Hungary’s legislature has approved measures granting Prime Minister Viktor Orban power to bypass parliament, put people in jail for “spreading false information” about the coronavirus – and cancel elections.
Today in the Brexit saga,
“Kent is going full steam ahead with its contingency plans to prevent gridlock on its roads in the event of congestion in Dover or Calais.
Concrete barriers have already been erected on the main port artery in Kent, with a section of the London-bound M20 between junction 8 and junction 9 now operating as a 50mph contraflow for normal traffic. Work on signage will be completed over the weekend.
The coastbound section will be closed off to all but lorry traffic from next week to allow Highways England to carry out a dry run to cope with possible chaos after 11pm on 29 March.”
“Manston airport near Ramsgate is in the final stages of preparation for use as a lorry park for up to 6,000 heavy goods vehicles in the event of gridlock.
Councillors will also hear from adult social care and health officers who have plans to minimise the risk of disruption to admissions of patients to hospitals, residential care homes and the supply of fuel, medication, cleaning and sanitation products.
Schools have also been issued with Brexit guidelines warning them to think twice before closing down in the event that staff cannot make it through the gridlock.”
From UK’s emergency plans for no-deal Brexit begin to be put into action in The Guardian.
Michael Hirsh writes elsewhere today that
“Britain’s humiliation has been a powerful lesson for even the most virulent populists and nationalists within the EU, rendering the idea of full exit all but unthinkable, a new political third rail.”
That may be wishful thinking, for also today, across the channel and just up the road, comes news that Far-right Forum for Democracy wins most seats in Dutch provincial elections.
My due diligence for a trip to southeast Asia has taken me down an obscure path. Exploring French efforts to regain their Indochinese colony after WWII has led me to Theodore White’s Fire in the Ashes: Europe in Mid Century. Teddy White went on to write the Making of the President series of books starting with the 1960 Kennedy election, books that made his career.
He started his book with a lengthy description of intercontinental air travel because then, few people had had that experience. He wrote, “in our years almost as many men cross the great ocean by wings as travel it by boat,” revealing not only a no longer acceptable sexism (“men” cross the ocean) but also that when the book came out in 1953, more people still traveled across the Atlantic by ship.
But the quote I mean to highlight comes a few pages later:
“It is obvious that new leadership in both America and Russia is now wrenching the whole course of world affairs into new patterns and perspectives. What is less obvious is that in this wrenching process Europe, forgotten through the postwar years as a factor in power, must contribute as greatly as either of the two new titans.”
The Americans have urged the Europeans to take more responsibility for their own defense for as long as I’ve been grown up. Here is an exhortation to Europe to rise up and carry its weight in world affairs that is sixty-six years old.
All this time I’ve taken it on faith that the United Kingdom’s “Europe” debate has primarily been an internal Tory affair, to which the ruling party has held the rest of the country hostage. But yesterday the wider parliament, acting as the collective decision-making body for the country and comprising all the parties, failed to muster even the minimal political dexterity to stave off crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
It looks as if the entire political class is unable to govern. It looks like a shambles.
Windy and gray on our side of the hill today. Looks like an indoor weekend in the southern Appalachians.
The theme of today’s weekend reading recommendations is big European countries in turmoil.
– The Divided Kingdom by Helen Dale
– Labour’s Brexit trilemma: in search of the least bad outcome by Laurie MacFarlane
– How Ireland Outmaneuvered Britain on Brexit by Dara Doyle
– Notes on the Yellow Jackets by Claire Berlinski
– Macron Fans the Flames of Illiberalism by Pankaj Mishra
– Two Roads for the New French Right by Mark Lilla
– What Will Follow Emmanuel Macron? by Sarah Jones
– From Sans Culottes to Gilets Jaunes: Macron’s Marie Antoinette Moment by Sylvain Cypel
– How Macron gave Italian populists a boost by Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli
– The Dangerous New Face of Salvini’s Italy by Walter Mayr
Enjoy your weekend. See you next week.
A fascinating document for Europhiles, with charts, graphs, survey results. It just goes on and on.
I think this quote, from Will Italy’s Populists Upend Europe? by Mark Leonard today at Project Syndicate, makes the salient point with an economy of words:
“An Italian government combining two very different strands of populism will pose a serious threat to the European project, because it could form the core of a new federation of populists and Euroskeptics that have hitherto operated separately. No longer would Euroskeptics be fragmented into different tribes of anti-immigrant politicians on the right and anti-austerity politicians on the left.”
Seems to me this is the key to making an effective (if potentially frightening) populism adhere. Can opposite poles hold together?
I’m with the less austerity camp, and I find some level of “common currency abuse” on the part of “German fiscal hawks,” as Leonard calls them. I’m less inclined toward the xenophobes and God-and-country nationalists at the other pole. Perhaps they feel the same in reverse?
Can this coalition hold together?
Italy is the European spot to watch this summer. That is, unless the May government falls.
I mentioned a couple weeks back that I’m working through a trio of books on the common theme of the challenges facing liberal democracies, and specifically the European Union. I think this quote, from After Europe by the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, particularly well illustrates the wicked insolubility of the Euro Debt Crisis that broke out first in Greece some eight years ago:
“In handling the rebellion from Athens, European leaders faced a stark choice. They could either allow Greece to default and thus put the common currency at risk, destroy the Greek economy, and send the message that in a political union of creditors and debtors there is no place for solidarity – or save Greece on (Greek Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras’s terms and thereby signal that political blackmail works, inspiring populist parties across the continent.
Faced with the dilemma, European leaders identified a third option: to save Greece on such Draconian terms that no other populist government would ever be tempted to follow its example. Tsipras is now the living demonstration that there is no alternative to the economic policies of the European Union.
Krastev calls it “the victory of economic reason over the will of the voters” and writes that “For the common European currency to survive, voters of debtor nations must be deprived of their right to change economic policy despite retaining a capacity to change governments,” and that this is not democracy. He contends that
“a political union capable of backing the euro with a common fiscal policy cannot be accomplished as long as EU member states remain fully democratic. Their citizens will just not support it.”
So the choices are democracy or the common currency, but not both. It’s hard for me to find fault with his analysis. No wonder Krastev called his book “After Europe.”
How about a morning coffee catch up on today’s Italian elections?
Now, what people are saying:
Italy’s Election Could Change Everything, Scott B. MacDonald argues. If Eurosceptics win a majority and cobble together a coalition Italy could face a referendum on whether to leave the eurozone.
That’s doubtful. Politico.eu sees things differently.
The Guardian has a long article on Italy’s political fringe, The fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the mainstream. And Tim Parks writes that just over a month ago the body of an eighteen-year old girl
“was found in the countryside near Macerata in Central Italy. Soon the police had arrested a Nigerian accused of selling the girl drugs. On February 3, a white man, previously a local government candidate for the Northern League, drove through the town firing some thirty shots from his car into immigrant shops and bars, wounding six people.”
And thus the stage was set for an ugly five weeks of immigration-centered contentiousness. At the center of that particular stage is Matteo Salvini, 44, leader of the Lega (formerly the Northern League), a xenophobic, racist bunch who fear an “Islamic invasion” in Italy. (Here is an interview.) Salvini has gathered up all the last minute press with headlines like the most dangerous man in Italy.
At the same time, today’s election is huge for the anti-establishment, poll-leading Movimento Cinque Stelle, or 5 Star Movement, the formerly insurgent party founded by Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian who is himself ineligible to hold office because of a negligent homicide conviction.
M5S politician Virginia Elena Raggi is Mayor of Rome, and Chiara Appendino is Mayor of Turin. Because its members now wield actual power, to decidedly mixed results, M5S is in awkward transition, governing while campaigning as insurgents.
Part of the problem is that they aren’t governing all that well. Raggi was indicted two weeks ago on favoritism charges that sound familiar: lying about cronyism. In Raggi’s case it was appointing her former assistant’s brother to be Rome’s tourism chief.
Grillo keeps a lower profile than during the rise of the movement. The party’s hopes are pinned on 31 year old Luigi Di Maio, a Vice-President of Chamber of Deputies in the Italian Parliament. Conventional wisdom holds that even if M5S were to get the most votes it would be difficult for them to cobble together a governing coalition.
(M5S background here from Bloomberg. The Atlantic explains How Italy’s Five-Star Movement Is Winning the Youth Vote: “They can’t find jobs, and the centrist parties have failed them, opening space for the populists.”)
The former PM Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) polls in second place but it ain’t got no juice. Slim Odds.
And then there’s this, from a different Tim Parks article titled Whoever Wins Won’t Govern:
“We are the country of … the decree that never becomes law and the investment that is always inadequate; in the rare event that everything goes smoothly and parliament gets something done we are the country that can rely on the courts to undo it. Italian power is impotence.
Whoever wins, they will not govern. All will go on just the same. Most key policies will be decided outside Italy.”
By which he means the European Union.
The EU is a wholly fascinating polity. Choose your corner. In the northwest and southeast the United Kingdom and Greece slash and tear at Brussels’ rule. In the northeast, Finland is grateful the EU has its back, given its long Russian border, while in the southwest Portugal appreciates the €1.8 billion more that it receives annually than it contributes to Brussels (2016). And in the middle, the yet-to-be initiated Balkan countries both want in and don’t.
My Italian friends were the first to assure me, seriously, that Donald Trump could become the American president. This was nonsense, I assured them, but they had seen it. They had lived the Silvio Berlusconi experience. Now as usual, Italy faces a dizzy field of Communists, anarchists, stuntmen, the common paralysis and … Berlusconi.
The prospects of a return of Berlusconi invite despair. One would hope that having once elected a clown parody of a statesman, the good people of (insert your country name here) would run him out of town.
This election is worth staying up late to watch. Happy election day.
Speaking of morning coffee, got time to buy me a cup?
On yesterday’s elections: 1. the French have rejected both traditional parties in an election for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. And 2. the pollsters largely got it right, which is more than can be said for their British and American counterparts these last couple years.
While the next two weeks are potentially fraught, for the moment the idea of a functioning European project survives. But headlines like
“Macron to ‘blow Le Pen out of the water’ in final round of French election – Not even a terrorist attack could increase Front National’s chances, experts believe”
“if only a fraction of those who believe that Macron’s victory is a given end up staying home on May 7, then Le Pen has a shot at becoming France’s next president. Because there is one certainty that has survived: Front National supporters will turn out in force.”
While the periphery frays (Brexit, the Turkish referendum), you can at least make an argument this morning that the core still believes in the European idea. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with this ‘blow her out of the water’ kind of loose talk. Two delicate weeks lie ahead for an entirely untested would-be leader in a world full of surprises.