Europe & EU December 2019 – December 2020

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Europe & EU 2018- November 2019

31 December
John Keiger: The EU is a divided house
The founding father of the European project, Jean Monnet claimed: ‘Europe will be made from its crises and will be the sum of the solutions found for those crises’. If true, given what is brewing, the EU may be on the cusp of a great leap forward. But Monnet was referring to a six-member club; twenty-seven may be a crisis too far
(The Spectator UK) At the end of 2020 Brussels has gone out of its way to engage in unity-signalling, announcing that all 27 members will begin vaccination on the same day and feigning a united front in the face of the UK’s new strain of coronavirus. But in truth its 27 member states are confronted by serious structural divisions in three fundamental areas: economics, culture, defence.
… During the 2015 migration crisis [Hungary and Poland’s] ‘regression’ to national borders and refusal to take migrants, followed by restrictions on the role of the media and the judiciary, irritated western leaders insistent that such practices contravene EU values. Eastern leaders rightly point to their policies being popular and supported by strong democratic mandates in recent elections. Whatever the respective merits, Brussels’ cultural hegemony risks drawing a new Iron Curtain across the EU, not to mention that many of these states preserve their national currencies.
… The EU dividing line is between supporters of Nato as the primary European defence arm and those who militate for an autonomous European army. Before Brexit, Britain invariably spoke up for Nato and criticised a European army, usually against France’s advocacy of it. Without Britain’s cover Germany has had to put its head above the parapet and thus come into direct confrontation with France.
10 December
Bloomberg: It happened again yesterday, with Budapest and Warsaw now looking set to abandon their veto of a record $2.2 billion stimulus package. Clinched just before a summit in Brussels today, where leaders also face the thorny issues of a post-divorce deal with the U.K. and climate change, the deal was classic EU.
Poland and Hungary had objected to the cash being tied to upholding the EU’s democratic standards. But they faced up to the reality they’d be cut out of tens of billions of euros in funding.
So the EU got its way to police wayward members and penalize corrupt and authoritarian behavior, while Hungary and Poland won a concession on implementation they can sell at home as a victory. They’ll continue reaping the advantages of a single market of almost half a billion people — a benefit the U.K. may soon rue it gave up.
The EU faces a host of challenges. But it has shown repeatedly that doubters of the European project may be wiser to pause before forecasting collapse. — Michael Winfrey

12-23 November
Europe’s Populist High Noon
Hungary and Poland have vetoed the European Union’s proposed €1.15 trillion ($1.4 trillion) seven-year budget and the €750 billion European recovery fund, rejecting the EU’s plan to condition its funds on member governments’ adherence to the rule of law. What will this latest crisis reveal about the EU’s commitment to democratic principles, and its ability and willingness to tackle the populist threat?
(Project Syndicate) In this Big Picture, George Soros urges the EU to stand up to Hungary and Poland, arguing that the bloc cannot afford to compromise on enforcing the rule of law if it wishes to survive as an open society. But Melvyn Krauss of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution expects the EU to surrender to Hungarian and Polish blackmail in order to pass the budget and establish the recovery fund, because it is more concerned with sustaining recent north-south political and economic convergence in order to ensure the euro’s survival.
Nevertheless, Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study and the German Council on Foreign Relations thinks that US President Donald Trump’s failure to win re-election will invariably lead to an overdue reckoning for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. Similarly, Philippe Legrain of the London School of Economics argues that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory shows how mainstream European political parties might defeat populism without resorting to populist tactics.

23 November
9 things to know about Antony Blinken, the next US secretary of state
What Europe needs to know about Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state.
(Politico Eu) U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Monday nominated his longtime aide, Antony Blinken, as secretary of state. But who is he and what will his relationship with Europe be like?
Here are nine things to know about him:
1. Europeanist, multilateralist, internationalist
Tony Blinken’s ties to Europe are lifelong, deep and personal — and he is a fierce believer in the transatlantic alliance.
“Put simply, the world is safer for the American people when we have friends, partners and allies,” Blinken said in 2016. He has described Europe as “a vital partner” and has dismissed the Trump administration’s plans to remove U.S. troops from Germany as “foolish, it’s spiteful, and it’s a strategic loser. It weakens NATO, it helps Vladimir Putin, and it harms Germany, our most important ally in Europe.”
On every major foreign policy issue — terrorism, climate, pandemics, trade, China, the Iran nuclear deal — he has a recurring mantra: the U.S. should work with its allies and within international treaties and organizations. Blinken also views U.S. leadership in multilateral institutions as essential.

21 November
QAnon has become a powerful force in Germany, helping to drive Europe’s biggest anti-lockdown movement
(Business Insider) In recent months, Germany has become the epicenter of Europe’s anti-lockdown movement, as thousands of people have been taking to the streets to defy social distancing measures and mask mandates.
The anti-lockdown protesters, who include conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists, anti-vaxxers, and coronavirus skeptics, have united to accuse German lawmakers of triggering unnecessary panic and infringing on civil liberties.
Many of the recent protests have been organized by the “Querdenken 711” movement, which has also been backed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaxxer and the nephew of former president John F. Kennedy.
Experts also worry that the movement is becoming increasingly radical. Most of QAnon’s European followers are largely based in Germany, and more demonstrators at anti-lockdown protests are seen waving Q flags.

16-18 November
George Soros: Europe Must Stand Up to Hungary and Poland
The European Union cannot afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions it applies to the funds it allocates to member states. How the EU responds to the challenge to those provisions now posed by Hungary and Poland will determine whether it survives as an open society true to the values upon which it was founded.
(Project Syndicate) Hungary and Poland have vetoed the European Union’s proposed €1.15 trillion ($1.4 trillion) seven-year budget and the €750 billion European recovery fund. Although the two countries are the budget’s biggest beneficiaries, their governments are adamantly opposed to the rule-of-law conditionality that the EU has adopted at the behest of the European Parliament. They know that they are violating the rule of law in egregious ways, and do not want to pay the consequences.
… The rule-of-law regulations have been adopted. In case there is no agreement on a new budget, the old budget, which expires at the end of 2020, is extended on a yearly basis. Hungary and Poland would not receive any payments under this budget, because their governments are violating the rule of law.Likewise, the recovery fund, called Next Generation EU, could be implemented by using an enhanced cooperation procedure, as Guy Verhofstadt has proposed. If the EU went down this road, the Orbán-Kaczyński veto could be circumvented. The question is whether the EU, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel perhaps leading the way, can muster the political will.
Hungary and Poland Threaten E.U. Stimulus Over Rule of Law Links
The two illiberal governments, having been enabled by the bloc’s leaders and evaded punishment, now hold a 1.8 trillion euro package hostage.
(NYT) When European Union leaders announced a landmark stimulus package to rescue their economies from the ravages of the coronavirus, they agreed to jointly raise hundreds of billions of dollars to use as aid — a bold and widely welcomed leap in collaboration never attempted in the bloc’s history.
But that unity was shattered on Monday when Hungary and Poland blocked the stimulus plan and the broader budget, cracking open one of the bloc’s most persistent, existential divisions over what a European Union democracy looks like.
The two eastern European countries said they would veto the spending bill because the funding was made conditional on upholding rule-of-law standards, such as an independent judiciary, which the two governments have weakened as they defiantly tear down separation of powers at home.

28 October
Increased transmission of COVID-19 in the EU/EEA and the UK – thirteenth update
(European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) Across the European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) and the United Kingdom (UK) there has been a considerable further increase in COVID-19 infections and the current situation represents a major threat to public health. In most countries, notification rates have increased in certain regions, with extremely high levels in some areas. Moreover, in addition to the substantial increases seen in most countries among younger age groups, notification rates have also increased in older age groups. Reported test positivity has been steadily increasing since August and has shown a marked escalation in recent weeks, pointing to a real increase in rates of viral transmission, rather than just a rise in reported cases attributable to increased testing. Vulnerability to infection remains high, as available data from seroprevalence studies indicate that the level of immunity in the population is <15% in most areas of the EU/EEA and the UK.
As the epidemiological situation has worsened across the region, the impact in terms of pressure on healthcare services and mortality has become increasingly evident.

24 October
Europe must ‘wake up’ to China threat, warns ex-spy chief Gerhard Schindler
(The Times) In his new book Wer hat Angst vorm BND? (Who’s Afraid of the BND?), Mr Schindler, 68, argues that Germany has hobbled its spy agencies with unnecessary red tape and neglected some of the most serious threats to its security.
Until recently Berlin had often refrained from statements that might provoke Beijing, mindful of business interests: China is Germany’s largest trading partner, with bilateral exports and imports of €206 billion last year.
Yet Germany’s tone has become much more hawkish since China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. In the coming weeks Mrs Merkel’s government will decide whether to follow Britain and effectively ban Huawei, a telecoms company with close links to the Chinese military, out of its 5G network.
Mr Schindler pointed to Beijing’s “aggressive” behaviour in the south China sea and its economic hegemony over regions of Africa, as well as the “new Silk Road” of Chinese-funded infrastructure stretching across Eurasia.

13-15 October
Bloomberg: Panic stations The pandemic continues to surge in Europe with Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic reporting record virus infections. France imposed a 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew in Paris and other big cities, while London will move to “Tier 2” restrictions from Saturday, barring households from mixing indoors. European authorities are struggling to slow the virus without resorting to the national lockdowns that decimated economic activity in the second quarter.

Politico reports: Central Europe is struggling after being barely touched in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic — something that threatens to overwhelm the medical systems of many of the EU’s poorer member countries. In the spring, countries including Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and others in the region clamped down hard and fast — slamming shut borders, locking up their populations, shutting down schools, restaurants, bars and most shops. A looser summer combined with a reopening of schools, plus some mixed messaging from politicians, has helped spark a huge surge in infections.

11 September
The Q-ing of the West
Although dangerous and vile conspiracy theories like QAnon are not new, the social-media and digital communication channels available for disseminating them certainly are. The only solution is to deploy the same technologies against the problem.
(Project Syndicate) The emergence of the far-right QAnon cult in America has brought conspiratorial thinking to the forefront of global politics, particularly now that US President Donald Trump has offered his own oblique praise of the group. While the “Q” sign has become a familiar sight at Trump rallies, its appearance in Europe this August came as a shock and a wake-up call to liberal democracies everywhere.

Europe Divided Over Belarus’s Future
By Judy Dempsey
The people of Belarus are peacefully demonstrating for their freedom. The EU’s member states, along with the United States, should do much more to support them.
(Carnegie Belarus’s opposition, the European Union, and the United States have no doubts that the results were rigged and that the elections were neither fair nor free. But their criticism has not been matched by introducing tough measures against the regime in Minsk.
Lukashenko, relying on the security forces and implicit support from Russia, has reacted to the demonstrations by cracking down, violently.
Lithuania, along with Poland, has thrown its unequivocal support behind the opposition.
“The big member states should say clearly that Lukashenko stole the elections and is killing people and that new elections should be organized,” [said Žygimantas Pavilionis, a Lithuanian conservative member of parliament and former ambassador to the United States].
“But neither France nor Germany is speaking out clearly enough. It’s as if they see Belarus through the prism of Russia. It’s just like in 1989 when we were warned not to rock the boat in case it would destabilize [then Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev.”

27 August
Turkey Tests the EU’s Resolve in the Eastern Mediterranean
(Carnegie Europe) The contentious issues between leading NATO member Turkey and Western European countries abound: Syrian refugees, Turkey’s maritime boundaries with Greece and Cyprus, drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Turkish military operations in Syria and Libya, and NATO’s missile defense architecture.
Lately, Ankara has chosen to pursue an antagonistic approach, making disruption a major ingredient of its foreign policy. When existing rules do not serve its objectives—as with the dispute over maritime boundaries and drilling permits—Turkey unilaterally creates new rules, in the belief that the other side will bow to pressure.
In the short-term, the only way forward for the EU is to stick to its principles—especially on internal solidarity and readiness to discuss divergences in a decent fashion—while unambiguously resisting any attempt by Turkey to bully its way forward. This calls for a mix of agile diplomacy and strong military signals.

21 July
EU leaders agree on €1.82T budget and coronavirus recovery package
‘We did it!’ says Council President Charles Michel, after a deal is struck on fifth day of marathon summit.
(Politico Eu) EU leaders agreed early Tuesday on a groundbreaking plan to jointly borrow €750 billion to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 135,000 people around the bloc and sent economies across the Continent into a tailspin.
The EU’s recovery fund, to be composed of €390 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans, will be attached to a new €1.074 trillion seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), on which heads of state and government also reached unanimous agreement — bringing the total financial package to €1.82 trillion.
[European Council President Charles] Michel steered the negotiations, and ultimately bridged an array of fierce disagreements, particularly over the grants portion of the recovery fund, which had brought the talks to the edge of collapse on Sunday night.

Macron needs an economic miracle to save his presidency
The coronavirus pandemic puts 2022 in play for far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
(Politico Eu)  COVID-19 has dealt a potential deathblow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes of reelection in 2022.
The young, centrist leader may have triumphed on the European stage by convincing Germany to embrace joint borrowing to power a giant EU recovery fund. But at home, he faces a tough crowd as he tries to regain public trust and rescue an economy laid low by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen is waiting in the wings, ready to exploit a wave of public anger over unemployment and living standards should Macron stumble.
Aware of the daunting scale of the challenge, the French president warned in a somber Bastille Day television interview that “we have very difficult months ahead of us.” He pledged to do everything possible to limit a looming wave of COVID-driven layoffs and business closures, and to rebuild a greener, cleaner and more self-sufficient economy.

13-15 July
Poland’s narrow election has big consequences for its democratic future
By Ishaan Tharoor
(WaPo) In a runoff election Sunday, Polish President Andrzej Duda won by a razor-thin margin. Duda, backed by Poland’s ruling right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party, or PiS, claimed 51 percent of the vote. His challenger, centrist Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, received 49 percent. A few months ago, not many expected the race to be so close. But while Trzaskowski’s strong showing demonstrated the depth of opposition toward the country’s government, a triumphant Duda and his allies now eye the means to entrench their rule.
The office of the Polish president doesn’t have the same executive powers as the White House, but Duda will have the capacity to approve or reject policy formulated by the PiS-led Parliament, which probably won’t see new elections until 2023. “Analysts say they expect Law and Justice to leverage his win to further its hard-line policies, including an effort to ‘re-Polandize’ the media and bring foreign-owned outlets under Polish control,” my colleagues reported.
The election campaign itself was waged as an ugly culture war, with Duda and his supporters deploying anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia to attack Trzaskowski. Anne Applebaum: Poland’s Rulers Made Up a ‘Rainbow Plague’The president and his party ginned up fear of LGBTQ people—and rode that strategy to reelection.
What Poland’s Presidential Election Means for the EU
By Gerald Knaus
(Carnegie Europe) The reelection of Polish President Andrzej Duda represents an existential threat to the European Union’s legal order. After more than a decade of talk about conditionality, member states must act now.
Duda Wins – Now What?
Bloomberg: Polish President Andrzej Duda’s narrow victory in yesterday’s election is poised to cement the transformation of the European Union’s largest eastern member under the Law & Justice Party.
Now Law & Justice has three years until the next general election, setting up more clashes on everything from carbon emissions to EU aid, of which Poland is the biggest net recipient.

21 June
EU presses China over trade, warns on Hong Kong law
Speaking after video calls with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping, the EU’s chief executive and chairman said they had repeated accusations that Beijing has spread disinformation about the coronavirus.
“The relationship between the EU and China is simultaneously one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging that we have,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.
European Council President Charles Michel said China was not reciprocating the welcome that Chinese companies receive in Europe.
Calling China a partner and a rival, von der Leyen said Beijing had not followed up on a 2019 deal to allow greater access for European companies in China or drop rules requiring investors to share their know-how in Chinese joint ventures.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic worsened Sino-European ties, the EU found itself caught between China and the United States, needing both and reluctant to alienate either.

6 May
The head of Sweden’s no-lockdown coronavirus plan said the country’s heavy death toll ‘came as a surprise’
The man leading Sweden’s coronavirus response says the country’s elevated death toll “really came as a surprise to us.”
Dr. Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, appeared on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on Tuesday, when he described the country’s controversial approach.
“We never really calculated with a high death toll initially, I must say,” he said.

28 April
Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story
(CNN)Sweden has been an outlier during the coronavirus outbreak. The country has not joined many of its European neighbors in imposing strict limits on citizens’ lives, and images of people heading to work on busy streets, or chatting at cafes and bars have raised eyebrows.
Younger children have continued to go to school, although universities and schools for older students have switched to distance learning. Businesses — from hair salons to restaurants — have remained open, although people have been advised to work from home where possible.

Bloomberg Politics: European governments have been given the go-ahead to spend more than $2 trillion supporting national industries amid the coronavirus pandemic, begging the question: Are they throwing good money after bad?
The scope of Europe’s response will be massive, rivaling reconstruction programs after World War II. Such a historic fiscal effort will likely presage a new age of big government — transforming how capitals intervene in business affairs — with thoughts of low regulation and restrained intervention erased from political playbooks.
But many of the companies looking for bailouts, such as Air France-KLM and Renault SA, were struggling long before Covid-19 ground the continent’s economies to a halt, and state intervention means governments could be stuck propping them up long after the crisis abates.
Political considerations leave little room for maneuver, with many of these companies playing crucial roles in supporting national export markets and creating thousands of well-paying, middle class jobs.
So the debate about how much governments should intervene in free markets is sidelined for now as leaders weigh the political costs of letting integral companies fail.
The risk is they are creating scores of national zombies, not champions, that will require even more taxpayer support. — Richard Bravo

18 April
Is pandemic being used for power grab in Europe?
Some of Europe’s leaders have been accused of taking advantage of a public health crisis to clamp down on dissent and bolster their power.
As Turkey arrests hundreds for social media posts and Russians are threatened with jail for anything considered fake news, there are fears that democracy is being jeopardised in Poland and that it has been swept away in Hungary.
Hungary‘s powerful Prime Minister Viktor Orban stands accused at home and abroad of using the coronavirus crisis to grab even more power, instead of uniting the country. … However,…there was an opportunistic attempt to “test the water” with proposals to increase control on social media companies. They were “buried deep” in a bill dealing mainly with economic measures to cushion the impact of the virus.
Back in January, the Kremlin thought it had everything worked out.
It would rewrite the Russian Constitution, primarily to allow Vladimir Putin to stand for two more terms in office. Then it would hold a triumphant “national vote” on 22 April for Russians to back the changes. The president’s critics called it a “constitutional coup”, but it seemed a done deal.
Covid-19, though, has put everything on hold. President Putin has had to postpone the ballot: after all, how can you call people to come out and vote in the middle of a pandemic? The Kremlin’s problem now is that, if and when the ballot does take place, endorsing a new Constitution may well be the last thing on Russian minds. Coronavirus lockdown is set to decimate the economy here, with predictions of a two-year long recession and millions of job losses.
Poland‘s governing party is being accused of recklessly endangering lives by pushing ahead with May presidential elections during the pandemic. President Andrzej Duda, a government ally, has seen his poll numbers rise during the pandemic and is clear favourite to win. The ruling Law and Justice party argues it is constitutionally obliged to hold the election and a postal-only vote is the safest solution under lockdown. … If the election were postponed, Poland may well be in the midst of a recession, and Mr Duda’s chances of re-election could be substantially diminished. Were an opposition candidate elected, the new president’s power of veto could significantly disrupt the government’s ability to push through its programme for the next three and a half years.

14 April
Reuters: Very gradually, a handful of European countries start this week easing restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the pandemic. Spain has allowed construction and manufacturing activities to restart, while Austria and Italy are from Tuesday letting certain categories of shops reopen. Danish children in the first to fifth grade can return to school from Wednesday.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has appealed for measures to be “lifted slowly”, and only when countries are sure they can isolate new cases and trace their contacts.
Yet there is no clear consensus on how to move forward and national governments are going their own way: Authorities in France and Britain say the current measures are to be extended.

8 April
EU ministers fail to agree coronavirus economic rescue
(Reuters) – European Union finance ministers failed in all-night talks to agree on more economic support for their coronavirus-stricken economies, spurring Spain to warn the bloc’s future was on the line if it did not forge a joint response to the crisis.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said a deal was close after a 16-hour videoconference that stretched through the night from Tuesday afternoon, and that he hoped a deal on the package worth half a trillion euros could be clinched when the ministers meet again from 1500 GMT on Thursday.
A persistent stand-off between a camp of financially ailing southern European Union states led by Italy on one side and the Netherlands acting as the bulwark of the fiscally conservative north on the other was blocking progress.
While the ministers sparred over more economic aid, the European Central Bank warned them that the bloc may need fiscal measures worth up to 1.5 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion) this year to tackle the economic free-fall caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, officials told Reuters.
Spain’s coronavirus deaths pass 14,500, but real toll may be bigger
The health ministry said 757 people died over the past 24 hours, up from 743 the previous day, marking the second daily rise in a row and bringing the total death toll to 14,555 – the world’s second-highest after Italy.
However, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the numbers were still consistent with a slowdown. The daily percentage pace of increases has roughly halved from the end of March to about 5%.

31 March
Bloomberg Politics Newsletter:
As the coronavirus ravages Italy, the European Union has spent weeks arguing with itself about how to help.
The disagreements have seen the Germans and Dutch line up against the Italians and French over the best way to deliver aid to economies hit by the pandemic. That has ripped open a long-held wound at the heart of the EU: the divide between north and south.
As Alessandra Migliaccio and John Ainger write, there has for years been suspicion that Italy’s endless borrowing could come back to bite not just it, but more fiscally responsible EU states. And that they would once again have to clean up the mess a weaker country had made.
But while the EU debates everything from bigger credit lines to coronabonds, Italy is careering toward economic danger.
Even as the World Health Organization says there are signs of some stabilization in Europe’s outbreak, Italy is discussing extending its lockdown into May.
The social costs are also rising. As John Follain explains, Italy’s depressed south is becoming a powder keg. Police are patrolling the streets of Sicily’s capital, Palermo, amid reports that gangs are using social media to plot looting attacks on stores. Officials worry the mafia may be stirring trouble.
Part of being in a union means accepting you’re only as strong as your weakest link (unless you’re the U.K. and opt out). For the EU, that means potentially some gritted teeth and a push toward a consensus on how to respond — before Italy collapses.

29 March
End of the EU? Growing fury at ‘repugnant’ response as Italy condemns Brussels as ‘dead’
(Express UK) THERE is growing frustration and anger at the European Union over its coronavirus response, after Italy threatened to quit the bloc and Portugal lashed out at “repugnant” EU member-states.The coronavirus pandemic has sparked an unprecedented crisis throughout the European Union, with a huge rift erupting between the 27 member-states. This week’s failure to agree a joint EU economic response to the crisis has already set off a wave of furious criticism from leaders in Italy, Portugal and Spain. On Thursday, Germany, the Netherlands and other northern European countries rejected the plea of nine EU countries for so-called “corona-bonds” to soften the economic impact of the pandemic.
France24 revealed that angry exchanges between EU leaders took place during the six-hour video conference call, with “intense disagreements” sparking a furious row.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told other EU leaders that the “European project” is at stake, while Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte questioned whether the EU was “truly adapted to a war”.
Up to 200K deaths foreseen in US as Spain, Italy demand help
(PBS) Around the world, doctors were forced to make tough choices about which patients to save with their limited breathing machines, and Spain and Italy demanded more European help as they fight still-surging coronavirus infections in the continent’s worst crisis since World War II.
Spain and Italy alone account for more than half of the world’s death toll, and are still seeing over 800 deaths a day each.
Experts say, however, that virus toll numbers across the world are being seriously under-represented because of limited testing and political decisions about which bodies to count. Unlike the U.S., France and Italy do not count deaths that take place at home or in nursing homes, even though nursing homes are known coronavirus incubators around the world.

26 March
Economic patriotism is back amid the coronavirus crisis
The single market has had a rocky ride in the early days of the pandemic.
(Politico Eu) EU countries are reverting to a familiar mantra in times of crisis: Buy local!
Some countries have betrayed a shaky sense of European solidarity in the early days of the coronavirus crisis, and a half-hearted commitment to the internal market. Borders have shut, countries have been reluctant to export medical equipment and northern countries have shot down the idea of a pan-European debt instrument dubbed “corona bonds.”
According to the Chief Economist of the European Policy Centre Fabian Zuleeg, exhortations to buy local are a normal response in times of crisis and the unity of the internal market is not yet at risk.
“People want to uphold the economic activity close to them, but the reality within the European Union is that we have an interdependent and integrated single market,” the economist told POLITICO, adding that calls to buy local will not change this reality.
But, according to Zuleeg, things might become problematic if the preference for domestic products persists after the crisis.

11 February
An emboldened President Donald Trump has set his sights on restructuring the more than $1 trillion U.S. trade relationship with the European Union, raising the specter of another major trade war as the global economy slows and he seeks re-election. Trump, who recently signed a Phase 1 trade deal that cooled a bitter trade war with China, has called the EU’s position on trade “worse than China” and threatened to impose tariffs on its cars and other products.
The United States, the world’s largest importer, and the 27-member EU block face entrenched conflicts over airline subsidies, agricultural trade barriers and EU plans to tax big U.S. digital companies, among other issues.
The EU was the top U.S. export market in 2018, led by aerospace products and computers, before the United Kingdom left the bloc. After scotching a free-trade agreement with Europe, the Trump administration is focused on shrinking its growing deficit in goods, which hit here a record $178 billion in 2019.

Europe sees few benefits from China’s Belt and Road
(Asia Times) … a report released on January 16 by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China suggests European companies have so far failed to reap substantive benefits from China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The report, “The Road Less Traveled: European Involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” which includes surveys and interviews with Chamber members, concludes that European companies have played a “peripheral role” in BRI projects, describing their level of involvement as “crumbs from the table.”
More than half of respondents complained of insufficient bidding information being provided, with nearly 40% claiming that procurement systems were not transparent. Given these obstacles, a mere 20 of 132 Chamber members reported they had bid on at least one BRI-related project – seven as direct contractors and 13 as subcontractors. Indeed, Europe has seen little of this BRI-related foreign direct investment, and many European-sourced agricultural, food and beverage products have failed to penetrate Chinese markets due to high tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

Merkel Succession Crisis in Germany Leaves Europe Leaderless, Too
The resignation of the chancellor’s preferred replacement threatens to extend a lack of German leadership. That will be the “elephant in the room” at the annual Munich Security Conference this week.
Bloomberg: In the end, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s departure was more decisive than her 13 months at the helm of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union.
Kramp-Karrenbauer quit today as the leader of Angela Merkel’s party and the chancellor’s intended successor, taking the fall for a regional chapter that openly disobeyed her and aligned with the far-right AfD in an eastern state assembly.
In doing so, AKK, as she is known, blows open the race to succeed Merkel. Yet by acting resolutely, she caught out her critics and gave the CDU valuable time to find an alternative able to fight elections due next year.

9 February
5 takeaways from the Irish election
Voters have delivered a political earthquake that upended decades of 2-party politics.
A seismic election in Ireland has reshaped the traditional electoral landscape, with the left-wing nationalist party Sinn Féin surging into first place ahead of the traditionally dominant Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the first time in the history of the republic.
“The two-party system in this country is now broken, it has been sent to the history books,” said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald as she arrived at a Dublin count center.
(NYT) Analysts said the center-left Sinn Fein was boosted by younger and urban voters angered by austerity policies implemented by successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael governments following the 2008 financial crash. It capitalized on frustrations over housing and health care crises largely blamed on Mr. Varadkar’s party.
The exact shape of the next Parliament will take days to emerge, thanks to Ireland’s painstaking system of proportional representation, but it now seems likely that the contest for the premiership will be between Mr. Varadkar and Fianna Fail’s leader, Micheal Martin, with Ms. McDonald possibly playing the kingmaker role.
Mr. Varadkar campaigned on his government’s skillful handling of Brexit, in securing a deal with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that avoided a hard border with physical checks between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and on presiding over a period of economic growth. But his success on the international stage was largely overshadowed by domestic crises and his party was seen as out of touch with everyday concerns.

7 February
Europe’s next crisis: The geopolitical Commission
EU’s foreign policy ambitions put at risk of overreach.
By Mujtaba Rahman, head of Eurasia Group’s Europe practice and the author of POLITICO’s Beyond the Bubble column.
(Politico Eu) Over the past few years, the European Union’s major political fault lines have primarily arisen from internal challenges: Brexit; fears over Italy’s eurozone membership; rule of law problems across Central and Eastern Europe.
In 2020 that seems likely to change. With European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s ambition to lead a “geopolitical Commission,” the EU opens a new external front that could exacerbate internal splits — especially between Berlin and Paris — while simultaneously risking the bloc’s relations with the rest of the world.
Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered
Events this week in German politics were horrifying. But they shouldn’t have been a surprise.
(NYT) In the eastern German state of Thuringia this week a regional election displayed the disastrous state of Germany’s political center — and how far the country now stands from the anti-fascist consensus it proclaims to maintain. On Wednesday, the state Parliament of Thuringia elected Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democratic Party as the new governor. The only reason Mr. Kemmerich was able to win, though, was because he received the backing of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials AfD. The Free Democrats in Thuringia, along with members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed to the deal to ensure Mr. Kemmerich took office.
…  To prevent a relatively moderate and highly popular Left Party politician, Bodo Ramelow, from taking power in a minority government, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats instead colluded with the AfD.
Germany in 2020 is not Germany in 1933. But German politics have shifted in recent years in a disturbing way. Centrists and the far right share talking points on immigration. They share what they perceive as a common enemy in the left. And now, for the first time in decades, they even share a governor.

4 February

How the Far Right Became Europe’s New Normal
It was a scandal when a far-right party entered government two decades ago. Now it’s just routine. What happened?
(NYT) Twenty years ago, on Feb. 4, 2000, a shock wave reverberated from the heart of Europe: The far-right Freedom Party of Austria, founded in 1956 by National Socialist activists, entered government. Led by Jörg Haider, a provocateur who had made a name for himself rallying against the “Überfremdung” (“over-foreignization”) of his country and notorious for praising the Waffen SS and Hitler’s labor policies, the party’s October 1999 election campaign achieved the best result for any far-right party in a European democracy since World War II, taking 27 percent of the vote.
After the war, European electorates had grown comfortable choosing alternate governments of the center left and center right during the second half of the 20th century. Their leaders believed the Austrian experience to be an aberration and looked to make an example of the country. Members of the European Parliament declared en masse that the Freedom Party’s admission into a coalition government “legitimises the extreme right in Europe.”
International condemnation was swift. The European Union’s 14 other nations bilaterally ended cultural exchange and joint military exercises, and the United States and Israel recalled their ambassadors from Vienna. Figures ranging from Prince Charles to the musician Lou Reed canceled planned appearances. By mid-February 2000, when Mr. Haider was refused entry to Montreal’s Holocaust Centre, the far-right leader had become persona non grata — and his country widely rebuked as a pariah state.
The far right’s rise ultimately emerges from a crisis of the political center. Politicians tasked with stabilizing the Continent after the global financial crash of 2007-08 became adept at turning the political narrative away from their own culpability. Europe’s leaders found themselves re-evaluating the benefits of historic migration into their countries — forever initiating debates on “national identity” (Nicolas Sarkozy of France), rejecting the “multiethnic” makeup of nation-states (Silvio Berlusconi of Italy) and proclaiming multiculturalism dead (Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of Britain).

Tyler Smith: Post-Brexit prospects for Europe
How will Britain’s departure from the EU affect foreign investment?
(American Economic Association) Most studies trying to predict the consequences have focused on trade.
But they are missing the essential role that multinational companies play in global markets, according to economist Ellen McGrattan.
To help remedy that oversight, her paper in the January issue of the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics looks at how much damage Brexit could do to foreign investment flows in Europe, in addition to trade.
McGrattan and her co-author Andrea Waddle found that post-Brexit restrictions on investments from foreign companies—so-called foreign direct investment (FDI)—would be even worse for consumers than barriers to trade.

Brexit means rightward shift for the European Parliament
The center-right European People’s Party is the biggest winner from the Brexit reshuffle.
(Politico Eu) The Parliament will use the loss of the U.K.’s 73 MEPs as an opportunity to rebalance the assembly in favor of countries whose populations are currently not represented adequately. This rebalancing is not designed to favor any particular political group. But the distribution of the 27 proposed top-up legislators — who have been waiting in the wings since the European election last May — will have an impact on the political balance of the legislature.
The Greens and liberal Renew Europe groups are set to lose out the most from the reshuffle, which will take the legislature from 751 to 705 seats, while the center-right European People’s Party and Euroskeptic Identity and Democracy group will emerge as the biggest winners.
Geographically, the British exit will boost the influence of Southern European delegations in the chamber. Spain for example is set to gain five seats and its delegation will surpass the Romanians within Renew Europe. Italy picks up three, while France gains five.

Reuters: The United Kingdom leaves the European Union for an uncertain Brexit future, the most significant change to its place in the world since the loss of empire and a blow to 70 years of efforts to forge European unity from the ruins of war. The country will slip away an hour before midnight from the club it joined in 1973, moving into the no man’s land of a transition period that preserves membership in all but name until the end of this year. At a stroke, the EU will be deprived of 15% of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world’s international financial capital of London.

European union symbol with concept for the Brexit, on grunge wall.

30 January
How Britain rejoins the EU — in a decade’s time
The first step: Accept defeat.
By Ian Dunt
Launching a campaign now would turn pro-EU voices into the mad old bores in the back of the pub. But if they hang back and adopt a more realistic timetable, they have every chance of leading a successful campaign to rejoin the bloc within the next decade.
How would that work? First, Remainers need to recognize the opportunities offered by total defeat. The debate over whether we should Brexit is over. It is happening. The fight will now be on much easier political ground: How is Brexit going? There are few propositions more convincing to the British public, on any subject, than the idea that the government is making a mess of things.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s overwhelming electoral victory last December will make it hard for him to blame anyone else for what comes next. His majority is substantial. He cannot blame parliament for getting in his way. It is all on him. His total victory creates total responsibility.
He could have used that freedom to be straight with the British public about what followed: that the trade talks with the EU would take time and involve painful trade-offs. He has not done this. Instead, he passed legislation mandating a short negotiation and he has continued to insist, against all the evidence, that there will be no friction in trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
That comes with certain repercussions. A quick, bare-bones trade deal restricts it to tariff elimination, at most. That means there is unlikely to be much provision for regulatory alignment, customs procedure minimization or rules-of-origin deals. Bureaucracy will slow down trade with the EU, with a potentially devastating impact on Britain’s “just-in-time” manufacturing arrangements.

29 January
Brexit Is Here, and It’s a Texas-Size Defeat for the E.U.
The loss of such a rich, sizable, powerful member state will weaken the European Union’s momentum and its diplomatic weight.
(NYT) The European Parliament voted in Brussels on Wednesday to ratify the withdrawal agreement that governs Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, which will formally happen on Friday at midnight Brussels time.  … The vote — something of a relieved whimper rather than a bang, as its result was expected — brings to an end three and a half years of confusion, political division and missed deadlines. The vote passed by 621 to 49, with 13 abstentions.
But for the European Union, the loss of Britain is a significant defeat. It represents a loss of size, reach, momentum and permanence, comparable to Texas deciding to break away from the United States.

24 January
Taxing times
The Economist Intelligence Unit: In Davos this week Ursula von der Leyen raised the prospect of the EU introducing a carbon border adjustment tax on greenhouse-gas-emissions-intensive imports from countries that do not regulate domestic emissions with the same robustness as the EU (even if the EU is not regulating emissions as much as it sometimes claims). This is an old idea, which has been discussed for well over a decade. In the past, it was not given serious consideration, as it was uncertain whether it would fall foul of WTO rules. It looked likely that many countries, including the US, would soon have some kind of carbon pricing. Now with the WTO weakened and serious climate-change action limited to a handful of countries, both of these arguments against a carbon border adjustment have weakened. My personal position has changed as well, and I would now support the EU going ahead with such a tax.
Another area where received wisdom in taxation is changing is revenue taxes. Tax theory suggests that taxation of profits is preferable to that of revenue because taxing revenue can make some profitable activities unprofitable, whereas taxation of profits (most company taxes) means that anything profitable before tax is also profitable after tax, and so the tax has less impact on decisions. It was always a bit difficult to account for the cost of capital, but it was typically done through assumptions on financing costs and depreciation of fixed assets, such as buildings and equipment. Now that intellectual property is such a big driver of production, however, it is a lot harder to account for. As a result, it has become easier for digital economy firms to avoid tax. That brings us to the digital tax proposed by France, which would hit revenues. As with greenhouse-gas emissions, without a fairly uniform international policy regime, for me the balance has shifted. The practical reasons to pursue revenue taxation now outweigh the efficiency arguments for profit taxation. — Simon Baptist, Global Chief Economist and Managing Director, Asia

3 January
Europe’s big problems in 2020
POLITICO’s predictions for the year ahead.
(Politico Eu) 2019 was the year that multiple European governments collapsed, Boris Johnson crushed his opponents with a promise to “Get Brexit done” and a 16-year-old from Sweden rallied environmental protests across the Continent.
After free-trading Britain leaves the EU, France and Germany will quickly shunt Brussels toward an industrial policy based on state support, central planning and European champions. That will include vetoes on big Chinese buyouts in Europe and European governments excluding Asian companies from public contracts, as the EU picks its next generation of home-grown corporate winners in sectors such as electric vehicles, hydrogen and health care. Expect attempted mega mergers in telecoms and other stone-age industries. …— and the results will be underwhelming.
A new financial crisis
The tectonic plates of the world’s financial system are building up tension and are overdue for a slip. More than a decade — a typical interval between panics — since the last crisis, protections are more or less in place against a recurrence of those events. But the next crisis is always different, as financiers like to say.
Finance officials and economists look with wary eyes to China’s shadow banking system. Alternative sources of credit, away from conventional banks, have boomed along with the economy. Officials have not taken the measure of the phenomenon with any degree of confidence. As China’s economy wobbles, that credit looks shaky. Even a small uptick in losses can wipe out lenders with thin financial cushions. … warning lights are flashing red on the control panels of market watchdogs and analysts. Several classes of stocks and bonds are trading at high prices. Those two forces together are ready to shake the financial world in 2020.
Brexit gets (even) dirtier
Anyone expecting Johnson to ditch his hard Brexiteers and go for a trade deal with close alignment with the single market and EU customs union should think again.
The climate agenda boils over
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide will hit yet another record in 2020. There will be no sign that the global increase in temperatures is being brought under control. … The effort to clean up is exposing deep fissures between the greener West of the Continent and the coal-dependent East.
Technology takes control
2020 will be the year that Europe ditches its precautionary approach to new technologies. Experts say a host of artificial intelligence systems are already in use across health care, education, employment and criminal justice without appropriate safeguards or accountability structures. Even European governments are already embracing facial recognition technology — disregarding major privacy and civil liberty concerns.
Brussels will be forced to wake up to Iran’s bloodshed
Brussels will have to stop its love-in with Tehran and should worry about what might come next. Like the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, we will see big cracks in the Iranian elite. Sensing the threat to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, many oligarchs within Iran’s highly corrupt upper echelons will fear the collapse of the whole edifice that keeps them rich, and will be studying the mechanics of an internal coup and a deal with the West.
Warsaw-Brussels relations at breaking point
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will push ahead with its deep reforms to the country’s judicial system — Brussels is warning that such steps could violate EU treaties by undermining judicial independence. But Warsaw isn’t listening.

3 January
Crisis in Iran will drive wedge between Europe and Washington
(Politico Eu) Europe’s worst predictions are becoming reality. …they warned the Trump administration that withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal would trigger a chain of escalation with Iran. … The nuclear deal remains at the heart of Europe’s policy toward Iran. Before Soleimani’s death, France, the United Kingdom and Germany had already signaled they were close to triggering the dispute resolution mechanism under the nuclear agreement in response to Iranian non-compliance. If Tehran takes drastic steps on the nuclear file, it could mark the total collapse of the agreement.


30 December
Europe’s New Green Identity
Jean Pisani-Ferry
The European Union has already invested so much of its political capital into the green transition that a failure to fulfill its promise to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 would severely damage its legitimacy. The Green Deal is not just one of many EU projects. It is the Union’s new defining mission.
(Project Syndicate) At a meeting in mid-December, the leaders of all EU countries except one (Poland, not the United Kingdom) officially endorsed the goal of achieving climate neutrality – zero net emissions of greenhouse gases – by 2050.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to go further. Next March, she plans to introduce a “climate law” to ensure that all European policies are geared toward the climate neutrality objective. She wants member states to agree next summer to cut emissions by about 50-55% between 2017 and 2030. She also proposes to allocate half of the European Investment Bank’s funding and a quarter of the EU budget to climate-related objectives, and to devote €100 billion ($111 billion) to supporting regions and sectors most affected by decarbonization. If non-EU countries drag their feet, she intends to propose a carbon tariff.

20 December
These Are the Big Brexit Battles Ahead
As Brexit enters its final phase, the European Union is preparing to navigate the most complex negotiation in its history: its future relationship with Britain.
U.K. and EU-27 will have just 11 months to seal a trade deal
Here’s a guide to the likely flashpoints in the negotiations
(Bloomberg) It promises to be an even bigger and more complicated fight than the political skirmishes over the U.K.’s decision to leave, with everything from trade to security cooperation up for discussion. A deal will require the approval of the remaining 27 members of the bloc — and all have their own different national interests at stake.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the path to an agreement even more difficult by pledging to use Brexit as an opportunity to break from what he claims are stifling EU rules. His decision to leave himself only 11 months to reach an accord is being taken in European capitals as a sign he intends to seek only a limited agreement with the EU.

9 December
Sanna Marin of Finland to Become World’s Youngest Prime Minister
At 34, Ms. Marin will head a coalition made up of five parties, in a government led by women.
(NYT) The country’s coalition government consists of five parties, four of which are led by women, with Ms. Marin now at the helm. Four of the women are under the age of 35, which Finnish political experts say is more significant, symbolic of the rise of a new generation of politicians in the Nordic nation, which has had strong female representation for decades.

6 December
EU distances itself from Johnson’s timetable for post-Brexit trade deal
Leaked communique signals caution over PM’s 11-month timeframe for negotiations
The document, which may change again, is to be adopted by EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on 13 December.

5 December
Brexit is one of most spectacular mistakes in EU history, says Tusk
Donald Tusk says it would still be better for both sides if UK stayed in EU
(The Guardian) In his first interview since standing down as European council president last week, Tusk said Brexit was “the most painful and saddest experience” of his five years in office, a tumultuous period marked by the Greek eurozone crisis, bitter rows over migration and the election of Donald Trump.
He also criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for branding Nato “brain-dead” and refusing to open EU membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
Tusk was speaking to the Guardian and six other European newspapers on the second day of his job as president of the European People’s party (EPP), the centre-right bloc that includes the political forces of the German chancellor and Jean-Claude Juncker.
One of his most urgent tasks will be to decide whether Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party remains in the EPP. After years of foot dragging, EPP leaders set up an inquiry into the rule of law in Hungary, amid growing concern about pressure on independent media, restrictions on NGOs and Orbán’s use of the EU as “a cash register” to channel lucrative contracts to his friends and family.

4 December
Joschka Fischer: The Day After NATO
French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism for describing NATO as brain dead and pursuing a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But now that a wayward America could abandon the continent at any moment, Macron’s argument for European defense autonomy is difficult to refute.
(Project Syndicate) Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence [on] the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany. NATO’s future is more uncertain now than at any time in its history. Immediately after 1989, few doubted that the alliance would still be around 20 years later. But today, questions about its future emanate from not just Washington, DC, but Paris as well. NATO’s survival can no longer be taken for granted, and Europeans cannot wait 20 years to figure out what should come after it.
Between America’s nationalist turn, China’s growing assertiveness, and the ongoing digital revolution, Europe has no choice but to become a power in its own right. In this respect, Macron has hit the nail on the head. But Europeans should not harbor any illusions about what defense autonomy will require. For the European Union, which has only ever seen itself as an economic rather than a military power, it implies a deep rupture with the status quo.

3 December
Will Europe Ever Trust America Again?
By Ivan Krastev
(NYT) Ever since President Trump’s election in 2016, we Europeans … are preoccupied with not allowing ourselves to look like a victim, in the hope that this will prevent us from being mugged in a world abandoned by its once-trusted sheriff.
As Mr. Trump has insulted international institutions and abandoned allies from Syria to the Korean Peninsula, policymakers on this side of the Atlantic have found themselves trying to walk a fine line: On the one hand, they want to hedge against Washington turning its back on Europe; on the other, they want to ensure that their hedging doesn’t push the Trump administration even farther away.
Consequently, European policies toward the United States have been oscillating between grandstanding about our ability to do everything on our own and panicked pretending that everything is as it used to be.
For the past 70 years, Europeans have known that no matter who occupies the White House, America’s foreign policy and strategic priorities will be consistent. Today, all bets are off. Although most European leaders were appalled by Mr. Macron’s derisive comments about NATO and the United States, many still agree with him that Europe needs more foreign policy independence. They want Europe to develop its own technological capabilities and to develop the capacity for military operations outside of NATO.

1 December
Cracks in the alliance: NATO leaders meet Tuesday amid growing tensions over Syria, spending
A 70-year-old military alliance already strained by three years of Trump foreign policy is now being tested by Turkey’s unpredictable behaviour and opposing views about Europe’s relationship to Russia
(Globe & Mail) What was supposed to be a demonstration of solidarity – a gathering of NATO leaders to mark the organization’s 70th anniversary Tuesday in London – is instead more likely to showcase the growing splits within the military alliance that won the Cold War.
NATO’s unity, already cracked by three years of U.S. President Donald Trump’s disdain for the alliance, has been further challenged in recent months by an increasingly rogue Turkey, as well as by French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the 29-member group is “experiencing brain death” and is unable to meet the challenges it now faces.

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