The French presidency goes to Macron. But it’s only a reprieve

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Like someone who has narrowly escaped a heart attack, Europe can raise a glass and give thanks for the victory of Emmanuel Macron. But the glass is less than half full, and if Europe doesn’t change its ways it will only have postponed the fateful day.

The next president of France will be a brilliant product of that country’s elite, with a clear understanding of France’s deep structural problems, some good ideas about how to tackle them, a strong policy team, and a deep commitment to the European Union. When a centrist pro-European government has been formed in Berlin after the German election this autumn, there is a chance for these two nations to lead a consolidatory reform of the EU.

Savour those drops of champagne while you can, because you’ve already drained the glass. Now for the sobering triple espresso of reality. First shot: more than a third of those who turned out in the second round voted for Marine Le Pen (at the time of writing we don’t have the final figures). What times are these when we celebrate such a result?

Thanks to France’s superior electoral system and strong republican tradition, the political outcome is better than the victories of Donald Trump and Brexit, but the underlying electoral reality is in some ways worse. Trump came from the world of buccaneer capitalism, not from a long-established party of the far right; and most of the 52% who voted for Brexit were not voting for Nigel Farage. After Le Pen’s disgusting, mendacious, jeering performance in last Wednesday’s television debate, no one could have any doubt who they were voting for. She makes Farage look almost reasonable. [Continue reading…]

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Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates

Philip Rucker writes: It’s no longer just Vladi­mir Putin.

As he settles into office, President Trump’s affection for totalitarian leaders has grown beyond Russia’s president to include strongmen around the globe.

Egyptian President Abdel ­Fatah al-Sissi has had his opponents gunned down, but Trump praised him for doing “a fantastic job.” Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is a junta chief whose military jailed dissidents after taking power in a coup, yet Trump offered to meet with him at the White House. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has eroded basic freedoms, but after a recent political victory, he got a congratulatory call from Trump.

Then there’s the case of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. He is accused of the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of drug users, and he maligned President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” at an international summit last year. Yet on Sunday, in what the White House characterized as a “very friendly conversation,” Trump invited Duterte to Washington for an official visit.

In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors. [Continue reading…]

Roy Gutman writes: Erdoğan essentially pocketed Trump’s endorsement of the referendum, and apparent lack of concern about human rights violations, but continues to pursue national security policies that directly conflict with Washington’s agenda—even as he prepares to meet with Trump at the White House on May 16.

By any measure, Erdoğan’s actions appear provocative for a NATO ally who has been hoping to inaugurate a new era of improved relations with the United States after bitter enmity in the last years of the Obama administration. [Continue reading…]

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The French elections showed the strength of the European far-right — and its limits

Zack Beauchamp writes: To understand what France’s election means, and what it tells us about the rise of far-right movements around Europe, you need to understand two fundamental truths about the results.

The first is that it’s a historic victory for the far-right Marine Le Pen and her Front National party. Le Pen was one of two candidates who qualified for the second round, soundly beating the standard-bearers both of France’s traditional establishment parties — the center-right Republicans and center-left Socialists. The once-reviled Front has clearly entered the mainstream of French politics.

At the same time, the election seemed to demonstrate the very clear limits of Le Pen’s popularity — and, potentially, European far-right politics more broadly.

Le Pen came in second in Sunday’s election, with 21.7 percent of the vote. The plurality winner, upstart centrist Emmanuel Macron, won with 23.9 percent. He’s her polar opposite in virtually every respect. She wants to restrict immigration to France and pull France out of the EU; he supports keeping the borders open and proudly waved the EU flag at his final campaign rally. And when these two face each other one-on-one in a runoff in two weeks, he’s very likely to win — every poll that’s been taken so far has him up by massive margins:


The tolerant center, in France, appears likely to hold.

What we’re seeing in France mirrors what’s happening in much of Europe. After the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump, the far-right has seen a series of setbacks. From elections in Austria and the Netherlands to polls in all-important Germany, the far-right is performing far less well than many have expected.

What these numbers suggest is that the far-right has a political ceiling: That while its supporters may be hard-core, the majority of Europeans still recoil from its vision — at least for now. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen to face off against ‘France’s Justin Trudeau,’ Emmanuel Macron

Christopher Dickey writes: Two days after Donald Trump declared that anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, anti-NATO, pro-Russian, anti-American, pro-Steve-Bannon Marine Le Pen was the “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” she has made it through the first round of the country’s presidential elections and into the sudden-death runoff that will take place on May 7.

If she manages to win, her election will have stunning consequences domestically and internationally, multiplying the shocks that have followed on the Brexit vote and Trump’s ascent in the United States.

A Le Pen victory would also be welcomed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who recently received her at the Kremlin as if she already were a head of state.

Right now, however, it looks like Le Pen doesn’t have much of a prayer, and France may well position itself as a new bulwark against Trump-style xenophobia and populism.

Her second-round rival is 39-year-old former banker and economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is pretty much in favor of everything that Le Pen opposes. He was the only one of the four leading candidates who did not speak warmly of Putin. He embraces globalism; he has even waved the European Union flag at his election rallies. And while Trump rooted for Le Pen, former President Barack Obama called Macron to give him encouragement. [Continue reading…]

An editorial in The Guardian says: The contest on 7 May is a contest between openness and bigotry, internationalism and nationalism, optimism and hatred, reaction and reform, hope and fear. The fact that Ms Le Pen has reached the second round should not be underplayed simply because it was predicted for so long, or because, if the exit polling is confirmed, she finished second behind Mr Macron, not first. She took almost a quarter of French votes. Her projected 21.9% is significantly larger than her father’s 16.9% in 2002. Even if she loses in round two, the FN may still stand on the verge of a historic advance in June’s parliamentary elections.

It is tempting to see Ms Le Pen’s result as a defeat alongside that of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and to conclude that European liberal values have successfully rallied to stop another lurch to the racist right. Some of that is true, and it is a cause for immense relief. France stood up and was counted on Sunday. But the threat from the French extreme right is not over. Nor is the threat from kindred extreme-right parties in Europe. Both the AfD in Germany and Ukip in Britain have moved further to the right in the past week. The Front National remains a party of bigotry, hatred and nationalism of the worst kind.

Now France must stand up again in two weeks’ time and complete the job by electing Mr Macron. [Continue reading…]

Sonia Delesalle-Stolper writes: France had a choice. To be more or less open; more or less democratic; more or less European. With Emmanuel Macron, it has chosen openess, democracy and Europe.

The real work, the real battle begins in June, with the parliamentary elections. Macron will need to gather a big enough majority to be able to govern – and this with a political movement that did not even exist one year ago. He has promised to field candidates in all 577 constituencies, with at least half of them new recruits to politics. It will be difficult, but on the evening of the first round, nothing looks impossible for this extraordinary candidate. [Continue reading…]

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The big winner in the French election will be Vladimir Putin

Quartz reports: Vladimir Putin’s fortunes may be declining in the United States, but he is still well placed to win big in the French presidential election.

Three of the four leading candidates in the race for the Elysee Palace—all with a realistic chance of making it through the first round of voting next Sunday (April 23) and into the final run-off on May 7—are unabashed pro-Putin populists.

Former Trotskyist Jean-Luc Melenchon, extreme right anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen, and hardline Christian conservative Francois Fillon have all exhibited what French political commentators and scholars agree is an ideological affinity and fascination for the boss at the Kremlin.

Russia specialist Michel Eltchaninoff, the author of books about Putin and Le Pen, says the right-wing candidates admire the Russian leader’s moral conservatism, opposition to gay marriage, and call for a return to Europe’s Christian roots, as well as his resistance to American hegemony. On the far left, Melenchon is drawn to Putin’s anti-Americanism and Soviet-style dismissal of smaller Eastern European states’ desire for independence. “Three of the four candidates are clearly adopting a pro-Russian line on foreign policy,” says Benjamin Haddad, a fellow at the Hudson Institute. A former Fillon party official, Haddad now backs liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Importantly for global observers, this Russophilic push is leaving Macron, an enthusiastic champion of a stronger EU and a critic of Putin, isolated and possibly endangered. If he is in trouble, so is potentially the entire European project, transatlantic alliances and even the liberal international order. And that’s the way the Russian president wants it. [Continue reading…]

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The new Great Wall of Trump looks a lot like the old Iron Curtain

Josephine Huetlin writes: The president of the United States is determined to build a massive barrier along the Mexican frontier. But it’s now clear his Great Wall will have a lot of not-so-great gaps in it. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly announced last week that no, despite President Trump’s campaign promise of an impenetrable border wall, “it is unlikely that we will build a wall from sea to shining sea.” This week a prosecutor labeled the immigration plan laid out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “fucking horrifying.”

Here in Germany we’ve been watching all this with a mixture of amusement and disgust. After all, we know a few things about walls from the days when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, which cut our country and our capital in half.

There used to be a section of particularly thick and grey concrete slabs next to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of this city, and until one night in 1989 they jutted out of the ground like a giant middle finger, as if deliberately intending to freak the living daylights out of any East Berliner who just so happened to be passing by the city center.

We all know the pictures of overjoyed people dancing on top in this section of wall on the 9th of November, 1989.

Axel Klausmeier, who directs the Berlin Wall Foundation, still has a special sense of rage toward the “martial construct,” as he calls it. “It was a conscious show of force to signal the core task of the East German border troops: no one is coming through.”

So, why didn’t the East German government just put up a fence or barbed wire here, as it did in so much of the countryside outside Berlin and along the border between East and West Germany in order to prevent people from fleeing its socialist utopia? (Even back then, fences were frequently judged a more practical barrier, because they allowed guards to see who was coming at them.)

“Everyone understands a wall,” Klausmeier replies. [Continue reading…]

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Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about

George Monbiot writes: Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen’s tricky alliance with Donald Trump

The Washington Post reports: In the early hours of Nov. 9, Marine Le Pen was the first foreign politician to congratulate the new U.S. president-elect.

In the weeks that followed, the leader of France’s far-right National Front did everything she could to tie her presidential campaign to the upset victory of Donald Trump, claiming that she would be the next chapter in a global populist revolt against the “establishment.”

On the morning after the U.S. election, she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters outside Paris, heralding Brexit and Trump as part of an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon — “democratic choices that bury the old order and steppingstones to building tomorrow’s world.”

But a month before the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s tone has markedly changed: no more President Trump — at least not for now. [Continue reading…]

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The blind spots in Trump’s foreign policy

Javier Corrales writes: President Trump’s “skinny budget” might be a misnomer, because in foreign policy, at least, it is actually giving us fat nationalism. The biggest winners are the military, the Homeland Security Department and, of course, the wall. The biggest loser is the State Department and thus diplomacy. Mr. Trump is all about intimidating more and negotiating less. This is the hallmark of xenophobic nationalism.

Mr. Trump is also blending xenophobic nationalism with protectionism. The jury is still out on how protectionist the Trump administration wants to be. But in relation to Latin America, even before revealing his budget, Mr. Trump already showed a clear preference for protectionism.

He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was as much about United States trade with Latin America’s rising Pacific economies as it was about trade with Asia. He has trashed Nafta, a trade agreement that is more important as a symbol of the reconciliation between the United States and Mexico than it is as a change in the economic fortune of the United States. His administration has expressed reservations about trade normalization with Cuba and the peace accord in Colombia, a nation with which the United States has a major trade agreement and a history of close cooperation.

One problem with nationalist protectionism is that as an ideology, it is prone to double blindness: It is blind both to its exaggerations and to its consequences.

Xenophobic nationalists exaggerate the extent to which the outside world takes advantage of the nation. The Chinese are manipulating their currency, Mexicans are taking jobs away, military allies are free-riding, and the rest of the world is misbehaving because it doesn’t fear you enough. And all of this happens “while we sit here like a bunch of dummies,” as Mr. Trump has tweeted.

Nationalists thus exaggerate both the relative gains that others make at their expense, and the relative costs their own nations incur. They are blind to the concept of mutual gain; they see only abuse. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate change shift is really about killing the international order

Amanda Erickson writes: President Trump has done what he promised: kneecapping America’s efforts to fight climate change. In a sweeping executive order Tuesday, the president rolled back rules limiting carbon emissions and regulating fossil fuel producers.

Trump explained this dramatic shift in economic terms, saying that he wants to put coal miners back to work and make manufacturing cheaper. His critics suggest financial motives, too, albeit more nefarious ones: that he’s interested in little more than lining the pockets of his rich friends in the oil and gas industry.

Really, though, Trump’s policy reflects a deeper truth. Climate change denial is not incidental to a nationalist, populist agenda. It’s central to it. And that’s not a coincidence.

Combating global warming requires international cooperation, multinational agreements and rules. Done right, no country is exceptional, and some might have to sacrifice for others. In other words, it strengthens the international order that Trump and his team are so assiduously trying to dismantle in the name of “America First.”

As Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, explains:

“Climate change is a highly inconvenient truth for nationalism, as it is unsolvable at the national level and requires collective action between states and between different national and local communities. Populist nationalism therefore tends to reject the science of climate change however strong the evidence.”

That reality is reflected in populist platforms around the world. In France, for example, the far-right National Front traffics in climate change skepticism. They’ve rolled out a “patriotic” environmentalist platform that opposes international climate talks as a “communist project. “We don’t want a global agreement or global rule for the environment,” the party’s Mireille d’Ornano told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are re-emerging

The New York Times reports: Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures.

For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament.

“You are ours, and we will forever be yours,” Mr. Svec said at the foot of the statue, having declared this as the Year of Jozef Tiso, dedicated to rehabilitating the image of the former priest and Nazi collaborator, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.

Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule. [Continue reading…]

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Dutch prime minister claims victory over anti-Muslim candidate Geert Wilders

The Washington Post reports: The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders in a national election, according to exit polls, a victory that heartened centrist leaders across Europe who are fearful of populist upsets in their own nations.

The result confirmed Wilders as a powerful voice on immigration in the Netherlands. But it would leave in place Prime Minister Mark Rutte and do little to alter the fundamental dynamic in a country unhappy with the status quo but deeply divided among many political parties.

The vote in the prosperous trading nation was seen as a bellwether for France and Germany, which head to the polls in the coming months and have also been shaken by fierce anti-immigrant sentiment. The British vote to exit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, a skeptic about NATO and European integration, have cracked the door to a fundamental reordering of the post-World War II Western order. [Continue reading…]

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How the Netherlands made Geert Wilders possible

The Atlantic reports: In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.

In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.

“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.

The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.

From the mix of faith groups that inhabited New Amsterdam to the peaceful coexistence of Protestants, Catholics, and socialists throughout the Netherlands in the 20th century, the Dutch brand of multiculturalism has often been more “salad bowl” than “melting pot.” Each sect of society had its own schools, media outlets, and social groups; tolerance was the act of respecting those boundaries.

“Historically, Dutch tolerance has been more of a pragmatic strategy,” said Jan Rath, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam. “Tolerance has been a way to contain oppositions or complications.” [Continue reading…]

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Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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The spat between Turkey and the Netherlands is all about winning votes

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The escalating crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands is a startling example of how this year’s crucial election campaigns can flare into international incidents.

The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ this weekend is pretty straightforward,” wrote Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in a message to Today’s WorldView. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.” [Continue reading…]

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Congressman Steve King endorses ‘Dutch Trump,’ Geert Wilders, in battle over ‘civilization’

The Daily Beast reports: The Republican Party has long been a comfortable home for anti-Europeanism, from the “America First” opponents of U.S. participation in World War II to the “let them eat Freedom Fries” movement responsible for renaming French fries in congressional cafeterias during the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

But as far-right political parties gain power and prominence on the Continent, many members of the Grand Old Party are cozying up to European politicos with unprecedented enthusiasm — well, nearly unprecedented.

Among the most fawning of the newly Europositive wing of the Republican party: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a nativist hawk from the heartland with a long and unapologetic history of making incendiary statements regarding immigrants, Islam, and racial “sub-groups.” On Sunday, however, King surprised even his sharpest critics by tweeting what amounts to an endorsement of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom who is days away from his potential election as prime minister of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]

 

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