Enjoyable Series on Europe

Have a look at the British journalist Matthew Engel’s current series of travelogues in The New Statesman

The most recent is Slovenia – the happy country that should be even happier. The previous two in the series are
Travels in Belgium, the dysfunctional, fractured state at the heart of the EU and The slow train to Tallinn, about Estonia.

(Photo is Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Click to enlarge.)

The European Question

In light of German politicians’ inability to form a government, the German Question has been turned on its head. Post-Cold War, the German Question asked how the unification of East and West Germany might be achieved without creating an economic and political juggernaut, with all the baggage that prospect carried.

Suddenly now, wonders Handelsblatt Global, is Germany “becoming incapable of assuming enough leadership to guide and champion Europe in a globalized world?” In the same week, Matthew Engel’s Travels in Belgium, the dysfunctional, fractured state at the heart of the EU reminds us that that country “went 589 days in 2010-11 without a fully-formed government.”

Meanwhile, Brexit still means Brexit and we can all see how that’s working out. Just ask, (among just about anybody else) anyone living along the once and future Republican/Northern Irish border.

Can European governments govern? That is the new European Question.

Quotes: Brexit

During the Brexit referendum, a distinction was made between sovereignty and power. An institution can, like the Moldovan Parliament, be sovereign with limited powers; another, like a multinational company, can be powerful without being sovereign. The Westminster Parliament, some Leavers argued, was no longer sovereign: hence the language of ‘taking back control’. They weren’t swayed by forecasts of a loss of international influence because they were concerned with sovereignty, not power.

Parliament, as a sovereign body, can legislate as it likes. The effects of its legislation are a function of its power. The Article 50 notification may take back sovereignty; it gave away power.

It’s Show Time for French Elections

This will get you up to speed on the state of things one month before the French election: The center-right Républicains and center-left Parti Socialiste have dominated French politics since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, and this year neither may advance to the final round. Among the Républicains, the two best known candidates went down in turn. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comeback attempt was turned back early, then in the primaries’ second round, Alain Juppé was defeated by former Prime Minister François Fillon, who promptly became embroiled in a scandal that has brought his poll numbers down to 18%. He is currently polling in third place.

President François Hollande’s hapless governance has brought the center-left Socialistes’ prospects down with him, and the Socialistes have chosen to radically shake up their status quo. As on the center-right, the expected standard bearer, Manuel Valls, fell decisively in the primaries to a harder left candidate named Benoit Hamon, who proposes shortening the work week to 32 hours, and a tax on robots. He languishes in last place, most recently polling 14.1%.

The candidates most likely to finish one-two are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Macron has positioned himself squarely in the center, having left the Socialistes to form a party called En Marche, meaning sort of “on the move,” or “let’s go!” While Macron, 39, is accused of a lack of policy heft, he is just about tied atop the polls with the leader of the Front Nationale, Marine Le Pen. Le Pen has worked hard on the “de-démonization” of the anti-EU, law and order party she inherited from her father, the holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen. The firebrand populist hopes to benefit from the rise of nationalism in the west, and from the “Trump effect.”

Here is one in a series of election ads (with English subtitles) that seeks to show Le Pen’s steely determination and patriotism:

The first round of the elections in Sunday, 23 April, with the top two candidates moving to a runoff two weeks later. Conventional wisdom suggests the rest of the political spectrum will close ranks against Le Pen, behind whoever emerges as her opponent in the second round, to be held Sunday, 7 May. More on that then.