The 2019 European Parliament elections mark a real watershed for Europe. We are in new territory. European politics will never be the same again. Where there was at best indifference to the dream of a United States of Europe, there is now enthusiasm. And interest in reforming the European institutions to make them work better and bring them closer to the people.
Paradoxically, this upsurge in “more Europe” (to use Merkel’s term) is the result of the populist-nationalist- sovereignist parties’ own campaigns across Europe. With an explicit agenda to undermine European institutions and turn the clock back to the 1960’s – to a De Gaulle vision of a “Europe of Nations” stunningly unsuited to a globalized world, whether one likes globalization or not – they scared people into voting against them. Europeanists, already shocked by the Brexit mess, could not allow them into the control room of either the EU Parliament or the EU Commission.
Populists are both winners and losers in this election: they gained votes but not enough to get into that control room. They are certainly here to stay but they also hit a glass ceiling that they are not likely to ever break through. Because, policy-wise, they bet on the wrong horse: migration instead of climate change. And on migration, they are not able to offer a solution. It is a divisive issue for everyone, populists included. While climate change concerns everyone and the solution exists: Containing greenhouse gas emissions and working towards a sustainable circular economy is something everyone can embrace.
I have been remiss, mea culpa: I let three weeks go by without keeping you updated on my latest articles, all published by Impakter Magazine – every Thursday, noontime (i.e. the time in Italy, where I live). As my followers know, I’ve been working there as a Senior Editor since the Magazine launched in 2014.
And it’s been a bumpy, exhilarating ride! Last year, our traffic grew by 120% and now we get about 500k visitors regularly reading articles about Culture, Society, Style and Philanthropy. And I’m about to reach the goal of one million readers soon – I will let you know when that happens!
So, since I’m so late in posting the opening of my articles, I thought I’d share them with you one by one, starting with the opening and link to the article most recently published on Impakter:
Green New Dealers: What Next?
When Republicans in the Senate rejected consideration of the Green New Deal on March 26, Trump had a curious reaction. He expressed hope the GND wouldn’t die because, as he’d said in an interview on Fox Business, he wants to campaign against it, expecting an easy win:
“You look at this Green New Deal — it’s the most preposterous thing. Now I don’t want to knock it too much right now because I really hope they keep going forward with it, frankly, because I think it’s going to be very easy to beat.”
Easy to beat? That depends. It depends on who the politicians are backing it and how much real support the Green New Deal has from the American people. Turns out the Green New Deal has plenty of support from the people
Everyone agrees that to reform Europe is a priority. And there’s only one logical way to do it, as proposed by French President Macron. His plan is simply brilliant. Exactly what Europe needs now. But there are many reasons why it will not be adopted – in spite of its brilliance and evident relevance.
It should come as no surprise that the author of this reform plan is French. France has always been the country of logic since Descartes’ days. The sad thing is that logic is not a winner these days with nationalist populism reviving everywhere – including in Germany and Italy and in most of Central and Eastern Europe. There are other reasons too militating against Macron’s plan: Germany’s fixation on austerity, Italy’s anti-establishment government. Italy, as I will show, is the unexpected linchpin – the country that could kill the dream of a United Europe.
First, let’s examine Macron’s plan, and then see why its chances for success are slim. Slim but not totally hopeless: There is an on-going revival on the left, especially with the Greens in Germany and some inspiring figures like Carlo Calenda in Italy.
Macron’s Plan to Reform Europe: Making it a Sustainability Champion
So what is Macron’s plan? As Bloomberg put it, Macron’s goal is to make Europe “fit for a globalized world”. In a landmark speech at Paris’ Sorbonne University in September 2017, he outlined a six-pillar plan (he calls them “keys”) to reform Europe and make it “sovereign, united and democratic”:
For the video of the full speech in English translation, click here
Two days ago, 117 people died in the Mediterranean. People talk of massacres whenever migrants drown. And then forget about it, overwhelmed by the relentless news cycle of our digital age. Perhaps if we called a spade a spade, people wouldn’t forget: Murderers at work in the Mediterranean is a better description of what happened.
Consider the facts. They had been 120 when they escaped from Libya in hope of a better life in Europe. Then, after about eleven hours of navigation, their overloaded rubber dinghy deflated and capsized. They tried to swim for hours, but most couldn’t make it. There were ten women among them, one was pregnant. And there were two children, one of which was a two-month baby. Most of them came from Nigeria, Cameroon, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Sudan. Three survived to tell the story and were brought by helicopter to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
All the others could have been saved but weren’t.
With modern satellite technology, any boat crossing the Mediterranean can be spotted. For years, the Italian navy did a magnificent job of spotting them and saving lives, earning people’s gratitude and admiration across the world.
But with far-right populist leader Matteo Salvini in charge (he is Italy’s Interior Minister), all that has changed. Of course, we have no proof that the Italians watched as people drowned. Only one thing is certain: These people fought for hours in freezing waters before going under.
Salvini has made his policy crystal clear: He has closed Italian ports and accuses NGOs of playing the game of human traffickers, saying: “As long as European ports will remain open…sea traffickers will continue to do business and kill people.”
This causes an excruciating moral dilemma. People are killed anyway, closing ports and looking the other way is no solution. There are ways to stop “sea traffickers”. For example, one could work out agreements with governments on the southern coast of the Mediterranean – especially with Libya and Turkey – to gain control and police the areas where the traffickers actually operate – and not in the open sea, when it’s too late. But Salvini is doing none of this.
MAP showing where the rubber dinghy with 120 people aboard sank. Source: Mail Online
For now, the situation is in an ugly stall. Countries (like Italy) that should welcome refugees are not doing so. And putting themselves in the unwanted role of murderers at sea.
For example, exactly two days after 117 people were left to die, one of the ships of the NGO Sea Watch saved 47 migrants including 8 unaccompanied children. These were migrants in similar circumstances, clinging to a sinking dinghy. They were found by Sea Watch in international waters north of Zuwarah in Libya. Who will take them in?
A few days earlier, in another angle of the Mediterranean, in the western sea of Alboan, another 53 people had died in similar circumstance, with only one survivor – a fact documented by UNHCR.
This brings the total for this month to 170 deaths from drowning. A lot of deaths in just a few days.
The overall number of people who died crossing the Mediterranean in 2018 was, according to UNHCR, 2,262. Too much, even if we are far from the peak of 2015 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously opened the doors of Germany to a “million refugees”. UNHCR’s data speaks volumes:
UNHCR tweeted dismay at the latest tragedy:
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe’s doorstep.”
The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella was also moved to issue a press release expressing his “profound sorrow for the death of over one hundred people, including women, men and children”.
The only one who remained silent was Salvini.
Yet, his policy of closing borders is putting him at odds with international law, in particular, the principle of “non refoulement” ( a French term, in deference to the fact that French has been traditionally the language of international diplomacy) – as explained in this UNHCR video:
The rest , including UNHCR’s excellent video about the non refoulement principle, is on Impakter. To read, click here.
On 1 January 2019, the following article was published on Impakter. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is – and a Happy New Year to all (despite everything!)
2018 was a watershed year. The geopolitical table turned: The world changed from order to disorder. True, the ordered world we had known since the end of World War II till 2016 was far from perfect. It had many problems and inequities. And it had been slow – some say too slow – in moving towards a common sustainable development agenda and a climate control agreement.
By contrast, the disorder brought in by Trump’s America First agenda is fast-moving. As fast as the Internet, it travels on social media.
The World is Like A Racing Car Without a Pilot
With Trump, the Monroe Doctrine is back in a lethal 21st century variant. In the 19th century, if America chose to isolate itself, it didn’t matter that much. The world had a driver (the Great Powers of Europe). Today the world is like a racing car without a pilot. Local wars and mass migration are more likely than ever before. And in July 2018, the U.S. stopped cooperation with the UN on human rights matter – sending, as the Guardian argued, a “dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”
We’ll be lucky if we can avoid World War III and the climatic collapse of the planet.
The network of multilateral alliances created after World War II to contain the rise of Russia’s and China’s imperial ambitions is gone. Over the long run, as I have argued in a recent article, Eurasia is in our future, with a good chance that America is relegated to the sidelines.
Trump closed the year with a government shutdown. His aim? Always the same: To get the funding for the border wall he promised his fans. But one must question whether his end game is not something different and entirely personal: By raising the issue of “border security”, Trump is in fact deflecting attention from his looming problems with Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling of the presidential elections, a.k.a. “Russiagate”.
Over in Europe, there was another form of “shutdown” when British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked the can down the road asking Parliament to vote next year for the Brexit deal she had worked with the EU. Talk of a second referendum got louder though nobody seemed to agree on how to phrase the question. Also, the time left for organizing a referendum is getting squeezed, making it unlikely that the U.K. will in fact manage to reverse its decision and remain in Europe.
But it was Trump’s move – to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan – coupled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation on the same day that really shook up Europe – even though, as the Washington Post and Foreign Policy reminded their readers, he was a “deeply flawed defense secretary” with a questionable record.
Pulling out of Syria was universally viewed as a serious mistake. As French defense minister, Florence Parly said (on RTL radio) said, refering to ISIS, “the job must be finished.” And with Mathis gone, it won’t be – Mathis who was viewed by America’s allies in NATO, especially Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, as “as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to Mr. Trump” and the “adult of last resort” who could restrain an unpredictable president.
But Trump shook up Americans too – at least some of them, for example firebrand filmmaker Michael Moore admitted that this was the “the first time” he’s actually“frightened for the country”:
One thing is certain: Trump made Russia very happy, opening the way to revived Russian influence in the Middle East. Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst, exclaimed: “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving.”
The financial world perhaps understood best what happened as 2018 wound up: the past week in the stock market – from 18 to 21 December – has been the worst week since the 2008 crisis. Adding insult to injury, Trump discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Powell after the latest interest rate hike. Whereupon the dark shadow of a looming bear market caused the White House to retract. What was unprecedented was that both shares and bonds took a hit : normally they move in opposite directions.
What made 2018 a watershed year?
Politico asked American historians how History would remember 2018, asking the “smartest historians they knew” to write the paragraph about 2018 that History books in the future would include.
Some attributed a big role to Trump, others didn’t. The majority agreed on one thing: 2018 marked the end of American world leadership.
To give a sense of what they said, I will quote but one of them. Jacqueline Jones, professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote: “The traditional narrative of the United States as a noble world leader and defender of human rights was slipping away, and by the end of Trump’s second year in office, the country was in danger of sliding into a garden-variety authoritarianism.”
Others were concerned with more pointed issues, some specifically American (and Trump-related), others worldwide:
Actually, I’m not pessimistic: as the 2018 midterms showed in America, voters still have in their hands their own future – and that of our planet. A bad regime (Trump’s) can be castigated.
Brexit, as of now, appears unavoidable. The U.K., barring some unexpected referendum, will fall out of Europe and become some kind of super Singapore.
But let’s hope that European voters will show equal awareness and sensitivity s American Democrats did when they vote in May 2019 for the European Parliament. What we DO NOT NEED is a wave of populists taking over Europe! That would be the end of both Europe and the fight against climate change.
My analysis of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) crisis, just published on Impakter. It is far more complex than just another political crisis caused by Facebook. Here is the start of the article:
“He deserves to have his head chopped off, symbolically,” said Claudio, a 47 year-old mason and father of four (last name withheld), referring to French President Macron who has been often accused of draping himself in the symbols of pre-revolutionary France. Claudio lives in the northern town of Le Mans famous for car racing. Like many “Gilets Jaunes”, he likened their protests to the 1789 French Revolution. That, of course, is wishful thinking.
But wearing “Gilets Jaunes” (the yellow roadside safety vests required by law) is a stroke of genius. It made protesters highly visible both on the road and in the media. Ever since they began three weeks ago, Saturday 17 November, that is all one sees on our screens: yellow vests.
It turns out that Macron’s tax hikes on diesel fuel was the straw that broke the camel’s back and fueled the Gilets Jaunes’ anger. For them, what is at issue is fiscal justice. They can’t stomach his decision to raise taxes on pensioners at the same time that he scrapped wealth taxes. No matter he meant them as a tax break for investors to encourage them to invest in French business (notoriously under-invested) and create jobs.
The decision was perceived as unfair by the working classes, bogged down by taxes while the rich evades them, escaping to fiscal paradises. Macron is seen as “the president of the rich”. Out to impoverish the middle class.
“The guy thinks he’s God!” exclaimed Claudio, exasperated, as he dug in at a blockade outside a fuel depot of Le Mans, fortifying barricades. Along with some 50 companions, he is preparing for a long winter of discontent.
Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Find out what Facebook’s role in this crisis really was. Let me know what you think!
Trump is the face of populism in America and the midterms have shown that a Democratic “blue wave” could stop and even defeat it. How about populism in Europe? After the traditional parties on the left collapsed and the center right à la Emmanuel Macron is stalling, political winds are turning. A New Left is rising, as recent elections in Germany have shown. Can this New Left defeat populism?
The next elections for the European Parliament in May 2019 will be the first big test for the New Left, with Europe as the prize. If populists win, the European Union and the dream of a United Europe will be badly broken as a retrograde “Europe of Nations” is installed. If the New Left wins, Europe will come out strengthened but it will have to undergo deep structural reform to bring its institutions closer to the people – and away from the private corporate interests that hold it hostage now.
The full extent of the growth of populism in Europe was revealed this week in groundbreaking research conducted by the UK Guardian with inputs from leading political scientists and covering national elections in 31 European countries over two decades.
The findings are striking and show that populist votes have tripled since 1998, with one in four Europeans voting populist:
Twenty years ago, populists were rarely in government: Only 12.5 million Europeans lived in countries where at least one cabinet member was a populist. Today the figure has jumped to 172 million. Note, as shown in the graph above, the research counts equally populist parties on the right, left and middle, but the “irresistible rise of the far right and populism”, as many UK Guardian readers have commented, is the crux of the matter. Far right populists have nearly tripled their votes, from less than 5 percent in 1998 to some 14 percent in 2018.
The rise of extreme right populism has been accompanied by a deep crisis in center-left parties that have suffered a sharp drop in support in several countries across Europe, notably in Germany when the German Social Democrats retreated in the 2017 German federal elections; in France when the Socialist Party collapsed in the French presidential and legislative elections in 2017; likewise in Italy with the Democratic Party (PD) going to a historic minimum in Italy in 2018.
Center-left parties are currently part of only six EU governments out of the 28 member states, notably in Spain with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) who came to power in May 2018. However the PSOE is not the “New Left”. Founded in 1879, it is the oldest party in Spain and, historically, the one most often in power (most recently from 2004 to 2011 under Zapatero). Moreover Sanchez has a very thin margin (only 84 seats over 350) that constrains his ability to steer policies. Most analysts don’t expect him to finish his mandate (it ends in July 2020). As of now his government is “blocked” on the budget issue and new elections are probable.
Why Populism is Successful
There are four reasons:
Populist politicians are able to convince their audiences that they do not belong to the hated traditional political system, that they are not part of the establishment, of the “corrupt elite”; Trump famously succeeded in convincing his fan base that he could bring his businessman’s savvy to government (“the art of the deal”) even though, as a real estate tycoon, he is clearly an oligarch, part of the “corrupt elite”;
They focus on simple issues that people feel are close to them, threatening their personal well-being, like migrants taking their jobs and splurging on public services or China flooding the market with cheap goods; both are presented as sources of “unfair” competition and the cause of destruction of employment in manufacture;
They are masters at stirring up emotions, a winning technique to drive voters to the polls as Trump amply demonstrated in the US midterms, cynically causing fear and anger with fake news about a supposed migrant invasion, a “caravan” threatening the southern border;
They have been helped by the rise in social media over the past two decades; as noted by Claudia Alvares, professor at Lusofonia University Lisbon, “social media are very permeable to the easy spread of emotion”; they are also very permeable to cyber war techniques by the Russians and voter manipulations; the Cambridge Analytica scandal that affected millions of Americans on Facebook is proof.
Populism is on the march everywhere in Europe, notably in Eastern Europe where democracies are new. What is more surprising is to see populists leaders win power in West European countries where nobody expected them to be that successful:
In Italy, right-wing and left-wing populism came to power together, in May 2018, a historical first and an unlikely alliance, built on the 17 percent won by Matteo Salvini’s extreme right League and the 33 percent won by Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement;
In Sweden, this summer when the Sweden Democrats, a populist far-right anti-immigration party founded in 1988, with Nazi roots, had its best-ever results:
Previous articles about why populism is dangerous have addressed the issue of austerity (here), the public health crisis (here), the false “migrant crisis” (here), and the propensity for war (here). This article explores Trump’s midterms strategy to drive voters to the ballot on November 6: stoking up fear and anger with fabricated crises and false solutions.
The 6 November midterm elections are seen by many as a referendum on how American citizens are ranking Trump’s performance as President. Democrats are favored to win the House and Republicans the Senate.
Surprisingly, even though the economic news are favorable, with 55% of Americans rating current economic conditions as excellent or good, the political climate is not correspondingly as good for Republicans and Trump, the latest Gallup poll shows.
Congress’ 21% job approval rating is 10 points below the average since 1974 and similar to approval ratings in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump’s approval rating at 40% is well below the 52% average at midterms since 1974 and is one of the lowest ever for a president prior to a midterm election.
With such results, it is not surprising that Trump has pulled all the populist stops at his disposal: fake news, fabricated crises, false solutions. All designed to fuel emotions, stoking fear and anger to push voters to the polls. Even famous memes are used, like the Stark family motto of HBO’s Game of Thrones “Winter is coming”, to announce the reimposition of sanctions on Iran. They will take effect on Monday 5 November, the day before the elections. To make sure everyone would notice, Trump exceptionally took the trouble of pinning the tweet at the top of his thread:
This caused a storm on Twitter and HBO did not appreciate the use of its intellectual property for political purposes.
No matter that this stokes divisions. That the country is increasingly polarized. That people die while praying in a synagogue. That the public postal system is used to send pipe bombs. For Trump, it’s collateral damage of little import. The point is to win.
This is the populist strategy for maximum voter turnout: as a populist, you may hold a minority of the voters but your hold on them is stronger because they are emotionally pumped up. It’s not a question of pushing the “undecided vote” as analysts have traditionally called it; it’s a question of pushing those who already support you to actually go to the voting booths. You don’t need to convince them (that’s done). What you need to do is fire them up so that they will make the effort to vote.
Trump’s Fear and Anger Strategy
Trump is in campaign combat mode. The language on race and gender is strident, the anti-immigrant message oppressive.
The rest on Impakter, click here to read. Let me know what you think, I love to hear from you!
At the recent European Council meeting, the highest level venue in the European Union with all 28 leaders in attendance (including the UK), it looked like the EU was about to break down over its migration problem.
No doubt to Trump’s delight. He’s been actively fighting the European Union which he has always seen as a threat to MAGA. On Twitter, he has regularly attacked Germany, most recently with fake data, claiming that migrants are the source for a rise in crime (that hasn’t happened – crime rates are at the lowest level ever as Der Spiegel was quick to note). Also, according to a recent Washington Post reconstruction of events, Trump even tried to convince Macron to take France out of the EU for a “substantial bilateral trade deal”.
It is in this context of America’s abrupt withdrawal of support to Europe and its institutions that the Europe’s migration problem must be placed. Fueled by European populist parties aligned on Trumpian anti-immigration and euro-skeptic policies, there is violent disagreement within the EU on how to address the problem.
Italy has always been, along with Greece and Spain, on the forefront of the migrant invasion, and for decades it has addressed the migrant challenge alone, with no help from Europe. With the new government in place, this has changed.
The vice-premier and interior minister, populist strongman Matteo Salvini, has made it clear to all EU members, declaring that Italy would “no longer be Europe’s refugee camp”. Migrant rescue ships run by NGOs are no longer allowed to dock in Italian ports:
This led to a spat with France two weeks ago, but eventually France and Germany (after a conciliatory call from Angela Merkel) agreed with Italy that there was a need to share the burden.
Salvini’s populist friends in Eastern Europe have also made it very clear that they won’t play the game. Austria and the Visegrad group of countries (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) led by Orban, Hungary’s autocratic Prime Minister – have steadfastly refused to cooperate with EU members and will not accept any migrants sent their way.
That was the situation before the European Council meeting: gridlock.
Angela Merkel was panic-stricken: Her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU), a major ally in the government coalition, sounded like his Italian friend Salvini, determined to turn away migrants at the border. This is understandable: the CSU faces elections in October and is aligning itself on anti-immigration lines in an attempt to draw votes away from the anti-migrants, rightist-populist Alternative for Germany, a rising rival, currently the third party in Germany.
Either Merkel would find a solution at the European Council, or Seehofer would dissolve the coalition and she would probably have to resign as Chancellor.
In the end, after two days of harrowing discussions (27-28 June), the breakdown didn’t happen, there was a “minimal” agreement that probably saved Merkel’s political career.
No doubt Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, played a role in the relatively positive result. But, as he says, this is “not a success yet”, much will depend on what happens next…
Read the rest on Impakter, click here. And let me know what you think! Are slamming doors shut really the only way to solve the migration problem?
Trump is treading dangerous waters with his anti-immigration policies. No doubt Melania Trump’s visit to migrant children shelters was an unequaled media coup. To make sure nobody would misunderstand (especially Trump’s fans), she wore on her trip out to Texas and back (but not when she was visiting the shelters) a very special coat. Everyone took note including the foreign press:
The message on the back of her jacket is clear: ““I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” But it’s not what you think, she is not rebelling against her husband, she just really likes children and she really believes in him, sharing in his worldview.
Trump’s tweet made this absolutely clear:
“I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!
And of course, the policy of separating children from their parents wasn’t something Trump invented, it’s been “the Dems” all along – everything that’s wrong with US legislation on immigration is the Dems’ fault:
You cannot pass legislation on immigration whether it be for safety and security or any other reason including “heart,” without getting Dem votes. Problem is, they don’t care about security and R’s do. Zero Dems voted to support the Goodlatte Bill. They won’t vote for anything!