can avoid the White House on critical issues at the core of global stability, especially those related to security. But they have embraced efforts by Democratic governors and mayors to present a different face of U.S. power to the world, albeit at a lower level than the White House or State Department.

7 November
(The Economist) Silvio Berlusconi: Back with a vengeance A vote on Sunday for a governor and regional assembly in Sicily contained ominous portents for next year’s general election in Italy. Nello Musumeci of Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and a former neo-fascist, took 40% of the vote. But even more striking was the disastrous performance of the centre-left Democratic Party, which took 19%. Unable to reconcile its differences, the party is now paying the price for its disunity
Politics in Moldova: Dismal
Last month Igor Dodon, Moldova’s president, was briefly suspended so a defence minister could be appointed. A Russian man known as “the Bulgarian” was arrested for conspiring to kill Vlad Plahotniuc, an oligarch and the president’s chief political rival. Mr Plahotniuc is in turn accused of hiring a hitman to kill a banker in London. And roughly 12% of GDP has been stolen from three banks. The West is losing patience, and Moldovans will suffer

16 October
A New Right-Wing Movement Rises in Austria
By turning the People’s Party into a vocal anti-immigrant force, Sebastian Kurz remade it in his own image
(The Atlantic) Since taking over as leader of the ÖVP barely five months ago, he worked to invest it with new ideas that will bring about change … By dragging the ÖVP sharply to the right on immigration and migration, his signature issue, he seeks to co-opt the political space previously monopolized by the [far-right] Freedom Party.
As traditional centrist political parties across Europe reel from historic losses, Kurz’s strategy in Austria seems to have paid off. With his victory, he’ll no doubt serve as an example for other ambitious young center-right leaders looking to rebuild support and come out ahead of their right-wing populist challengers. As a polished, anti-immigration millennial who successfully worked to remake his party, Kurz could be a sign of what’s to come from the next generation of European leaders—one that is running and governing in a time of turbulent political change across the continent.
Austria heads for right-leaning coalition
( The 31-year-old foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, is poised to become Europe’s youngest head of government
The results, if confirmed, should clear the way for a right-leaning coalition and vault the ÖVP’s 31-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, into the office of chancellor, making him Europe’s youngest head of government.

6 October
Catalan crisis poses fresh challenge to battered EU
(AFP) Catalonia’s independence stand-off with Spain risks deepening the European Union’s woes just as it was beginning to contemplate the end of the Brexit and migrant crises and a bright new future for the bloc.
Only days ago EU leaders held a summit to declare they were plotting a new course together, while European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker proclaimed recently “the wind is back in Europe’s sails” after being buffeted by the eurosceptism that drove Britain’s shock vote to leave.
But the escalating crisis over Catalonia’s hotly contested independence referendum on Sunday — banned by Spain and marred by violence — has left the EU floundering in the shoals again.
The Catalonia crisis has trapped the EU between the rock of its principle of non-interference in member states’ internal affairs, and the hard place of its role as a champion of democracy and freedom of expression.

26 September
The Looming Confrontation in German Mainstream Politics
(Geopolitical Futures) Berlin isn’t the only European capital that has seen a nationalist party rise to become part of parliament, but considering that it is the de facto leader of the EU, we need to examine what this could mean for the rest of Europe.
The opposition will be split between radically different parties – a weakened SPD and Left Party and a strengthening AfD – although they all find much of their support in the east, while the governing parties will more heavily represent the west. Governing will likely become difficult, and the government will need to find a balance between the priorities of the east and west.
This outcome will also make it difficult for the government to implement any reforms, both in Germany and in the EU. France, Italy and Spain have submitted proposals to increase EU investment and introduce risk-sharing measures for the eurozone – all of which will be discussed at the next meeting of the European Council. Germany has thus far played a significant role in managing EU affairs, partly because it was politically stable – the rest of the EU could trust that Merkel’s words had weight. But she is no longer backed by a large majority. This limits her power both inside and outside Germany.

12 September
France went on strike.The massive CGT union embarked on some 180 protests and 4,000 strikes across the country to protest the labor reforms proposed by president Emmanuel Macron, who faces plunging approval ratings. Among the disruptions, more than 20,000 Ryanair passengers had their flights canceled, with air-traffic controllers skipping work.

29 July
Europe’s Eastern Rebels Expose Next Fault Line for EU Leaders
(Bloomberg) Poland and Hungary form the rebel core because of their political assault on democratic institutions, what Reding called an “authoritarian drift.” Other former communist nations such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania have strayed from the mainstream by rejecting refugees or by plans to make it harder for officials to be prosecuted.
The EU Parliament in 2015 called on the commission to create a “scoreboard” for monitoring fundamental rights in member states. When reprimanding Orban two months ago, the assembly urged governments to trigger Article 7 against Hungary, which so far has been spared even a rule-of-law investigation of the kind being applied to Poland.

18 July
How Angela Merkel Became the Most Powerful Woman in the World
(Vogue) Merkel’s astonishing trajectory—from the ash heap of the failed Soviet Empire to becoming the West’s best hope—makes perfect sense: Endure, observe, listen, keep your own counsel, and work twice as hard as the men. Even now.
Win or lose in September, Merkel’s place in history is as assured as that of the woman whose portrait hangs on her office wall, Catherine the Great.

14 June
Finnish populism: Split in Finn natives
(The Economist) The biggest Finnish political crisis in years has been wrapped up in just four days. The selection last Saturday of a new far-right leader by the populist Finns Party split the party down the middle. Yesterday its moderate MPs formed a new faction in parliament and said that they would stay in the governing coalition. Populists thinking of joining coalitions should heed the warning: to preserve your authenticity, stay on the fringe.

12 June
Emmanuel Macron will offer no mercy to Theresa May
A swift and hard Brexit would suit France’s president
(Financial Times) Mr Macron’s programme for the revival of France has the EU at its heart. On the night of his election victory, the president took to the stage to the strains of the European anthem, “Ode to Joy”. But his vision of a revitalised France, inside a revitalised EU, actually works better if Brexit proceeds uninterrupted.
Mr Macron represents the wing in French politics that believes passionately in “more Europe”. He wants much deeper EU integration on defence and finance and has even argued for a eurozone finance minister.
Traditionally, Britain has acted as a brake on European federalism. An EU without Britain will be much more open to French ideas on economic integration, the protection of European markets and the establishment of an EU defence identity. But the window of opportunity for pressing forward with the federalist agenda might be relatively small. That is all the more reason for the Macron government not to allow the Brexit process to be spun out over many years.

7 June
The EU unveils its multi-million-euro defense fund. Earmarking a budget for military equipment and joint-defense initiatives is a first for the bloc—and an idea that was often blocked by the departing UK. Donald Trump’s skepticism about the US’s role in collective defense has also unsettled EU leaders.

1 June
EU on Trump’s Paris withdrawal: ‘Sad day for the global community’
“Today is a sad day for the global community, as a key partner turns its back on the fight against climate change,” EU Climate Action and Energy Commission Miguel Arias Cañete said in a statement.
“The Paris Agreement will endure,” he added. “The world can continue to count on Europe for global leadership in the fight against climate change. Europe will lead through ambitious climate policies and through continued support to the poor and vulnerable.”
In light of Trump’s decision to pull out of the pact, Cañete said the EU would look to partner with U.S. businesses and communities that have supported the agreement and would seek new partnerships with other countries.
Cañete’s comments echoed those of other leading advocates of the Paris agreement, who called on the private sector and local governments in the U.S. to take the reins on climate action.
Ending Greece’s Perpetual Debt Crisis
(NYT) For nearly a decade, Greece has struggled under suffocating debt, which now totals more than 300 billion euros ($338 billion), or nearly double its annual economic output. Waves of austerity measures to satisfy creditors have inflicted great suffering: More than a quarter of Greeks are unemployed, and vital services, like health care and transportation, are running as bare-bones operations. The economy is in recession, and there is virtually no way Greece can dig itself out of such a deep hole.
On May 18, Greece’s Parliament dutifully passed a fresh round of austerity measures, including tax increases and new cuts to pensions. Yet, Greece’s creditors met in Brussels last week and shamefully failed to agree on terms that would permit the release of 7 billion euros in bailout funds needed by July to keep Greece from defaulting.
France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, expressed his support for relief in a telephone call to the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, last week.
Europe’s finance ministers hope to have an agreement after they meet on June 15. The main sticking points are the terms under which the International Monetary Fund would rejoin the bailout effort and how far Germany will bend.
A failure to do so would be catastrophic for Greece and an unconscionable stain on Germany, whose stubbornness is costing Greece the only durable solution to its woes: economic recovery.
(Quartz) China makes friends in Europe. After meeting Angela Merkel in Berlin, premier Li Keqiang heads to Brussels to convince EU leaders that Beijing is serious about showing leadership on big issues like global trade and climate change. China wants the EU to recognize it as a market economy; the EU wants Beijing to level the playing field for foreign companies in China and stop selling its goods below cost.

29 May
Angela Merkel said Europe could no longer completely rely on the US and UK. “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands,” the German chancellor declared Sunday, after meeting US president Donald Trump and UK prime minister Theresa May at the NATO and G7 summits last week. Merkel noted that the G7 talks pitted “six against one” (the one being Trump) and were “very difficult” and “very unsatisfactory.”

27 May
Donald Trump’s Europe tour leaves leaders strangely shaken
US president’s first visit to Europe memorable for body-language battles and patchy understanding of the bloc
He crunched hands, shoved shoulders and struck poses. He scoffed chocolates, ignored protocol and harangued heads of state. He denied saying things he had said, then said things that showed he did not understand.
(The Guardian) It may, mercifully, have passed off without apocalyptic mishap, but Donald Trump’s first transatlantic trip as US president still left European leaders shaken.
What European leaders did not seem to have anticipated was the US president’s patchy understanding of the bloc.
The Belgian daily Le Soir reported that … Trump revealed to prime minister Charles Michel that his frequent criticisms of the EU were due largely to his personal experiences trying to set up businesses [golf clubs] there.
“Every time we talked about a country, he remembered the things he had done,” one source told the paper. “Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two-and-a-half years to get a licence and that did not give him a very good image of the EU.”
Besides reportedly telling EU leaders the Germans were “bad, very bad” on trade, Trump and his team shocked the Europeans by their ignorance of the bloc’s trade policy, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, repeatedly suggesting America had different trade deals with Germany and Belgium.

25 May
Long-neutral Sweden beefs up military defenses to face Russia threat
(PBS Newshour) Sweden has not fought a war since 1814. It has nurtured its neutrality for over 200 years. During the Cold War, it was neutral because it was suspicious of both the superpowers. But now Russian muscle-flexing is jangling Swedish nerves. The government is promising to increase defense spending by 11 percent over the next five years and it is to reintroduce conscription. Gotland is a popular Nordic tourist destination. It’s main town, Visby, the best-preserved fortified commercial city in Northern Europe, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island, a three-hour ferry ride from the Swedish mainland, is vulnerable because of its strategic location, close to Latvia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, where a quarter of a million military personnel are based. …
Russia’s aggression is creating a dilemma for the Swedes. They’re being pushed ever closer to NATO, but are resisting membership, an act that President Putin would regard as hostile.

19 May
(Quartz) Another Greek bailout… Euro zone finance ministers meet in Brussels to talk debt relief for Greece. Germany’s top politicians can’t agree on the matter: foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel says debt relief should be offered, while finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble refuses to release more bailout funds.
…and the big Brexit bill. Meanwhile, EU ministers plot their next move on Brexit after Britain threatened to quit divorce talks if it’s forced to pay a multibillion-euro bill after it separates from the bloc.

15 May
Merkel and Macron agree to draw up roadmap to deeper EU integration
(Reuters) With Germany’s economy — Europe’s largest — outperforming that of France, the traditional Franco-German motor at the heart of the EU that has often misfired in recent years. Monday’s meeting was an effort to inject some dynamism into the partnership.
Crucially, both leaders said they were open to the idea of changing the EU’s treaties.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, an arch conservative who has come to personify Berlin’s focus on fiscal rectitude, had suggested that Macron’s idea of creating a budget and finance minister for the euro zone was unrealistic because it would require politically thorny changes to the EU treaty.
But both leaders said they could tackle treaty change.
(Quartz) Angela Merkel’s party won big in a key regional election. On Sunday the German chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union notched a victory over the Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia. It bodes well for Merkel winning a fourth term in the federal election in September, and badly for her Social Democrat challenger Martin Schulz, who is not delivering the votes expected when he took over.

9 May
(The Economist) Europe and the euro: Time for compromise Yesterday Germany’s government reiterated its rejection of Eurobonds (debt held in common by all euro-zone countries), which Emmanuel Macron wants it to support. The two countries have squabbled for years over how to run the euro zone. But Mr Macron is better placed to forge a compromise than any leader before him. If it wants to preserve the euro, Germany should be open to his proposals, writes our Germany correspondent

7 May
Macron wins French presidency by decisive margin over Le Pen
(The Guardian) But Le Pen’s score nonetheless marked a historic high for the French far right. Despite a lacklustre campaign that ended with a calamitous performance in the final TV debate, she was projected to have taken more than 10 million votes, roughly double that of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he reached the presidential run-off in 2002. The anti-immigration, anti-EU Front National’s supporters asserted that the party has a central place as an opposition force in France.

5 May
Paul Krugman: What’s the Matter With Europe?
… Those of us who watched European institutions deal with the debt crisis that began in Greece and spread across much of Europe were shocked at the combination of callousness and arrogance that prevailed throughout.
Even though Brussels and Berlin were wrong again and again about the economics — even though the austerity they imposed was every bit as economically disastrous as critics warned — they continued to act as if they knew all the answers, that any suffering along the way was, in effect, necessary punishment for past sins.
Politically, Eurocrats got away with this behavior because small nations were easy to bully, too terrified of being cut off from euro financing to stand up to unreasonable demands. But Europe’s elite will be making a terrible mistake if it believes it can behave the same way to bigger players.
Indeed, there are already intimations of disaster in the negotiations now taking place between the European Union and Britain.

4 May
If Le Pen beats Macron, the once-unthinkable will be all too real
(WaPost) A win by the leader of the French far right would see a leading European nation select a president emphatically opposed to globalization and integration, friendly to authoritarian Russia and tethered to a party, the National Front, that is steeped in a history of neo-fascism, extremism and bigotry. It could prefigure the dissolution of the European Union, trigger new economic chaos and hammer home the last nail in the coffin of an already ailing liberal order.

3 May
(The Economist) Growth in Europe: Speeding up
Figures released today show that euro-zone GDP rose by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2017, an annualised rate of 2%—quite a bit faster than America’s projected annual rate of 0.7%. The data probably overstate the gap because American first-quarter growth estimates tend to be revised upwards later in the year. Still, the euro-zone economy is gaining speed even as America’s goes through a soft spot, writes our economics editor

1 May
Britain and the EU: Expect bitterness
On Saturday the EU’s leaders met in Brussels, without Britain, to approve a set of negotiating guidelines for the two-year Brexit talks to come. They rubber-stamped the text within minutes. A day later it emerged in the German papers that a dinner last week between Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, and Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, had been disastrous. All the signs point to a difficult negotiation

24 April
France’s Political Parties Are Banding Together To Stop Le Pen
Amid fears of Le Pen’s anti-European Union and anti-immigrant vision taking hold over the country, French and European politicians began throwing their support behind Macron almost immediately after Sunday’s results were announced. Figures across the political spectrum came together to back Macron, appearing to form a “cordon sanitaire” against the prospect of a Le Pen presidency.
(The Economist) Meanwhile in Germany: AfD’s own worst enemy Frauke Petry, the most visible figure in Germany’s populist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), watched delegates reject her plan to detoxify the party at its conference this weekend. Alexander Gauland emerged as the party’s new master. Under him the AfD will focus on issues such as refugees and Islam. It is not the threat to the mainstream parties that a reformed AfD might have been,  writes our Germany correspondent

23 April
French election results and exit polls live: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen win first round, according to projections

21 April
EU leader: UK would be welcomed back if voters overturn Brexit
Exclusive: European parliament president Antonio Tajani says process could easily be reversed if election brings in new British government
(The Guardian) Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case.
“If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

17 April
Influential German MP calls for end of EU talks with Turkey
(CNN) Germany should “formally suspend” talks on EU membership with Turkey, the chair of the German Parliament’s foreign affairs committee said Monday, warning of a slide towards authoritarianism.
“My view is that we should formally suspend negotiation talks with Turkey as long as Erdogan is establishing and conducting authoritarian power,” German Member of Parliament Norbert Röttgen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“We must not give up on Turkey. Erdogan is not Turkey. But we have to make clear that now it is Erdogan’s rule which is being established more and more in Turkey.”
President Erdogan on Monday evening told a rally in Ankara that some in Europe were “threatening” to freeze talks — “but,” he told the crowd, “let me tell you that this is not that important for us anyway.”

11 April
EU-Turkey Relations Reaching a Crossroads
(Carnegie Europe) The referendum campaign provoked a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and the European Union.
Accusations of “Nazi practices” or “fascism” in Europe, uttered by the Turkish president, have deeply affected EU-Turkey relations, which were already tense.

10 April
Newsweek reports that “in Brussels on Thursday, the European Union dealt Russia another setback when the economic bloc approved a measure granting Ukrainians visa-free travel, a move that Russia and its proxies have long opposed. The European Parliament voted 521 to 75 in favor of the measure, which is likely to go into effect by June. In a televised national address on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the vote “a symbol of Ukraine’s belonging to a common European civilization.”

4 April
Brexit and Trump encouraged Eastern Europe populism: report
Hungary and Poland slide down the rankings, but Kosovo is praised.
( The U.K.’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. increased fears of instability and emboldened populists in Europe, according to a report out Tuesday by a human rights group.
The U.S. based NGO Freedom House’s annual Nations in Transit report found there had been one of the biggest democratic declines across the 29 countries that it monitors in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans since it began publishing in 1995.
“Brexit and the new administration in the U.S. have emboldened anti-democratic populists in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans,” said Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations in Transit. “A critical mass of leaders in the region openly reject the idea of liberal democracy. Populism increasingly is combining with crude ethnic nationalism in a way that threatens peace in Europe.”

25 March
European leaders sign Rome Declaration as centerpiece of 60th anniversary celebrations
(Politico Eu.) …somehow — whether inspired by the weight of the moment, the ghosts of their predecessors or the warm Roman spring — the 27 heads of government and state, pulled it off. For a day, at least, they put their squabbles aside to celebrate the unlikely success of an idea born out of catastrophe.
After a year in which the EU has had to stomach the Brexit vote, bitter fights over refugees and the resurgence of far-right populism, failure was not an option. Yet for a club riven by division over matters large and small, keeping up appearances was no small order.
Gathered in the hall of Horatii and the Curiatii, the opulent marbled chamber where the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, the continent’s leaders reasserted the EU’s founding principles, while vowing to carry the region’s integration forward. One by one …  put their signature to an 800-word document dubbed the Rome Declaration.
How the EU lost its way
Brussels was never meant to have so much power.
By Giulio Tremonti and Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
(Politico Eu.) On the bright spring day of March 25, 1957, at the Palazzo de Conservatori, on Capitoline Hill in Rome, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed a treaty that signaled the birth of a new institution, a customs union that would become known as the common market.
Today, every liberal democracy — from the United States to New Zealand — has cause to celebrate the achievements of the Treaty of Rome. By lowering barriers to trade and encouraging peaceful development, it set the stage for an era of expanding prosperity.
The political reasoning that inspired the treaty was a combination of two principles: sovereignty and subsidiarity. The treaty was signed by countries that only made concessions on their sovereignty when absolutely necessary. These were measured, deliberate and slight additions to national entities, not attempts to delegate competencies to supranational institutions.
With this in mind, the European Common Market was designed not to overreach into nations’ sovereignty. Brussels, the first of what should have been a rotating venue for EC institutions, was conceived as a minimal force for coordination and was never supposed to become the permanent capital of a new, let alone enlarged, European Union.

15 March
Dutch Liberals Projected to Defeat Wilders’s Party in Election
Euro climbs to highest in more than a month on result
Freedom Party, Christian Democrats, D66 tied for second place
(Bloomberg) Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals easily beat the anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in Wednesday’s election, as voters responded to Rutte’s plea to send a signal and halt the spread of populism in Europe.

14 March
Dani Rodrik: How Much Europe Can Europe Tolerate?
(Project Syndicate) This month the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. There certainly is much to celebrate. After centuries of war, upheaval, and mass killings, Europe is peaceful and democratic. The EU has brought 11 former Soviet-bloc countries into its fold, successfully guiding their post-communist transitions. And, in an age of inequality, EU member countries exhibit the lowest income gaps anywhere in the world.
But these are past achievements. Today, the Union is mired in a deep existential crisis, and its future is very much in doubt. The symptoms are everywhere: Brexit, crushing levels of youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, debt and stagnation in Italy, the rise of populist movements, and a backlash against immigrants and the euro. They all point to the need for a major overhaul of Europe’s institutions.

13 March
EU member countries mapStratfor: The EU May Bend to Keep From Breaking
The European Commission is taking a clear-eyed look at Europe’s future. On March 1, the institution presented a report proposing five different visions for what the European Union might look like in 2025. The report will doubtless take center stage at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday between discussions of such issues as migration, security, defense and the economy. Along with suggesting that member states could integrate at different speeds, the white paper raises the possibility that EU member countries may regain control of some prerogatives currently under Brussels’ authority.
This idea represents a marked departure for EU leaders. Since the bloc’s inception six decades ago, its goal has always been to progressively delegate national policy decisions to supranational authorities. Every institutional reform since the 1950s has furthered this goal, giving Brussels more responsibilities. Though EU officials have said they oppose weakening the supranational institutions, the white paper nonetheless speaks volumes about how things have changed in Europe.
Reactions to the European Commission’s proposals have been mixed. Countries with large economies in the eurozone’s core, including Germany, France and Italy, expressed support for a “multispeed Europe” in which some members can move ahead with deeper integration even if others opt out. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, warned against the danger of separating the European Union’s core from its periphery. These states will have difficult choices to make going forward. Countries such as Poland and Hungary, for all their criticism, still see the European Union as a vital source of funding and protection. And although they have faulted the European Union and demanded that Brussels return decision-making power to national legislatures, they are t by the idea that the EU core could increase integration without them. The possibility that Germany or France could coordinate their policies toward Russia, for instance, without consulting the rest of the bloc is particularly disconcerting for former East bloc countries such as Poland or Romania.
The European Union’s core members have their own concerns about a two-speed Europe, despite their emphatic support for the model. (13 March 2017)
Hungary Plays the E.U.
(NYT editorial) With calculated timing, Hungary’s new plan for refugees was approved the day after it got the green light from the union for a Russian-built nuclear plant. Clearly, Mr. Orban is playing the European Union for a patsy. At what point will the union have the courage to take action against his policies?

10 March
The Economist: Poland and the EU: The other President Donald
Awarding Donald Tusk a second term as president of the European Council looked like a formality. But at yesterday’s EU summit Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, found his home country accusing him of treason and forcing a vote. It lost 27-1. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling party, is playing to his conservative base by smearing Mr Tusk. But his obsession with punishing his enemy leaves Poland isolated in Europe
(WaPost) Former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk was elected to a second term as president of the European Council, the body that coordinates with leaders of European Union countries. Tusk will now play an important role in negotiations with Britain as it attempts to leave the continental bloc; Tusk will also champion European unity at a time of general crisis.
His compatriots in Warsaw, though, are furious. Tusk, a center-right politician and traditional liberal, is at odds with his home nation’s right-wing government. Leading Polish politicians sought to rally support against him, arguing he was a stooge of Berlin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but ended up alone as other central European allies chose to line up behind Tusk.
EU officials talk counter-terrorism with Silicon Valley. They want help from US tech giants in fighting terrorist propaganda online and will meet with leaders at Google, Facebook, and Twitter, among others. The California confabs will come at an awkward time, after WikiLeaks apparently revealed ways the CIA hacks smartphones and other devices.

3 March
(WaPost Today’s World View)  According to German officials, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has long been warning about apparent Russian interference in European elections, is now Europe’s “main target of fake news articles” — an online disinformation campaign some E.U. officials are connecting to Moscow.
Instead, the far-right’s common rallying cries are the supposed threat of Islam and the potential death of Western culture. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician whose far-right party will likely claim a significant chunk of parliamentary seats in elections this month, believes “Islam and freedom are not compatible” and that Islam is a “totalitarian ideology,” not a faith. That intolerant view is seemingly shared by some senior Trump advisers.

1 March
What the European Commission president was really saying when he outlined his visions of the future of Europe
(Politico) Outlining the five options to the European Parliament Wednesday, Juncker acknowledged the existential struggle the EU is facing due to crises over Brexit, migration and the eurozone. He said it was not a “definitive view” from the Commission but a way to “make clear what Europe can and cannot do.”
And while Juncker tried to stay neutral, there were times when it was clear which his preferred option is
Commission outlines 5 scenarios for future of EU in white paper
(Politico) The European Commission has outlined five scenarios for the future of the European Union in a white paper obtained by POLITICO ahead of its publication on Wednesday.
The scenarios are entitled “carrying on,” “nothing but the single market,” “those who want more do more,” “doing less more efficiently,” and “doing much more together.”
The paper is an attempt by the Commission, led by President Jean-Claude Juncker, to shape a major debate about the EU’s future following Britain’s shock decision to leave. The document is also intended to influence a declaration by the 27 countries remaining in the EU at the bloc’s 60th anniversary summit on March 25 in Rome.
The paper starts with a somber tone, acknowledging the existential struggle the EU is facing due to crises over Brexit, migration and the eurozone. “Europe’s challenges show no sign of abating,” the paper says. It also notes the difficult balancing act facing the EU, as “many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering.”
While generally neutral in its language, the Commission at times makes its preferred option clear. For example, on eurozone governance, the Commission aligns itself with the most federal option by saying it will issue a paper based on the 2015 Five Presidents’ Report, which called for a eurozone finance minister and stricter controls over the budgets of the 19 countries that use the single currency.

Geert Wilders falls behind Mark Rutte in Dutch election race
(Politico) Far-right party has lost the lead for first time in months.
If an election was held now, the PVV would win 15.7 percent of the vote, around half a percent less than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

27 February
(Quartz) Germany’s rightwing AfD party struggles to cope with internal crisis
Alternative für Deutschland’s support has slumped since a leading politician called for Germany to stop atoning for its Nazi past

21 February
Europe’s Critical Elections
By Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister
(Project Syndicate) Following the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president, the question facing Europe is straightforward: Will populist and nationalist forces exert the same influence in core countries of the EU?
Europeans recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, which marked a seminal moment in the history of European integration. As we have learned in the intervening years, the EU’s powers are insufficient to address all of the challenges that now confront Europe. Germany must help to rectify this situation by offering a vision for a more confident and ambitious Europe – one that can overcome internal divisions, see to its own security, and sustainably manage migration.If new movements emerge to counter the forces of nationalism and populism, this would not be a far-fetched scenario. And while former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Wilders, Le Pen, and their peers continue to pose as plucky anti-establishment underdogs, this conceit is wearing thin, owing to their own success – and, in UKIP’s case, to financial scandals. … new pro-European centrist movements have already sprung up across Europe, from Nowoczesna (Modern) in Poland to Ciudadanos (Citizens) in Spain. These parties do not peddle lies, and they do not owe their success to Russian-sponsored propaganda bots or social-media trolls.

15 February
The bellwether state
(WaPost) If you want to understand political trends sweeping Europe, look to the Netherlands. Its students began protesting in 1966, foreshadowing young left-wing agita across the continent. It’s 1994 election brought center-left “third-way” politics into style three years before Tony Blair was elected in the U.K.
And this year, the country may once again be a bellwether for things to come. On March 15, the Dutch will go to the polls to choose their new parliament. The campaign, which begins today, pits a populist anti-Islam party against more traditional politicians; the hot-button issues are integration, refugees and what role immigrants, particularly Muslims, should play in Dutch society. It’s practically a dress rehearsal of elections to come later this year in France and Germany
About 15 percent of Netherlands residents are from outside the E.U. A majority of voters are worried about immigrants from outside the bloc, and 57 percent disapprove of how their government is handling things. (It’s no wonder that 40 percent of Dutch citizens of Turkish, Moroccan, Surinamese or Antillean descent don’t feel “at home” in the country.)
Right now, the candidate with the most popular platform is Geert Wilders, head of the far-right Freedom Party
Wilders wants a Brexit-style withdrawal from the E.U. and a ban on immigrants from Muslim countries. In December, he was found guilty of “insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans.” Other candidates have also upped their anti-immigration rhetoric. In an open letter, current Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the economically conservative People’s Party wrote that people should “act normal or leave.”
It’s still unclear how things will turn out. More than 70 percent of Dutch voters say they’re undecided, and there are 14 parties to choose from. And while Wilders is leading in the polls with 20 percent, most other parties have said they won’t form a coalition with him. That would likely leave him locked out of power even if his party wins a plurality.
But if the Freedom Party does come in first, populism expert Cas Mudde told the Economist, “the media will represent him and his European collaborators as ‘the choice of the people’.” And if that happens, it can only mean good things for France’s Marine Le Pen, Germany’s Frauke Petry and populists across Europe. — Amanda Erickson

14 February
Christopher Smart: The Financial Education of the Eurozone
(Project Syndicate) In 2017, Europe’s leaders will confront an array of severe tests, including tumultuous elections featuring populist insurgencies, complex negotiations over Britain’s departure from the European Union, and a new American president who thinks that the transatlantic alliance is “obsolete.”
But, despite these challenges, EU leaders will also have an opportunity to strengthen their battered union and reinforce its institutions. In particular, they should focus on restoring the banking sector’s credibility, by providing it with more capital and better oversight. Even if they make progress on nothing else, achieving this goal could turn 2017 into a very good year after all.

11 February
(Quartz weekend round-up) The European Union is being attacked on multiple fronts. This year, its resilience will be tested by the UK’s willingness to leave without a new trade deal; the combative stance (paywall) of US president Donald Trump’s advisors; and multiple elections featuring increasingly popular far-right parties.
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, for example, has vowed to pull France out of the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership if she wins the election in May. Should France vote to leave, the global economy could face deeply destabilizing political and economic ramifications—not least because Le Pen has said she would redenominate €1.7 trillion ($1.8 trillion) of public debt into a new national currency, resulting in a massive sovereign default.
Meanwhile, a stalemate between Greece’s European creditors and the IMF over the next tranche of bailout aid is making investors nervous. In Italy, the new government is wrestling with a weak banking system as anti-euro parties grow in popularity.
But the EU won’t go down easily. In an effort to alter the reputation of the European Commission—often seen as a group of all-powerful, unaccountable technocrats controlling millions of lives undemocratically—Brussels is now trying to hand decision-making back to national governments. The effort by the Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, aims to save the EU from being used as a scapegoat for unpopular political decisions across the region.
There are also signs that Europe’s economy is finally enjoying a sustained recovery after two crises in the past decade. Last year, the euro-area economy grew faster than the US, and unemployment fell back into the single digits.
That said, national economic data won’t be enough to deter the rise of right-wing populism. The fight is in the hands of politicians—and they could still win it.
In Germany, European enthusiast Martin Schulz could pick up the torch from Angela Merkel after elections in September. France’s next leader is most likely to be the centrist Emmanuel Macron. And a Greek deal might be hashed out before €7 billion in debt repayments begin to come due this year—reducing the recurring chance that Greece could be forced out of the EU, and potentially boosting confidence in the body’s integration-first philosophy.
This year could take the EU to the brink of disaster, but it’s been there before. The challenge now is convincing people it’s worth bringing it back.


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