The rest of the world has no Trump contingency plan

The New York Times reports: Alarmed by Donald J. Trump’s grip on the Republican presidential nomination, world leaders are wrestling with the possibility that, even if he loses the general election, his ascent reflects a strain of American public opinion that could profoundly reshape the way the United States addresses security alliances and trade.

From Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to the headquarters of NATO in Brussels and the vulnerable Baltic nations along Russia’s western border, officials and analysts said in interviews that they saw the success of Mr. Trump’s “America first” platform as a harbinger of pressure for allies to pay up or make trade concessions in return for military protection.

In many capitals, Mr. Trump’s formal and off-the-cuff foreign policy proposals — his threat to pull out of NATO; his musings about removing the United States’ nuclear umbrella over Japan and South Korea; his pledge to slap huge trade tariffs on China — are regarded with a mix of alarm and confusion. Asked on Thursday if Beijing was concerned about the prospect of a Trump presidency, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, replied, “We hope the U.S. people from all walks of life would view bilateral relations from a reasonable and objective perspective.”

Stefano Stefanini, a former representative of Italy to NATO and former diplomatic adviser to the Italian president, put it this way: “There is no Donald Trump contingency plan.” [Continue reading…]

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Authoritarian populism on the rise across Europe

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Carlo Bastasin writes: Migration, inequality, middle class decline, the euro crisis, mistrust of the establishment — there is no shortage of explanations for the angry message voters in European countries are delivering with their ballots. However, most of the time, we dismiss the message as a temporary burst of irascibility that will eventually self-modulate. For at least 20 years, we have deemed public irritation as a negligible price for democracy.

In reality, support for radical parties has only grown. Traditional parties favoring European integration — Christian democrat and social democrat — are threatened all across the Continent. New radical parties, particularly on the far right, are popping up everywhere. They represent a powerful and minatory force with time on its side. Every four years, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) loses one million voters for purely demographic reasons. The same applies to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Victims of the area’s high youth unemployment, young voters in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, and elsewhere often vote differently and unpredictably.

Those who claim that a new era is about to dawn have never understood the era in which they live. It is past time to consider these developments for what they are — a permanent change in the European political landscape. Last Sunday, Austrian presidential elections once again demonstrated that the traditional parties, elbowed aside by a xenophobic nationalist formation such as the Austrian Free Party, attract a negligible share of voters.

There are reasons to believe that this is not an occasional protest, but a step toward a new form of authoritarian populism. This trend is taking hold of Europe in much the same manner as what happened in the first half of the previous century. This may sound alarmist if not for the fact that European societies are on a slippery slope that provides momentum for authoritarian politics — a slope formed by the combined effects of the economic and migrant crises, which makes the prospect of closing national borders compelling for voters. We have already assented to barbed wire fences going up in Eastern Europe to keep refugees out. Now, Austria is erecting “walls” on the Slovenian and Italian borders. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey PM to quit as Erdogan consolidates power

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The Wall Street Journal reports: Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was expected to announce Thursday that he is stepping down as premier, amid a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that complicates Ankara’s efforts to forge deeper ties with Europe and the U.S.

The decision, which followed a nearly two-hour meeting between the two leaders, signaled the likely dissolution of Turkey’s most important political partnership. It also created new concerns for European leaders about Turkey’s commitment to implementing its side of a migration deal that would secure visa-free travel to the European Union for Turkish citizens.

Earlier Wednesday, the bloc’s executive arm endorsed the deal—a measure Mr. Davotoglu sought in exchange for stemming Europe’s refugee crisis.

In the West, the Turkish premier is widely seen as a reformer who was interested in deepening long-term cooperation with Europe, and one who had emerged as a principal interlocutor between Washington and Ankara in recent years. Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, is viewed with skepticism, if not open derision, by European leaders critical of the president’s crackdowns on domestic dissent.

Mr. Davutoglu’s decision to step aside could worsen relations between Ankara and Washington, which is relying on Turkey in its deepening fight against Islamic State.

Tensions between Messrs. Erdogan and Davutoglu have been building for weeks as each man sought to demonstrate his influence over negotiations with Western leaders working to solidify a tenuous deal that has curbed the flow of migrants and refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, Western officials and political allies of the two men said.

On Wednesday night, the two men met at Mr. Erdogan’s palace in the Turkish capital for a closely watched meeting to try to hammer out their differences.

After the meeting, Turkish officials said Mr. Davutoglu would stand down as leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party in a special convention to be held in the next few weeks, an unprecedented move in more than half a century of parliamentary democracy in the country. That will in effect end his tenure as prime minister and pave the way for Mr. Erdogan to choose a new ally to serve in the post.

The president’s office said it wouldn’t comment on Mr. Erdogan’s regular weekly meeting with Mr. Davutoglu, and referred questions regarding the ruling party to the prime minister’s office. A spokesman for the prime minister didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Critics of Mr. Erdogan cast the meeting as a palace coup by a man intent on consolidating power.

“Erdogan needs a 100% ‘yes man,’ ” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former opposition lawmaker in Turkey. “He doesn’t want any dissent.” [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Davutoglu had offered only lukewarm support for Erdogan’s vision of a stronger presidency and the decision to remove him follows weeks of tensions. His successor is likely to be more willing to back Erdogan’s aim of changing the constitution to create a presidential system, a move that opponents say will bring growing authoritarianism.

“Palace Coup!” said the headline in the secularist opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

“From now on, Turkey’s sole agenda is the presidential system and an early election,” said Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of the pollster Mak Danismanlik, which is seen as close to Erdogan. He forecast an election in October or November.

Erdogan wants Turkey to be ruled by the head of state, a system he sees as a guarantee against the fractious coalition politics that hampered the government in the 1990s. His opponents say this is merely a vehicle for his own ambition.

“These are critical developments in my mind in Turkey – likely setting the long-term direction of the country, both in terms of democracy, but (also) economic and social policy and geopolitical orientation,” said Timothy Ash, strategist at Nomura and a veteran Turkey watcher. [Continue reading…]

Mustafa Akyol writes: On the night of May 1, in just a few hours, a brand-new political blog became a national hit in Turkey. Titled Pelican Brief — apparently a pun on the 1993 Hollywood thriller — the site presented a single entry, which was a long diatribe against Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Its significance lay in not just whom it attacked, but also on whose behalf it appeared: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful president.

The writer merely identified himself as “one of those who would sacrifice his soul for the CHIEF.” The latter word, which was used in the text 73 times and always in caps, was a reference to Erdogan. The writer was intentionally anonymous, but soon people who know Ankara well began to whisper that it was a journalist very close to Erdogan and who could have written this only with a green light from the president’s office.

The blog post began by reiterating the standard Erdoganist narrative: that there are so many conspiracies against Turkey, and the only thing that protects the nation is the wisdom and power of its president. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an intimidating country in which every superpower is playing chess,” the author argued, only to warn, “Even if you topple one traitor here, [these superpowers] will immediately bring another one. … They will even turn our own people against us. So open your eyes and look around. And see what I see.” [Continue reading…]

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Across Europe, anti-Jewish violence is at its lowest level in a decade

Leonid Bershidsky writes: The record influx of Muslim refugees last year coincided with a sharp decline in the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents in major European countries, many of which bore the brunt of the refugee crisis.

The wave of so-called new anti-Semitism of recent years largely stemmed from anti-Israeli rather than racist beliefs, and had often been linked to the persistence of such attitudes among the growing Muslim population. Yet data from the 2015 report on global anti-Semitism, published on Wednesday by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, clearly show that as the refugees started coming in by the tens of thousands per day starting about a year ago, Europe became a safer place to be Jewish.

According to data collected by the Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola, France, the U.K. and Germany are the European countries with the biggest core Jewish population, defined as people who describe themselves as Jews. In France, the number of major violent anti-Semitic attacks dropped to 72 last year from 164 in 2014. The U.K. saw a similarly steep decrease, to 62 from 141. In Germany, there were 37 attacks, down from 76. Throughout Europe, anti-Jewish violence is at the lowest level in a decade. [Continue reading…]

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After the leaks showed what it stands for, this could be the end for TTIP

John Hilary writes: Today’s shock leak of the text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) marks the beginning of the end for the hated EU-US trade deal, and a key moment in the Brexit debate. The unelected negotiators have kept the talks going until now by means of a fanatical level of secrecy, with threats of criminal prosecution for anyone divulging the treaty’s contents.

Now, for the first time, the people of Europe can see for themselves what the European Commission has been doing under cover of darkness – and it is not pretty.

The leaked TTIP documents, published by Greenpeace this morning, run to 248 pages and cover 13 of the 17 chapters where the final agreement has begun to take shape. The texts include highly controversial subjects such as EU food safety standards, already known to be at risk from TTIP, as well as details of specific threats such as the US plan to end Europe’s ban on genetically modified foods.

The documents show that US corporations will be granted unprecedented powers over any new public health or safety regulations to be introduced in future. If any European government does dare to bring in laws to raise social or environmental standards, TTIP will grant US investors the right to sue for loss of profits in their own corporate court system that is unavailable to domestic firms, governments or anyone else. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Doubts about the controversial EU-US trade pact are mounting after the French president threatened to block the deal.

François Hollande said on Tuesday he would reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “at this stage” because France was opposed to unregulated free trade.

Earlier, France’s lead trade negotiator had warned that a halt in TTIP talks “is the most probable option”. Matthias Fekl, the minister responsible for representing France in TTIP talks, blamed Washington for the impasse. He said Europe had offered a lot but had received little in return. He added: “There cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France.”

All 28 EU member states and the European parliament will have to ratify TTIP before it comes into force. But that day seems further away than ever, with talks bogged down after 13 rounds of negotiations spread over nearly three years. [Continue reading…]

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Trump, Le Pen and the enduring appeal of nationalism

Mark Mazower writes: The nation-state is basically no more than two centuries or so old, and in some places it is much younger than that. Yet the ideal of sovereign independence and political community it enshrines retains enormous appeal even in the face of the economic threat posed by globalisation. The new nationalisms seek to defend against this threat. The liberalisation of trade and capital flows may have started to equalise wealth across continents but they have brought a new degree of inequality within countries, eroded the prospects of middle-class life and finished off what was left of working-class communities in the old 19th-century industrial heartlands of the west in particular.

This is why today’s nationalist revival is so prominent in the west itself and why on both sides of the Atlantic the answer, if there is one, to the new sirens of nationalism will be found not in decrying it as a form of political idiocy — populism by another name — but rather in developing alternative visions of national wellbeing. In particular we need to recover the capacity to see the national and the international as necessary complements. The pro-European nationalist and the patriotic internationalist will then perhaps re-emerge as possibilities, rather than the contradictions-in-terms they presently seem.

Ironically, it is the parties of the far-right in the EU that come closest to this — coalescing around the slogan of a “Europe of fatherlands”. The real problem is not so much with the idea as with what they in particular would do with it. Their version is heavy on anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric; the alternative is not European federalism but something that stresses economic rather than racial solidarity, a return to some form of role for national governments in long-range investment planning, and a return to fiscal instruments for economic recovery rather than the current total reliance on central banks. That too would be a form of nationalism, internationalist in spirit, ethnically inclusive rather than repressive, and — as it happens — much closer than anything currently on offer to the mix of policies that underpinned European integration in its early and highly successful decades. [Continue reading…]

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VW and Shell accused of trying to block EU push for electric cars

The Guardian reports: VW and Shell have been accused of trying to block Europe’s push for electric cars and more efficient cars, by saying biofuels should be at heart of efforts to green the industry instead.

The EU is planning two new fuel efficiency targets for 2025 and 2030 to help meet promises made at the Paris climate summit last December.

But executives from the two industrial giants launched a study on Wednesday night proposing greater use of biofuels, CO2 car labelling, and the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) instead.

In reality, such a package would involve the end of meaningful new regulatory action on car emissions for more than a decade, EU sources say. But Shell insisted it is not trying to block an EU push for electric cars. [Continue reading…]

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Brexiteers are pining for empire

Pankaj Mishra writes: There are no good reasons for Britain to leave the European Union. “Brexit” makes zero sense geopolitically or economically, as exasperated foreigners, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have repeatedly pointed out. But then, as with many political phenomena today, any explanation of the inexplicable Brexit campaign has to be sought deep in social, cultural and emotional history.

The impulse driving the Brexiteers is the same one former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson highlighted in 1962, when he declared, “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.” The writer Edmund Wilson expressed it, too, when he said that the British elite was “completely unreconciled to the post-war diminishment of Britain.”

The members of Britain’s Conservative Party who would withdraw from the European Union share the same stubborn belief that their small island remains great enough to stand apart from continental Europe. To be sure, the original British sense of self-sufficiency, and of power and glory, was derived from historical facts. In the 18th century, Britain’s geographical isolation, as well as entwined traditions of commerce and individual liberty, clearly distinguished it from rivals on the turbulent continent. Those virtues made ardent Anglophiles even out of hard-headed men like Montesquieu and Voltaire.

Then in the 19th century, Britain’s industrial and commercial expansion reorganized the world into an economic unity, for better and for worse. British colonists, financiers, engineers, explorers, seamen, insurers and administrators broke down many of the geographical, social and economic barriers between continents. These triumphant forays into the world outside Europe both created Britain’s distinctive modern character and gave its prospering classes a sense of splendid uniqueness within a Europe racked by war and revolution. [Continue reading…]

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Refugee crisis focus shifts to North Africa

Der Spiegel reports: Abdul Kadir Mohamed Moalim has seen hell. Originally from Somalia, a country ravaged by civil war, he traveled via a refugee camp in Yemen and then to Libya. From there, he crossed the Mediterranean to Europe.

On April 16, an overloaded wooden vessel capsized on the high seas and only a few people on board managed to survive. Moalim was one of them. Now, he is in Kalamata, the Greek city that rescuers brought him to. In an interview conducted there by the BBC, he was asked if he had a message for those still in Africa who are waiting for their opportunity to flee to Europe. His answer: “It’s so dangerous,” he said. “You have to believe in your country and … stay where you are.”

Moalim bore witness to a tragedy in which up to 500 Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians drowned, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). That would make it the worst such accident of the last 12 months. In April 2015, a fishing boat sank while on its way from Libya toward Italy and up to 800 men, women and children died. Then, too, most of the victims were from sub-Saharan Africa.

Europe continues to focus primarily on the war refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is often forgotten that increasing numbers of people from countries south of the Sahara are trying to head north as well. In 2015 alone, according to the European Union border control agency Frontex, 108,000 Africans made their way illegally to Europe. That represents an increase of 42 percent over 2014 — and experts believe the total is but a harbinger of what Europe may soon be facing. [Continue reading…]

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Power matrix: Ranking Europe’s leaders and ambassadors

Politico reports: Who really sways the room when European Union leaders meet behind the closed doors of a summit?

In the chart below, we’ve plotted which national leaders are effective at combining forces with their ambassadors to the EU, to ensure power and influence.

In this analysis of what one ambassador calls “the conveyer belt between Brussels and national capitals,” you can see the relative strength of a country’s leader and ambassador, where the country is ranked overall, and whether its trajectory in the matrix is positive, neutral or negative based on likely events in the coming months.

The starting premise is the increasing importance in recent years of leaders’ summits and the “Coreper” meetings of ambassadors who prepare those gatherings and keep diplomacy ticking between them, relative to other ministerial meetings.

Among leaders, Germany’s Angela Merkel is without peer. That places an extra burden on ambassadors (known as “Permanent Representatives”) to help their countries keep the pace. Yet outside elite Brussels circles, few know which ambassadors matter or how well they work with their leaders. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s

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Patrick Kingsley writes: In 1938, representatives from 32 western states gathered in the pretty resort town of Evian, southern France. Evian is now famous for its water, but back then, the delegates had something else on their minds. They were there to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution in Germany and Austria. After several days of negotiations, most countries, including Britain, decided to do nothing.

On Monday, I was reminded of the Evian conference when British MPs voted against welcoming just 600 child refugees a year over the next half-decade. The two moments are not exactly comparable. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. But it does echo, and it does remind us of the consequences of ethical failure. Looking back at their inaction at Evian, delegates could claim they were unaware of what was to come. In 2016, we no longer have that excuse.

Nevertheless, both in Britain and across Europe and America, we currently seem keen to forget the lessons of the past. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism – the European Union – that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continent during the first and second world wars.

Across Europe, leaders recently ripped up the 1951 refugee convention – a landmark document partly inspired by the failures of people such as the Evian delegates – in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border.

Emboldened by this, the Italian and German governments have since joined David Cameron in calling for refugees to be sent back to Libya, a war zone where – in a startling display of cognitive dissonance – some of the same governments are also mulling a military intervention. Where many migrants work in conditions tantamount to slavery. Where three separate governments are vying for control. And where Isis runs part of the coastline.

In Greece, Europe’s leaders have forced the bankrupt government to lock up all arriving asylum seekers – and then reneged on a promise to help care for them, or move them to better-resourced countries elsewhere on the continent. The result is a dire situation on the Greek islands, where the world’s richest continent has contrived to jail babies, and then deny them access to adequate amounts of milk formula.

In Denmark, asylum seekers are forced to hand over valuables to pay for their stay, and volunteers have been prosecuted as smugglers for giving them lifts. In America, where boatloads of refugees were turned away from US ports in the 30s, more than 30 governors have refused to accept Muslim refugees. Some called for an outright ban on anyone fleeing a war that is ironically the partial result of catastrophic mistakes in American foreign policy over the past two decades. [Continue reading…]

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Should states take legal action against people who went to fight in Syria but haven’t committed terrorist acts?

The New York Times reports: Ten young Muslim men, bored by a mundane life in France and haunted by a “feeling of uselessness,” as one put it, were seduced by a leading Islamic State recruiter in Europe in 2013. Within months, they were in Syria under the watchful eyes of hooded, Kalashnikov-wielding militants, doing push-ups, fiddling with weapons and imbibing the ideology.

But the harsh regimen, most have since told investigators, was not to their liking, and it was not long before they hastened back to their families in the Strasbourg area, where they were almost immediately picked up by the French authorities.

What to do with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such young men in Europe is now among the biggest challenges facing governments and security services.

After the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, which were carried out in part by Europeans who had spent time in Syria with the Islamic State, France and other countries are grappling with how far to go in tightening laws to prosecute, monitor and restrict the movements of returnees.

At the heart of the debate is whether to take pre-emptive legal action against people who have not committed terrorist acts or even been implicated in a plot, but who have simply been to Syria and possibly received training in Islamic State camps. [Continue reading…]

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Austrian far-right party’s triumph in presidential poll could spell turmoil

The Guardian reports: Austria is braced for political turmoil with fears that the landslide victory for a rightwing populist and gun-carrying candidate in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote could trigger snap elections.

Norbert Hofer, of the rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ), defied pollsters’ predictions to beat the Green party’s Alexander Van der Bellen into second place, gaining 36% of the vote. The two candidates will go head to head in a run-off ballot on 22 May.

While the presidential post is mainly a ceremonial role, Hofer has threatened to make use of a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections, warning other candidates in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]”.

Hofer, a youthful 45-year-old who is partially paralysed after a paragliding accident, has campaigned for disability rights and is seen as having lent a friendly face to a party that balances virulently anti-immigration and Eurosceptic messages with leftist stances on welfare issues, led by firebrand Heinz-Christian Strache.

Hofer, who claims to protect himself in the “uncertain times” of the refugee crisis by carrying a Glock gun, scored overwhelming victories in all of Austria’s states apart from Vienna. In Styria, Burgenland and Carinthia – border states most affected by the refugee trail from the Mediterranean to central Europe – Hofer managed to gain 40% or more. [Continue reading…]

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Italy’s plan to combat Libyan migrant smugglers could mean chasing shadows

Patrick Kingsley writes: Though migration levels from Libya are no higher than they were last year, European governments are terrified that the closure of the refugee route from Turkey to Greece will lead to a fresh surge through the north African country towards Italy.

Over the past few days, these fears prompted western leaders to discuss a two-pronged response. First, Rome proposed the deportation of Italy-bound migrants back to war-torn Libya. Then Barack Obama agreed at a meeting with European allies to add US ships to ongoing anti-smuggling operations in international waters off the Libyan coast.

Italy’s defence minister, Roberta Pinotti, told Italian media that a Nato-led anti-smuggling mission could be in operation as early as July. But such haste may have both practical and ethical pitfalls. For a start, western navies may not be able to do much against smugglers if the latter stick to international waters. By this point, senior smugglers have left their boats in the hands of either expendable juniors, or co-opted migrants.

Even if Nato gets approval from Tripoli to enter Libyan waters, they will still struggle to make an impact. Most migrant boats from Libya are rubber inflatables that carry no smugglers and are boarded from the country’s shore. Only a ground presence could stop their departure: by the time these dinghies are out at sea, there is little a naval mission can do to apprehend the smugglers who sent them. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS spreading in Europe, U.S. intelligence chief warns

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the top-ranking American intelligence official said on Monday.

When asked if the Islamic State was engaging in secret activities in those nations, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said: “Yes, they do. That is a concern, obviously, of ours and our European allies.” He then added, “We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Clapper, speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting organized by The Christian Science Monitor, became one of the most senior Western officials to publicly acknowledge the Islamic State’s extensive reach into Europe, which has set off growing fears among American and European spy services and policy makers. The Islamic State has vowed to conduct attacks in those three European countries. [Continue reading…]

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